I give this a high rating because it does what it sets out to do very well. Peter Salus was involved in the history of Unix and Linux, which makes him a good guide to that history. He presents it in a straightforward and spare style, so don’t expect a gripping page turner. But if you want to have good accurate data on who did what and when, this book will deliver. Also, it is a relatively quick read because of his spare style.
I recently had an exchange online with someone I tend to like, and it was about self-driving cars. My correspondent said that he would never, under any circumstances, get into a self-driven car. In fact, he seemed to think that self-driven cars would lead to carnage on the roads. My own opinion is that human driven cars have already led to a very demonstrable carnage, and that in all likelihood computers would do a better job. As you might imagine, this impressed my correspondent not the least. When I observed that his opbjections were irrational, he said I shouild choose my words more carefully, but that he would overlook the insult this time.
Possibly that is a bad way to phrase my objection, but it is also, in the strict sense of the term, the precisely proper word to use. What I was saying is that his view had no basis in data or facts, and was purely an emotional response. We all have those, and I’m not claiming any superiority on that ground. But when the Enlightenment philosophers talked of reason it was in contrast to religion and superstition, and really did mean thinking in terms of data, facts, and logical thinking. It is my own view that this type of thinking has the major reponsibility for the progress the human race has made in science and technology over the last few centuries. And it is also my view that this type of thinking is being attacked severely in these days.
The hallmark of rational thinking is that it starts from a basis in observed facts, but always keeps a willingness to revise the conclusion if new facts come to light. If that seems reasonable to you, good. Now think of how the worst insult you can pin on a politician is flip-flopping. The great 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes was accused of this and responded “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?” That is how a rational person thinks. There are people who attack science for being of no use because occasionally scientists change thier minds about what is going on. But that is an uninformed (to be most charitable about it) view. Science is a process of deriving the best possible explanations for the data we have, but always ready to discard them in favor of other explanations when new data comes in. That may bother people who insist on iron-clad certainty in everything, but in fact it does work. If it didn’t work you wouldn’t be reading this. (Did you ever notice the irony of television commentators attacking scientists? You might think the plans for television were found in the Bible/Koran/etc.)
One of the biggest obstacles to clear, rational thinking is what is termed confirmation bias. This is the tendency of people to see the evidence that supports their view, while simultaneously ignoring any evidence that does not support their view. This why the only studies that are given credibility are what we call “double-blind” studies. An example is a drug trial. We know there is a tednency for people to get better because they believe they are being given a new drug. In addition, we know that just being shown attention helps. So we take great care (in a good study) to divide the sample into two groups, with one group getting the great new drug, and the other group getting something that looks exactly like it, but has no active ingredient. It may be a sugar pill, or a solution of saline liquid being injected, just so long as the patient cannot tell which group they are in. But the bias can also be on the experimenter side. If a team of doctors has devoted years to developing a new drug, they will naturally have some investment in wanting it to succeed. And that can lead to seeing results that are not there, or even in “suggesting” in sub-conscious ways to the patient that they are getting the drug or not. So none of those doctors can be a part of it either. Clinicians are recruited who only know that they have two groups, A & B, and have no idea which is which. This is the classic double-blind study: neither the patient nor the experimenter has any idea who is getting the drug and who isn’t.
The reason we need to be this careful is that people are, by and large, irrational. People will be afraid of flying in an airplane but think nothing of getting into a car and driving, even though every bit of data says that driving is far more dangerous. People are far more afraid of sharks than they are of the food they eat, though more people die every year from food poisoning than are ever killed by sharks. And we all suffer from a massive case of the Lake Wobegone effect, in that we all tend to think we are above average, even though by definition roughly half of us are below average on any given characteristic. We just are not good judges of our own capabilities in most cases. In fact, the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that we are frequently wrong in self-assessments.
