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Editor's Note: It Is A War

Sep 12, 2008, 23:02 (28 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

GNU is 25 years old this year, and every Linux user on the planet should take a few minutes to eat a piece of birthday cake and give thanks. Because it's more than just software. Glyn Moody addressed one aspect of this in "The Real Reason to Celebrate GNU's Birthday":
"Scientists would typically write a paper for free, submit it to a journal where other scientists would review it (for free) before the paper was eventually published, but only to those who paid. Even the copyright of the paper would belong to the publishing house. Most ridiculously of all, perhaps, was the fact that the bulk of this research was paid for the public, through tax-funded grants, and yet any member of the public who wished to see that work had to pay again -- and often extraordinarily high sums."
It's that exact mentality that FOSS makes war on. We're always seeing headlines about war between Linux and Microsoft, between Free/Open Source software and closed, proprietary code, war between open exchanges of ideas and putting "intellectual property" under lock and key. I used to think this was silly hyperbole, and I'll wager the headline writers do too. But it isn't- it really is a war, and it goes beyond merely having some meaningful choices in the computing marketplace. It affects everything that touches us:

Like the right to do what we want with our own property.

Like our civil rights, because government, law enforcement, and standards bodies would rather toady to proprietary moneyed interests than put the public interest first.

Like public education- are schools going to teach our kids useful skills and how to think, or crank out the next generation of narrow-minded, narrowly-skilled, unquestioning cheap tech labor?

Like US democracy- Diebold changed the name of their voting machines division, but they're still the same vote-thieving pieces of junk.

Honesty

FOSS keeps people honest. That's the #1 reason there is such strong, well-funded opposition to it. Honesty is Kryptonite to anyone who makes their living peddling lies. The big lie that gets my goat every time is these big tech companies that continually boast of their innovation. All they innovate are stagnation and barriers to innovation. The poster child for this is the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child). Whatever you may think of OLPC itself, it spawned the netbook revolution. All those titans of industry have had the resources since forever to invent the netbook on their own. They all badmouthed and undermined OLPC. Now they can't crank out their own OLPC ripoffs fast enough.

Bravery

FOSS makes people brave, though some take longer than others. Finally we're seeing the big-name PC vendors tiptoe into desktop Linux. Though there is still considerable cowardice among hardware vendors, who are openly supporting Mac OS X more, but are still chicken of Linux. Yeah, I know all the objections, and they're all bogus- technical difficulties have little to do with it.

Revolution

Without FOSS we would not have Groklaw, nor any of the thousands upon thousands of blogs and personal Web sites that write about all the thousands of subjects that are not addressed anywhere else. This is a real revolution, bigger than Gutenberg, because "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." And "information is power." Bad laws like the DMCA, and the current ridiculous state of copyright law, and US patent mess are more insidious than just protecting merchandise- they're intentional restrictions on free speech. (See "Honesty is Kryptonite".)

We wouldn't even have Apple. Apple was withering until they built a slick new interface on top of the Mach kernel and BSD.

This weekend I'm going to have a nice piece of birthday cake, and hoist a glass of milk in a heartfelt toast to all the people in the FOSS world- the famous ones, the un-famous ones, and everyone who contributes in some way to the greater good. Call me a mossy old hippie, but I think that's more worthy of celebration than going gaga over the latest shiny widget from the reigning robber barons.