Archive:2007 Workshops/Free Software

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Schedule: Discussion 1 | Discussion 2 | Infinite Smallness | Lunch National FC discussion | Discussion 3 | Chapter & project reports
Workshop Session 1: Open Access | Free Software | Free Music & Remix Culture | Free Video & Open Media
Workshop Session 2: Digital Disobedience | Communication and Collaboration | A Vision for FreeCulture.org | Models for Creators
2007 workshop reports +/-

Leaders: John Sullivan (FSF) and Chris Fernandez from Binary Freedom

Ideas that came out of the meeting

  • Free Culture cannot exist without Free Software
    Having works of art locked up with proprietary tools is no way to promote sharing.
  • FreeCultureDotOrg needs to get behind Free Software - set an example.
    There's no reason why anyone needs to be running non-free software these days, especially not free culture people. You can get Debian for your PowerBooks and MacBooks, too.
  • Like GNU Emacs, more Free Software and Free Cultural Works should contain a non-intrusive introduction to the philosophy and ethics of Free Software / Free Culture
  • We should get an article into "The Nation" magazine
  • Proprietary software does a lot to get license agreements / EULAs read by customers - perhaps free works / culture should have short, bulleted list enumerating freedoms - a "philosophy agreement" instead of a "licensing agreement"


An interjection: the GPL is not an agreement; it's not a contract or statement of terms you consent to. Really. Its particular cleverness is that it "just applies" -- it's a statement of authorial rights rooted in copyright, and that's the source of its particular strength in assuring the freedoms. So I'd say try making a "philosophy statement" or something like that, instead. EULAs, on the other hand, often "make up stuff" and that's really why they exist -- to get users to consent to things that aren't actually clearly assured by copyright. -- Seth Johnson (Delete this comment at will; just take it into consideration)


  • Action at libraries - "make a freedom tivo" day w/ mythtv livecd and people's old hardware (possible issue: noisy old hardware)
  • Create lists of alternatives to proprietary applications (Photoshop->Gimp, OpenOffice->MS Office, etc)
  • Install fests
  • Hand out gNewSense LiveCDs so others can "taste freedom" without fear of losing anything from their current setup.

Ethical angle vs. Functionality angle

Chris Fernandez from Binary Freedom kicked off the conversation by talking about "Free Software" versus "Open Source", a topic which consumed much of the rest of the meeting. Some points that were raised on this topic were:

  • Developers compromise the long-term viability of their projects by using non-GPL licenses
  • Does advocating freedom cause people to not adopt free software (or even make them decide to not look into it at all)? -- Varying opinions in group.
    • You can run a political campaign on issues or you can run product campaign, but should not mix the two.
    • Be careful about product advocacy - don't want to associate political message with bad product experience
    • Group of users who care about software freedom vs just getting a lot of instances out there.
    • John Sullivan: "It doesn't matter, I would rather have 100k people that support the ideals vs. 500k people who use GNU/Linux because it is technically better -- the 100k will support you in legislation, advocate to others, etc."
      • Quote from Bruce Bifield (sp?): "Every time you turn on your computer, you are making a political statement."
    • John Sullivan: Feature superiority is sometimes a function of their freedom - e.g. MythTV (better because it is free as in freedom) - no force expire, no copy, ignore broadcast flag
      • John also mentioned Play Ogg campaign - better because not locked up, better because free.
    • But people work together when under threat (should have unified front - don't externalize internal squabbles)
  • Huge divide - people in the Free Software / Free Culture communities vs. people who have XP preinstalled on their computers
    • Too many choices in the Free* world - some people don't like choices
    • Many people think their computer is a pencil - just a tool they use with no social consequences.
    • Discussion of technical problems - installing Windows XP would be too much for many people, so asking to install GNU/Linux may be asking too much.
  • This is an ethic - hard to teach - recycling example: No one in the north end recycles, in Brookline everyone does and recycling containers are nice enough to live in.

Proprietary systems - prohibitive to freedom

Microsoft is Bad

  • Microsoft Windows Security Updates - Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) - People are forced to install things
  • DRM in Vista, XP, Media Player, etc
  • w/ students - financial issues matter
  • Windows is increasing piracy hurdles - may be good for Free Software

Apple is Bad

  • Apple Software Updates - People are forced to install things to make their stuff continue to work.
  • DRM in iTunes, iPod, QuickTime, OS X, etc
  • w/ students - financial issues matter. Apple offers some student discounts, but at what price freedom?
  • OS X is making inroads for free software harder for many people. Many people believe OS X is okay because it's not Windows. This simply isn't true.

Are you using exclusively Free Software?

Technical barriers to Free Software adoption

  • Hard to find Ogg Vorbis (http://playogg.org - new FSF campaign)
  • People don't know about options - lack of information (example: Blender - technically excellent program)
  • Artsy but not tech nerdy or tech savvy - problem of having to use X in work / industry standard
  • Benjamin "Mako" Hill: Cell phone issues - paternalistic cell companies - phone companies afraid of viruses, etc - green phone (not as open as had hoped), openmoko (looking good).
    • OpenMoko seems a plausible alternative to iPhone (mattl)