Posts Tagged ‘firefox’
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
By Andrew Lih
(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)
(I have divided this review into two parts. Part I describes Open Source innovations that were integral to the creation of the world’s most famous and popular encyclopedia. Part II describes the Wikipedia project itself.)
Lih’s Wilkipedia Revolution stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the Open Source movement. From the outset, there has been a split between entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have viewed the Internet as an opportunity to become enormously rich, and true visionaries like Jimmy Wales, who see it as a medium of social change with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people. I have always regarded Open Source activities like Wikipedia and Wikileaks as the Occupy Wall Street of the Internet. Like OWS, Open Source reclaims electronic communications as a “commons” – a public space to be jointly owned and used by all of us for the common good.
In Lih’s view, Wikipedia would never have been possible without the freely shared knowledge and software of the Open Source movement. He makes this clear by skillfully interweaving the personal biography of Jimmy Wales with the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the O S movement itself.
Hacker Ethics and the Open Source Movement
Wales, who has a master’s degree in finance, had a first career selling derivatives for Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, he used his programming and hacking skills to start a dot com in his spare time with Tim Shell, who he met through an on-line philosophy mailing list. Wales is a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, the belief in obtaining objective knowledge form measurement. This would ultimately inspire his faith in using measurement by the masses to create an on-line reference work.
Wales and Shell called their dot com Bitter Old Men in Suits (BOMIS). Their first project was a Yahoo-style directory for the city of Chicago. This was around the time (1996) that two Sun Microsystems engineers started DMOZ (directorymozilla.org), the first Internet-wide search engine. They did so with the explicit intent of employing volunteer labor and freely distributing it to the public, under the principle of “Copyleft” or General Public License that underpinned the free software movement (now known as Open Source). The latter was started by MIT hacker Richard Stallman had started in 1985 with an extensive on-line network of hackers.
The hacker community has a very strong ethic that it’s okay to hack into computers and steal software code provided you use it to improve and share the software. In contrast, refusing to share what you have stolen (and improved on) for personal profit is considered totally unethical. The phenomenal success of Open Source products is based on the principle that making your software code public, instead of keeping it secret, allows thousands of programmers to improve it. This is the main reason free downloadable Open Source programs have fewer operating and security glitches than Microsoft and other proprietary software.
Netscape, Linux and Wikiwiki Web
DMOZ subsequently morphed into Netscape, which dropped out of public view after Microsoft pirated and monopolized the concept, by arranging for Microsoft Explorer to be loaded along with windows on every new PC. It was subsequently reborn as Mozilla Firefox, a free Open Source browser greatly preferred by many Internet users for its greater safety and reliability. Because the code that runs it is freely available to the public, it undergoes continuous quality improvement by the thousands of programmers who use it.
Despite its popularity among hackers, the free software movement remained virtually unknown to the wider public until 1992, when a Finnish hacker named Linus Torvalds created Linux, the first free Open Source operating system. Unlike commercial operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS X, the code on Linux is publicly available, which means its users are constantly improving on it.
Other significant innovations that made Wikipedia possible were the creation of the World Wide Web in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of Wikiwiki Web by Ward Cunningham in 1994. Prior to 1992, there were a half dozen different protocols (including Gopher and WAIS) that had to be laboriously typed out to access documents posted on the Internet. Berners-Lee created a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) for finding on-line documents. Cunningham’s Wiki software enabled any user anywhere to edit any website without having specialized software or knowledge of programming or html (the language used to construct a web page).
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability
As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software – and getting your boss, co-workers, friends and relatives to do so – can save a lot more carbon emissions than getting them to change their lightbulbs.
I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. This is obviously a calculated maneuver to force businesses and other network users to continuously upgrade their Microsoft software.
Opening Pesky Docx Files
This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, which Sun Microsystems provides free on the Internet as Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new world processing program, Open Office upgrades to enable businesses and individuals who can’t afford to spend $150 on new software to continue to communicate with those who can. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, it also opens zip files and probably does a lot of other things I haven’t discovered yet.
The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster, crashes less and is less likely to have security problems than Microsoft products. For the simple reason that the code that runs Open Office is made freely available for computer users all over the world to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. In general the more people who contribute to code, there more likely someone will discover bugs and security problems.
How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions
So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source. See http://cio.co.nz/cio.nsf/spot/B5D33290A0CB8EFFCC25754B0017C4D8
The savings derives from streamlining, speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program (instead of relying on three or four for different functions) and in many cases, replacing real life computer work stations with virtual ones.
Companies Going Open Source
In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many companies worldwide are switching to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known (among many others) are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts and the US Post Office bulk sorting facility.
For the most part these systems cost less – not because the software is free (companies usually need to pay a vendor for installation and technical support) – because they are simpler to run and reduce power consumption.
Countries Going Open Source
Third world countries are also learning how much money Open Source systems can save. Brazil was the first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices. See http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2009/07/index.html India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are thinking of following suit. Of course the International Intellectual Property Association is threatening to take them to the WTO see http://opensourceforamerica.org/opensource-attack for it. However attacking the third world, in light of the global recession and food crisis, tends to make you very unpopular these days.
Open Source Design: Not Limited to IT
Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement (see www.worldchanging.com) are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to spread sustainable living ideas and technologies virally in a way that allows others to improve and build on them. What I find most exciting is their current focus in the third world – in part because developing countries are more receptive to the concept of Open Source Design. At the same time, it also seems a really ingenious, non-conflictual way to get them on board with reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously saving money. In the best tradition of “leapfrogging” – a mode of development that skips inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced and efficient ones.
