Since Stuart posted the previous post, and having read through the comments, I thought tonight an apt time to describe my view on FOSS – though I hope people don’t care.
When I first came across Linux in 2004, I was enthralled. I spent hours with a friend of mine trying to get it installed on an old Aspire 1350 laptop I’d just got to go away to University with. I finally got a ‘flavour’ called College Linux installed. It came with lots of apps relevant to academia – quite cool – but ultimately unusable. I wasn’t doing a CS degree, I had no experience of any computing other than a ZX81, and Windows. Oh, I’d once played ‘Blood Bath’ on some kind of Mac at summer camp.
The idea though was what bit me. The philosophy of everyone throwing their contributions into the hat, and then everyone selling their bit. Some guys might be better at Sales, so they’d just burn & sell the CDs (and hopefully pass some profit back to the project), Developers could pool their talents to create better software, and if a company needed a ‘bespoke’ application, they could get it developed and passed back to the community in return for having access to other companies’ ‘bespoke’ applications. It was a winning formula. Sure, there were places for it to be abused – but a system that allows no freedom only benefits the person that writes it.
Not long after that, I came across the InGOTs. Whilst I may have gotten the wrong end of the stick at the time, I saw it as a potential extension of that very same philosophy – but to enable educators to pool their resources to help students. It is that, but it’s also alot more.
The next ‘philosophy’ to pass across my desk was that of ‘Ubuntu’ – “I am who I am because you are who you are.” Coming from an African philosophy, this idea is much older than anything a Computer Scientist could have thought up. It’s about recognising that your life is intrinsically tied to the rest of your community. We all have certain skills that we can offer, but we also benefit massively from the other people around us. For me, this was a winning formula.
I wanted to use this. I wanted to use this philosophy to do some good. Woo. Go me. The problem I realised was that I was using the philosophy to market software to users – that’s missing the point by a significant margin.
In the same way that Developers, Testers, Users and Sales are all tied into the ecosystem of software development, this same ecosystem can be extrapolated up to a higher level to society. We have Doctors, Teachers, Consultants, Athletes, Military, Public Servants all working in the same ecosystem. Do these guys share Ubuntu? Where once there was a respect for the professionals across all walks of life, groups have been fighting against each other and poisoning the inter-group relationships and respect.
As an example, were I to ask people about the Teaching profession – many people would say “Long Summer Holidays,” and for Doctors – “Overpaid.” We’ve forgotten the “I am who I am so you can be who you are.” Teachers provide us with experiences and frame our learning long after we’ve left their classrooms. Doctors can do for us things which we will never be able to comprehend, and the Military protect us despite our lack of support.
It was this revelation to me that made me realise that I could no longer spend my time espousing the benefits of Free Software. Coupled with a very poor showing by Richard Stallman at the University of Manchester, when he flagrantly and aggressively dismissed the questions “Should software used to control a Microwave be free?” with the short answer ‘No’ (yup, go figure). Freedom with your software is what I’d prefer to support – and that includes the Freedom to run Vista if you really really want – no matter how inadvisable it is.