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The Column icon The Column: Issue 12

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Freedom to Give: Part 1 | Part 2
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, so we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any inventions of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

Benjamin Franklin

"...those who believe software should be free cannot prevail against the U.S. Congress and voices of seven U.S. Supreme Court justices who believe that 'the motive of profit is the engine that ensures the progress of science.'”

Darl McBride, CEO, SCO

The current battle between the SCO Group and the Linux community encapsulates the choice all creative people consider at one time or another: do I offer the products of my creative labours freely, or should I charge for them? More to the point, do I have a choice?

For the few who inherit wealth, the choice and direction of where their creativity takes them is an open book. For most however, the daily necessity of generating income is pressing, and the open pursuit of their creative potential is often frustrated as they find themselves constrained by commercial realities.

Non-Creative Creatives

Some consider creative people can only be found in the fields of art, design, and literature, however a more robust definition of the creative person is not determined by the medium. Programmers, database designers, and software authors are as creative as designers and artists, although their discipline may not be as expressive.

A creative person chooses the best medium for the job, collects the tools required, develops their knowledge and skills, then goes to work.

The Culture of the Free

There are many resource websites for creative people. The usual pattern of usage is that a novice will come to the site with little or no knowledge, and download source files that can be studied and altered. As the novice develops their skills, they may choose to give something back to the community by producing 'open source' material and uploading these new resources to the site. And so the cycle continues.

The developers of free software are the longest established community that practice this model, and the main body of this column uses their example to explore issues relating to the free distribution of knowledge and skills.

What is Free?

Free software doesn't mean free in the financial sense, but rather it applies to distribution, exchanging code, and innovation. The free software communities' essential characteristic is one of openness. Source codes are published not only for all to see, but also to use, manipulate, change, and redistribute.

Larry Wall, the inventor of Perl, a widely used scripting language that functions across platforms and commonly used for building websites and other network-based programs, sums up the position of many freeware authors:

'I want my stuff to be used. I wrote it to be used. If I make a living off it, that's great, but I come from a culture where you're valued not so much by what you acquire but by what you give away,'

Larry Wall

There are great strengths yet serious flaws in distributing code or creative resources in an open way. The advantages of cooperation and the potential of so many developers contributing to the improvement of a system or application is clear, as is the abuse by a few but significant minority.

Play Long, Play Hard

Richard Stallman is the founder of the Free Software Foundation or GNU Project. He views himself as a 'hacker':

'It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have "hack value".

Around 1980, when the news media took notice of hackers, they fixated on one narrow aspect of hacking: the security breaking which some hackers occasionally did (cracking). They ignored all the rest of hacking, and took the term (hacking) to mean breaking security, no more and no less. The media have since spread that definition, disregarding our attempts to correct them.'

Richard Stallman

The spirit of playfulness Richard alludes to should be a part of every creative experience as should the principle of sharing and openness that inspired the foundation of the free software movement.

The Freedom to Give: Part 1 | Part 2


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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