The Ubuntry / El Ubuntento

Friday Aug 01, 2008

Interview with Jon 'Maddog' Hall

Jon 'Maddog' Hall is one of the persons with more influence within the free software worldwide scene. Well, I am not going to do a serious introduction because the truth is that I had hardly heard about him. I include here a link to the entry he has in Wikipedia. This man, who apparently is a guru of the free software 364 days a year and Santa Claus himself the rest of the time, has been recently to the Campus Party and the Spanish newspaper 20Minutos interviewed him briefly. I am not going to post the whole interview, just those questions I found interesting for this blog. Hey, this is not censorship! The interview has been translated from Spanish into English by myself and then approved by Joseph for the technical vocabulary. Let us learn a bit what all this is about:

What is Linux International and what are the objectives for the next years?

Linux International was born in 1994 aiming for being a creators' association. During the first years of Linux we were an instrument which helped others institutions like the Group of Open Standards (currently Linux Foundation), the Professional Institute of Linux (which gives certificates to be systems administrator) or Linux Mark Institute (which protects the make Linux). It also helps companies to find how to earn and save money with the free software. We consider that these issues are now under control and we are focusing on make the people understand what the free software is and how it is used.

When did you start to use the free software?

I started with Linux in 1994, when I met Linus Torvalds and I saw the system for the first time. In any case, I started using free software in 1969 when I was studying in the university. Programs were very expensive those days, although you could write them yourself. After that, the usual thing was give it to other people so they could use it or improve it. There were libraries and noticeboards full of adverts about free software, although we did not call it like that, but software.

Linux got a strong position in the servers of many companies, but keeps not taking off in personal computers. What does it need to catch on a larger audience?

There is certain inertia in the world which has also affected Linux. This has recently been given a boost by the launching of low cost laptops based on solid memories, like the Asus Eee, which make people realise that they can get a full software pack plus the operative system for thousands of dollars less than if they had bought Microsoft´s products. Windows Vista has also helped Linux a lot. It is so bad, there are so many wrong things in it, that when Microsoft tells the people to migrate from XP they all think that it is time to migrate to Linux (notice: this guy has just read my mind)

Can the incorporation of interfaces which simplify the use of Linux, the incorporation of the system of windows and the hiding of the source kill its essence?

No, most of the the good computing applications for Linux have two layers. On the one hand the graphic interface and on the other an interface based on the commands line. This allows people to control their applications, not only through the mouse and the windows, but through the source and the line of commands. The more involved in Linux the people get, the more recognise the benefits of this structure and they tend to write their programs in this way.

Free software vs. proprietary software, why would you recommend people to use the first one?

It is a matter of control. With the free software you can control everything that happens, you can apply the patches you need or make the improvements the programs require. And if you do not have the knowledge or the skills necessary to do it, you can contract someone to do that job. You can also do like many companies do and wait for others to make the improvements or use the software as it is. But these are your decisions, not a big company's decisions. The opposite to the freedom of the software is the slavery of the programs, and nobody wants to be a slave of his software.

Symbian, iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile... All the operative systems for mobiles are in a fight to be the next platform on which the others will base and develop. Does any of them have more chances for being more open?

First we have to define 'open'. Can you choose the system you wish to talk (GSM or VoIP)? In each of them, can you choose the provider you wish or is the system locked? If you are travelling, can you use local SIM cards in every country you visit or you must use your original card with high rates due to roaming? Can you use the applications you wish, install them easily, change them to satisfy your necessities? Can you choose the operative system of your mobile? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then you are your mobile's slave, and your device is not totally free. The final measure for the liberalization (and it is here where all the companies fail) is that as a client you can change and decide about the future functionalities of your phone. And this can be denied if any of the answers of the previous questions is yes.

You are very involved in the project Openmoko. Could you explain us what does it consist on and why is it so different to other initiatives for mobiles?

It is different, not only because all the software has been developed with open methods, not because the all the source of the software is available either, but because all the hardware components have been created recording the process, so everyone can modify, improve or create his own device and change the operative system. There are currently three different software packs for Openmoko, with the fourth (Android) being developed. We hope other manufacturers create open phones in which Openmoko is used.

I hope you have liked it and are a bit more curious about the Open Source and the Free Software.


Nice interview. Is 20Minutos a mainstream newspaper? Like the equivalent of the Guardian or the Independent (or more like the Sun ;) )?

Posted by Chris Puttick on August 02, 2008 at 01:28 PM GMT+00:00 #

I think that comparing 20Minutos to The Sun is an insult to The Sun... 20minutos is a really really crappy newspaper, which often has grammar/orthography mistakes and wrong data. However, it has three good things:
1) the news are usually short and easy to read (sometimes I hesitate they have been written by real journalists), so if you find something important you can check a serious newspaper.
2) you can find some silly news, not "front page", but can be funny or in some way interesting like this interview (they also tell often about Open Source and technologies)
3) as nobody takes it too serious, the comments to the news that people write are hilarious :D

Posted by Rafael Martínez-Jausoro on August 02, 2008 at 02:16 PM GMT+00:00 #

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