Tag Archives: OSS

OSS Freedom!

I came to a sudden realization recently and it can be expressed easily:

I started using OSS because it was free, using OSS has made me free.

(I’m finally getting what RMS means by free software!)

I just gave a round table presentation at the OLA (Oklahoma Library Association) conference titled OSS onramp, and I am relieved to have it over and quite excited with the feedback from it. The round table featured my fellow students from last semester who had used OSS in their projects. What I found quite touching was that my postings to the discussion boards about OSS, had a strong influence on their decisions to use OSS and they were all “converts” and as nearly zealous as I.

My semester project that I presented on was ossonramp.org. One of my goals in this project was to use only open source software in the creation of the site even to the extent of making sure that my hosting service was using OSS. I loaded my laptop with Ubuntu , used GIMP for image editing, InkScape (quite nice considering it is still at version .4x) for vector graphics, FireFox (of course), OpenOffice, and Drupal.

I am amazed at the quality of OSS and quite relieved to find all the tools I need without the costly hassles of EULA and all the restrictions that go with proprietary software.



Organic software?

organic software

Firefox has a great new ad campaign touting the claim that Firefox is 100% organic software. What a great ad campaign and what a great new term for OSS. From their site:

As software companies go, we’re a little unusual. We use the term ‘organic software’ to sum up the various ways we’re different from the other guys:Our most well-known product, Firefox, is created by an international movement of thousands, only a small percentage of whom are actual employees.


Congratulation Firefox!

Firefox is about to break has broken 500 million downloads as this New York Times article points out. An interesting point they make is that while most data shows Firefox at about 17% market share, their own analytics shows about 28% for their readers userFirefox.


Collaboration: the new paradigm.

I stumbled upon this presentation by Howard Rheingold on TED and wanted to share it.

Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group. As he points out, humans have been banding together to work collectively since our days of hunting mastodons.


Ohh, yeah, that’s a Known Bug.

Long before I’d heard the term free software or open source – actually before the term open source existed, I wished for something like it. My experience with proprietary systems has not been stellar, and likely is different from the casual user of software like word processors and web browsers.

Long ago, the company I worked for purchased equipment and software to output computer generated slides to the actual 35mm film. The equipment and software to do this was extremely expensive and did much less than the salesman had promised (something often called vaporware).

We would run into problems from time to time and describe them to tech support via an expensive toll call.

“The computer locks up when it gets to rasterizing the image at about 90%” I would say.

“What software are you outputting from?” tech support would ask.

“It’s Harvard Graphics output as a postscript.”

“Are there any graphics or clipart in the slide with more than two lines of text?”


“Ohh, yeah, that a KNOWN bug!” He would exclaim as if all our problems were solved.

“A KNOWN bug?”

“Yes, we are scheduled to have that patched in version 2.156” he boasted.

“When will that be?”

“Hard to say, but we are aware of the bug!”

“Is there a work around so that I can get this work done today.. when the customer wants it?”

“Hmm, ” shuffling “no work around” more shuffling…. “Can you remove the graphic?”

There were many calls with the same basic dialog.  It reached the point where when the system locked up, my work partner and I would look at each other and exclaim loudly “KNOWN BUG!”

OK, so that was a LONG time ago – right. Things are much better now, right? Well, actually I see this same thing happening today. Our library pays a fair chunk of money for software to manage the patron access to the computers. This software is sold by salesmen who promise more than the programmers can deliver (vaporware), and there is still the problem of bugs which all software has. A recent problem basically rendered an enhanced feature useless. When I described the problem, I was told that this was a known bug, but when I asked when it was scheduled to be fixed, I was told that the status had not be elevated to be fixed. No amount of begging on my part would increase the likelihood that this bug would be fixed, unless a whole lot of other paying customers started complaining.

So, how does OSS remedy this problem? First, the biggest problem with these proprietary software vendors, is that they have more salesmen than programmers. Not the case with OSS. As a customer who pays for this software, I can only advocate that certain bugs are fixed. I have no access to the source code and am forbidden from fixing it. Our only “solution” : user groups often figure out a work around for these types of problems and share those within the community of users. Access to the source code changes that. I could actually pay a programmer (if I lacked the skills, which I do) to fix the bug in the software. A group of users could pay to have the bug fixed, or a user who can program might fix the bug as well. OSS bugs are listed and any programmer can choose to fix the bug. Then, the even better point is that the bug fix is returned to the OSS communities and others will benefit from it.

Sometimes, a known bug is a good bug the difference is in the user’s power to fix it.


OSS post

This is a post from our online class discussion that somehow swerved into OSS.  It has been sitting in my WordPress drafts along with many other rough ideas waiting to be released:

We should be free to participate in the system we choose: the closed, proprietary system or the more communal open source system. My point about what Krug mentions in the interview is that when innovations are shared in a community, innovation grows exponentially (the OSS model). The early growth of the Internet is an example of this kind of information sharing. Mike’s example points to this as well.

I’ve worked in the graphic arts field and had my ideas stolen, and I didn’t like that. But, I did (and do) enjoy sharing tricks and tips with my peers (my fellow artisans, for lack of better term). If I find a better way to secure a Windows computer for public use, it seems irrelevant how much time I spent developing it. It is much more useful if I share it openly with others (who are very likely to improve on it and share that information with myself and others). I find this kind of sharing quite prevalent among librarians. Thank goodness, there are so many experts on the Internet who freely share their hard won wisdom and expertise to teach us things like CSS, HTML, podcasting, etc. They certainly could choose to sell it in book from or charge for that same information which would be fine and acceptable, but have less dissemination.

Those programmers who make up the OSS movement choose to share their code, their labor (though many are paid for this work) with the understanding that a thousand eyes are better at finding bugs than just one set.

I really suggest that if anyone wants to understand the premise of OSS, they should read The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which Doc Martens has mentioned in the Open Source discussion board. (which I’ve pasted below)

Most of you who are interested in this probably have already read Eric Raymond’s classic essay in “First Monday”
so here’s his own page with more (including some links to extensions and critiques):


Name Game

I have been reading Free Software, Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman to get a better understanding of OSS. In the process, I’ve found a whole new level of understanding (and appreciation) for how OSS came into being and also acknowledging the fine line between idealism and pragmatism.  His work and words test this line often and create much debate in the community.

Stallman founded the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and defines free software as:

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

There is some disagreement about this term and some in the movement wish to de-emphasize the word “free”. The real problem comes in the ambiguity of the word “free.” Stallman notes this and makes the distinction between free as in “free speech” vs. free as in gratis or “free beer.” Some choose to use the term Open Source Software which emphasized the open source code. This is a minor fissure in the movement as the basic goal remains the same, with a minor difference in terminology. The term F/OSS or FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is a later introduction as well as FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open-Source Software). I personally prefer this term as it covers all the bases quite well, but the most common term used is OSS and we can read whatever meaning we choose into that term. In fact, the meaning does change as we learn more about it.

Words and thus names are important. Stallman points out that Linux should really be called GNU/Linux because of the contributions of the GNU community. The truth is “Linux”, like “OSS,” is the term which is most commonly used and it may prove futile to change the name that has caught on in an attempt to have it more accurately describe the reality or the idealism behind it.

Anyone who seeks to learn more about OSS will quickly find Stallman’s fingerprints all over it. he arguably started the entire movement. He also created the concept of copyleft and the GPL under which most OSS (or Free Software as Stallman would prefer) is licensed. It could be argued that OSS wouldn’t  exist without this well-though-out concept.  Stallman is also stalwart in his fight against Digital Restriction Management (as he cleverly renames it).

He is definitely acknowledged by the community even though his name and GNU are not as recognized as Linux and Linux Torvalds. It can seem at times that Stallman’s emphasis on words and seemingly credit cloud the true debate about what it means to have software freedom. It may appear that Stallman is worried about brand when he advocates GNU/Linux over Linux and “Free Software” over OSS. While I can understand the arguments for calling free software free, I have more trouble with calling Linux anything other than Linux. What’s odd to me is that the spirit of OSS / FOSS / FLOSS / Free Software / GNU / GNU/Linux / Linux / slash / (get my point?) …. anyway, the community seems to be the point, no monolithic leaders, but a community of developers and users. The brand is less important to those who take the time to learn, but words, names, brands are important sooo….

Here’s my modest proposal: LiGNUx.


And, don’t even ask me HOW to pronounce that!

Update: OK, I should have known this one was way too obvious. Apparently this was suggested over a decade ago (perhaps by Stallman – see footnote on this essay) and has been debated from time to time. There’s even a website with this name.