But the worst case is the person who is absolutely certain, no matter what he is certain of. Certainty is great enemy of rationality. Years ago, Jacob Bronowski filmed a series called The Ascent Of Man. In one scene, he stood in a puddle outside at Auschwitz and talked about people who had certainty, and said “I beg of you to consider the possiblity that you may be wrong.” This is the hallmark of a rational person, this is the standard by which every scientist is judged. If you know anyone who can say “This is what I think, but I might be wrong,” you will have found the rarest kind of person, and you should cultivate their aquaintance. This type of wisdom is all too rare. And if you ever find a politician who says that, please vote for them, no matter what their party affiliation. They are worth infinitely more than a hundred of the kind that never have changed their minds about anything.
The KDE project has released its Manifesto. Since this is my desktop of choice, I thought I should mention it. It is very good:
The KDE Manifesto
We are a community of technologists, designers, writers and advocates who work to ensure freedom for all people through our software.
Because of this work we have come to value:
Open Governance to ensure engagement in our leadership and decision processes;
Free Software to ensure the result of our work is available to all people;
Inclusivity to ensure that people of all origins are welcome to join us and participate;
Innovation to ensure that new ideas constantly emerge to better serve people;
Common Ownership to ensure that we stay united;
End-User Focus to ensure our work is useful to all people.
That is, in pursuit of our goal, we have found these items essential to define and stay true to ourselves.
The reason things like this matter is that free software is about a lot more than just selling a bunch of software and having an IPO to get rich. It is about our values and empowering people to use software to make their lives better.
I thought I would share my own impressions of Penguicon 2012, which was held at the Dearborn Hyatt in Dearborn, Michigan, USA, on April 27-29, 2012. This is a rather unusual event, combining as it does both a Science Fiction convention and a Linux Fest. There are many examples of each of these, of course, on their own, but this is the only one I know of that combines both in one event. I have been going to this event for a number of years, and I have been a speaker for the last 4 years. So this is an event that means something to me. In what follows, I will mention what I did at Penguicon, but of course no other person would have followed this precise path. Every time slot probably had a dozen alternatives for what you could do, but that is part of the charm of these big conventions and conferences; you know you are at a good one when you feel that you are constantly having to choose between two good alternatives. My own choices leaned more towards the Linux/Technology side of things, even though I am a Science Fiction fan (hence my domain name), but I did manage to take in a few SF panels as well. The Guests of Honor this year included John Scalzi, perhaps best known as the author of The Old Man’s War, who was the SF Author GOH, and Jim Gettys, famous for diagnosing the problem of buffer bloat, who was the Tech GOH.
The con starts on Friday afternoon, so I took off work early and got there in time to hear my friend Ryan Kather give a talk on JuJu Charms. I didn’t know a lot about this technology, other than seeing a lot of posts by Jorge Castro that mentioned his work, but it was nice to get a simple, clear overview. And what I learned was that they are basically scripts for installing and standing up software platforms in the cloud. since my new job involves some of that it may come in useful. Then I gave my own talk, on Linux Directory Structure. It was well-received, and the room was fairly full, so I felt good about that. And the thing I liked best was that by giving my talk right at the beginning I could then relax and enjoy the rest of the con. Following my talk I joined the Ubuntu Michigan LoCo Release Party for 12.04, which had just been released the day before. Then it was time for dinner, and joined a group of people that included James Hice, Craig Maloney, JoDee Baker, and Rick Harding, among others. I had known the others before this but it was my first time meeting Rick Harding, who is a developer for Canonical and as I recall works on Launchpad. Rick and Craig also do a podcast together called the LoCoCast (http://www.lococast.net). And that concluded my Friday at Penguicon.
Saturday was a full day of activity, and my day started with a talk by Bruce Schneier called Security and Trust. It was based on his latest book, Liars and Outliers, which I bought for my Nook but haven’t gotten to yet (I’m still working on Peter Diamandis’ book Abundance). Bruce talked about the balance between the trust we show every day in various social institutions and the way that trust can be abused. Bruce did a small amount of Game Theory in his analysis, but in short trust can only be abused if there is trust to begin with, and too much abuse and we all stop trusting. So there is a natural balance. After his talk I got my copy of Schneier on Security signed. Then I hit the Dealer’s Room and picked up a few Steampunk books. This gave way to a session on the Beagle Board, led by Jason Kridner. The Beagle Board is a great platform for hobbyists to experiment with, and runs Linux. Then I went to a panel on Libraries and Librarians in the Information Age, with Janea Schimmel and Jeff Beeler. I then attended the Heinlein panel, led by Eric Raymond and Jim Gettys, which ended up being an hour of geeks talking tech all over the place, with occasional nods back to Heinlein.
I then attend JoDee Baker’s talk on Citizen Science, which talked about some of the ways each of us can contribute to science even if we are not trained scientists. Of course, JoDee teaches Physics, so she in fact is a trained scientist, and I would guess from her talk a pretty good teacher ass well. I know I enjoyed her presentation. Then Craig Maloney did a presentation on the recently released Ubuntu 12.04 that focused on the changes that had occurred and where it was at the 12.04 mark. 12.04 being a Long-Term Support release, the focus was naturally on stability and performance, rather than introducing new features, and I decided during Craig’s talk that I would install it on one of my machines and give it a workout.
After all of this Saturday activity I needed sustenance, and Catherine Devlin and I went to the food court at the mall across the street and found some decent looking Middle Eastern food. For those who don’t live in this area, there is a very large Arabic and Middle Eastern community in Southeast Michigan, and the heart of it is in Dearborn, where the con was held. Catherine is well-known in the Python community, and is someone I run into at pretty much every Linux event I attend. She most recently ran a workshop at Indiana LinuxFest called Python for Women (and Their Friends) which I think I mentioned in my report from ILF. After dinner, I went back for a talk on IPv6 Software, by Michael Mol. And by that time it had been a long day, so I went home.
Sunday began with a talk on Sustainable Engineering in Developing Economies by Kristy Currier. One of the key problems addressed was obtaining drinkable water, which is the key problem for many people in the world. The ideal technologies are ones that are inexpensive and can be maintained easily on the spot, and Kristy showed us some of that. Then I went to a panel called The Past Through Digital Audio, put on by members of the Science Fiction Oral History Association. We heard recorded talks and interviews with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester Del Rey, and others. SFOHA is doing two things it would appear, the first being to digitize audio recordings made on tape many years ago, and the second being to go to conventions currently and add to their wealth of material. This sounded exciting, so I have joined the group, and plan to do some digitizing since I have done some of that already and have it all set up right now anyway. I think this is something that SF fans should be helping.
I then joined a BOF session on Raspberry Pi, which was somewhat subdued because no one there actually had one yet. Then it was off to hear Ruth Suehle speak on The Pop Culture Guide to Open Source. Ruth made the point that open software and open culture are very related. I first heard Ruth speak at Ohio LinuxFest last September, so I knew she would give a good talk, and I was not disappointed. I got to chat briefly with her and Spot Callaway of the Fedora project. Then I went to hear Michael Mol one last time on IPv6 For the Home. For anyone who is interested, Michael pointed out that you can get IPv6 connections right now through Hurricane Electric (http://www.he.net), but what may be even more interesting is that they offer training materials and free certification for being an IPv6 expert. Well worth checking out. I ended my Penguicon 2012 experience with the closing ceremonies, where I learned that my friend Chris Krieger seems to be getting more involved with Penguicon. He has run the LAN room the last few years, but it looks like he is stepping up even more. Chris is a talented Linux and Security guy who has presented at my LUG, the Washtenaw Linux Users Group, for the last couple of years and just gave us a proposal to do it again this coming September.
So, I hope some of you may have found this interesting. If you are in the area of Southeast Michigan this is an event well worth taking in. It happens each year around the end of April or beginning of May, and I am already looking forward to 2013
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At a recent company meeting in Denmark, something very disturbing happened. An “entertainer” was brought on stage right after Michael Dell and proceeded to complement the crowd on not having many women. He then said IT should remain a bastion of male privilege, and the the way to address women as “Shut up, bitches.” You can read an account here. I think the only reasonable response from people with more than three functioning brain cells should be to stop all business with Dell Computer.
