Here are a few frequently asked questions (or frequently shouted criticisms) that I’ve received.
Feel free to add more questions in the comments!
What is Open Source to you? is it always copyleft?
No, not all open source is copyleft. There are a number of different licenses and approaches.
The aim for my project is always to achieve the FSF’s definition of ‘the 4 Freedoms‘, and I plan to evaluate ideas, projects and products on their position in the free->open->closed/nonfree spectrum throughout the year, including whether they are true copyleft, or if they are simply permissively licensed, if they are public domain (NOT open source but still acceptable for my project in most situations) or if they are proprietary.
You have proprietary vaccines in your body! You’re not open source!
The aim to live 100% open source is the goal, and it’s a naive and impossible goal. But the project itself is about the attempt. I am interested in the philosophy of open source and free software, and I want to promote it, but I also want to be realistic about it.
I’m going to try to reach that goal, and I will still be trying, even when it makes my life difficult and uncomfortable. I’ll still be trying well past the point any sane person would have given up, gone home and had a warm, proprietary Nespresso.
I realise that there are current limitations, particularly in terms of what open source hardware is available. I’ll be trying to overcome some of these limitations by developing new projects, or outlining the best path towards developing solutions. There are also theoretical limitations – is it even possible to have an open source airline? should we allow modification and redistribution of swine flu?
Whenever I come across hurdles in my path, I’ll be trying various different methods of leaping over them, scurrying under them, or whacking them with a stick. I’ll share my experiences and solutions with the community. Some solutions will require plenty of creativity and lateral thinking. Many will make me look foolish. I am totally ok with this.
What about your Mac?
There has been plenty of discussion on tech sites about how I’m going to deal with the basic problem of my computer hardware. A MacBook Pro is an extremely closed-source machine, packed with patented, proprietary components. And there are no open source equivalents. So I’m going to approach the problem in three different ways:
1) FrankenBook Pro
I’m not going to throw it on a bonfire – I just don’t have the financial resources to go and buy a new computer. Even if I reach my crowdfunding goal, this is still a low-budget, bare-bones production. If you can provide me with a suitable, more open replacement, then sure, I’ll give the Mac to an organisation that needs it (with Linux installed, naturally).
So as well as switching to free software, I’m going to donate its body to science, so to speak – over the year I will try to replace as many of its hardware components as possible with open source components.
2) Simple solutions
I have thought about my computing needs for this project and year, and what I need, at its most basic, is a simple machine for editing videos and connecting to the internet. I want to put together a simple, cheap, and extremely basic computer, that will perform the basic task necessary.
My aim is to work with others – developers, programmers, electronics and hardware experts – to develop a very basic solution to the problem.
Is there a way to hook up a Raspberry Pi with a basic open hardware LCD screen or other monitor and run an extremely simplistic video editing program? even if it is black and white, slow, with seriously crappy resolution, the idea is to provide a test project, something that others can build on to improve.
An inspiration for this kind of project is The Toaster Project – it’s not meant to be a practical solution to the problem but an interesting way to visualize and think about the complexity of the issue.
3) Predicting the future
I intend to conduct interviews with experts on computer hardware and investigate the problems facing development of a suitable open source alternative to a MacBook Pro. What problems remain unsolved? Is there any hope for a better solution in the future?
I’ll present the results of my interviews and research in video and/or writing on the website.
Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Debian have nonfree elements. Firefox has nonfree elements. Does that mean you can’t use them?
Some would say yes. I say no. The intent of my project is to get more people interested and involved in Open Source. Having me bawling my eyes out at how difficult it is to use open source software is not the best way to do this.
Firefox and Ubuntu are good examples of open source software designed with non-technical users in mind, and they are great ways to bring more people into the community. I will not be using only one distro or browser exclusively throughout the year, however. I’ll test-drive plenty, and use different software for different needs.
But what I will do when faced with free software with nonfree elements is be explicit and transparent about the nonfree parts, see if there is any way around them, and raise awareness of the issue so that the developers of the software know it is important and not forgotten.
Why Open Source, not free software? It’s about freedom!
Since starting my campaign I’ve had a few discussions with people about this issue, and at this stage I’m trying to stay relatively neutral with regards to terminology.
The main reason not to use a name referring to ‘free software’ is simply because a huge part of my project, perhaps the majority, is going to be focused on free and open source hardware, which tends to only use the open source moniker. However, I am also using the term ‘libre hardware’. Now I am trying to mostly use ‘free software’ but also ‘free and open source software’ and simply ‘open source’, although that is usually when referring to the general movement rather than software specifically.
The terminology I use will be up for debate early on in the project itself – I want to bring in many opinions to the discussion and work out what I should be saying, or rather how I should be saying it.
So on August 1st you’ll be living totally open source?
From the first of August I will avoid buying any more traditionally copyrighted products, and will start the process of replacing as many of my proprietary possessions as possible.
Obviously I can’t achieve all my aims within the first week. I’ll be tackling issues one-by-one in order to be able to research, get feedback and input, conduct interviews, develop solutions and write up documentation.
The things I use everyday, the clearest solutions and the things I buy regularly will be first.So the first project will be the obvious one – On August 1 I’ll switch to Linux and open source software. Beer has to follow soon after.
This might mean those of you giddy with excitement at the thought of tackling open source refrigeration might have to wait a couple of months while I deal with the issue of an open source cellphone. But of course if my fridge dies in the meantime (which it is constantly threatening to do), then it will cut in to the front of the line, and I’ll have to deal with the issue there and then. This is a one-year process and I hope at the end of the year to be living as open source as humanly possible, while still being connected to the internet, eating food and making videos.
What are you talking about, toilet paper?! Surely toilet paper is public domain!
My mention of toilet paper was a throwaway comment meant to make people understand the extent of the issues I’ll be investigating, and that I won’t just be dealing with high-tech issues. The line has been included in a few headlines, and unfortunately far too much importance has been placed upon this particular point and derailed the conversation on some sites.
For fulfilling my project I see it as ‘public domain good, open source better’ – I will use plenty of products whose production patents have expired (eg toilet paper, or dried spaghetti, or a bicycle). I can use these public domain products, but if I can occasionally make explicitly open source versions which explain how something is made and actively encourage others to make or modify their own, all the better. This will often be done to explain the difference between public domain and open source.
What rules are you setting yourself – what can you still buy?
Basic materials – textiles and food which are not made or grown from patented seed strains or still covered by patents. Basic foodstuffs where the production process is clear and only one ingredient is used, eg orange juice, olive oil, milk. I’m OK with these products, although I may experiment. Wires, circuit boards, basic components for making electronics projects. Wood, nails, glue etc for DIY projects.
Some of the mining and metallurgy involved in the production of these materials is probably proprietary. The trucks that deliver the food are proprietary. There are all sorts of proprietary processes involved in these not-particularly proprietary materials. This project is not just about seeing how much of an effect open source has on the real world but it’s also a way to show how closed-source and proprietary our current products, lifestyles and production systems are. I’ll be acknowledging, discussing and examining these issues over the year.
General nit-picking is fine, but constructive suggestions are much more helpful – If you know of ways around these issues please tell me.