Has Free Software failed?

Bruce Perens, author of the Open Source Definition, is quoted in LCA: Addressing the failure of open source complaining about our failure to make Free Software, or as he prefers to call it, Open Source, dominant in the world. I replied:

So, is the glass half full or half empty? Can we say that we have failed so soon? Is it true that not having reached our goals today means that we will never reach them? Yes, it has been decades since the beginnings of Free Software and Open Source, but only a few years since Linux became sufficiently user-friendly for common use. What we have today, in the words of Winston Churchill, is not the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning.

History shows that major social changes require at least 50 years to take hold and become the majority view. Votes (and many other changes in status) for women, the end of slavery in the British Empire, the end of colonial empires in general, gay rights, all are examples where the questions could not even be asked in public up to a certain point in time, and then it took fifty years more for laws to be passed and other effective actions to be taken. Some changes, such as the continuing gradual decay of racism, take much longer. Creationist resistance to the very idea of evolution and to scientific geology, astronomy, and cosmology, among other things, is now 150 years old. The Catholic Church did not rehabilitate Galileo for more than 350 years, centuries after it accepted Copernican/Galilean/Keplerian/Newtonian astronomy. Our issue is young yet.

Free Software/Open Source and Creative Commons are the answers to many questions not yet being asked by enough people.

  • How can governments and the public have full control of their data? Use Free Software and genuinely open standards.
  • How can the public have access to creative works in a timely manner, so that, as the US Constitution says, we “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” rather than enriching corporations? We need to change the copyright laws, but in the meantime we can encourage authors and artists to Copyleft their works under Creative Commons Sharealike licenses, and we can resist pernicious nonsense such as PIPA and SOPA.
  • How can we get rid of software piracy? Give everybody Free Software.
  • How can we put software into all of the languages of the world? Let the people who speak those languages do it themselves in Free Software.
  • How can we end poverty and its associated ills? Give all schoolchildren computers such as the OLPC XO running Free Software with Open Education Resources.

More than two and a half million schoolchildren around the world now use OLPC XOs, Free Sugar education software, and Creative Commons content in school and at home. Do you think that these children and the hundreds of millions more whom we will reach in years to come, will be willing, after 12 years experience in their schools, to pay the Microsoft or Apple tax on everything they do as adults?

Consider a billion children at a time using Free Software, OERs, and other Creative Commons content in order to learn how to take over the world from their fossilized elders. This is the job of every generation, while the previous generation considers it to be their job to hold off the young as long as possible. You may thank the children in advance for the freedoms they will offer you in years to come, and you may join in the effort to make it happen sooner.


About mokurai

Generalist; End poverty at a profit for all
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2 Responses to Has Free Software failed?

  1. What a delightful and positive response to the issue! I hope we can use these tools to completely reinvent education to allow students to pursue learning goals that they choose for advancing their own projects. TED talks, free university courses, the Khan Academy, viral Youtube videos, inspiring ideas of visionaries; these all contribute to the wealth of our collective futures. What a wonderful time to be alive on this planet. Rejoice. It’s OK to enjoy cute kitten videos too.

  2. cdfox1 says:

    I’m all for a free/open source, commercial-free childhood and one that is ADA complaint in the US. I think free/open source will revolutionize education as we know today. It will help move us from a print-based world/culture to a digital-based world/culture. The impact, as you point out, will be breath taking.

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