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Re: [gNewSense-users] (Long and sort of) OT: Converting people to free s

From: Alexandre Demuynck
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] (Long and sort of) OT: Converting people to free software (was: Songbird freedom)
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 2010 00:36:42 +0100

On Mon, 8 Mar 2010 21:56:37 +0000
Nuno Miguel dos Santos Baeta <address@hidden> wrote:

> Hello!
> I've been using Un*x (e.g., Ultrix, SunOS, *BSD* (this is a regular
> expression), Solaris, IRIX, GNU/Linux, etc) since 1986 and have been
> following the GNU Project and FSF for many years.  I believe in free
> software, try to use free software and only free software (Mathematica
> being the only exception, but I'm forced to use it) and my FSF
> membership number is 2009.

You are forced to use non-free software? No-one can really force you but have 
you already spoken to the people forcing you to use non-free software about why 
you are opposing proprietary software?

> BTW, in this message, I'll be using GNU/Linux distribution and OS as
> if they are the same.  It makes my life easier :-o
> A few days ago, I asked on this list about Songbird's freedom,
> mentioned Ubuntu and some people pointed out (correctly) that Ubuntu
> is not a free distribution.  Even though, sometimes that is the
> distribution that I use when converting someone from Windows or Mac OS
> - I'll explain why bellow.  But let me tell how I convert someone into
> free software.

You talk about 'conversion' in the sense of converting people from using 
proprietary software to using free software.
Unfortunately, that's not the only conversion, neither is it the most important 
The most important conversion happens in the mind of people.
You can try to put computer users before a desktop running gNewSense and 
explain them about the ethical advantages of free software but I guess most of 
them will, after a period of time, just return back to a non-free system.

> * If that person is using a BSD based distribution, my experience
> tells me to forget trying to convert him/her.  For what is worth, I've
> learned Un*x using BSD based OSes.  My transition to GNU/Linux, which
> resembles System V, wasn't very easy - I hate System V...
> * If that person is using a non-free distribution of GNU/Linux, e.g.,
> Ubuntu, I tell him/her them about the freedoms they are giving up and
> the choices of free GNU/Linux distribution (s)he have .  After that
> it's his/her decision to make a conversion, with or without my help.
> Some make the conversion, but usually they don't.  I guess the later
> ones don't value their freedom :-|
> * If that person is using Windows or Mac OS, it's "easy", i.e., this
> is the case where I'm most successful.  Usually, this type of user
> doesn't really know much about computer and I guess that this makes
> the conversion easier.  I start by telling them about other "free"
> applications they may use instead of the closed source ones.  For
> example, use Firefox (one reason I wrote "free" and not free, no
> double quotes, in my previous sentence), Thunderbird,,
> Maxima, Octave, R, etc.  Slowly, with small or no help, they start
> using them.  Later, when I think they are ready (?!?), I ask the
> person why is he/she using a non-free OS when all other applications
> are "free"?  This is when I introduce GNU/Linux, gNewSense and the
> notion of freedom they preserve.  If they accept, I'll then install
> gNewSense  and help whenever he/she requests.

A lot of people have no interest in social engagement. They are not willing to 
give up their current habits to achieve a more social society.
As Richard Stallman once said: "You can leave politics alone but politics won't 
leave you alone."
I think he was right about that.
Most people will sooner or later be faced with certain situations which will 
make them think more deeply about certain subjects which before they didn't 
care about.
Politics are everywhere and the free software movement is a political movement 
in the first place so the real issue isn't often an issue about choosing free 
software over proprietary software for the ethical advantages of free software. 
It's more an issue of choosing for a more social society over a society pushing 
social barriers.
I'm not saying free software is the most important thing in the world but in my 
opinion it's one of the only, pure, movements which each human being should 
stand behind.

I think you should emphasize the importance of free software as a social 
element to the people wishing to make the move to GNU/Linux.

> Unfortunately, sometimes I'm unable to install gNewSense :-(  For
> example, I tried to install gNewSense on a Toshiba Satellite T130
> (from a co-worker) but all I got was a black screen :-(  I was able to
> install Ubuntu, but even then I was unable to solve a "small" problem:
> the computer had no wired or wireless network.  That portable was
> returned and another one bought, which now runs gNewSense.
> There are other situations where I'm able to install gNewSense, but
> unable, for example, to have wireless network working.  For me the
> decision is simple, use/buy an USB dongle.  The problem is the person
> I'm helping might not want to use/buy a USB dongle.  Then all can do
> is install Ubuntu, which usually solves the problem using non-free
> drivers.
> This solution of installing Ubuntu causes, IMO, a big problem.  As I
> wrote above, someone who already uses a non-free GNU/Linux
> distribution, won't change to a free one.  Do you, list members, think
> that this is an "acceptable" solution, just because they aren't using
> a totally closed OS?

Have you tried other free operating systems such as Trisquel?
You may have better luck with it.
Sometimes, I find it better to point people to some of the essays, speeches or 
papers about free software on the GNU website and let them read or watch it.
I try to explain them about the ethical as well as the moral and technological 
advantages of using gNewSense but at the end, it's about a serious twist inside 
their thinking.
People will often stare and nod their heads when you're explaining them into 
detail about these things but when you're gone, they've forgotten about it.
So you should really point them to some of these documents or videos about free 
software so that they can have a better understanding about all of the things 
you're trying to explain them.
A lot of these resources were really important for my vision of computing in 
today's society.
There's never a guarantee for success but it doesn't hurt to try, does it?

They should also understand that a lot of things don't work in a free operating 
system just because of technological and legal issues which are here today 
because of the push of proprietary software to computer users and companies.

> Finally, another question to the list.  How do you convert someone to
> a free GNU/Linux distribution, gNewSense in particular, from a
> non-free OS?  I would like to hear from you as I want to improve my
> "conversion" skills :-)

My advice: First, try to let them understand the importance of the free 
software movement and its social, moral and ethical significance; Let them read 
or watch resources about free software so that they see or hear it from someone 
they know is right and on target about these issues.
Then, advise and help them with possible questions and problems about their 
daily computing activities.

There's really not much more you can do. At the end, it's all up to them.

Good luck.

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