A few weeks back there was a small tempest-in-a-teacup when Linux Action Show invited Richard Stallman (RMS) on to their show, and were astonished that he refused to compromise his views. This led Bryan Lunduke to accuse Stallman of wanting to starve the Lunduke family since he would not give his imprimatur to Mr. Lunduke writing proprietary software. My initial thoughts were along the lines of “Lunduke is an idiot”, which are thoughts I have had before. Full disclosure: I find him to be annoying and grating. For that reason, I did not comment at the time. But I just read an interview with Michael Meeks, the LibreOffice developer, that brought up some of the thoughts I had previously, and I decided to write them out.
The essence of the dispute between Bryan Lunduke and RMS was that RMS argued, as he has consistently done, that proprietary software takes away the freedom of the user, and is therefor evil. Lunduke was arguing that he makes his living by writing proprietary software, and therefor deserved some kind of exemption from RMS, and was very upset that he didn’t get it.The immediate reaction I had was “Dude, have you ever listened to RMS?” Lunduke getting RMS to say that was about as likely as getting the Pope to say “You know, that Ten Commandments thing? Totally optional.” Then Lunduke just went nuts and accused RMS of trying to starve the Lunduke children. So it became a reason for me to once again unsubscribe from that podcast, as I have done before. (Though this time it will probably stick.)
But the point of interest is that Lunduke accused RMS of being against freedom, in this case the freedom of Lunduke to write proprietary software. And this is worth taking a closer look, since arguments about freedom often get bogged down in similar dichotomies. And to understand that, I think there are some fundamental truths that need to be pointed out and incorporated into the discussion. The first is that freedom is never absolute if you are living in a society. There are always conflicts and constraints in how you exercise freedom because what you do can impact on others. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said it in a Supreme Court decision, you cannot falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Or as another legal scholar put it, your right to swing your hand ends where my nose begins. In fact, a good many court cases are argued to decide among two different freedoms as to where the line will be drawn. This means that to say “I am in favor of freedom” is to make a mostly meaningless statement. It doesn’t become meaningful until you clarify whose freedom, and in what circumstances. And when you do clarify, you should not be surprised if someone says, and probably correctly, “But you are taking away my freedom to…” Yes, we are, and that is the point. Does my freedom to breathe clean air trump your freedom to pollute?
In this case, the conflict was between the freedom to make a living by writing proprietary software, versus the freedom of the software user to use software that gives us the Four Freedoms. Now to be clear, RMS never claimed he was in a position to actually stop Lunduke. He merely refused to countenance it as a legitimate practice. So the real issue boiled down to “He called me names!” But it is worth looking at this carefully because there is a real issue here that is worth exploring. And the issue is whether we should be more concerned with the freedom of the software user, or the freedom of the software producer. RMS is clearly on the side of the user. Lunduke was clearly on the side of the producer. And because of how these are related, you cannot simultaneously maximize both. If users have all of the freedom, there is nothing left for producers, and vice-versa. And that is why I want to turn this discussion to the topic of software licensing. For this is where the decisions are often made on where we draw the line.
In the case of proprietary software, the rights of the user are as minimal as companies can get away with. The road to evil began when someone got the bright idea that you don’t own the software you buy, you only license it, and the producer of the software can decide what you are allowed to do with it. And they can revoke your license to use the software any time they decide it violates their license, and even prevent you from selling it to someone else when you are done. Frankly, I am with RMS on this one. It is evil, and we should fight it. The answer he and others came up with was the GPL. This pushes the balance pretty far in the direction of the rights of the user, as defined by the Four Freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (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 distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
I think of these as opposite ends of a spectrum. What is in the middle? The “less restrictive” licenses. Now, some would argue that these licenses are even “more free” than the GPL, but that just repeats the fallacy of thinking of freedom as an absolute without context. I am thinking of it as the balance between producers and users, and in important ways these “less restrictive” licenses move the balance back towards producers. The way this happens is through how the software gets ultimately used. For instance, it is a matter of record that important parts of BSD form the basis of the Apple OsX operating system. Apple no doubt used this software because there were essentially no restrictions on what they could do with it. And what they did was create a tightly-controlled OS that severely restricts what the user can do with it. I think that when you look at how the software offered with these “less restrictive” licenses is used, you will see far too many examples of this being used to restrict the rights of users when incorporated into corporate products. You may be of the opinion that what is wrong in the software arena is that companies just don’t have enough power, but I don’t see that on the planet I live on.
