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Monday, March 22nd, 2010, 5:53 pm

My Professional Focus and Goals in a Nutshell

Digital Control

I am not always a pessimist, but I do believe that in order to make positive progress we must concentrare on the illnesses and try to cure them. This is why most of my work at present revolves around advancing collaborative platforms like GNU/Linux (no tyranny on people’s desktops and servers). Sure, companies like Google and IBM make a lot of money out of the platform, but it does not take away from anyone else’s ability to use the same code. Overall, it leads to solidarity. Just watch how many companies jointly develop Linux (kernel space), including giants like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA, which must play nice with the free graphics stack. A decade ago it was hardly conceivable, but here we are today with some truly powerful applications for GNU/Linux (some are still proprietary, especially games). It is exciting to see desktop environments like the K Desktop Environment (KDE SC) and GNOME desktop becoming highly competitive with whatever else is out there, proprietary included. LXDE and Xfce continue to serve an important role, especially in less capable PCs that rely on light-weight distributions. New releases of GNU/Linux come at a pace of about one per day and diversity continues to exist, with popular branches like the Mandrake/Mandriva family (with several derivatives), the Red Hat family (including Fedora), and the Debian family, which notably includes Ubuntu for the desktops (it has a huge number of variants).

The devices/embedded space is an area of considerable strength for Linux and sometimes GNU too. Phones are increasingly running Linux (with the industry’s leader, Nokia, among its biggest embracers, but Google’s Android is getting a lot more attention). Then we have sub-notebooks and tablets, many of which run Linux/Android. This is a triumph that almost nobody talks about. It also helped eliminate Microsoft’s margins in this area and got Apple so nervous that it decided to pathetically sue with software patents.

Sharing, Not Hoarding

Free software/Open Source is an even broader area where companies like Mozilla and projects like the Apache Web server show that technical merit is found in licences that encourage sharing. SaaS is increasingly a threat to software freedom, but it relies heavily on this software (databases, CMSs, etc.). Businesses increasingly adopt Free software, even though they typically call it “open source” (they are just allergic to the notion of “free”, perhaps still not realising that it’s about freedom, not cost). Funding for Free software continues to come as projects prove their worth to the market (MySQL for example) and BSD continues to evolve nicely along with GNU/Linux. Establishments like FSF/FSFE/SFLC provide a centre of power that is not driven by shareholders and GNU accommodates many important projects that are used by many millions (e.g. GRUB). Governments increasingly realise the importance of Free software licensing and openness of their data, which prevents perceptions of secrecy and thus corruption. Programmers increasingly teach themselves how to use languages and frameworks that put them in control, rather than put them in the hands of some ‘masters’ of a platform and an SDK/IDE. Applications that are free make up the ‘network effect’ that’s so crucial to the success of GNU/Linux and BSD. Almost anyone can now use a Free desktop without trouble (except for re-learning). Standards are promoted and made more prevalent as a result of Free software proliferation.

Addressing the Negatives

The revolution of Free software has wide-ranging effects on many other aspects of our lives. Science is enriched by it (increased sharing speeds up development), security is improved and surveillance gets reduced, the environment benefits from increased reuse of hardware components, and the financial market becomes more honest and transparent (e.g. for scrutiny before disaster strikes). The culture of AstroTurfing/lobbying is impeded by this culture of honesty and ethics; also, censorship is reduced, privacy honoured, and civil rights held up as more important and simpler to defend (no secrecy or conspiracy like ACTA or the Digital Economy Bill). The Internet becomes a more valuable resource (Wikipedia and Google are examples of valuable services), net neutrality is easier to defend (wireless meshes come to mind), and DRM becomes a relic from the past, much to the regret of the intellectual monopolies and copyrights cartel (which should not be allowed to exist in the first place).

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