I’ve been reflecting this past week on what we have (and haven’t) yet accomplished this year with open source and free software. I think we have made some great strides but we also have a long road ahead of us and it will continue to take hard work from all of us. In reflecting on some of our future goals I also began to consider some of our potential shortcomings. What is it about this community that people don’t understand? Before we can answer that I suppose we would need to define what we are so that we can communicate that idea to the public. Being able to communicate better with the people we’re trying to reach will be a big step in helping them understand who we are and what we do. I think the current terminology that we use causes the issue that we face here.
I would first define what we are with the term Freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom of communication. Freedom of creativity. Freedom of creation. Freedom from restriction. Have I missed anything?
As I mentioend I think our current terms fall short of communicating this. For one we use the terms “open source” or “free software”. What do these really mean to an outsider? What does “open source” mean to your parents or neighbor? What does it mean to someone who does or does not understand computers or operating systems? I think it tries to clearly define what we as a community stand for but , as much as I use it, I think it falls short. Simple for the fact that it doesn’t clearly communicate our ideals to the general PC using public.
The other term that many of us stand on is that of “free software”, but I think this falls shorter than the “open source” term. For one how do you define “free software”? (yes, this is mainly revealing a weakness in the English language) Is it simply “software that is free”? I think that is the first thing that would come to mind for most people. Would you believe that I have spoken with people that honestly believed Windows XP was free of charge? “It comes on the computer when you buy it. I didn’t pay for it.” ..as if Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by giving a product away.
Also, on this definition anything that wasn’t for-pay could be considered “free software”. This would include shareware, freeware, freely downloaded components of any OS. While this again tries to communicate the idea of “freedom” I think the weakness in the English language is the shortcoming here. (yes we could use the term “software libre” but I don’t know how well that would be adopted.)
Now what other suggestions do you as the “open source / free software” public suggest? Do you use alternate terms to describe what we are about? Do you communicate the idea behind the revolution in a different way? What are your thoughts on adopting something more along the lines of “Freedom Software”? That is what we are about isn’t it? Software for freedom. It began as a movement to gain freedom and now we are in a fight to retain our freedom (DRM, etc).
I’d like to get some of your thoughts on this. How can we better communicate the importance of what we all fight so hard for to the public? Can we use different terms to better communicate the critical need that we so desperately try to fill? The floor is yours.
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