Happy Software Freedom Day, Comrade!
“Comrade! Come to Moscow and talk to us about VAXes. We have VAXes too, but the difference between your VAXes and our VAXes is that your VAXes stay up, and our VAXes crash!” It was an interesting email message that I received at my office in Digital Equipment Corporation in 1997, on the eve of my first trip to the former Soviet Union, a trip that would introduce me to a very warm-hearted people.
Now it is September 10th, 2005 and I am close to Red Square (yes, THAT Red Square) in Moscow, Russia. It has been eight years since that first trip in 1997 to a “Unix Expo” in Moscow to talk about Linux® and Free Software, and for the past three days I was attending a LinuxWorld® (http://www.linuxworldexpo.ru/) event to do the same thing. Moscow and Linux have both changed a lot over the past eight years.
It is also Software Freedom Day (http://www.softwarefreedomday.org/) and on this particular day I am in Netland, an Internet cafe, gaming and training center at 5 Teatralny Proezd, handing out gratis TheOpenCDs (www.theopencd.org). Now I have been in Internet cafes before, but this place is really great. A bar serving decent beers, coffee and finger food, pool tables, large screen TVs, and banks of computers for gaming as well as instructional rooms. It is big and roomy, on an upper floor of a large toy store. I could live here.....
For those of you who are not familiar with it, Software Freedom Day is a grassroots effort to acquaint people around the world with Free Software. The CDs handed out have Free Software of some favorite programs for Windows systems (Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, GIMP, etc.) as well as a live CD version of Ubuntu 5.04. My contacts have been Henrik Nilsen Omma and Matt Oquist. I want to publicly thank them and all of the supporters of Software Freedom Day.
Russia is an interesting country. When I came to Moscow eight years ago, Linux was already fairly strong. They had copies of the Linux Journal, distributions of Yggdrasil and Slackware as well as Linux workstations and support companies. Forty people came to hear my talks about Linux.
Free Software is good for Russia. Lowering their balance of payments, employing local programmers, creating opportunities for local service, allowing their students to see how major pieces of software work, reducing the issues of software piracy, allowing them to adopt software to their languages and culture and giving their country better security are all reasons why the Russians (as a lot of other countries) have embraced Linux.
Over the years I have had various visits and interchanges with Russia. As the Alpha port rolled out, the University of Moscow bought large numbers of Alpha systems for a compilation farm, and I became aware of the large number of programmers in Russia, mostly concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who were doing contributions to the free software movement.
This particular trip was very rewarding in seeing the LinuxWorld event come to Moscow. LinuxWorld in Moscow was produced by Reed Exhibitions, Ltd (http://www.reedexpo.com) under license from IDG and was combined with a security conference and a storage conference, which helped to draw non-Linux customers to see what free software was all about. While the conference talks were aimed more at the commercial businessperson, there were plenty of students and developers wondering around talking to the vendors and the vendor's technical people that were at the show. I enjoyed talking to quite a few of them, including a group of students from The Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics who took me to their university to meet their Vice-Rector. This same group of students had formed an organization called “OpenLabs” (http://www.openlabs.ru/) and are trying to spread free software to others in Russia. They have joined me today to hand out the CDs at Netland.
The people at Reed were very nice to put me up at the Hotel Metropol, a classic hotel right on the edge of Red Square. I can see the Kremlin from my fifth-floor window, and there is a harpist in the breakfast room every morning playing for the breakfast crowd.
But the exhibition was over yesterday, so today I am taking some time to distribute a few CDs in honor of Software Freedom day (SFD) I am wearing a bright green T-shirt with the official cities of SFD on the back. I was too late in registering for SFD, but my friend Matt Oquist (one of the main SFD coordinators) managed to get me three boxes of CDs, three SFD T-shirts and a bunch of balloons which I am hand-carrying to Brazil for a CIO/CEO/CTO conference put on by Linux New Media/Linux Magazine, Russia for LinuxWorld and Hanoi (yes, THAT Hanoi) for an e-government conference next week.
Interestingly enough, I had only one person come up to me this trip and say “Isn't Free Software like Communism?”, to which I replied, “No, it is the opposite of Communism. As a service mechanism, Free Software allows the good service provider to make a lot of money, and the bad service provider to go out of business. The bad service provider can not hide behind the issue of not allowing people to see and modify thesource code of their applications.” The man thought about it a second, and smiled in agreement.
I started this article by telling about an email I received from Moscow in 1997. I received another email from the same person which said, “Comrade, come to Moscow and talk to us about Linux, because Linux is free, and anything that is free is good!” I remember thinking to myself that this person had gotten the concept of “free of cost”, and “freedom” confused. It was only years later, after finally understanding the “freedoms” that Richard Stallman continuously chants, that I realized my Russian friend was right, and I had been wrong. It is only a side effect that in a lot of cases the software can be obtained almost “gratis”...the real value is in the freedom.
Happy “Software Freedom Day” from Moscow, comrades!
Picture of some officers of openlabs outside Netland
Picture of the openlabs officers after a "power lunch" with maddog
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