The Importance of Being FOSS

It’s a fact of life in virtually every community that there will be countless daily distractions — news announcements, controversies, squabbles — that take up the majority of our time and energy, leaving little for the big picture.

The Linux community is no exception.

That’s why it was such a relief to see a post over at recently that struck directly to the core of all that is FOSS and offered a reminder as to what it’s really all about.

“Back to the Source: Why FOSS is More Important Than Ever” is the name of said post, and it was penned — not surprisingly — by none other than legendary Linux luminary and FOSS guru Carla Schroder.

‘Treating Us Like Criminals’

Linux Girl

“We can mod our homes, we can buy random items, glue glitter and googly eyes on them and resell them as holiday crafts, we can do anything we want with our own stuff,” Schroder explained.

“Except for our digital property,” she went on. “There we run into vast mazy minefields of laws and Digital Rights Management and prohibitions and the idea that we don’t own it, but merely license it, so it’s not really ours and the vendor has the right to control it, and to control what we do with it.”

Linux “has come a long way in 23 short years,” Schroder wrote. “There will never be a definitive ‘Aha! We won!’ moment. I will call it a win when open code is the norm and closed-source is the exception … I will call it a win when vendors quit treating us like criminals.”

It would be difficult to find a better rallying cry for the FOSS community, Linux Girl would venture to suggest.

No wonder tongues have been wagging ever since.

‘FOSS Is Everywhere’

“FOSS isn’t more important than ever, it’s exactly as important as ever,” offered Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza. “The ramifications are precisely the same as they always have been. The issue is more apparent with more people using things recognizable as computers directly, but the issues are the same as they always have been.”

Indeed, “FOSS is as important as it ever has been,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone agreed.

“Some of the greatest innovation in the software market comes from FOSS,” Stone explained. “Just look at the feature set of the new Windows 9…..errrr…. 10 to see features that Linux has had for years.

“The same holds true for the supposed innovators in Cupertino,” he added. “FOSS drives almost every smartphone on the market, and I’m not just talking Android — iOS too. FOSS is everywhere, and without it, our world wouldn’t be the same.”

‘Like Information and Air’

Blogger Robert Pogson had a similar view.

“Certainly FLOSS is as important as ever,” Pogson began. “It’s the right way to do IT. Software, like information and air, should be free of monopoly and restrictions and be licensed so that the Four Freedoms are preserved. Anything less means less effective IT.”

To illustrate his point, Pogson — a retired teacher — offered an example from his most recent position.

“On Day One I found a stack of 20 PCs in a pile in my computer lab,” he recalled. “These were non-working PCs, but only one had a problem with hardware. All the rest had broken software from M$ and there was no simple way to fix it: no backup, no installation CDs, and several no longer had legible ‘stickers.’

“I did the best I could creating a database of stickers, re-imaging from one machine that seemed to work well, and trying to make sense of several different EULAs,” he added. “Literally there was no legal way to operate that system. The EULA prevented more than 10 PCs from being networked!”

‘No More Malware’

A similar fate would befall another machine practically every week, Pogson recounted, thanks to malware and other assorted issues.

“Finally, I told the boss it was too much work to keep on doing this, slavery to M$,” he said. “I proposed using GNU/Linux.”

Subsequently, “my labors went from hours per day to minutes, mostly checking that everything was humming,” he recalled. “No more malware. No more slowing down and no more unbootability. Further, the machines that I used as thin clients knocked the socks off users.”

Bottom line: “Without FLOSS, the world would continue to be in the Dark Ages of IT, in the deep pockets of the likes of Apple and M$,” Pogson concluded.

‘A Very Dystopian Future’

“I don’t see how FOSS can ever be _less_ important, because it is the only part of the IT world where we as users actually have rights,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien opined. “Proprietary companies are only interested in restricting your rights for their profit. With each day, this becomes more important.”

Back in 2011, entrepreneur, investor and software engineer Marc Andreessen said that “software is eating the world,” and “I see no sign it is slowing down,” O’Brien added.

At the same time, though, “_what_ software will it be?” he mused. “If it is controlled by Microsoft, Apple and Oracle, we have a very dystopian future ahead of us.”

Open Source vs. Free

It’s actually open source — not free software — that has made progress, Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol told Linux Girl.

“Free software advocates and community folks don’t have that much to celebrate,” Ebersol said. “The years of GNU/Linux, participation and shared work are long passed.”

