Report on Free Software Free Society, 2008.

Published on: 2008-12-13

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Report on Free Software Free Society, 2008.


I am back home after participating in Free Software, Free Society. 2 1 13 For me, the high point of the conference was the chance to listen to people like RMS, Eben and Jimmy Wales - and a lot of other very interesting people with very interesting ideas. Because we were sort of immersed in ideas for three days, I shall structure this report around these "ideas".

How many Einsteins studied Physics?

That's what Eben Moglen asks - and that is something which we have to think about seriously. 1 22 It is silly to imagine that out of the millions of "brains" in the world, only a small number have the genius and the aptitude to become an Einstein - it is much more likely that tens of thousands of Einstein-brains are wasting away because they never got a chance to study Physics and Maths. The invention of the printing press was perhaps the first big revolution in the "networking" of brains - and we are now witnessing a tremendously more powerful revolution in the form of the digital computer and the Internet. For the first time in history, we have a chance to make the whole of human knowledge accessible to each and every individual on earth - imagine the amazing potential of this revolution!

The software patent stupidity

But this revolution is being threatened by monopolists who wish to control the generation and dissemination of knowledge. Venkatesh Hariharan, Eben, Mishi and Marco gave presentations on the current state of that stupid idea called software patents. 16 15 Think about this - there are thousands of patents in just one narrow field called "e-commerce". It is impossible to create any new e-commerce application without "infringing" on multiple patented ideas. In a field like software where innovation is heavily dependent on the mixing-and-matching of ideas, patents are an absurdity. Venkatesh gave an interesting example of the importance of the "playing field" in the outcome of the match - Indian hockey started declining from the 1970's when the game switched to artificial turf where the emphasis was more on power and aggression rather than artistry. A patent-enabled playing field is detrimental to the interests of everybody except a few monopolies who have large patent portfolios and can engage in cross-licensing.

A New Revolution?

In the olden days, bringing together a large number of people and making them work on something (this is what a "factory" does) required large amount of capital, power and authority (the actual mix of these three depending on the mode of production - feudal, socialist, capitalist ...). We are witnessing the birth of a new mode of production enabled by massive interconnectivity. Without anybody actually compelling them to do so, large number of people are getting involved in producing useful stuff (think of Wikipedia and Free Software). The peer-to-peer networking revolution was the topic of Michel Bauwen's talk. 4 3 The natural question is - can peer production deliver actual, material goods? We don't know. But here is some food for thought - many material things (say a car) have a substantial "information" component in them, which can be peer produced. Open Electronics Hardware is now as much of a reality as Free Software, rapid prototyping machines are going to be on our desks sooner than later and yes, people are trying to build an "open source" car. Here is yet another food-for-thought item: 6

Wikipedia, Quality and a new kind of search

Jimmy Wales delivered one of the best talks of the conference. The Wikipedia is one of the most influential products of the "Network Civilization" - ranked as the 5th most popular website in the world (with 244 million unique visitors monthly). 8 7 Wikipedia's popularity comes from extensive coverage of topics as well as the high quality of it's articles (note the similarity with Free Software). Conventional wisdom says that quality is the result of extensive use of heavy "processes" (like say CMM in software). But we now know that conventional wisdom is often wrong - intrinsic motivation, and passion towards work, combined with peer review, can ensure very high levels of quality. Google is soon going to get some competition - and no, it won't be from Microsoft. Won't it be cool to have a completely free search engine which gets improved by constant feedback from users? If Jimmy Wales has his way (and the community gets interested), this may become a reality. Google, if it becomes yet another Microsoft, will be a far greater threat than Microsoft ever was, or would be. 5 6

Malayalam Wikipedia

It seems that Malayalam Wikipedia is reaching out to greater heights - I met a few people who are actively involved in improving it. The youngest of the group is an 11th standard student! 4 3 A Malayalam Encyclopedia was donated to the Wikipedia project by a Kerala government instituition.

The real "value" of Free Software

Is it the case that objects which have no monetary "sale" value, have no value at all? Stupid question - isn't it? What then would be the value of say love? Even when you don't "buy" or "sell" free software, even when there is no "money" involved in it, it has tremendous practical value to society. Free Software is being used by organizations involved in tribal welfare. It helps in educating fishermen. It's being used by visionaries like Krishnakant to improve accessibility to people with disabilities. And, FSFS 2008 saw many people talking about how they use Free Software to make the world a better place to live in. 12

FOSS and Gender

Does the hacker culture have a gender bias? As a teacher, I see that only a very small number of students are passionate about technology - and most of them are males. Lack of role models (and associated social conditioning) may be one reason. Cheekay Cinco was right when she said that female hackers should seriously do a bit of self promotion - they should at least make sure that they are *visible*. 18 20 19

Other talks

I have covered only a few of the non-technical talks which I attended. There were many, many other interesting sessions - like the keynote by Neville Roy Singham, the CEO of ThoughtWorks: 14 And, of course, the inimitable RMS - he delivered his "standard" lecture - complete with the hilarious "saint ignucius" act and an auction!