And that brings me back to Michael Meeks and the interview I read. He was talking about a huge increase in energy and activity in the LibreOffice project since it split off from OpenOffice. And the major reason he saw for this was that they went to the GPL! I think that makes sense. If I had worked hard on software code that I wanted people to use freely, I would want to know that it was in a license that guaranteed that freedom through all derivative works. And that is what GPL does. I think that is why so many proprietary software creators hate it so much. They are just fine with something like the BSD license that says they can take code and do whatever they want with it. But with GPL they can’t do that. And one thing I find kind of funny is that they could just not use the code if it is that big of a deal, but they don’t seem to think that is a good idea. Their software is licensed to people on a “You do what we let you, or you can’t use it” basis and they have no problem with that, but if free software developers throw it back at them, suddenly it becomes a “cancer”, “first step to communism”, etc. What you should consider when you hear these arguments is whose interests are they protecting? Yours?
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I had two things happen to me this week that got me thinking. The first was the unforced error by Sqoot that by now has reached everyone on the Internet (but if you missed it for some reason, see Joe Brockmeier’s article at http://www.readwriteweb.com/enterprise/2012/03/how-casual-sexism-put-sqoot-in.php ).
The other was an inquiry I got from a representative of ArchWomen who had heard one of my recordings for Hacker Public Radio. In the recording I made a claim about Ohio LinuxFest pushing diversity, and this person asked nicely, but pointedly, if there was anything I could point to in support of this claim. In other words, you can talk the talk, but do you walk the walk? I thought it was a fair question, and one that I was able to answer satisfactorily.
But I also said we are not where we want to be, by any means. I was one of the people who reviewed the proposals we received last year, which we first sorted into categories as Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I suspect most conferences do something similar. And we had women submitting talks, and most of their proposals were accepted. But the odd thing to me was that all of the proposals that I could infer were from women, judging by names, were in the Beginners category. And that means we never had an opportunity to put a woman into the more advanced track as a presenter.
I know that is not because there aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable women out there, because I have met them. They are working as syadmins, as developers, as project leaders, and in every capacity. So I am asking these talented women to submit talk ideas for us. I can guarantee that you will get a full and fair hearing for your proposal. So please go to https://ohiolinux.org/cfp and put in a proposal!
I started this particular series of posts on January 5th, and now I am going to finish it on March 4th, so it has been just 2 months. In that time we have explored some of the ways everyone can support Free Software, such a by filing bugs, writing documentation, and by providing financial support. I want to wrap it up by exploring what may be the best way of all to get started, and this is to get involved. Join a group. Help out.
The first place you might to look at is your local Linux User Group (LUG). This is where you can meet people in your community who also are interested in Free Software. You might think that only Linux gets discussed there, but I’d bet you would be surprised. I know my local LUG has speakers covering a wide range of topics in Free Software. Last month we learned about Sourceforge, for instance, which supports a bunch of different Free Software projects. LUGs also provide community outreach, such as by doing install fests and by cooperating with local schools and organizations. I always suggest to people that this is the first place to go both to get help and to get involved.
The next place you might want to look into is with your Linux distro of choice. Mine is Kubuntu, which is a variant on Ubuntu that uses the KDE desktop. So I have joined my Ubuntu Local Community (i.e. LoCo), which in my case is Michigan. This group organize Bug Jams, where people get together to file and work on bugs. And they organize release parties twice a year when new releases come out. I know that Fedora has what they call the Fedora Ambassadors program, and many other distros have opportunities to get involved. You have only to ask.
Finally, I am going to mention the various Linux and Free Software conferences. I am involved with one called Ohio LinuxFest, where I am the Publicity director. I just finished writing a page for our web site where I listed 8 major positions we are trying to fill, as well as a bunch of day-of-event positions for volunteers. If you have never been involved with an event like this, you might not realize just how much work is involved in making the magic happen each year. But it is hard work, and every one of them is looking for volunteers to help put it on. And this is something you can do even if you don’t feel like you can file bugs or write documentation, or you don’t have the money to provide financial support. You can always provide help at these events. Chances are there is one not too far from you.
