FAQ for giving lectures about Free Software (revision 3)

Shane M. Coughlan shane at shaneland.co.uk
Fri Jul 7 18:28:57 UTC 2006

Hash: SHA256

Hi guys

I've incorporated the latest suggestions and squeezed everything down by
about 200 words.


Q: How can I give a speech 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 Operation).

Make the presentation fun.  Don't look like a teacher, but more like a
student: don't stay behind a desk, walk around and involve the audience
by asking questions.

Q: 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 Free Software licenses and the
flexibility they bring to both community-driven and in-house development

It's important to emphasise that Free doesn't mean price, it means Freedom.

Q: 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.

The GNU GPL went to court on three occasions, twice in Germany and once
in the USA.  The license was considered valid in all cases.  More
information about this is available on
http://www.netfilter.org/news/2004-04-15-sitecom-gpl.html and

Q: What about questions regarding quality control in Free Software?

A: The quality of software depends on many factors.  If a project is
well managed it should have a very high standard of quality.  This is
true for free and non-free software.   The problem is that non-free
software precludes the possibility of peer-review.  Proprietary software
is a black box.  You have to trust the company that produced that box.
There is no way to verify your trust.

Free software is not always higher quality, but everyone has the right
to examine it and make improvements if desired.

Q: What about questions regarding sabotage of Free Software?

A: 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.

Examples of Free Software community audits include the backdoors
discovered in Firebird when the sources where released the first time;
or the tentative move to include backdoors in the Linux kernel that
didn't last more than a few hours.

Q: What about questions about the difference between Free Software and
Open Source?

A: The Open Source Initiative proposed the term 'Open Source' as a
marketing term for Free Software. Their choice of terminology weakened
Free Software's unique selling point (freedom), and introduced confusion
through ambiguous terminology.

This is about choosing the most effective terminology to accomplish a
purpose.  It is important to select a terminology that does not easily
yield to misappropriation.  The problem with the term Open Source is
that it refers to having access to source code, but access to the source
code is only a precondition for two of the four freedoms that define
Free Software.  The term Free Software avoids catering to this
relatively common misunderstanding.

If someone is interested in clarity of language then it's important to
talk about Free Software.  Remember, we're talking free as in freedom.
We want to ensure that people are free to use, modify, share and improve

Q: How should I characterise software companies like Microsoft?

A: Always be aware that there may be Microsoft people in the audience
that can stand up any time to correct you if you don't stick to the
truth!   You should try to talk about non-free software companies in
general (avoid names) as bad examples of how they treat their customers,
forcing upgrades or taking away their data in unknown formats.

Microsoft is a natural product of a wrong approach.  They are the worst
curtailer of freedom, but that's only because they've been the most
successful.  Others are trying very hard to restrict the freedom of
users in the same way as Microsoft.

We need to fix the general approach.

Q: What should I say if people suggest Free Software is for tree-hugging

A: We use the four freedoms of software to ensure that software users
have a certain standard of rights.  Software development and usage is
still a new activity, and it's history and philosophical thinking is
still relatively shallow. People using software don't have many rights
and they are being exploited.  Free Software is about setting a measure
for how people should be treated.

If you're talking to a business audience, you can describe this as a
procurement policy.  Procurement policies usually spell out minimum
requirements for purchasing and usage:

"Software providers must not prevent the company from seeing what the
software does"

"Software providers must not prevent the company from making
improvements, customising, fixing bugs - or commissioning others to do
these things for the company"

"Software providers will not prevent the publication of any improvements
which the collective users of the software make or commission."

Q: Where should I point people to find out more?

A: The Free Software Foundation Europe website (www.fsfeurope.org), the
Free Software Foundation website (www.fsf.org).  Perhaps you could point
people to FSF Latin America, FSF India and Groklaw.

You can obtain some information on presentations given by Ciaran
O'Riordan of the FSFE at http://ciaran.compsoc.com/#roadshow

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