Tag Archives: Free Software

Disappointed with deja vu

I had earlier micro-blogged about it. A bit earlier than that I was wondering about the ‘same’-ness of these meetings. The Kozhikode Declaration however, leaves me disappointed, dejected. It is a strange mixture of deja vu and ritualistic publication of well-meaning words that saps the energy. There is a large part of content talking about software engineers, entrepreneurs and source code but nowhere is it clear about a vision or, an objective that one should aspire to. Besides that there is the aspect of some quirk in the declaration. Just as an example, take the line

Information & Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the most powerful technologies ever developed by humankind. It has drastically changed the way we do things, the way we communicate and even the way we think.

ICT is supposed to be an amalgamation of communication and computing technologies and more often than not the abbreviation ICT4D is used in the context of using such a convergence to facilitate development. Even if we leave this strangely ambiguous statement aside, the single most important feature that the declaration lacks is the action plan to take it forward. I see a declaration as more of a mere PR exercise than an actual roadmap or, guide to implementation and sustaining the deployments.

A barrier to the adoption of Free and Open Source Software technologies in education and especially basic primary education is the mixing of the concepts of FOSS-for-Education and FOSS-in-Education. And inevitably, any discussion of FOSS and Education leads to a discussion, often misinformed, about the ways to improve the system. The root cause is often neglected – the lack of books/reading material/content that are necessary for anyone to actually adopt a methodology/pedagogy that is based around FOSS toolkits and stacks. If you pick up any book it would be obvious that there is a massive proliferation of non-FOSS technologies and terminologies in them. The change in terminology is fairly important as well – that leads to recognition of name and which in turn leads to awareness.

There is another somewhat odd aspect that I notice. FOSS concepts and discourses are being increasingly influenced by political currents. And, adoption of them are also depending massively on state-level political support. The potential downside of this is course that if political equations change, the discourses and deployments are also prone to get changed. Where would that leave us ?


A question, a survey, a conversation and some feedback

During the recent elections Richard Stallman had a specific question for the candidates. Copying from the archives, here’s the question:

Here is a question for the candidates.
To advance to the goal of freedom for software users, we need to develop good free software, and we need to teach people to value and demand the freedom that free software offers them. We need to advance at the practical level and at the philosophical level.
GNOME is good free software, and thus contributes at the practical level. How will candidates use the user community’s awareness of GNOME to contribute to educating the communityn about freedom?
At a stretch the question is similar in theme to the questions/concerns around GNOME and Free Software ideals that come up from time to time. I recall reading similar questions during earlier elections and, it isn’t specifically new or, something that has come out of the blue.
I came to know of the survey when I read the micro-blog from Lefty. And, then we had a bit of conversation.
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable about the survey.
The line of reasoning is as follows – as a member of the GNOME Foundation one has the right to express one’s opinion about the direction and focus of the Foundation by supporting the appropriate (set of) candidate(s). From the perspective of a Foundation it is perfectly valid to focus on areas which are aligned with the very reason for the Foundation and the project to exist. In fact, focussing only on those areas wouldn’t and shouldn’t be taken amiss. In short, the Foundation can choose to exercise what it should work on in the near or long term future or, it shouldn’t. As long as such goals and tasks do not appear to be detrimental to the cause of Free and Open Source Software things should work out nicely.
I hasten to add that similar should be the focus of the Free Software Foundation as well. The survey attempts to somewhat codify this implicit responsibility areas and, I do get the feeling that the specific question
“In what way would you ordinarily refer to “an operating system based on a Linux kernel and using mainstream, mainly community-developed components and applications”? (Distributions representing such include Debian, Gentoo, Fedora, Open SuSE, etc. Android does not qualify, nor does WebOS, etc.)”
is implicitly divisive. An “us/them” meme that has been festering on the foundation-list for a while now.
I did not participate in the survey. I don’t want to. I’d rather like GNOME to focus on being an excellent desktop environment with strong technical and technology focus going back to the times when I started using it as my primary desktop. The Board needs to work out its focus and, work on the project’s future with much more rigor than it does now. To me the survey is just a passing distraction. Mildly entertaining but probably not productive.

Yesterday I was reading a book by Paco Underhill regarding buying trends at malls and retail stores (more on that in a separate post). And, I was wondering when was the last time I went out and ‘bought’ software. Some brain_cpu cycles later it struck me that the last piece of software that I purchased was this one, since the preloaded version that I got saddled with had come unstuck. This was after I had bought Red Hat Linux from FreeOS.

A strange sensation really. I use and consume software or, software as a service, on a daily basis. And, if one discounts the OS pre-loading on the cell phone, I have not actually gone ahead and bought software for around 10 years now. I do my bit for various FOSS projects, chip in with money to a select few or nudge-push-poke some projects to become better. But, living a decade and functioning fully without having to commercially purchase software is something that is totally jaw droppingly awesome. The software development model of FOSS and the collective collaboration that it spawns makes it possible.

And, then we wonder, why is it difficult for more people to really ‘get it’.