What really matters, though, is that you make a contribution of some kind. As we said when we started this series of posts, Free Software means Community-supported Software.
When it stops getting community support, it dies. If you value Free Software, then you have a responsibility to support it in one way or another. My role in this series is to give you ideas on how you can do that.
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This is going to be a little bit different from what I usually post here, but it’s my blog. If you don’t like it, just click away.
It is easy to list many things going wrong these days, and I think most of us tend to look at the negative side. Regardless of political or social persuasion, most people would agree that the world is going to hell in various interesting ways. The politicians are so bad they aren’t even worth the bullets it would take get rid of them. Giant corporations are raping us all. And don’t even get me started on kids today.
But I am going to take a contrary point of view and say that things are getting better all the time.
I was born in 1951, which makes me 60 right now. I am part of that “Baby Boom” group that arrived after World War II and the Great Depression had created havoc with lives all over the world. And that is the first thing to point out: We have not made war entirely an anachronism, but after two major wars within 20 years of each other, we have not had any conflict like those since. And as Steven Pinker pointed out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, This is part of a general trend in declining warfare.
Nor is it confined to just war. Because of the nature of news in our electronic age, and the relentless use of violence as a form of entertainment (which Hollywood is responsible for), we miss the fact that violence within our country has gone down. Because we see it on television without let up we think it is rising, but in fact it is falling.
When I was born, a number of US States had what were called “Anti-Miscegenation” laws which made it a crime for a white person and a black person marry. The last of these laws was not struck down until 1967 when the US Supreme Court decided the case of Loving vs. Virginia. This was the same year as the movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? which addressed the social discomfort felt by a white family over their daughter bringing a black fiance. Now, I know there are still racists in this country, a fact that is abundantly clear in the frothing at the mouth over Obama, but for most people this is simply not an issue they would even notice.
In a related vein, when I was born Brown vs. Board of Education was still 3 years in the future. I grew up watching on television as Bull Connor used fire hoses on black citizens trying to get their civil rights. And of course I lived through the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in my life time I have seen a black man elected President of the United States in a free and fair election, and he is favored to win re-election this fall. I can say that even as late as the 1990s I would not have believed that could happen in my lifetime.
When I was born the roles of men and women were quite separate. My mother, who was by any measure a very liberal and forward-thinking woman, taught me and my brothers how to wash dishes and do laundry because “Until we got married we would have to do it for ourselves.” But my wife and I both have demanding careers, though you will have to ask her about the housework division (some of you wouldn’t believe me if I said we split it.) And I have had a number of female bosses, and many co-workers. That is a change just in my lifetime. If you younger folks want to know what it used to be like, find some old episodes of Ozzie and Harriet on YouTube. That was the world I was born into. And come to think of it, if we had not elected a black man as President in 2008, we would have elected a woman, since the only serious opposition to Barack Obama was Hillary Clinton.
One more thing I will point out. When I was a boy I don’t think I had ever heard of homosexuals. But there were laws in effect make homosexual behavior illegal, to prevent homosexuals from immigrating to this country, and for a time even to prevent homosexual literature from being sent through the mail. And now we have marriage equality in an increasing number of states (most recently Maryland), and 22 Democratic Senators have called for endorsing this in the official party platform for the 2012 election.
So when you think everything is going to hell in a handbasket, take another look. While change is sometimes slow and maddening, it is definitely happening.
And Linux on the desktop grew 64% in the last 9 months. See, I didn’t forget all about technology.
And by that I mean Money.
As I mentioned previously, when we talk about Free Software, the emphasis ought to be on freedom, not on price. The fact that so much Free Software is also free of purchase is great. It offers people who cannot afford expensive proprietary software a chance to use comparable software that can improve their lives, their businesses, and their societies. But at the same time it does require some money to produce the software. While there are cases where the financial support comes from interested companies who may assign their staff as developers or provide server space (and companies like Red Hat and IBM provide a lot of support this way), there are also a lot of smaller projects that need help. And some activities that are important are not supported by corporations at all, but instead must rely on individuals to provide this support. I would never suggest you stop feeding your kids to do this, but the reality is that most users of Free Software in the US and Europe (for example) could easily afford to make some contributions. And I want to suggest some ways you can do this.
