Joachim Breitner's Homepage
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
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.