Tatamagouche Summer Free School

Friday, August 18, 2006

Interview: Ola Mork (Free as in Freedom)

You talk about Open Source software and free software. What is the difference between these two ideas?

ola2.jpg Free software is a subset of open source software. All free software is inherently open source because the definition of "free" requires access to the source (for modification and redistribution). Open source software can be non-free depending on the specific licensing (such as preventing redistribution or requiring modifications to be returned to the original author).

Free software is defined as:

1. free to execute the program
2. free to access the source code
3. free to modify the source code
4. free to redistribute your modifications
5. with the requirement that you pass these rights on to others if you distribute your modifications.

Explain how Free/Open source software (F/OSS). works. Who creates it? Who uses it? How is it distributed?

An individual articulates a problem and publishes the beginning of a solution. Anyone who finds it useful uses that seed of a solution and recommends repairs and changes.

OSS is generally distributed via the internet (it is also distributed with physical media, but less frequently).

How or why is F/OSS beneficial?

ola1.jpg It's not necessarily beneficial. There are some circumstances when distributing open source software would be nonsense. Examples could include highly specialized applications like subterranean, Pacific tube worm (SPTW) length prediction software or applications that are only used by one person or within an organization (like specialized drafting-software modifications for modeling SPTWs).

Generally though, a lot of software would benefit from an open development environment. Most general software (productivity suites like Microsoft Office or database programs like Oracle) are being supplemented and replaced by viable open source alternatives. It would have been difficult for Oracle to turn their programs into open source programs and still maintain their licensing structure. They are now being replaced by open source alternatives that have sprung up without the burden (or requirement) for marketing and bureaucracy and the cost those incur.

Is there profitability associated with creating and using F/OSS? How can creators of F/OSS be rewarded for their work?

The value of software is rarely in the software itself. The value is in how the user needs the software to work for them. So if it works out of the box, fine. But usually there are changes that need to (or could) be made that require resources that it doesn't make sense for the user to maintain. Why pay a programmer full time when you only need a few one-time changes? That's the value that open source offers and how purveyors of F/OSS make a living. They maintain and customize their software (thus improving it per the actual user's needs) for cash.

Do intellectual property rights play into F/OSS?

Intellectual property rights as a concept is too ambiguous to accurately respond to. The term is used to include copyright, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, etc. All of these are important to F/OSS.

Copyright is the mechanism that free software uses to defend the liberties that it defines. Trademarks and patents are mechanisms that are most commonly used by those who do not participate in Free software to protect their investments. Both practices are necessary in different environments and circumstances. The concern would be how to define the limitations on these protections. Any state sponsored protection of a right to ownership and for practical purposes extends into perpetuity is unreasonable. Either it has to be a trade secret (without state-protection if copied or duplicated) or it has to have a terminated protection period (expiration on copyright or patents).

How can you translate the lessons and experience of F/OSS into other aspects of life?

Any time the end user can examine (or deduce) the mechanism their tool uses they can improve it. The community of users as a whole benefits from each other's improvements. Examples: electronics (schematics), architectural drawings, mechanics, text books, agricultural techniques, etc.


  • Ola-
    This site & Free School looks amazing. I studied for 2-3 years at Woodland Essence Herbal School, camping on land our herbal teachers owned while sharing ideas, information, food, and song. This site reminded me of the type of gathering & sharing information that brings the best out in folks & that I would love to join. My family would love to share herbal healing, knitting, beading, and handmade bodycare products with your group. Please send more info :).
    Thanks a bunch!

    By Anonymous Cole, at 6:26 PM  

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