FAQ for giving lectures to students

Stefano Maffulli stef at zoomata.com
Wed Apr 19 16:15:49 UTC 2006

On Wed, 2006-04-12 at 12:12 +0100, Shane M. Coughlan wrote:
> Today in the FSFE chat room we started talking about giving
> speeches/lectures to students about Free Software.  Maffulli suggested
> we work on a FAQ for this purpose.  Here are some initial ideas.  Please
> add sections, and help revise material and give comments :)

Thanks Shane, this is a very important task.

> 1) How can I give a speech to students about Free Software?
> A: Know your audience!  If you are talking about Free Software, talk
> about it in a way that will genuinely engage the target audience.
> Taylor your delivery to suit the people, and that way you will get a
> positive result.  If you are speaking to media students, don't go into
> details regarding engineering methodology.  If you are speaking to
> computer science students, don't do a statistical analysis to show a
> good TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).

This is important.  I would also add: make the presentation fun and
remember when you were a student, dragged by your teachers to some
boring event. Don't look like a teacher, but more like a student: don't
stay behind a desk, walk around and involve them asking questions.

> 2) What important aspects of Free Software should I highlight?
> A: There are many things you can talk about to show the benefits of Free
> Software.  The four freedoms (free use, free modification, free sharing,
> free improving) are important, but are not the only things you can bring
> into a speech.  If you are talking to political students, you might want
> to highlight the empowerment aspects of Free Software for developing
> nations.  If you are talking to computer science students, you might
> want to highlight the advantages of an open development and testing
> model in engineering terms.

This is fine, we might also provide links to existing presentations
given by FSFE members over time to different audience, so that
interested people can use them directly or draw inspiration.

> 3) What about questions regarding the legality of Free Software?
> A: You can point out that Free Software has attracted virtually no
> lawsuits.  In the case of SCO the lawsuit is falling apart because SCO
> actually have no evidence.  Free Software is not illegal.

There are also two important law cases to point out: The GNU GPL went to
court two times, one in Germany and more recently in USA.  The license
was considered valid in both cases.  More info on
http://www.fsf.org/news/wallace-vs-fsf and [check if there is a better
link http://www.netfilter.org/news/2004-04-15-sitecom-gpl.html]

> 4) What about questions regarding quality control in Free Software?
> A: You can point out that the openness of the Free Software development
> model means that more people can help to find bugs.  If a project is
> well run, it should have a very high standard of quality.

This is very controversial and should be specified better.  Probably a
better answer that is also short enough can go along the lines of:

A: quality of software depends on many factors, including peer review.
If a project is well managed, it should have a very high standard of
quality.  This is true for both free and non-free software.  But for
sure, if you have two well managed software development processes, one
produces free software, the other is non-free software, the non-free
process is missing the possibility of peer-review.  Draw your
conclusions :)

> 5) What about questions regarding sabotage of Free Software?
> A: I came across this question when talking about encryption technology.
>  You can point out that Free Software fosters open development.  Someone
> may try to introduce something bad, but the open review process means
> this damage will be spotted and removed.  It is far more likely that a
> hostile force could slip something into a closed system.

And give examples like the backdoors discovered in firebird when the
sources where released the first time; or the tentative to include
backdoors in Linux kernel that didn't last more than a few hours.

> 6) What about questions about the difference between Open Source and
> Free Software?

This is tricky :)  I would make a difference here: when speaking to
non-English-speaking people there is really no need to talk about two
'movements'.  This is surely true for my experience in Italian and other
countries where I spoke: the terms free software (software libero) and
open source are used interchangeably most of the times (except at IBM or
HP or Sun venues).  So for non-English I would simply suggest to very
carefully point out that Open Source is a term that was coined because
the term free in English is ambiguous: in your language you don't need
to look for strange words.  Also, during time, OS became the word that
IBM and others use to push their marketing agenda: use free software
layer to sell their own non-free software.  Basically, using the term OS
you do gratis advertising for IBM's agenda and the community loses.

In English the first argument is not available, so you have to use only
the second one.  There are better explanations, but I leave this for
others to suggest.

> 7) How should I characterise software companies like Microsoft?
> A: This is very much a matter of personal preference.  One suggestion is
> that being too hostile might alienate your audience.  Point out the
> flaws and inherent unfairness in the business models adopted by
> companies like Microsoft, and suggest that Free Software simply offers a
> better model both for business and for society.

Always think that Microsoft people are in the audience and can stand up
any time to correct you and make you look like a fool if you don't stick
to the truth all the times :)  You should ignore non-free software
companies but only mention them in general (avoid making names, and if
you have to name some, use Adobe or Autodesk) as bad examples of how
they treat their customers, forcing upgrades or taking away their data
in unknown formats.

> 8) What should I say if people suggest Free Software is for tree-hugging
> hippies?
> A: Point out that IBM is not a tree-hugging hippy camp, and that IBM and
> Novell back Free Software for economic and engineering reasons.  Free
> Software is not about abstract thought, it is about better development,
> distribution and evolutionary models.  These models benefit companies,
> consumers and society as a whole.

IBM backs GNU/Linux not free software.  Better be specific here.

> 9) Where should I point people to find out more?
> A: The Free Software Foundation Europe website (www.fsfeurope.org), the
> Free Software Foundation North America website (www.fsf.org).  Perhaps
> you could point people to Mozilla, Openoffice.org, Ubuntu, Groklaw,
> OSNews...

Call the FSF simply FSF, without the North America (why is everybody
forgetting about Canada?  :) ) Also FSF Latin America and FSF India and
more... we can prepare a long list, with lwn.net too.

Does anybody have more suggestions for topics to cover?  Or improvements
to the ones provided? I think we can start also putting this online on
fsfe.org somewhere ... See you online later,


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