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FLOSS Debate at BytesForAll

There was this slug-fest at the BytesForAll mailing list. As one of the co-moderators, I simply shouldn't be getting dragged-in. But sometimes, claims and statements need a challenge. As you could guess, the Big Battle was about proprietorial-versus-FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software). It was quite predictable as to who would take which side. And, after some debate, there were these couple of great posts here and here , that put things neatly in perspective — thanks to David Geilhufe who is co-founder of the SocialSourceFoundation.org and Sunil Abraham of Mahiti.org.

It all started with a rather dismissive-of-FLOSS post by University of Manchester's Dr Richard Heeks offering a link to what is termed an eDevelopment Briefing titled “Free and Open Source Software: A Blind Alley for Developing Countries?” . This blogger's response and the brief text is here for viewing.

It turned into a “Richard versus Richard” fight with Richard “RMS” Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation joining in the debate with these comments. There was a longish debate on benchmarking FLOSS. Javier Sola, a Spanish-Chilean working on Khmer language localisation in Cambodia, added some interesting points here There were also comments which could be taken as supporting of proprietorial software (strange that any proponent of it should call it this restrictive time!)

Sunil Abraham argues how proprietorial software could kill — no exaggeration, due to its delays and restrictions in a post-Tsunami situation. He also argues that “because Sahana (a Free/Libre and Open Source Software project to cope with disasters) is FOSS, the earthquake stricken people from Pakistan and India don't have to spend money earmarked for food on software.” Then, in an almost tongue-in-cheek Sunish manner, he argues that FLOSS “increases the responsiveness of an organisation. This is important whether it is peoples lives or greater profits.”

David Geilhufe has this very interesting response to argue that FLOSS offers “viral diffusion” (to enable its uncontrolled spread, of course in a positive way), local control and lower barriers to entry. Well put, and very well argued. Here's what David argues eloquently: “There is no religious war here, but I think the staunch defenders of proprietary code get stuck on analyzing the software… this isn't the important part. One needs to analyze the innovation and use of software… that, I believe, is where the real ICT impact lies.” It impressed me enough to jump to David's Social Source Foundation. Self-description: “The Social Source Foundation is a nonproft organization that exists to create open source, mission-focused technology for the nonprofit and NGO sector.”

Don't miss another link below his .sig file to the OpenNGO.org network. Self-descrption: “OpenNGO is an open source project to create a set of web-based tools designed to meet the needs of small U.S. nonprofit organizations and non-governmental organizations across the globe.”

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