Today, “we have communities that are backed by big corporations to work in their commercial distros,” he added. “Those communities solve their problems, and damn the rest.”

‘Deep Conflicts of Interest’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, also worried about the involvement of corporate players.

“To my mind, the fundamental freedom is not the freedom to tinker but the freedom to build things out of the software,” Travers said. “This freedom becomes effectively the freedom to use the software to solve problems the designers of the software did not foresee.”

For that vision to be successful, though, “the question becomes, who controls what you can do with the software?” he explained. “Who decides whether Tivoization is a problem that must be stamped out or not? Who decides whether you can integrate proprietary and open source software together?

“I don’t think one can stop at criticizing Android — though that criticism is necessary,” Travers opined. “We need a narrower view of what we want to support regarding free and open source software, and that has to be a vision of software projects which are not controlled by singular corporate players.”

Single-vendor FOSS products “cannot be immune to the criticism that the projects have deep conflicts of interest regarding the freedom of the users,” he added. “To a large extent, that software is community-developed is more important than which license it uses.”

‘What Exactly Did You Win?’

For SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet, corporations are the ones that have succeeded.

“The facts are MSFT owns 90%+ of the desktop, a proprietary OS by Google and one by Apple control mobile,” he pointed out.

So “what exactly did you win?” hairyfeet asked. “Nothing. You have the same numbers on the desktop you had 10 years ago — in fact Linux has LOST nearly a full point — and thanks to VM consolidation, server deployments are stagnant.”

‘The Era of Linux and FOSS’

That view, however, is far from unanimous.

“All around the world we can see from webstats that many countries are slowly increasing their use of FLOSS despite lack of salesmen, retailers and OEMs pushing GNU/Linux,” Pogson pointed out. “Quite a large handful of countries have governments who have seen the light of FLOSS and actively promote FLOSS. There, the usage of FLOSS doubles every year or so.”

Today, in fact, “when things happen, they aren’t as newsworthy as they once were,” noted consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, citing the example of Valencia, Spain, which saved 36 million euros over the past nine years by switching its schools to Linux.

Corporate, public administration and home users are “looking towards the Linux ecosystem with more love — this is undeniable,” agreed Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. “Whole cities’ administrations in Europe are changing to GNU/Linux, and the enterprise sector already knows that, for servers, GNU/Linux is the best option.”

In mobile, meanwhile, “there is no more dispute,” he added. “So, yes, this is the era of Linux and FLOSS, plus some branded stuff like Android.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • hairyfeet wrote, "You have the same numbers on the desktop you had 10 years ago — in fact Linux has LOST nearly a full point"

    That’s revisionist history. Checking StatCounter for 2008-10-6 we find, globally, GNU/Linux was getting 0.76%. On Friday, GNU/Linux was at 1.41%. Certainly that’s nothing to crow about but it’s not going backwards. In ~2003, IDC did report 3% but let’s compare apples with apples, webstats are the best we have these days.

    If you want to see progress in GNU/Linux look to Europe where Norway is showing 3% these days or Africa where Ethiopia shows GNU/Linux has overtaken XP and beats "7" on a good day (school kids…) or South America where Uruguay shows GNU/Linux has overtaken XP. Ten years ago there were no bright spots like that at all. Now we have large and small businesses and governments using GNU/Linux desktops and Dell is selling many units in China and India.

    • Still infected with Voldemort Poggie? Oh and I noticed you failed to mention that Linux is only beating "other" which is commonly accepted to be Win9X and Win2K by less than half a point…wow maybe in 30 years you can beat the number of XP users in 2044!

      A WISE man would see such pathetic numbers, made even more of a bad sick joke when you consider you are placing a totally free product against one with a $100+ barrier to entry, and say "what are we doing wrong that the other guy is doing right?" but instead you’ll take whatever you are given, be it Pulse, KDE 4 in alpha state, or now systemd, and refuse to stand up for yourselves and will continue losing badly.

      And what do you have to say for the fact that pirated Windows in the third world outnumbers Linux installs by a factor of 8000? That MSFT’s most hated OS since MSBob gained more users in a week than Linux has had in 22 years? Oh and you might want to look up "Google’s Iron Grip On Android" to see how Google intends to take Android proprietary, thus taking away the ONLY consumer victory that Linux EVER had, again despite being 100% free.

      At the end of the day you can guzzle koolaid all you want, numbers don’t lie and the numbers show you have better odds of seeing a UFO than you do seeing a Linux laptop in the wild LOL.

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