To begin with, most of the Free Software projects have a Web page. And if you go to the Web page you will probably see something like a PayPal button to make a donation. My rule of thumb is that is I use the software a lot I ought to support it financially. I have always felt this way, going back to the days of “shareware”. Shareware used to be “try before you buy” software produced generally by independent developers who let you use the software free of charge but asked you to register and pay for it if you liked it. While undoubtedly some number of people simply used the software and ignored the obligation to pay for it, it was clear to me (and many others) that if the developers could not get paid for their trouble they would stop making useful software. Now that I am firmly in the Free Software camp, I feel the same way: if we don’t make sure our developers are supported, they will go do other things. They also need to eat, they also have families, they need to pay their bills.
I will give a few examples from my own experience just to illustrate how easy it is to do this if you are sensitive to the issue. I realize this may look like I am trying to make myself look good, but I don’t think I am any better than anyone else, I just don’t have anyone else’s examples handy right now. The first example is a project called Miro, which produces software to download videos from the Internet and play them. I subscribe to a lot of video podcasts, as well as a few YouTube channels, and this is how I do it. And I use this software every day, so it is a good candidate for support. About a year ago they were looking to sign up people in a fund-raising drive called “Adopt a line of code”, for which you would pay $4 per month through PayPal. It looked good to me, so I signed up. After all, I get far more than $4 per month of benefit from this software and have come to rely on it every day.
I also am a KDE user on all of my computers. A few months back I saw a post from one of the developers, Sebastian Trueg, that he needed to raise money to support himself so he could continue his work on KDE. Unlike some of the developers, he had no corporate paycheck supporting his KDE work. Well, I use KDE every day, I rely on it, and I clicked the PayPal button for a donation (My memory is gave him $10, not a huge amount, but I hope that among all of the KDE users he raised enough money to keep working.)
My particular distro of choice is Kubuntu, and again I use it every day. I don’t think Canonical really needs my donations to keep going, but they base their work on Debian, so when I saw a fundraising drive to write and publish the Debian System Administrator’s Handbook, I pledged a small amount (again, I think it was $10 or so. For me, $10 is the amount I can casually donate without worrying about paying my own bills.)
Another form of support you can give is by joining some of the Non-Profit charitable organizations that support Free Software. There are a number of them, but I will note a few. First is the Free Software Foundation. This was set up by Richard Stallman, and is the one organization on my list that is directly focused on defending our software freedoms. This is the group that promotes the GPL license. Because my own freedom is very important to me, I am proud to say that I am a member. This is a little more expensive than my donations above, at $10 per month, but I’m glad to do it. Another group that you can support through a membership is The Linux Foundation. This group pays the salary of Linus Torvalds (and just announced that they are supporting Greg Kroah-Hartman), so if the Linux Kernel is your thing this would be a good thing to join. Individual memberships are $99 per year. Next I want to mention the Linux Fund. They raise money through what are called “Affinity Cards”, i.e. credit cards with a logo of your favorite group. you many have seen these before to support sports teams or universities, but you can support Free Software. And despite that name “Linux Fund” they also support BSD, which is Free Software by any definition. All you need to do is sign up for a credit card through them and a small part of your purchases goes to support the project you choose.
The two last ones I would like to mention are umbrella support organizations. The first one is the Software Freedom Conservancy. This is a non-profit group headed by Bradley Kuhn that helps a lot of projects. Essentially, they provide the legal structure to enable smaller projects to raise money while the SFC handles the administrative overhead. Bradley was formerly at the Free Software Foundation, and is still the most active person in defending the GPL, so this is a name you may well have heard before. But at SFC he is directly helping all of these projects. Current member projects include Amarok, Git, Samba, and Wine. I’m guessing at least a few of those projects produce software you use, so you can help them out with a donation. The other one I would like to mention is Software in the Public Interest, which has Bdale Garbee as president. As you might expect from that connection, the Debian project is one of the FOSS projects supported, but Arch linux, Drupal, and LibreOffice are among the others they support. Again, by contributing to a group like this you can give valuable support to Free Software.
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