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My shortest entry ever

May 12, 2009 1 comment

What she said here I completely agree with.

+1

[Thanks, Carla]

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Hackers: Good – Crackers: Bad

March 25, 2007 Leave a comment

It’s interesting how those urban stories become urban legends (no, Bill Gates is not going to give you his fortune if you pass on that e-mail — sheesh) and how myths become become truths when repeated often enough.

Last week, the paper at which I work had a headline on a story that said that the U.S. had the most hackers in the world. Under my definition of hacker this would be welcome news, but the article continued to implicate those who “hacked” as people who did illegal things via computers.

Those aren’t hackers. Most of you know who Eric Raymond is, but for those of you who don’t, the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” — arguably a defining book regarding open source software — has something to say about hackers; real hackers, that is.

Raymond says that hackers — “a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing mini-computers and the earliest ARPAnet experiements” — originated the term as a positive one. Hackers built the Internet, Raymond continues, made Unix what it is today, run Usenet, and generally make the World Wide Web work.

He continues later to say, “There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren’t. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers . . . . Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them . . . .”

Raymond continues later: ” . . . [B]eing able to break security doesn’t make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer.”

Hackers build things, and crackers break them.

I think about this every time I look at the Free Software Foundation business-card disk that doubles as my membership card, especially at the signature by Richard Stallman (I asked him to autograph it, sheepishly, after the stellar speech he gave at the University of California last month) which says, “Happy hacking!” To be a hacker would be a badge of honor I’d gladly wear.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

Nuclear option, or GNU-clear option?

March 19, 2007 Leave a comment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Koc of polishlinux.org has written an article, translated from Polish to English, about Microsoft “going nuclear” on the Free/Libre Open Source Software movement. His article in translation, which I think is a good read, is here. My reply, which appears here verbatim, is below. As I outline in my reply, I believe we should exercise a GNU-clear option instead, informing the masses about free software and its benefits to computer users in particular and to society in general and I’d be willing to discuss this further, both here and in articles at Open Source Reporter.

[This reply also appears in Larry Cafiero's blog, Larry the Open Source Guy. I attempted to post earlier, but my reply locked in my browser and I had to rewrite it.]

Thank you, Daniel, for providing a very interesting and enlightening perspective on what the FLOSS movement is up against. While I agree with what you have written, I would like to touch on a couple of points you make.

The possibility of Microsoft playing “the nuclear card” in trying to quash FLOSS, although an option of which we should remain aware, is extremely remote. Just as in a real-life nuclear scenario, both sides would perish if Microsoft tried this. As greedy and controlling (and possibly malicious) the Gateses and Ballmers of the world might be, they are intelligent enough to realize that if they used this option, their own destruction would follow.

So Microsoft may present a facade of maniac behavior with a real or imagined “nuclear threat,” but we know better. These “street racers,” as you call them, will indeed turn the steering wheel at the last moment because their own vast riches and profits will evaporate if they don’t.

They know that. And because we also know that, too, we can free ourselves from the submission that this sort of threat tries to impose on both us — those of us working to bring FLOSS to the masses — and the computing public in general.

Rather than the “nuclear threat,” Microsoft is taking a page from the U.S. foreign policy playbook. How? History shows that between 1945 to the fall of communism in the former USSR, the U.S. used a policy of “containment” against the USSR, stopping the spread of communism through covert operations or brute force in other countries (a policy that, as a U.S. citizen who has lived through most of it, is completely shameful; but I digress). Substitute “Microsoft” for “U.S.” and “FLOSS” for “communism” in the preceding sentence and you have the same situation today when it comes to where we, as a digital society, stand.

So while we should be aware of larger “weaponry” in Microsoft’s arsenal, focusing on the constant stream of FUD flowing from Redmond could be of more immediate importance; this FUD campaign primarily consists of the myth that FLOSS is on the margins and cannot be mainstream. We know better, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure everyone knows the truth. Coupling the fact that the FLOSS movement is making gains at a time when public distrust of Microsoft continues to rise, we have an opportunity to provide another option.

Promote and exercise the “GNU-clear option,” instead of the “nuclear option.”

The GNU-clear option is not a proposal to “reinvent the wheel” — the blueprint and philosophy that guides the FLOSS movement is well established and continues to provide a firm foundation on which to build the movement. Among other things, the GNU-clear option offers the choice that the myths about FLOSS can be busted and it truly can transform both the personal computing experience and society as a whole, despite lies to the contrary pumped out of corporate headquarters around the world and printed/broadcasted by a spoon-fed corporate media.

Let me give you an example: When was the last time you spoke to anyone — anyone who was not a computer person, that is; just a friend, relative or even a good-looking guy (or gal) at the bar or pub — about FLOSS? Today, I hope, but if not, make a point to do so. My conversion to FLOSS came as a result of a simple conversation with a supporter during my campaign as Green Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California last year — a conversation that lasted only a few minutes (including the exchanges of e-mails), but it clearly made a huge impression. I can’t code to save my life, but as a journalist I can publish a magazine (which premieres in July) and maintain a Web site to promote FLOSS principles to those non-geeks wishing to learn more.

That is my contribution. And we all have contributions to make — none of which are too small or insignificant — in bringing FLOSS to the mainstream and fighting the corporate paranoia and maniac behavior that gestates in their boardrooms and executive offices.

Ultimately, a corporate strategy based on fear and manipulation of the public will fail, allowing us to prevail.

Thank you for this article, Daniel.

Sincerely,
Larry Cafiero
Editor/Publisher
Open Source Reporter

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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