Scott Saveriano

In the hours leading up the aptly-titled lecture “Social Change Begins with Software,” I became nervous that half a semester’s worth of classes dealing primarily with free and open source software had left few stones unturned in that particular field. While Leslie Hawthorne obviously offered a unique insight into the open source realm, it still worried me that I perhaps had learned to much already to learn anything new in an hour-long lecture attempting to appeal to computer science professors and programming virgins alike. Pessimistically slouching in the back row of a packed Washington Room, I began listening to an oration I feared would offer little insight in a subject I had already learned so much about. Boy was I wrong.

Early into Ms. Hawthorne’s speech I was struck by a black and white photo of a man whose beard appeared suited to support its own ecosystem. This man, I learned, was Richard Stallman, the messiah of the free and open source software. While I already knew a great deal about this influential figure and had even trudged through his literary opus “Free Software, Free Society,” Ms. Hawthorne proceeded to recount the catalyst behind the revolution which Stallman had started. It was refreshing to hear that it all began with a simple problem involving the printer in his office, an issue that is relatable to everyone. It was nice to discover that even the most revolutionary of geniuses began his call for change as a result of such a common dilemma. Invention truly is a product of necessity, a law I was glad to learn holds true in the world of programming.

Another detail that captured my attention was the magnitude of the positive effects that free and open source software can have on society. Among other projects, I was impressed with Sahana and its applications in real-life disasters. The value of a software that can provide third world nations with the resources to address the issues that come standard with a natural disaster are immeasurable, especially for little to no monetary cost. The OpenMRS work was striking, as well. Standing alone it provides poor African countries with the tools to combat a plethora of diseases they previously could not. However, it is the computer science training that the locals received that makes this project extra special. The education provided by the OpenMRS team permits the residents to operate the program without outside assistance while also providing them with a practical background in programming. This portion of Ms. Hawthorne’s presentation helped me perceive just how important the free and open source software movement truly is.

By the end of the presentation, it was safe to say that my worries had never materialized. Not only had the lecture been sufficiently charismatic and informative to maintain my attention, but I also was able to see FOSS from two completely new angles. Observing this already familiar movement through the perspective of its founder and those it currently aids helped me gain a significantly better understanding of the topic as a whole. Leslie Hawthorne delivered a truly memorable speech.

RAM Comments: An enjoyable review -- you write well and creatively. The Sahana and OpenMRS projects are indeed impressive. And perhaps Sahana would have been a better, more accessible choice, for our course this semester (than, say, Collabbit). It's hard to know. But if you are interested in pursuing these further, I encourage you to do so. We will be working on them through independent studies in the spring and through our annual summer internship program: