Yesterday, me and a couple of friends went to see a talk in Manchester by Richard Stallman (rms), the founder of the free software movement. I’m not sure quite how much the other two got from the experience, but I certainly found it very interesting – although I knew many of the things he said, it was the way he explained them, and it also provoked me to think about certain things.

One of the biggest things was Richards unfaltering commitment to the four freedoms as moral imperatives. One thing he explained particularly well, that I’d known for a while, but found difficult to explain was the problem with free software not allowing people to do certain tasks (e.g. use a printer, due to the technical incompleteness) and yet still claim to be liberating them. His explanation, which I will use from now on, is that something like this is not about freedom, it is about convenience. The two are completely separate, even though people are sometimes try to lump them together.

Of course, that then raises the question for me personally: How committed am I? What inconveniences am I prepared to face? This was really brought home to me by part of his talk specifically about schooling. Not only did one of his apologies compare roughly to my own experience (free software is great for learning for children who want to know how stuff works, unfortunately, I was still part of the proprietary software world during most of my childhood, so I missed out). But, also he was talking about how exclusively Free Software is an absolute must in schools, for four reasons:

  • Its much cheaper, and schools have tight budgets as it is
  • To prevent proprietary software companies from locking in, or “addicting” children
  • Given that the four freedoms are important, the most important people to teach these ethics to are our children. Rms gave his example that children should be willing to and able to share anything they bring to class, whether that be sweets or software
  • Free software provides a much better way for eager students to learn how software works (as explained above)

However, what struck me most, was again, how he talked about achieving it. That those who care about Free Software, such as myself, should refuse to use the proprietary software in schools. I’m currently wary of doing this, especially for diplomacy, but it is certainly something I should consider doing. Then, there’s the point of whether I can avoid proprietary software entirely – really, it is something I should aim for, and am working towards, but when am I going to take the plunge entirely.

Something I found interesting, especially as it will be one of ADFA‘s campaigns, is his stance on webapps. Using computers in the way he does, he sees no need for them, and points out that you are giving up a certain amount of control to your data (whether the server runs free software or not), something that I had pointed out on the ADFA project. However, the thing that I had not thought about, was the fact that these apps run software on the users machine, in the form of languages such as javascript. It is these scripts that must be under a free software license for webapps to be 4-freedoms-compatible. I’m still not sure whether this is a terribly big issue, but it is definitely something to campaign for – particularly since freeing these scripts would not cause much loss to the companies, escpecially as the source code is already availible anyway.

One less important, but interesting thing I took away from the talk was a fresh look on the whole Linux naming controversy. What I am trying to campaign for is free software as a right, not just Linux as a system or open source being good technically. Since what I am striving for is most similar to GNU/FSF than any other project, using the name GNU should really be a good thing. My main issue with GNU/Linux was that it sounded technical and off-putting. However, I hope to use the term “GNULinux” from now on (to avoid the “slash”). Really this is not so off-putting, especially since a gnu is also an animal, so those who won’t appreciate “funny” acronyms don’t need to know about them. And, if you are trying to market simply as a software product, then just use the distro name like Ubuntu – however, I don’t just want to market a product, so from now on, I hope to make an effort to mention GNU. Linux might be shorter to say, but surely we can at least use GNULinux as the “full name” for the system.

Another minor, but useful thing was how he answered the question about the loss of jobs if the whole world moved towards free software (aka. free software is communist, developers can’t make money etc.). He pointed out something I’d not quite grasped. Within the computing market, jobs actually developing software are only a small section, and only a small section in that is creating proprietary software (the rest is building custom software, which as long as the one user of the software has the four freedoms is completely ethical – giving people software and restricting there use of it is immoral, but not sharing at all is just a bit mean). The worse that could possibly happen is that this small section within a section would disappear. Not a problem at all, considering that it is entirely possible to get jobs developing free software! Someone raised the issue of one person propreitary software developers no longer being able to make money, and rms pointed out the argument we too often overlook – that nobody has a right to make money if they are exploiting people (in fact, he told the person that he hoped their business failed!). Free software is about encouraging a completely different mindset and ethos.

Finally, after watching Richard auction  I’ve re-realised it would be good to read some of the free software movements literature. So now, I want to get my hand on Free as in Freedom and Free Software Free Society, as well as the ancap books Wikiacc mentioned in response to my previous posts.

PS: I left this a day before writing this. I reawlly ought to improve my blogging style and use a notebook or something.

PSS: Point in case, I’ve already found myself adding a major paragraph to this, I’ll probably find myself adding more to this as it comes to my head. I need a small pocket sized notebook!

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