Other examples of Open Source Design:
1. Open Source Scenario Planning – Sweden’s Martin Borjesson is the pioneer in this area http://www.well.com/~mb/scenario_planning/
2. Open Source architecture (creating smart green buildings that use less energy because they are planned more efficiently) – see Jamais Cascio’s website http://openthefuture.com/
3. Collaborative Solution Seeking – see Alex Steffen article http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/004140.html
4. The Creative Commons developing world licensing scheme – allows green inventors to patent their work in the developed world only, enabling unlimited access for the developing world. See http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses
5. Singularity University http://singularityu.org/ – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
6. Open Source Sustainability – http://www.open-sustainability.org/wiki/Main_Page
7. Open Source medicine – following the example of South Africa, which in 1997 passed laws making AIDS antiretrovirals affordable by producing generics locally.
See http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/articles.php?issue=7&article=disease and http://salilab.org/pdf/Maurer_PLoSMedicine_2004.pdf Both sites emphasize that drug research dollars are increasingly scarce and that the patent-protected profit motive fails to promote research for the greater good (see Sept 14 blog “How Capitalism Stifles Intellectual Life”)
8. Open Source research – besides PLoS (Public Library of Science), there is also a growing movement to make all scientific and medical research Open Source. This would save hospitals and medical schools hundreds of dollars a year that they currently pay for subscriptions to professional journals, most of which have a conflict of interest as they also carry drug company ads. See http://bacteriality.com/2007/12/11/opensource/
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability
It occurs to me that I and other climate change activists may be entirely wrong in the way we approach organizing around this issue. Up till now we have envisioned pressuring government to adopt carrot and stick policies (a combination of tax credits and subsidies) that would somehow motivate billions of people to undertake the behavior change necessary to reduce the carbon footprint of the (mainly) developed world. This clearly isn’t working. I feel like I’m butting my head against a brick wall.
I have recently stumbled across a website (and some innovative thinkers) who propose quite a different approach – one involving far reaching guerrilla-style tactics that don’t require government buy-in for success.
The Challenges of Organizing Around Climate Change
Organizing around climate change – at the community, national or global level – presents three unique challenges. First and foremost is the massive scale of the problem. Climate scientists tell us that that the only way to avert climate catastrophe is for entire population of the developed world (1.2 billion) to drastically reduce consumption to bring down their carbon emissions by 80% – and do it by, well like, yesterday.
The second major hurdle is that multinational corporations – which exert virtually totalitarian control over both the world economy and the world’s governments – don’t want 1.2 billion people to reduce their consumption owing to the disastrous effect this would have on profits. Every message climate change activists put out is immediately countered by 100 messages from corporate advertisers pressuring people to increase consumption (and a few denying climate change is happening at all).
The third major hurdle involves the dilemma of the growing middle class in the Third World. As opportunities open up in China and India for their large middle class populations to adopt more comfortable western lifestyles, it’s unrealistic to ask them to return to subsistence agriculture to preserve their low carbon footprint. Especially as they, too, are constantly bombarded by corporate messaging to increase consumption.
Approaching Climate Change from an Open Source Perspective
The website www.worldchanging.com and the book World Changing: a User’s Guide for the 21st Century tackles the problem – of getting billions of people to drastically change their behaviour immediately and simultaneously – from a totally new angle. Whereas most climate change activists point the finger at corrupt and unresponsive governments, the innovators who started worldchanging.com see the hang-up over intellectual property rights as the main problem. The problem, in their eyes, is a mindset that holds people back from sharing new ideas and innovations unless money changes hands.
In other words what they feel is lacking in the sustainability movement are vehicles for sharing solutions that already exist for reducing global carbon emissions.
They also point out that many of these “vehicles” already exist in the Open Source movement, a guerrilla movement (which, to my surprise, is nearly as old as computers) built around the premise that monopoly and intellectual property rights stifle innovation (for reasons John Strachey outlined in 1932 – see Sept 14 blog “How Capitalism Suffocates Intellectual Life”). The movement has grown like wildfire in the last few decades – with the widespread use of Wikipedia, Linux, Firefox, Open Office and other alternatives to the Microscoft monopoly. The basic principle underlying the Open Source movement is that society as a whole benefits from sharing technology (rather than restricting its use via monopoly and intellectual property rights), by allowing other innovators to improve and build on it.
Now www.worldchanging.com is linking climate change activists, green architects, renewable energy engineers and other innovators from all over the world to facilitate sharing, improving, building on and widespread implementation of new sustainable technologies and lifestyles. At present most of this seems to be taking place in the Third World, though the concept is rapidly catching on in Europe.
To be continued, with examples of specific Open Source vehicles that are enabling appropriate development concepts and technologies to take hold in the Third World.
The Most Revolutionary Act on radio:
(click on link)
Chris and I discuss how I was first targeted, following my decision to support the occupation (of an abandoned school) that led to the formation of Seattle’s first African American Heritage Museum – as an alternative to the crack cocaine epidemic among the city’s African American teenagers. We also talk about my research into HIV AIDS, my hospitalization and the Veterans Administration psychologist I worked with who also helped GIs illegally stationed in Cambodia in the sixties and seventies (and terrorized into keeping quiet about it).
(click on link – show is syndicated – fast forward the music to hear interview)
Rob and I discuss the phone harassment, break-ins, attempts to run me down – and my psychiatric hospitalization. We also talk about the political activities that seemed to lead the government to target me – including my research into HIV AIDS – and my inability to get help from the Seattle police. Then we cover the whole area of conspiracies in general, which are more accurately called State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADS)