President Obama’s campaign and free software

It seems a row has broken out between staff on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign over the fate of the free software it produced (the article linked President Barack Obamahere refers to it all as “open source” but on this issue I tend to side with RMS and not ESR).

Actually I do not blame the DNC at all for not wanting to release any source (if that is what they want to do – it is not entirely clear). It would simply be foolish to surrender an advantage they have over their opponents if there is no need to do so. Nor does there appear to be any ethical issue involved: the core idea of the free software movement is surely that any user of software should have access to the source code out of which it is built. If the DNC does not distribute the software then they are under no moral or any other obligation to hand out the source code.

By far the worst idea the article talks of is selling the software: that would truly be a breach of the ethics of free software – because plainly trying to use the built software as a revenue stream means keeping the software hidden or forcing users, 1970s Unix-style, to sign NDAs. Either of those is worse than keeping a piece of private software private.

There is a wider question, of course, could distributing the software help build a better world. But if the distribution helps the US republican party, then surely the answer for the DNC is no?

The end of Linux Journal

Linux Journal has “gone digital” – but to me that just means it is over. No more copies on any bookshop shelf means no more one-off purchases. Of course I could read it on my phone or Android tablet: but why would I want to do that? I cannot flick back and forth or ripple through the pages looking for an article that I could reasonably expect to read between Caledonian Road and Holborn.

I used to have a subscription to the magazine – took out a two year one in late 2005 when I got a new job and the sterling exchange rate was in my favour. But towards the end of the subscription the issues started to go unopened as there was less and less in the magazine that interested me anyway – as Linux‘s commercial success increased but the advertising market dried up, they moved away from things that interested developers.

So I won’t miss it much in any case.

Linux 3.0

Red Hat Linux 7.0
Image by Pitel via Flickr

Ten years ago next week I booted my first Linux machine – Labour had just won its second landslide and I had a few days off work after the election and so went out and bought a PC from the late lamented Morgan Computers and – dear reader, pity my naivety – paid about £50 or so for a boxed copy of Red Hat Linux 7.0 (still cheaper than the alternative).

I didn’t really know anything about Linux beyond a few basic shell commands and it was a steep learning curve. But I have never looked back.

Today I have just updated my git repository as I work on setting up my project and have been shocked to see that Linus Torvalds has baptised the latest version of the kernel 3.0-rc1 – my version of Red Hat was the first they had released as a 2.4 series kernel.

Onwards and upwards.