What "Free software" really means...
Jun 28, 1999, 09:12 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Benjamin Smith)
Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame
By Benjamin Smith
It's everywhere. It is making headlines, and growing in
geometric waves in popularity and pervasiveness.
It's really easy to get into the excitement of the moment, as a
loose, international band of software coders create free, quality,
stable, commercial-grade products. (products that in many cases
outperform their "commercial counterparts"!)
It's easy to get caught in Mindcraft II, or the latest benchmark
from ZDNet, or the latest hack/add-in to PoPToP, the Point-to-Point
Tunnelling protocol hack now well underway.
But with all of this, perhaps, it is a good idea to see the
terrain the road we travel leads us through.
The invention of the car led us through the seemingly unlikely
creation of strip-malls, like Costco and Wal-mart. And, who would
have thought, in 1920, of the drive-thru restaurant?
Any major invention leads to unexpected results. It could easily
be argued that the Internet itself is but an unexpected outgrowth
of the telephone company.
So, what outgrowths are coming from Linux and the Open-source
movement in general?
One unexpected result is an
opening of business practices. Suddenly, things that were out
of view and hush-hush are being pried open, and corporate entities
that were once carefully private can no longer be.
It is my feeling that software companies will become, over time,
more of a service-related business. How long will people pay more
for a word-processor that, fundamentally, still just takes words
and puts them on paper? As open-source grows, the software company
must then provide some sort of continuing value, and the power of
computing will finally, and permenantly, rest with the people who
use computers, rather than people who program them.
It is clear that the powers that be at Microsoft feel this way
as well, as they invest their many assets increasingly into the
entertainment businesses. (such as MSNBC and Disney)
As we move increasingly into a digital world, a world where
people meet other people, shop, do business, in short, live their
lives, it is important to define how that life is to be lived.
As was done in Britain with the Magna Carta, the United States
with the U.S. Constitution, so is now being done through the GPL,
Yes, perhaps that is a bit of a stretch. But here this out.
Communist Russia was, as communist China is today, a very
"closed" country. Freedoms of speech, religeon, etc. are either
non-existent, or weakly enforced at best. People could not
scrutinize their ruling entity, their govornment, and control, be
it political or economic, was extremely centralized. Whatever the
ruling body decreed, the citizens endured.
So long as things weren't "too bad", the power base
The ruling body went to great lengths to ensure that nothing
ever challenged them, while telling their subjects of the
oppression they oppose.
How is that significantly different than the standard,
proprietary, corporate software model?
Features deemed good enough by the august body of Microsoft are
the features that we, the netizens of this world, must (in their
perfect world) live with. In short, they have the power and the
control, and it is we, the netizen, who must endure.
New features are often just a calculated ruse to ensure that
nobody else can seriously challenge them, all while we are told
about the attempt to "limit" the free enterprise by those who
oppose their proprietary, anti-competitive business model.
Now, enter in the open-source model. This gives us the power to
vote, in effect, by giving us the full control of the computing
environment. We choose the features by building into our open
source projects the features we most want.
We decide what freedoms, restrictions, safety and security we
are comfortable with, and whether or not we choose to take on
ourselves the effort of self-governing.
We live with our own efforts, as a people, and not by the decree
of any self-proclaimed authority.
This is democracy. This is rule of the people, the netizens.
For it is the operating system, and the applications used on it,
that determine the rights, responsibilities, and rules of the
digital society we are fast fabricating.
And fast fabrication is the order of the day. The Internet is
exploding rapidly, and easily forms the foundation of what we call
cyberspace. Cyberspace can legitimately be called a "place". It is
a place where people shop, transact, meet, date, and in some cases,
marry. It is a place, now, just like any other. So what are the
laws of this "place"?
Can "Open Source" be likened to its big brother, "Open
Communication"? We see it all around us, here in this new "place"
called cyberspace. Fast becoming some of the most used portals are
special interest sites that merely link to other sites. See
www.slashdot.org, or www.linuxtoday.com, or any of a growing number
of such "communities", that take advantage of a maxim similar to
Open Source: "Web pages are free to download, and if you add to
them, what you add is available to everybody else for free
Open source is not a new way of doing business, it is the
foundation of the Internet itself, and its out-growths, like the
world wide web.
So, next time you read about the latest Mindcraft debacle, or
the next windows virus, think about this:
The well-being of our posterity depend on what we do here and
What form of govornment will YOU vote for?