The World and Free/Libre Open Source Software

I came upon a post by Ashwin Dixit, Ownlifeful: India and Open-Source Software. It’s a brief but reasonable list of advantages for India, or any other country to adopt GNU/Linux widely.

While I think Dixit has it mostly right, the message does not go far enough. Considering that India and China are powerhouses of people, and that effective information technology has been delayed by many barriers: poverty, remoteness, languages, traditions… the right way to do IT there is to promote Free/Libre Open Source Software simply because it is the lowest cost and easiest software to implement. By its licences, FLOSS can be run, examined, modified and distributed for almost zero cost. FLOSS is the only way to spread software globally so that there is the smallest barrier to entry. This opens the dam that M$ and others present, a hefty licensing fee and other “taxes” on use of IT.

FLOSS is critical to promote IT in emerging economies but it is also useful everywhere for other reasons. A lot of the rationale for FLOSS is about freedom. The licences of FLOSS allow anyone to do anything with the software so the limits on what can be done are simply the breadth of imaginations. India, China and every country has no shortage of young, imaginative people who can take FLOSS and run with it, solving problems, improving performance, making solutions scale, and getting the best result from investment in hardware. Hardware, of course is the key to IT. Without it nothing happens. With FLOSS, more/better hardware can be purchased, built or shared. That’s the right way to do IT, not little by little but diving right in. Information technology is one of the greatest tools humanity has ever developed and any delay in widespread deployment and optimization is a crime against humanity, just like slavery or genocide. A country that restricts IT to only some classes of society is committing a crime. A country that allows a foreign power to restrict IT to only some classes of society is committing a crime against its own people.

The right way to do IT for any government, business, organization or individual is to use FLOSS, open standards and open hardware. Accepting what the market offers currently as the only choice is wrong, especially when global corporations like M$ have deliberately created monopoly with exclusive dealing, bundling and no end of promotion. What a foreign corporation needs/wants is not generally what is best for the governments around the world promoting and securing the interests of their own people.

Another point about which I disagree with Dixit is the choice of Ubuntu GNU/Linux as the foundation of IT in India or anywhere else for that matter. Canonical has done a lot to promote GNU/Linux but they have evolved from a community of FLOSSies to a top-down organization every bit as evil as M$ in many ways. It is not evil that the ideas of those leading Ubuntu determine the course of Ubuntu but it is evil to impose those ideas on the people of the globe. M$ could have been a force for good on Earth but chose to eliminate competition by exclusive dealing and bundling. They repeatedly leveraged popularity and opportunity not to promote good IT but to tax the world of IT monetarily and by arbitrary restrictions making IT unnecessarily complex and insecure. Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu GNU/Linux has been a force for good promoting FLOSS around the globe but recently they have begun to leverage their popularity in many ways not particularly in the best interests of real people: software developers, users, governments and their people.

An example of this is the Unity user-interface. For decades the world has been using a point-and-click interface that has worked well for users of IT everywhere whether they ran MacOS, GNU/Linux some UNIX OS or that other OS. The concepts of Unity were to make better use of tiny screens on smartphones and tablets and to assist users in finding things. That has merit on hundreds of millions of tiny screens but it is not optimal for folks with large screens and mice or other precise pointers. Making Unity the default interface was a crime against users of many legacy and standard desktop/notebook personal computers. That was not in the best interests of many productive people and their governments. What’s the point of adapting Ubuntu GNU/Linux as a base if a good proportion of people will have to struggle to change it or use it? That’s not right. Why not choose the same distro Ubuntu chooses as a base, Debian GNU/Linux? Debian tolerates choice/freedom.

Another example was the change from X11 to WaylandMir interface drivers. X11 was old and clunky but it was very flexible and promoted the valuable concept of a networked interface. Canonical first told the world that it must change to Wayland and when that had some momentum, Canonical decided to change to something totally new, Mir… Do the people of the Earth need Canonical dictating how we should do IT? No. We should do things by consensus when fundamental changes are involved. Is Canonical serving us or are we serving Canonical? That’s the question. Are we free people or slaves? I choose to be free.

So, no, I don’t recommend Ubuntu GNU/Linux be promoted globally. Canonical has worked hard to make it the most popular GNU/Linux OS but that doesn’t make it the right one to choose for ordinary people everywhere. GNU/Linux was developed by millions of developers around the globe. We should not let it be hijacked by some corporation for its interests. GNU/Linux is the right way to do IT but giving up freedom to follow the lead of a single organization is a mistake that was made decades ago when M$ was building its monopoly. Don’t do it.

Makers of hardware have done their part by multiplying the performance/price ratio for decades. We have to do our part by insisting on Free Software to run that hardware. That’s the best thing for real people.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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