Bradley M. Kuhn
Sun, 1 Aug 1999 04:51:41 -0400
Kragen Sitaker wrote:
> Someone recently said to me that we need to focus on producing software
> that "we who have access should make efforts to push software efforts
> in the direction of people's needs rather than just profits.", with
> reference to the numerous illiterate people in the world.
I agree with this as well.
> What kind of software could that be, though? Surely no software can
> make people listen to those they hate, make people considerate, make
> people set aside their egos, make people prepare for the future, keep
> people from drinking, or make people cease to despair. Right?
Definitely true. In fact, to the majority of the world's population, the
fact that computers even exist holds no bearing on their lives (except maybe
a negative ones---corporations can oppress better with computers).
I resigned myself long ago to the fact that I can't save the world using my
talents. I can't do that much for Greenpeace, or Amnesty International, or
feed the hungry, or make the poor rich by hacking software.
But, I had to come to terms with the fact that hacking software is all I am
good at. :)
However, I realized that I could start by a "do no harm" philosophy. Thus,
out of your list, I found:
> - software that acts as an instrument of oppression (e.g. typing-speed
> monitoring software for data-entry clerks, license managers) is
The most important. Don't make things worse.
I would extend this to the fact that writing software that isn't free is
bad. Here's why:
As hardware becomes cheaper, the cast-offs of the rich (e.g., 486's)
assuming that they are salvaged (a hard problem in itself) will become
available to the poor. These systems are actually useful, and will probably
remain useful for much longer than older hardware (like 8086's).
So, chances are, the poor will begin to get open access to a lot of
hardware. However, the best proprietary software systems are out of reach
to the poor. Free software is definitely within reach.
What's more, is that since they have all freedoms (study, modify, improve)
it levels the playing field for hackers. A poor student at a high school at
the inner city with an old computer and a copy of GNU/Linux with source has
a good chance of being able to learn how that system works inside. A much
better chance than if that student had a gratis copy of Windows. Only
people with source code licenses learn how that works inside.
Since our economy is such that (and looks to be for at least a few more
years) that anyone with the technological skills of someone who understands
the ins and outs of GNU/Linux can easily get a high paying job in nearly any
local market, this gives the poor student a much better standing in the
economy and a chance to break the poverty cycle.
This is just one example how free software helps the poor. There are many
others that I can give if anyone is interested.
Thus, I feel that to address social ills of today with software, we must
make software free software. And, by the same token, proprietary software
inherently takes away or at least severely limits the ability for software to
address social ills.
This, more than any other argument, makes it clear to me that I am doing
wrong by developing proprietary software.
> Software that prevents oppression (e.g. cryptographic software,
> more-secure MTAs, Tempest fonts) is good.
Who's oppression are we preventing though? Such a small minority, after
> What do you think?
See above. :)
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