[Fsf-friends] Free Software *is* the ethical option for NGOs/campaigners too...

Frederick Noronha fred@bytesforall.org
Fri, 30 Aug 2002 23:55:08 +0530 (IST)

Maybe we need to popularise such ideas among the
NGO/not-for-profit/campaigner circuits too... FN

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Visit by Richard Stallman to OWI, 7 June 02
OWI - One World International http://www.oneworld.net/

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and president of the Free
Software Foundation, visited OWI on 7 June for a seminar with staff.

Stallman is the world=92s best-known advocate of free =96 as opposed to
open-source =96 software. He opposes the use of proprietary software,
which he reasonably considers is largely motivated by the thirst of
large corporations to make profits and to control computer use and
indeed people for their own private and un-transparent ends.

He talked about the origins of the free software movement in the 1980s,
among developers like himself opposed to the privatization of socially
useful knowledge. The movement embraces a democratic principle in that
the direction of software development is determined by the choices made
by those who use and work on it, which anybody is free to do.

Ex-MIT programmer/developer Stallman described his moral revulsion when
faced by the binding terms and conditions that the proprietary software
corporations impose on users. He considers that most people in poor
countries will never be able to afford the cost of software licence
fees. He expressed strong distaste for the dubious means by which
proprietary companies seek to enforce their licences in the South. In
his view debate about the `digital divide' is in part an artificial one
arising from restrictive government policies and unethical corporate

Stallman described the early stages of developing GNU software
(pronounced with a hard G), imitating proprietary Unix (GNU =3D Gnu is Not
Unix), 18 years ago. Currently there are a reported 400,000-plus
developers of free software around the world, working on a combination
of GNU and Linux. They are opposed to the so-called open-source
movement, which also uses Linux, on the grounds that the latter does not
share the goal of a world in which everybody can use entirely free

Acknowledging that the task of freeing oneself from the dominance of
Microsoft and other software corporations appears daunting, Stallman
countered that the longer one depends on these corporations the heavier
the dependency will become. So it makes sense, he said, to free oneself
sooner rather than later.

Stallman was critical of NGOs that support ICT capacity-building among
grassroots organizations and communities if this involves introducing
them to proprietary software. He sees this as increasing the power of
predatory corporations and therefore disempowering people and

A new GNU project, NGU, aims to link GNU/Linux technical support with
NGOs seeking to move from proprietary to free software. Few if any major
NGOs have made such a move to date. But Stallman reported that the
Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sol has a policy of actively promoting
free software and plans to install GNU-Linux for 1 million

Stallman left OWI with some challenges about how we could work with and
support the free software movement, e.g. by develop GNU-Linux training
materials, supporting the development of free software packages where
needed, and moving to GNU-Linux ourselves.

It would be interesting and helpful to know how important the Foundation
Trustees consider the issue of free vs proprietary software. Is this
something that the OneWorld Network should take a position on?

Links: www.gnu.org
Free Software Foundation (FSF)

ML, June 02