Monday, October 6, 2014

Four Freedoms

Updating our wordpress based newspaper site, I saw that wordpress prominently includes the 4 key freedoms in their "about" page. They are:
  1. You have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  2. You have access to the source code, the freedom to study how the program works, and the freedom to change it to make it do what you wish.
  3. You have the freedom to redistribute copies of the original program so you can help your neighbor.
  4. You have the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.
This strikes me as a reasonable starting point for any public institution, including ours, which seeks to inculcate students with feelings of curiosity, ownership, and empowerment around computers.

It's a useful reminder that free as in freedom is different and more important than free as in free of cost. How ironic that the principle reason we don't use free software at our school is that google has made is so extraordinarily convenient to use their own free-as-in-beer closed-source solutions in schools. While key tools like chrome are open source and while Google does make API's available for many aspects of their apps suite that make tinkering with docs/sites/etc. not just do-able but often fun, I find the exercise of just re-reading the basic software freedoms to be a sobering one.

I wonder, in the face of good free-as-in-beer enterprise software from google, are there any schools out there working to give students their software freedoms? Making the switch from a Microsoft infrastructure to a Google one seems like a no-brainer (lower cost, greater functionality), but it strikes me that the ease of that switch may have made a switch to a truly open infrastructure a non-starter.

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