open source stuff

I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I love and use a lot of open source software. My interest is only partly because of the cost of such software – “free as in beer” is not as important as “free as in freedom.”

I do use Windows as my primary desktop OS, but I expect that to change sometime in the next few years as I obtain spare hardware that is powerful enough to do more than act as a CLI-only server.

Richard M. Stallman, the founder of the GNU project and the primary ambassador of the free software movement, wrote an article about a chilling possible future where the right to read is not guaranteed. This vision might seem extreme, but this erosion of fair use rights (an integral part of copyright law) is exactly what the MPAA, RIAA, and book publishers are working towards. Laws like the DMCA, when combined with copy protection and other kinds of DRM, make it illegal to make copies of the things you buy, even for personal use or backup purposes. They would love nothing more than to be able to charge you every time you watch a movie, listen to a song, or read a book, forever.

An open-source related website that I keep up with almost religiously is Groklaw. The site is maintained by a woman who describes herself as a journalist with a paralegal background. One main focus of the site when it first started was covering the legal battle that The SCO Group is waging (poorly) against IBM and Novell about their supposed claims to intellectual property in Linux. Articles also appear on personal freedom problems like the ones mentioned above, Microsoft’s legal battles, software patents, and other legal-perspective topics like the Massachussetts OpenDocument situation.

Today there was an article on Groklaw that I wanted to share with everyone. I’m sure some (or maybe even most) of you will be bored to tears by this, but i think it will be very interesting to the rest.

For the record, my Linux distribution of choice is Debian. Its packaging system and related infrastructure is heavenly, but I am impressed that it is completely non-profit and governed by a Social Contract that I can get behind completely.

Debian has more software available as fully integrated packages than any other OS I’ve ever seen. It takes 16 CDs to hold everything in the upcoming version, but it’s been designed so that most users never need more than the first CD. Of course, if you have decent Internet connectivity, you can install everything from the Internet with a 30MB “business card” cd image.  If you’re really brave and/or desperate, three or four floppy disks will also work.

One response to “open source stuff”

  1. I use OSS as much as possible, even in the workplace. Although I had better success at my last company (1FN) where we could almost have made a total transition to LINUX and all the desktop software, I do what I can at my current job.

    For me OSS does two things, one of which I cannot quantifiy because it’s a feeling. But one very good reason to use it is because it can be modified to do exactly what I need. Imagine if you were shopping for clothing, let’s say a suit. You could buy a suit off a rack that fit pretty good and looked OK — this is your commercial software. Now imagine if you could go to a store and get a suit that fit pretty well and looked OK but it was free. And that free suit can be tailored and altered so it fits perfectly and looks excatly the way you want. There is a feeling of empowerment, of confidence, of freedom that OSS gives. Not necesarrialy that you will change the code and customize it but you can.

    I’ll give you an example. When my current company needed a phone system I had two choices: Lucent and Asterisk. Lucent is a well-established company with a huge customer base and propriteray everything. Estimated cost was about $75,000. My alternative was Asterisk, which is open source, and the total cost in hardware would run about $7,000. The choice was easy. Not only did we save $68,000 but we’ve done things custom to our phone system that exactly suits our business needs. We are a more powerful and flexible company because we can do this, and people like it. Having custom ring tones and putting people’s face on the phone’s display when it’s their birthday might seem cheezy but people love it. It creates a loyalty and feeling stronger than people normally feel about a phone system. People actually use the word “love” when they talk aobut our phones and the things we can do. You don’t get that with Lucent.

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