I’m at the second Idlelo conference on the digital commons in Nairobi, Kenya this week. I was lucky to hear a short presentation by Rishab Gosh who is on the advisory board for the OpenBusiness project. Gosh spoke about why free software matters for development.
A recent study was done on 1 million lines of code which found that 11-12% of free software development is done by companies – the rest by individuals. The most popular reason that people gave for joining free software projects was ‘to learn and develop new skills’. The greatest beneficial role of free and open source software development is therefore in learning – learning by doing – the best kind J
Rishab also spoke about broadening our views about what free software includes. The first “free software” practitioners, he said, were the professional musicians, authors and creators who would go to a website, click ‘view source’ and use the source to create their own websites.
The need to see active participation by creators and innovators as the key goal of organisations like FOSSFA is what I’m going to be pushing for here. Free software activists and free content, open access and open science communities need to work together. We need one another – free software needs open content to display successful applications of their products; open content needs free software to help develop the tools for them to continue the creation and advancement of creative industries, scientific advancement and in reducing the costs of quality education.
Again and again, I am hearing people speak about the need to collaborate more effectively.
He closed with a story.
‘After hearing about free software at a conference, someone asked me: “But isn’t “black box” (proprietary software) better than free software? Isn’t that why we have to use proprietary solutions?”
My answer was that even if free software isn’t as good (and in many cases it is) we should still use free software because “black box” software will never allow us to learn about software – and it will mean that we will keep using “black box” software forever.’