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Month: January 2010 (page 1 of 3)

software: free as in speech

Having been a GNU/Linux user now for over three years, I have come to really appreciate this idea of “free software,” which until just recently I did not realize is not entirely the same thing as “open source” software. Many times it is very close to the same thing, but, fundamentally, there is a difference. Here’s British writer, actor, and broadcaster Stephen Fry talking about this idea of “free software” and the 25th anniversary of GNU/Linux.

What initially drew me to Linux was technology curiosity, to be honest, but what has kept me using it exclusively for more than three years now is the principles upon which the free software movement is founded. Here is a fairly concise definition of free software as quoted from the GNU web site:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”.

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

As an educator, these freedoms are dear to me. When one considers the education gap in the United States alone, not to mention the world overall, it is not hard to see this gap lining up along the technology divide. Those with access to computers, the Internet, and so on have much greater access to information, knowledge, and educational opportunities than those without. Information, knowledge, and education should be free for all and free from the tax of Microsoft or Apple. The free software movement is interested in bridging this divide.

To use free software is to make a political and ethical choice asserting your rights to learn and to share what you learn with others.

Now, I may not be able to say that I am completely “free” in my OS choice as I use Ubuntu, which is an excellent open source system but falls just short of meeting the rather rigorous criteria for software to be classified as truly free by the Free Software Foundation. While Ubuntu may include about 100 lines of proprietary code in order to make the system most usable with common graphics cards, wireless chips, and so on, their philosophy and driving force is still a humanitarian one, aimed at “spread[ing] and bring[ing] the benefits of software to all parts of the world” [1].

Absolutely free software, as it turns out, is not always absolutely easy to use. Purist free software proponents see this as an acceptable challenge because it is unacceptable to compromise freedom for quicker, easier development and implementation of software. (That’s not to say that free software cannot or is not both strong and reliable, but sometimes software designers make unacceptable comprises to make the software ostensibly work “better.” One can show quite empirically, though, that free software is more reliable.) More important still, according to Free Software standards, “software can be said to serve its users only if it respects their freedom.[2]” I can buy that, and believe in these ideals.

So, when you hear the phrase “free software” you may be thinking free as in beer, and that’s ok. Come for the free beer, but stay for the free speech.

shifting my focus at the museum of science and industry

Today, the family and I took what seems to be our quarterly trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s always a lot of fun. Aidan really gets into it and seems to learn a lot each time we go. Today we spent most of our time in the new “You”exhibit, and complimented that by going to see “The Human Body” at the iMax theater. Aidan has been quite interested lately in the human body, as it has been a subject of study in recent months with our coop group.

While at the museum, I thought I would engage in a little photographic play. We go so often and I have many pictures, so this time I thought I would limit myself by bringing just one lens to see if I could push myself into new creative territory. I chose my Lensbaby Composer, which is new for me. It is a selective-focus, manual lens. Very simple in concept, but not an easy toy to operate. It requires a bit of skill, and I have had virtually no practice with it since I got it earlier this month. In the end, I think I captured a few fairly interesting shots. I do think the Lensbaby has some neat potential for creative work, but it does take a little getting used to.

sneekylinux has made me famous

My friend Sneekylinux from across the Pond has made me famous. Well, not really, but he did interview me for his Linux podcast. Sneekylinux has been publishing videos demonstrating Linux distributions for some time now. I’ve been following him and have appreciated his style and know-how. He’s shifted gears recently to include interviews with Linux users and developers, and guess what. He picked me for his first interview. Despite a few technical challenges along the way, I think it went rather well. Give it a looksy…

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