ISSUE 191: STALLMAN HITS OUT AT OPEN SOURCE ADVOCATES AT CAPE CONFERENCE
While I think that your newsletter Balancing Act is a wonderful source of news on what’s going on in Africa, I think I must at this time take strong issue with your recent publication. The IDLELO conference featured Richard Stallman as a keynote speaker. He was only one of many people who presented papers or participated in the conference.
Though RMS is arguably the most famous person who presented at the conference, his contribution was largely in the spirit of what is already well known; the material he presented is applicable worldwide and has no special significance for Africa.
Much more important to the future development of Africa’s IT sector were the proceedings of FOSSFA, The Free and Open Source Foundation For Africa. I am well aware that you are on the FOSSFA mailing list and have had access to our documents, debates and proceedings, however you seem to be ignoring FOSSFA, especially at the critical stages now, where formative activities require the participation and attention of as many people in the African IT sector as possible.
However, you have thoroughly ignored FOSSFA and focused instead on the reaction to the position of Richard Stallman. While people may not agree with Richard Stallman, it is well known and well documented that Richard has a very principled stand and very high standards for freedom which he refuses to compromise on.
To rehash the old debates and to aid in the attack on Stallman is a type of journalism that I would term ‘playing to the gallery’ where one carries what is popular, regardless of its merits or lack thereof. Leave him alone, he is playing an important but unpopular role that I do not envy. Most of us do not yet realize that he is right on a lot of issues and he does not yet realize that he is not right on all the issues. The simple truth is that he was quoted out of context, and that his presentations were extremely well received, for most people, the first time that they truly understood not only the free software movement, but also the open source movement as well.
Lastly, I would like to mention that some of the other less well known speakers such as myself, focused much more on the matter of ‘Africanizing’ the free software movement. The assumptions and cultures inherent in the free and open source movements, as is, do not always apply to Africa and even when they do, they often do not apply in the manner expected by those who live and work abroad.
I think that in this matter, you have strayed from the fine balancing act that you are usually engaged in and ask you to redress the issue and give FOSSFA as well as Africans the necessary exposure that they need and that you provide as part of the Fourth Estate.
IDLELO was not about Stallman, IDLELO was not about Europe or the attitudes, preconceptions, misunderstandings and biases of Europeans et al. IDLELO was about the technology directions of Africa, IDLELO was above all about African technologists and activists.
Balancing Act should be ashamed of completely ignoring the constituency that it purports to represent and cover and instead focusing on aspects that, apart from being unimportant to the majority of African technologists, have nothing whatsoever to do with Africa.
Your publication is a microcosm of the African problem. Europeans et al. visit, talk and think about African problems while ignoring the Africans who are working on solutions, nay, who are probably the solution. They are often left to wither on the wine, ignored and discounted while the problems continue - perpetually perpetuated.
I hope that you will cease to be a part of the problem and become part of the solution instead. In the meantime, FOSSFA will continue in its efforts to find solutions.
The author of the article Alistar Otter writes:
Of course I also wrote a few other pieces on the conference as well so I hope I am partially forgiven. ;-)
Having said that I must say I wrote this perspective on (one of) the Stallman addresses because I felt this is an important issue. It important for African Hackers to be wary of the largely commercially-driven use of the term open source and how in many ways it is threatening to corrupt the free software movement. Not everyone agrees but it is worth reporting.
Richard Stallman writes:
The open source movement presents itself as a technology option, and that is precisely where I disagree with it. I have never been a supporter of “open source”, but its supporters have often led others to think I am.
I am an activist in the free software movement. Free software is not a technology option, nor a religion; it is a political movement for freedom for computer users. Specifically, we demand the freedom to run, study, change, and redistribute the software that we use. We have labored for years to achieve this freedom, and we will continue for as long as necessary. We teach other computer users to value freedom so that they will help us defend it.
In my talk I presented and advocated the philosophy of the free software movement. I mentioned “open source” only briefly, to explain how it is different.
The supporters of open source have a right to their views, and a right to advocate their views, but they should not try to claim my support. They often do so simply by attaching the label “open source” to me or my work and not mentioning that I disagree with them. I have not seen the article that people are discussing, but the discussion leads me to worry that it may have fallen into that confusion.
I went to Idlelo so that attendees would hear the philosophy of the free software movement, and understand the fundamental difference between the two movements. Please help us inform the public that the free software movement still exists.
Issue 191: The curse of the African e-mail classes
In response to your article on unsolicited mail, we have been using Pegasus Mail for many years, and it has several advantages over Microsoft Outlook, namely it does not execute any attachments, or download lazy-html unless you specifically request it.
Our address books are never opened by incoming viruses and cannot be used to propogate junk out to all our contacts. With Pegasus Mail version 4, one can also use basic spam detection to blacklist incoming messages containing the endless variety of medications and other things being hurled at your inbox on a daily basis.
Another thing: we use Norton Antivirus, and always keep our virus definitions updated.
George de Greef
The story in Telecom News should have had Kenya’s regulator as CCK not CCOAK which is of course the cyber-café owners association. How did we confuse those two?