Software is a Global Interface to Hardware
A quick hypothetical story: Your favorite operating system is Windows Vista, you want to install it onto your new Apple iPad. You can’t. There isn’t even a USB port or a place to install non-Apple sanctioned software from its app store. But, you love Windows Vista and want it to be your interface to the new hardware you purchased. You love the latest Internet Explorer, but can’t even install it. You don’t have the choice. You can’t Think Different™.
Software is a virtual interface to manipulating knowledge. That software is a global interface to the physical hardware that you interface with through your human technology.
Have you ever heard of Free and Open Source Software? Free Software is software that is licensed by software licenses to allow for sharing of software and its development between people. It is a fix for failed sharing. Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation and produced the dominant license for the Free Software Movement, the GNU General Public License, to give back permission to the public as the reciprocity of sharing.
Since October 4, 1985,1 the Free Software movement’s contribution to the open Web are some rules of combat beyond the licenses. It has codified the four freedoms. It states that you should, for any piece of software, 0) have the freedom to run, 1) study and change, 2) redistribute and improve, and 3) give back those changes to the community. These simple rules allowed for the open Web to grow on solid ground. The invisible Internet is powered by Free Software.
The most common Free Software operating systems are based on Linux.2 Linux is an operating system kernel that powers the Web, and on the desktop is the most common global virtual interface for most types of hardware—from phones, to computers from the 1990s, to the largest supercomputers in China and the USA, Linux is on the most different types of computers in the world. It is the standard interface to all different sorts of computers.
For you, in your battle for the open Web, this is an important distinction to consider because the more closed the software, the less types of hardware you can install your favorite software onto, the less ability you have to maximize your knowledge and access.
Beyond the discussion in this book, it’s important to note that the hidden part of the Internet, the invisible faceless infrastructure of the web, is Free Software. The browser, the dominant interface for the web is Free Software; it is the combined shared source and communities of Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome. The browser is the stable ground which both network services and the Web 2.0 startup revolution emanating from San Francisco is built on. The browser is becoming its own operating system as Google releases Chrome OS, a browser-based operating system.3
Also Apple, leading the vertically-integrated computing revolution, is built upon Free Software. The core of this is their forked BSD, aptly called Darwin. The app store and the innovation that application developers rely upon is built upon this stable foundation of Free Software. Apple has made famous the millions of application developers who have been lured to the dark side of development, one in which money and the open Web must be handed over in order to get a piece of the money pie lock-in.
The truth is that few eat like kings in the app store, but the lure of a feast is too much in the drought of a down market. The app store, essentially a marketing distraction for those that want to compete with Apple, yet a complete lock-in strategy for developers who might gain freedom by developing for multiple platforms, promotes the closed web.
Applications from the app store are not global interfaces to hardware. When only one company supports software limited to their vertically-integrated, subscription-based computer leasing, product-upgrade strategy, this is not open. Apps are one of the biggest threats to the Open Web today, with their lack of support for the Free Software’s four freedoms upon which Apple has built its empire on. Apps lack of support for the standard interface of the open source web browser. Even the name of Apple’s web browser, Safari, conjures up that the Web is a jungle, not safe enough for the average consumer—only developers and adults for now.
The battle for the Open Web requires awareness that your attention and focus, time and money are up for grabs. You are the average consumer to them. The less you make decisions for yourself, to actualize your knowledge completely, successfully transmitting and receiving content to other people, the more passive you become. With each 1-click-buy-it-now in the apps store, the more closed the Web becomes.
- http://fsf.org and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Software_Foundation^
- Most operating systems with a Linux kernel are currently GNU/Linux, though in the future the majority may be Android/Linux, but we don’t want to confuse our readers here at this point :)^
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Chrome_OS is soon to be released. It should be noted that while Google appears to be compliant with the Free Software Movement, others have pointed out that software code released by the company is out of date, the larger community is not truly allowed in on the process of development in a timely manner, and some questionable coding practices are persistent in Google’s practices. Google should be applauded however for taking the lead on the Open Web. Another instance of this OS strategy is Android which has both free software and proprietary binary blobs of code on-top of the Linux kernel.^