Ben Hartung - Leslie Hawthorn Talk

Leslie Hawthorn's lecture, “Free Your Mind: Social Starts with Software” presented a history of the open source movement, argued for its importance and explained Google's connection to open source projects. Unfortunately, learning about the history of open source was something I had already done (in greater detail) as a part of CPSC-225. This might have made the lecture boring had it not been for the most distinctive part of the presentation: its style. Throughout her talk, Hawthron distilled complex ideas into comprehensible succinct points and then livened the discussion with humanizing anecdotes and personal commentary. The chronicles of open source that I had previously encountered had been written with an emphasis on the minutiae and nuanced impacts of each event . Hawthron's lecture took the opposite approach. Rather than, adding details, she stripped them away until only the vital, relevant ideas remained. As a result, the essence of an abstract creation like the GNU GPL, a lengthy legal artifact written in abstruse legalese, became fathomable through a recitation of the four freedoms that it stood for. More than anything though, Hawthron's description of Stallman's printer woes exemplified the power of her style. Descriptions of how Stallman came to despise proprietary software are usually dull summaries of how his research was impeded by inaccessible source code. The details are correct, but Stallman's subsequent anger and actions can easily appear overzealous because of the esoteric implications proprietary software seems to have had. In Hawthorn's lecture though, Stallman's story became a simple, understandable story. She presented him as a man who just wanted to fix a print jam. All of a sudden, his initiative seems admirable and his irritation seems reasonable. The story didn't list the scope of Stallman's difficulties, yet it perfectly conveyed the motive behind his free software movement. In a five minute story, Hawthorn had provided a clearer understanding of Stallman than a twenty page chapter. This was the brilliance of her style.

I guess you could say I thought she was a really effective speaker.

Overall, Hawthron presented a fairly impartial description of what open source software is, but I think it's worth noting that she represents a trend that Stallman had feared. That is to say, she is a prominent open source proponent who promotes the importance of non-proprietary software by emphasizing its utilitarian value. Her recommendation of “get what works to you” concerning the purchase of phones seemed to epitomize her general view concerning software. Thus, the value of open source for Hawthron is based on its efficacy, and as her rhetoric sways members of the public, their support for open source will also be rooted in its efficacy, rather than the freedom that Stallman values as a human right. Hawthron gave an effective argument for open source, but its definitely one that Stallman would dislike.

RAM Comments: I'm glad you found her an effective speaker.  :)

Even though she seemed to emphasize the practical aspects of FOSS and therefore would seem to be in the open source (rather than free software) camp, I think LH really has the movement's emphasis on freedom and sharing and humanitarianism at heart. At least that's why she seems so supportive our our project.