Joachim Breitner

Five Minutes about Free Software

Published 2006-10-11 in sections English, Digital World, Ghana.

I'm in Ghana now for more than two month, and my mission to spread Free Software at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International School has been progressing slowly. So far I have setup a FAI based automatic installation of Debian Sarge, extended that to automatically resize the existing windows and put it on a few computers in the staff work room, the library and the student's computer room, but interest was generally quite low.

I also noticed that most probably don't know me (unfortunately, I was not introduced properly), and if, they don't know why or what for I'm here. So I asked for permission to hold a talk a the friday morning assembly, where all the studentds and staff come together, and I was given five minutes. I want to use the time to give a very brief introduction what Free Software is and why we need it.

Read the full post for the text of the speech, I'm keen to hear comments, suggestions and corrections, preferably before friday morning on the meridian.

Friday Morning Assembly Speech: Free Software

Good morning,

you might have seen me around your school a few times, and wondered: Who is this guy, and why is he here? Time to answer these questions.

The first one is answered quickly: My name is Joachim Breitner, I am a student of Mathematics and Computer Science in Karlsruhe, Germany, and I am what you can call a Computer Geek.

The second questions does not take much longer: I volunteered to come to this school to promote the use of Free Software, particularly Linux.

But what is Free Software, and why do we need it?

Don't worry, this is a non-technical talk...

The modern society into which this school will release you soon is heavily based on computers, and computers are controlled by – users? – no, Software! In that sense, software has become an integral part of our society, whether we want it or not. It is not too much exaggeration to consider control over the computer as similarly important as the control over the paper, i.e., the ability to write.

When it comes to writing, you have basically the freedom to write what you want, where you want, to whom you want, based on other writing and so on. This is mostly what you have been learning to do the last eight to eleven years.

When it comes to computers, though, things are a bit different: The software you use, you have no right to share it with your friends, you are not allowed to study their inner workings or write your own variation of these. You can't even know if the software is not doing something you don't want, like spying on you!

Compared to writing, this would mean that the poems you write are actually fill-in form, that you raise your political opinion by answering multiple choice questions, and that your love-letters over the hostel wall are one of a dozen pre-fabricated to chose from. This would no one accept, but in the IT world, it is the standard!

But there is another way. A large world-wide movement of students, professional, companies and others have been spending their free time to create a different kind of software: “Free Software”, with the same “free” as in “free speech,” not “free beer”.

This software explicitly allows, no, encourages you to share the programs with your friends and families. It is meant to be studied and to be modified to your needs. And because you can share your improvements, everyone benefits and a large community has evolved.

Free Software is, for the most part, created by people for their and others benefit, and not for money, so the decisions made when creating these programs are not based on “does this help us make more money,” but “is this good for me, the users, everyone.” And even if you don't want to program, you can still contribute by suggesting improvements to the programs, and since you don't deal with large anonymous companies, people will probably actually listen to you!

And this idea does not have to stop at software. Inspired by the Free Software ideas, the Wikipedia was founded, this enormous collection of human knowledge. And there as well, it is you who can contribute and make it work. The Creative Commons movement applies these ideals to content, that is music, videos, texts, encouraging re-mixes and deriving new content from present.

And if this did not convince you yet, you should still give Free Software a try. It is also just plain better, some say...

I'm looking forward to some discussion about Free Software, so if you have a comment, please do come by, I'm located in Maslino's office.

Thank you.

Comments

you have not restponed to how one acquires an OS for maybe his deskstop andhow one can have dual OS on his machine and still have it function properly. Waht are some of thee advantages. No priracy when it comes to free and open Source however like you said you can makehave everything that proporietory software has in the family of open source. You lose nothing but gain knowledge.
cheers
rayborn
#1 rayborn am 2006-10-11
Ok, the piracy is a good point, I'll add that. I'm not going to talk about dual boot, as that's technical, and not where to get it, as the students don't have computers on their own, unfortunately.
#2 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-11
hi
a good idea!! your draft is quite helpful to non geeks somebody like me.
what about the economic sense it makes for developing countries to go in for free software?
is it too to technical to say free software is more robust?...let's try the the internet browsers and see the difference ....
who use free software and why are many people going for it.
would yu mind talking of the movement in ghana @ kofi annan, the university campuses trying to promote free software? ( i know you have only five minutes to do this introductory presentation!)
sos students might know what wikipedia is. but will it be out of place to say in a sentence what wikipedia is?
did i hear somebody say the other day that all good things in life are free?? that's debateable. not for now.
rgds
kdrah
#3 kdrah am 2006-10-11
Robustness is technical, in my POV, so I'd spare that out. Benefits for developing country is a good point, I'll try to squeeze in a sub-sentence somewhere. No time for the Kofi-Annan-Center, though, I'm afraid.
#4 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-12
hi nomeata, here is a rewrite that I did. use what you will. Viva FLOSS!
----------------------
Good morning,

you might have seen me around your school a few times, and wondered: Who is
this guy, and why is he here? Time to answer these questions.

The first one is answered quickly: My name is Joachim Breitner, I am a student
of Mathematics and Computer Science in Karlsruhe, Germany, and I am what you
can call a Computer Geek. Geeks are people who are passionate about something,
in this case computers.

The second questions does not take much longer: I volunteered to come to this
school to promote the use of Free Software, particularly Gnu/Linux.

But what is Free Software, and why do we need it?

Don't worry, this is a non-technical talk...

The modern society into which this school will release you soon is heavily
based on computers, and computers are controlled by who? users? no, it is
controlled by the software on your computer! In that sense, software has become
an integral part of our society, whether we want it or not. It is not too much
exaggeration to consider control over the computer as similarly important as
the control over paper which we use for writing you thought or used for
publishing a newspaper.

When it comes to writing, you have basically the freedom to write what you
want, where you want, to whom you want, and something based on other writing.
This is mostly what you have been learning to do the last eight to eleven
years. Nobody questions the idea that you can control the paper you use to
write your ideas on and that nobody else has the ability to take away that
right.

When it comes to computers, though, things are a bit different: The software
you use, you have no right to share it with your friends, you are not allowed
to study their inner workings or write your own variation of these. You can't
even know if the software is not doing something you don't want, like spying on
you! And doing any of these things can get you put in jail.

Comparing software freedom to writing freedom, this would mean that the poems
you write are actually fill-in form, that you raise your political opinion by
answering multiple choice questions, and that your love-letters over the hostel
wall are one of a dozen pre-fabricated to chose from. This would not be accept,
but in the IT world, it is the standard!

But there is another way. A large world-wide movement of students,
professional, companies and others have been spending their free time to create
a different kind of software: Free Software, with the same freedom as in free
speech, not free beer.

This software explicitly allows, no, encourages you to share the programs with
your friends and families. It is meant to be studied, to be modified to your
needs, and to allow you to share your improvements. And doing any of these
things is not a crime but a service to your fellow man. A large community has
evolved that numbers in the millions all around the world and contains people
that speak many languages.

Free Software is, for the most part, created by people for their and others
benefit, and not for money, so the decisions made when creating these programs
are not based on 'does this help make more money', but is this good for me, the
users, everyone. And even if you don't want to program, you can still
contribute by suggesting improvements to the programs, and since you don't deal
with large anonymous companies, people will probably actually listen to you!
And you can make many friends by joining this large community of programmers and
users of free software like me.

And this idea does not have to stop at software. Inspired by the Free Software
ideas, Wikipedia was founded, this is an enormous collection of human
knowledge. And like free software, this great effort, allows you to contribute
and make it work. The Creative Commons movement applies these ideals to
content, that is music, videos, texts, and it encourages people to re-mixes and
derive new content from present. People have always taken old thing and used
them to make new things and this movement is about taking your culture and
making it express your ideas about it using the things you see ever day.

And if this did not convince you yet, you should still give Free Software a try
because it will cost you no money and will do what you need it to do but with the
added advantage that it gives you the freedom to make your computer work for you
and not the computer controling you as well as getting to meet cool people. It
is also just plain better, some say...

I'm looking forward to some discussion about Free Software, so if you have a
comment, what to try it, see what it looks like, or have any questions, please
do come by, I'm located in Maslino's office.

Thank you.
#5 Kevin Mark (Homepage) am 2006-10-12
Wow, thanks. For your work there I owe you at least an explanations for the bits I did not take (mostly for timely reasons)...

I don't think I need to explain geeks. These are all media-aware kids, and even if they don't know the word, they'll get what it means.

GNU/Linux... technically correct, but OTOH, I was called to introduce "Linux", so I'll stick to the non-confusing version for now. Also, "Linux" is just one example of the "Free Software" I introduce, so the sentence is still correct :-)

I'll stick to "the ability to write" in the next paragraph, as it's more extreme and includes all usages of the pen. Only few of the students have published a newspaper before...

I like the sentence that nobody questions the right to use writing. Taken.

I like to keep the "prosecuted" part in the next paragraph (what it would mean for writing), where I think it stresses the point more. "going to jail" sounds good, though, changed.

Nice ideas in the next two paragraphs, taken.

I might be cutting out the Wikipedia and Creative Commons paragraph, for brevity's sake.

That Free Software does not cost anything is a moot point here, as the students don't have computers of their own, unfortunately.

Thanks for your ideas!
#6 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-12
Hi JB,
just a minor point for the blog(wishlist bug): if you have the time, could you add an en_US translation of the trackback message that is emailed? Of course, I could send it to translate.google.com, but if you could, it'd be appreciated.
good luck with getting more students to try 'linux' x-)
Kev
ps. have you seen schoolnet.na ?
#7 Kevin Mark (Homepage) am 2006-10-13
It happens that the mails sent out are in the language of the person using the blog at that moment. So if a Russian posts a comment, I get a mail in Russian. It's a serendpitiy problem, I think...

