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Leslie Hawthorn: "Social Change Begins with Software"

Leslie Hawthorn’s lecture was a good general overview of the Free and Open Source movement. She started by talking about Richard Stallman, and how his experience with the printers in the MIT lab motivated him to create the Free Software movement. She discussed the ideas behind the movement and made the distinction between free as in “free speech” as opposed to free of charge, as well as the four freedoms which define free software. The history of the creation of the GNU/Linux operating system was also reviewed. She gave the example of Netscape’s decision to make its source code open when they were battling Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in the 90s and she also talked about the development of Mozilla Firefox. There was a brief discussion of FOSS licenses towards the end.

The lecture was a good general introduction to the ideas behind the FOSS movement, and there were only a few points we had not talked about in class in detail. Thus I found the talk slightly repetitive, but she was a good speaker and was able to keep the lecture interesting nonetheless. The part that caught my attention the most was when she explained Google’s involvement in open source software world. I was not aware that Google was so dedicated to promoting FOSS projects and that the Google Summer of Code was concentrated on work for open source projects.

On another note, one part of the lecture discussed social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, which I found a little out of place. This came up when Leslie was going over what motivated the rise of the free software movement, and she said that people are sharing creatures. But when it comes to software, the word sharing refers to the mutual use of resources, and not the telling others about your weekend, so this was not a very good example.

Overall, however, the talk was good and entertaining.

RAM Comments: Yes, the Summer of Code program is a great way to support FOSS and HFOSS projects. If we can get more schools involved in our HFOSS project, we hope to emulate their model. That's why we invited LH to be on our steering committee.

I can see the connection she made between FOSS and social networking. FOSS project -- e.g., Linux, Apache, Sahana -- truly are social networks. Even the ones were working in the summer and in this course (ok. they're pretty small networks).