Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why I must use Free Software - and why I tell others to do so

My work colleagues know me well as a Free/Libre software zealot, constantly pointing out to them how people should behave, how FLOSS software trumps commercial software and how this is the only way forward. This for the last 20 odd years. It's a strain to argue this repeatedly: at various times,  I have been asked to set out more clearly why I use FLOSS, what the advantages are, why and how to contribute to FLOSS software.

"We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here
 In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish."
[John Perry Barlow - Declaration of the independence of cyberspace  1996]

That's some of it right there: I was seduced by a modem and the opportunities it gave. I've lived in this world since 1994, come to appreciate it and never really had the occasion to regret it.

I'm involved in the Debian community - which is very much  a "do-ocracy"  - and I've lived with Debian GNU Linux since 1995 and not had much cause to regret that either, though I do regret that force of circumstance has meant that I can't contribute as much as I'd like. Pretty much every machine I touch ends up running Debian, one way or the other, or should do if I had my way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Digging through my emails since then on the various mailing lists - some of them are deeply technical, though fewer these days: some are Debian political: most are trying to help people with problems / report successes or, occasionally thanks and social chit chat. Most people in the project have never met me - though that's not unusual in an organisation with a thousand developers spread worldwide - and so the occasional chance to talk to people in real life is invaluable.

The crucial thing is that there is common purpose and common intelligence - however crazy mailing list flame wars can get sometimes - and committed, caring people. Some of us may be crazy zealots, some picky and argumentative - Debian is what we have in common, pretty much.

It doesn't depend on physical ability. Espy (Joel Klecker) was one of our best and brightest until his death at age 21: almost nobody knew he was dying until after his death. My own physical limitations are pretty much irrelevant provided I can type.

It does depend on collaboration and the strange, dysfunctional family that is our community and the wider FLOSS community in which we share and in which some of us have multiple identities in working with different projects.
This is going to end up too long for Planet Debian - I'll end this post here and then continue with some points on how to contribute and why employers should let their employers work on FLOSS.