I'll have a look at schoolnet.na
#8 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-13
How do they feel about Africa as a whole? You could sneak in a sentence about the african Linux "Ubuntu". Is that a native word in Ghana?

I don't know about your talking style, but i would talk more about myself. A story is more touching than lots of facts. The question is wether you want to "pitch" Linux here or objectively inform about your presence.

Good Luck!
#9 beza1e1 (Homepage) am 2006-10-12
How I feel about Africa as a whole? It's hot!

I just added a paragraph that Free Software can play a role in the developing of an IT economy in third world countris. Ubuntu is not an Ghanaian word, and I don't have the time to explain that, I think. Also, as the studends don't have their own computers, for now Ubuntu is not very interesting for them.

Well, if I talk more about myself, I have less time to spark interest in Free Software. And my personal Free Software history is not very inspiring, besides maybe the fact that it brought me here, which I have added: "You also make friends world wide by joining this large community of programmers and users, and – as you can see – you get around."
#10 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-12
Free as in "free *candy*" may be a little more appropriate in a middle school.

But other than that, great! Good luck!
#11 Philipp am 2006-10-12
That's a cool speech, very approachable and knowledgeable, and hopefully there will be lots of people asking for more information :-) There are a few little grammar points that I would fix in an ideal world, but after all, you're not submitting a paper to a conference, and I think it's an engaging speech. Let us know how you get on!
#12 nattie am 2006-10-13
Just had my speeck. I think it went ok-ish, probably more people were enjoying my accent that what I said.

There was a "regular morning assembly speech" before, talking about "forging forward", who gave Microsoft's gross revenue as an example for success, so I added a sentence to that to my speech. Here is the final version, thanks for all the help!

Good morning,

you might have seen me around your school a few times, and wondered: Who is this guy, and why is he here? It is time to answer these questions.

The first one is answered quickly: My name is Joachim Breitner, I am a student of Mathematics and Computer Science in Karlsruhe, Germany, and I am what you can call a Computer Geek.

The second questions does not take much longer: I volunteered to come to this school to promote the use of Free Software, particularly Linux.

But what is Free Software, and why do we need it?

Now, don't worry, this is a non-technical talk...

The modern society into which this school will eventually release you is heavily based on computers, and computers are controlled by – users? – no, the Software on these computers! In that sense, software has become an integral part of our society, whether we want it or not. It is not too much exaggeration to consider control over the computer as similarly important as the control over the paper, that is, the ability to write.

When it comes to writing, you have basically the freedom to write what you want, where you want, to whom you want, quoting what others wrote and so on. This is mostly what you have been learning to do the last eight to eleven years.

When it comes to computers, though, things are a bit different: The software you use, you have no right to share it with your friends, you are not allowed to study their inner workings or write your own variation of these. You can't even know if the software is not doing something you don't want, like spying on you!

Compared to writing, this would mean that the poems you write are actually fill-in form, that you raise your political opinion by answering multiple choice questions, and that your love-letters over the hostel's wall are one of a few pre‑fabricated to chose from. Scribbling something between the lines is illegal, and if you pass the newspaper to your neighbor, you'll go to jail. This would no one accept, but in the IT world, it is the standard!

But there is another way. A large world-wide movement of students, professional, companies and others have been spending their free time to create a different kind of software: “Free Software”, with the same “free” as in “free speech,” not “free beer”.
This software explicitly allows, no, encourages you to share the programs with your friends and families. It is meant to be studied and to be modified to your needs, and you can share your improvements. This is not a crime, it is a service to your fellows, and thus, a large community has evolved that includes millions of people from all around the globe.

Free Software is, for the most part, created by people for the benefit of themselves and others, and not for money, so the decisions made when creating these programs are not based on “does this help us make more money,” but “is this good for me, the users, everyone.” And even if you don't want to program, you can still contribute by suggesting improvements to the programs, and since you don't deal with large anonymous companies, people will probably actually listen to you! You also make friends world wide by joining this large community of programmers and users, and – as you can see – you get around.

Free Software can also play an important role in the IT development of countries like Ghana, as instead of paying large amounts of money to some foreign companies for software – and you just heard how much money Microsoft makes off you – you can build your IT economy on local skills, based on Free Software, and you can more easily adopt the software to the needs of a developing country, for example, by translating it to indigenous languages.

And if this did not convince you yet, you should still give Free Software a try. It is also just plain better, some say...

This does not have to stop at software. Inspired by the Free Software ideas, the community-based online encyclopedia “Wikipedia” was founded, this enormous collection of human knowledge, inviting everyone to add more information. The Creative Commons movement applies these ideals to content, that is music, videos, texts, encouraging re-mixes and deriving new content from present.

I'm looking forward to some discussion about Free Software, so if you have a comment or a question, please do come by, I'm located in Maslino's office.

Thank you for your attention, and enjoy your mid term break.
#13 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-13

Have something to say? You can post a comment by sending an e-Mail to me at <mail@joachim-breitner.de>, and I will include it here.