Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Response to Alfred Thompson - Part II

Over at Miguel's blog, some interesting comments are being made that deserve a response. Alfred Thompson has opined in a seemingly reasonable way. He says:
"I think that students need to be taught about choices and options. I think that teaching students about the philosophy behind free software and having them read some of the things RMS says is a great idea. [But,] I think they should also be exposed to the other side as well."
Stating that students should be taught the "other side" of software licensing is like saying "students should be taught censorship as well as free speech". Of course, students should be aware that speech is unjustly censored in this world (obviously not what Alfred is implying when he says "exposed") - just as students should read proprietary EULAs. But to present this fact as a reasonable alternative to free speech would be absurd.

Alfred goes on...
"The other thing I think is important is that tools, especially tools for teaching, should be selected for how well they do the job and not for how well they promote a philosophy."
Again, Alfred sounds very reasonable. But what is implied through such a view? Implied in this view is that the study of technology is simply about the creation of end products, not about the study of the tool itself. Software is not simply a tool "for teaching". It is equally a tool for learning and developing. Of course, there will be students who only tackle technology from Alfred's viewpoint - and that is fine. But it is obvious that the right approach to technological education is to make sure of this - that those who study and develop tools are studying and developing the tools used by society. This is efficient, participatory, and cooperative. Having to tell a bright individual to hack on the GIMP while her classmates all use Photoshop is an obvious sign of societal inefficiency, exclusivity, and competition.

Free software embodies a philosophy that promotes the seeking of knowledge to any conceivable depth. Why an educator wouldn't value such a philosophy is puzzling.

5 Comments:

Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

Also, proprietary software is still the status quo. There isn't much risk that students won't be exposed to that side of the argument.

16:38  
Anonymous Alfred Thompson said...

All licences are about control. The GPL (to name one) in no less about control than the EULA for most propritary software. The only differences are who and what is limited. Someone who modifies GPL software is restrained from releasing their modifications without releasing the software. That is a clear limit on the freedom of the developer. But of course is a restriction the developer knows about and accepts. They are free to reject using GPL software as a base. Likewise some software comes without source code and with other restrictions that prevent the buyer from making some modifications. In that case the developer of the software has more freedom and the buyer somewhat less. There is a spectrum that effects the freedom of the developer, the und user and middle men who may want to make a profit. People are free to choose which licence they want to develop under, to aquire software under and to provide consulting and other support under.
There are open source licenses I could easily live with. Others I find problematic. The same is true of EULAs from companies like Apple, Microsoft, and many others. I choose which ones to accept. The fact that GPL has terms I could not live with as a developer makes that as much (or as little) a license about censorship as any other.

22:29  
Anonymous Alfred Thompson said...

Implied in this view is that the study of technology is simply about the creation of end products, not about the study of the tool itself.

This is such an interesting statement that it requires a comment of it is own. I can well believe that you would mean to imply such a thing by a statement like the one I actually made but it was not my intent. I believe taht the study of technology is about the learning of ideas and concepts. It is about learning how to think, to solve problems and to learn how to learn. Technology moves too quickly for the study of the tool itself to be more than of passing interest. Over the last 35 years I have learned new programming languages, compilers and developement tools are a constant rate. Probably a new programming language every 2-3 years for example. The programming language and the IDE are no where near as important as the base concepts that are taught. Teaching the tool as an end goal is something to do on the job or in trade school not in a comprehensive education.

22:48  
Blogger Gnuosphere said...

Alfred says:

"The fact that GPL has terms I could not live with as a developer makes that as much (or as little) a license about censorship as any other."

What is being censored with most proprietary software is the science used to implement it. The GPL does not censor that science. Protecting the public through copyleft is no more a restriction on freedom than speed limits in school zones. The restrictions in the GPL are put there to protect the public. To state that the GPL is "about censorship" like "any other" license is disingenuous and neglects acknowledgement of GPL's intent. Ignoring this dimension allows one to make clever arguments but shows complete disregard for the value of cooperative human relationships. Is it not right to value people over profit? (which doesn't imply being against profit)

I am curious. What terms of the GPL can you "not live with as a developer"?

17:06  
Blogger Gnuosphere said...

Tom says:

"Also, proprietary software is still the status quo. There isn't much risk that students won't be exposed to that side of the argument."

This is true. Most of my students currently run proprietary operating systems at home. However, a few have switched to GNU/Linux after using it in my class. And others may like to but their parents are not comfortable with the idea (not the idea of free software, but the idea of something they are not used to).

17:12  

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