June 3, 2009

Pods and Blogs and the Open Source movement from the point of view of a Cambridge Professor.

Welcome to my first blog post. I tend to write long, but I'll try to make it entertaining.

Pods and Blogs is my favourite non-comedy BBC podcast. It tends to be very informative and fun, and I recommend it to anyone who listens to podcasts.

The last podcast (dated June 2nd 2009) was again another excellent show. They had several interviews from Cambridge University, celebrating it's 800th anniversery, including some interviews with venerable computing people.

One such person was an Alan Blackwell (who is strangely absent from the show notes) but is an inter-disciplinary-designer who says some pretty damning things about Linux. If you want to listen to the podcast you can grab it only for the next 7 days.

Ok, so a few caviets, the interview is clearly edited, to what extent I don't know, and the really incriminating sentance (transcribed below) is pretty garbled.

Interviewer (Jamillah): So therefore is it worth trying to spread the word of things like Open Source online? You've got more of general society on things like Facebook than maybe are addressing something like open source or looking at Ubuntu or how they can make things themselves... how can you break down those barriers?
Alan Blackwell: I think the philosophy of open source is exactly the way that the internet is taking us, and Wikipedia is a great example of something where everybody is an expert on some small thing, and everybody can make useful contributions to Wikipedia. I think the assumption has been when it comes to creating the source code that runs the internet that that's something that is only for the experts. And the experts that original created the open source movement are people like Richard Stallman [rms]. He was working at MIT, at one of the centres of hardcore technology, and the whole world and I think they accidentally made open source to be something that was useable to people like themselves. They created programming languages that weren't easy to understand and they created tools that weren't as easy to use as every day products like Macintoshes or indeed the iPhone.

[I'm giving you a break here to breathe. The bit that really piqued my interest is just coming up.]

AB: It would be very nice if the open source movement had people in it who were sympathetic to user needs and were interested in giving other people that power, not just people like themselves. So a very good start for the open source movement would be for them to ask themselves why no women write open source software. I think about 0.1% of open source programmers are w... one of the biggest open source err... operating system projects are women.

I: That's a pretty sad fact.

AB: And it has a lot of implications. I think that is a reflection of the fact that although the philosophy of open source is wonderful, not all open source programmers are able to apply that internal philosophy to the outside world. And I think there is a lack of social engagement, and I think the gender politics in the open source world are reflective of their politics with respect to their world as a whole. Though still sadly something of a technocratic elite and not really a democratic movement for all that they like to use the word 'democracy' to describe their own relationships amongst themselves.

I: Well I am sure that will please all of our OS audience no end, but if you are a female open source coder do drop me a line.

So listening to it, it's clearly heavily edited, and a lot of it doesn't make a whole lot of sense you can kind of get the jist of it, I recommend you listen to the whole thing (from about 5mins in and 5mins long) to get better context.

To be fair on Alan Blackwell, I think the guy is a bit out of his depth, he, like a lot of people, has a 1980s view of Linux and Open Source and doesn't even mention Ubuntu. He also manages to claim RMS invented C and that GNU tools was built in the same era as the iPhone.

If anyone knows how to get in contact with Alan Blackwell there is a LUG event happening on August 1st in Cambridge that I would be interested in him seeing Linux users being social.

I think this post is getting a bit long now, so I might leave the discussion to another day, I have a copy of the podcast so it ain't going anywhere. But I'd be interested to hear anyone elses point of view.

Personally I don't belive the lack of women in Linux is as much of a problem as the lack graphic designers and ergonomists. If we can get them to build the bridges then women, men, children, and intelligent monkeys with laptops will come, rather than having to carry each one of them across the moat.

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