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12.17.19

Free Software: A Love Story

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 5:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: A little bit of background about how I was introduced to Free software (I had to dig hard myself; media wasn’t helping) and why its advocacy is becoming only more important over time

MY adventures with Free software began around age 19 when I was introduced to GNU as a developer (GTK work). Prior to that I had already become familiar with GNU/Linux, albeit the philosophy and true history wasn’t as widely available, so I wasn’t truly familiar with it (like many others, as a teenager, I had this idea that “Linux” was something from Finland and that’s all there was to it).

AquariumI was a colleague, for a number of years, of the person who combined GNU and Linux to form the first ever GNU/Linux distribution. Last I heard, he still worked at the University. I worked there while studying. At a later stage I became more familiar with the history and the nature of various BSDs; I ran one site on BSD and some of the back end where I worked included BSDs.

My trajectory in understanding all this goes two decades back, but not much has changed in the way people are introduced to GNU/Linux. For those who think I discovered the FSF and GNU too late, bear in mind I’m celebrating my thirty-eighth birthday today, so unless I was some ‘wunderkind’, I wouldn’t know GNU since inception (I was just over a year old when GNU started). GNU and I are almost the same age. Cue goofy jokes about marrying GNU…

GodIn any event, the more I read about GNU philosophy, and the more society became dependent on technology (cash registers for instance; when I was a small child some small shops still used paper and pen, sometimes a calculator, to come up with the bill!), the more I understood the importance of GNU/Linux not just as “substitute to Microsoft/Windows” but something bigger with broader implications. Microsoft isn’t the only problem and had Microsoft vanished overnight, we’d still have a big mess to contend with on numerous fronts.

FishIn recent months I became privy or exposed to some discussions internal to Free software groups and people; I came to realise that a crisis had been brewing and that predates Stallman’s talk at Microsoft, followed (within weeks) by his ‘cancellation’.

At no point did that depress me; I fought on, seeking to help Stallman, the FSF and all those other groups, even those which seemed to have lost their compass (FSFE for instance).

Earlier today figosdev mentioned Atlantis as means of an analogy (fictional, sure, but it makes a point; hence the photos in this personal ‘essay’); I’ve long dreaded the thought — going back to my days as a young student — of the possibility of GNU/Linux ‘going away’, forcing me into some sort of proprietary system. This fear — as shall we say ‘phobia’ — was the most powerful motivator behind my activism or GNU/Linux advocacy in 2003-2008. I felt like we were fighting for the very existence of GNU/Linux as a desktop/laptop platform, long before Android came along and the whole ‘game’ changed (Windows no longer being the dominant platform). Remember that at one point, in 2006, Novell signed a hugely treasonous deal, followed by (a year later) a few similar deals that put an actual ‘patent tax’ on GNU/Linux distros (remember Xandros?). That’s why this site exists. Imagine having to go through Microsoft to download your GNU/Linux operating system. Also bear WSL in mind… they’re still trying. They tried a similar approach for guarding the Office monopoly.

Mayan pyramidJonathan I. Schwartz, CEO of Sun, said after he had left (company sold): “Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too. [and also] Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. They’d flown in over a weekend to meet with Scott McNealy. [...] Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” [...] Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket.”

Microsoft has not changed.

Listen.

It hasn’t.

I should know. I have contacts inside Microsoft (past and present). People inside are very much aware of the company’s evil deeds, which now include working for ICE and the Pentagon, not to mention oil companies that drill the oceans to death (I love sea creatures and they’re slaughtered by the millions by those greedy, reckless companies).

Reno neon lightsThe lights on the left are from Reno, where Microsoft evades tax by the billions. Who sort of blew the whistle on it, or at least did lots of activism on the matter? Jeff Reifman, who came from Microsoft and possibly became Microsoft’s biggest nightmare a decade back. In his own words: “Microsoft et al. lobbied to reduce Washington State’s Royalty Tax [...] The company decided to open a small Reno…” (there are equivalents abroad)

Reno neon lightsReifman and I exchanged E-mails a very long time ago and I must admit we get some of our best material from disgruntled employees of the company. Don’t discount their effort. Some of them “saw the light” — like those lights from Reno (right). Many people nowadays follow Lunduke for his GNU/Linux activism. He too spent a number of years working for Microsoft. Working for Microsoft is definitely a mistake, but I also believe that people deserve a chance to accept that they made a mistake and try to correct or compensate for such mistakes.

The way I see it — and I believe others too ought to see it — Microsoft remains the biggest enemy and the most potent threat to GNU/Linux, for various reasons that are unique. But looking at the bigger picture, which includes “clown computing” (Amazon et al), surveillance (Google, Facebook, Microsoft and many more), for software freedom to survive fashionable consumerism and trends we need to speak of the underlying issues, convincing if not compelling people to demand it, to fight for it. Jagadees.S. is a good advocate in that regard as he manages to break down the concepts and explain those in terms everyday people can grasp.

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