A great conference for the students!

There were 12 students from GEC Thrissur (the FSUG-Thrissur team) and about 30 from MES Kuttippuram (thanks to the "Shyam effect") - all of them were in as volunteers managing the stalls at the Free Software exhibition. I am sure that they have had an incredible experience, having got a chance to listen to some of the great minds in the Free Software movement and network with peers. 11 17

The Free Software Exhibition

I didn't have too much time to spend at the Exhibition venue - FSUG Thrissur team was there, explaining the working of some interesting Free Software tools for scientific computing. MES Kuttippuram students were there to explain how to do electronics/embedded systems work with GNU/Linux. There was a group of Electronics enthusiasts exhibiting the Arduino board and the Processing visual programming framework. 12 13 9

How to befriend speakers, Unni style!

This is what Unni does - he draws a picture of the speaker (in real-time, during the talk) - once it is over, he approaches the speaker, shows the picture to him/her and asks for an autograph! He tried it on Eben Moglen: 2

OpenMoko Hack session

Arky arranged an OpenMoko hack session with Dr.Nagarjun giving a great informal presentation. Check out what Arky has to say about it! Besides myself and a few GEC students, there was a student from Tajikistan and another one from Solvakia! Check out Arky's 2008 Full Roundup

Pramode C.E

Thu Dec 18 03:14:05 2008

Sandeep, the question is not of winning an argument, but getting a point of view!


Thu Dec 18 04:32:03 2008

Try to publish the text of all talks & ameeting point


Thu Dec 18 13:59:36 2008

Totally agree with you sir. It took a long time before I realized that it is not about winning an argument. (Then onwards, I try to avoid arguments) :) You put it in the right words :)

Pramode C.E

Mon Dec 15 18:30:14 2008

How does it become an oxymoron?


Sat Dec 13 18:42:55 2008

Did you see the windows around ? One gentle man is crying foul here.

Pramode C.E

Sun Dec 14 03:02:58 2008

No, I was attending the policy track and none of the speakers there used proprietary software.


Wed Dec 17 20:18:20 2008

Because I believe that "Free Software" wouldn't exist in a "Free Society". Or at least the amount "Free Software" will be really-really less. Sir, namukku arguments venda.. Njan ippozhe thottu! :( ;)

Amit Dubey

Mon Dec 29 12:40:40 2008

How many Einsteins studied Physics? ... Knowledge is open for any body who wants to learn and of course he has to earn his learning The software patent stupidity ? .... The day when u will be have created something by ur own effort only, then ask ur self this question and pls. honestly listen to ur mind what it has achieved. A New Revolution? .... ur open source car will be visible :) right so it has to have materials which needed to be produced using wealth, if it happens as u say it wont be new mode of production just another way to fraud the society by defrauding the producer of the materials first Wikipedia, Quality and a new kind of search? .... ha ha go to, u will find a message on top asking for donate 'Money'.. I need not to say anything more. Well and others are also crap... Pramode u have done a good job getting these content listed here but pls. list its real meaning, There is nothing called free.... if a software is free declared by a man it means that man has not developed it by his own total effort and not from scratch, it is taken from some body else now he wants to use it for his own purpose.... and at last if you develop a really good software by ur own hard work think about making it free You will be fooling all ur awaken hardworking nights.

Pramode C.E

Tue Dec 30 04:39:50 2008

Dear Amit, Do you understand what "free" means in the context of "Free Software"? The term doesn't refer to monetary cost, it refers to freedom, as in Free Speech. You would like to check out some of the articles at: There is nothing wrong with Wikipedia (or a Free Software project) asking for, and accepting donations. You seem to have some serious misconceptions - there is a huge amount of very high quality Free Software out there, written by people on their own effort (eg: the GNU/Linux operating system and a lot of fantastic tools running on it). Please do a bit of research before declaring something as "crap".

RMS on coud computing « Anil Franklin

Tue Dec 16 20:18:55 2008

[...] RMS on coud computing We went to FSFS at Trivandrum and there were sessions by RMS,Eben Moglen and Jimmy Wales . A detailed report on the three day event could be seen here. [...]

Boycott Novell » How Software Patents Impede Standards and GNU/Linux Development

Tue Dec 16 01:17:19 2008

[...] patents mix as well as water and sand. They just don’t. We stressed this point last week and one new discussion from India re-highlights the threat of software patents to many different aspects of [...]


Mon Dec 15 10:12:07 2008

"Free Software Free Society" sounds like a bit of oxymoron. That google-M$ bit (Google, if it becomes yet another Microsoft, will be a far greater threat than Microsoft ever was, or would be) ... did put a smile on my face! :) [Well, for one thing I don't consider them as Threats. ;) And for another ... I have some hidden secret reason ;) ] - Sandeep.