I’ve been playing around with the idea of only using open source/free software. Currently I’m running Ubuntu Linux, Mozilla Firefox, Gaim, Mozilla Thunderbird, the GIMP, Limewire, Open Office. I’ve got to wonder — do I really need proprietary software? I’m starting to think not. But the open source/free software concept really extends beyond software. The whole open source philosophy touches on many aspects of my life.
- Open source religion
- I am a Unitarian Universalist, a religion that emphasizes personal freedoms, social justice, and environmental responsibility. There are no secrets, no impenetrable hierarchies, no privileged viewpoints. Most relevant is the fact that the church is entirely in the hands of the laypeople — you and me. That’s open source religion by my reckoning.
- Free music
- I’ve been listening a great deal recently to Ehma and reClock. I found them through Indy Custom Radio, a little app that downloads and plays free music based on your ratings of what it has already played. Artists in every genre distribute some or all of their music under the Free Art License. I’ve had good luck at Jamendo — find some free music for yourself.
- Free knowledge
- When I need to know something, I turn to the internet or the library, both free-knowledge institutions. Wikipedia is my source for the “fair and balanced” take on a subject. There are countless dictionaries, references, and bugfix listings to be found with a simple search. I’m going to grudgingly include Google in this category as well — it does provide a free information-finding service.
- Free education
- You can get the better part of a college education online, if you know where to look. MIT maintains OpenCourseWare, where anyone can download course materials from their undergraduate classes. WikiBooks develops community-written textbooks, among other materials. And countless bloggers offer slices of distilled wisdom from their life experiences.
- Open formats
- This is really what the internet is based upon: the unencumbered exchange of information through protocols that have been hashed out by the larger programmer community. When protocols compete, the more useful ones win. When proprietary protocols are promoted by locking in the user, no such natural selection can take place, and users are stuck with an artificially grown environment. But open source formats and protocols can and do compete with non-free formats — as a result, I find myself using .ogg audio, .tar.gz archives, and .png images with great satisfaction.
- Open source security
- As any cryptography expert can tell you, a closed-source cryptosystem is a time bomb. Without constant and extensive peer review, many major flaws will be left uncovered until too late. A well-built security system should not be damaged by having its innards revealed. I use the RSA algorithm, PGP, 3DES, Diffie-Hellman, and Rijndael, among others. I feel safer knowing that people haven’t been able to break these even knowing how they work.
- Et cetera
- Heirloom seeds/seed saving (no patented varieties), open hardware, open government…
What might not fit well in the open source model? The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is competitive strategy, where your welfare depends on keeping ideas out of the hands of others. This applies to the military and to business, and not much else.
So I’m thinking that the open source model really is viable. What remains to be seen is what an open source economy would look like. I’ll be exploring that in a future post.