BBC's documentary... and software freedom

Is Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FOSS) a make-do product for those who can’t afford better? Is it something suited for the ‘developing’ world alone? No, says Fouad Riaz Bajwa, a Pakistani FOSS advocate known as the “FOSS mullah” for his passionate commitment to the cause. He debates a recent two-part BBC documentary on FOSS, which he believes catches the bull by the tail.

Ouch! It has only been a few minutes since the telecase of the second and last episode of the BBC produced documentary titled "Code Breakers" on BBC World. The documentary attempts to create a case for the adoption and usage of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FOSS) around the world in the ‘developing countries’, while also projecting the image of the ‘developed’ world to be almost unaware of what GNU/Linux or FOSS is.

Needless to say, the reality is very different.

Moreover, the documentary gives a great deal of coverage to the view point of proprietorial software leader Microsoft, continuously showing some Mr. Murray of Microsoft Europe, as if he was an authority on Open ICT Ecosystems and the Free and Open Source Software Movement in its entirety.

What happened in the first episode was highlighted by Dr. Molly of the Malaysian FOSS medical system community earlier on the world FOSS community lists; and what has been aired in the second part will soon be heard over the global FOSS community lists as well.

RMS AND BRUCE PERENS, AS ALIENS: The X-Files of the FOSS World Revealed? During the first episode of the documentary, the impression that it made was that people from the ‘developed’ world were almost unaware of FOSS, and that they only knew about Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office. So, it was implied, if someone knew about, uh, FOSS, then it was quite by accident!

Nice move, that’s why BBC was constantly showing the founder of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman (from the US), explaining the four freedoms of the Free Software movement and the leader of the Open Source Movement, Bruce Perens (English) emphasizing on the benefits of developing and adopting "Open Source" software.

It would also seem as if these are the only two people from the ‘developed’ world to have presented the freedoms and the pumping adrenaline in to the FOSS movement.

I hope that the BBC doesn’t believe that the leaders of the Free Software and Open Software movements might be from the lost islands of the ‘developing’ world or even outer space. Am I fom Mars or Pluto, then?

WSIS…? Oh, people just gathered around to have drinks and talk about &*(#$&^:

After hearing what the United Nations was doing and what the World Summit on the Information Society WSIS was discussing and trying to achieve, it seemed as

if the BBC documentary was a biased audit report of the WSIS 2005 and there

were a couple of people standing talking around about the future of the Information Society.

Sorry to say, even though the BBC itself was there, it somehow failed to see some 19,000 important and decision-making people from over a hundred nations worldwide at the summit since they were too busy interviewing people there, drinking and talking about &*(#$&^.

In reality, the WSIS was a global effort to create an intervention and build dialogue on the future of the Information Society trying to evolve solutions towards providing nations the freedoms needed to create access, develop and share information and knowledge for sustainable human socio and economic benefit by adopting ICTs.

The Tunis Agenda clearly states and supports the Free and Open Source Software Movement, though it was underrepresented during the WSIS. There is wide acceptance that ICTs are enabled through FOSS in the age of the internet and globalized telecommunications.

Thanks to the BBC, the WSIS was just about Mr. Murray from Microsoft, the $100 dollar laptop and some developing world technology called FOSS being implemented in far-off African countries..

Microsoft budging its nose into everything called FOSS or Open Source? Really, just what was BBC trying to portray to its viewers? Was the BBC trying to develop a point of view based upon influences from a MNC giant of the proprietary software world, i.e. Microsoft?

What BBC does not know is that it exposed to the world the hidden truth that the FOSS movement is causing disruption in the previously-accepted proprietorial software-based retrictive model of creating software, perceived norms and FUD-based (fear, uncertainity and doubt) marketing practices of the proprietary software world.

Why the need such a documentary in the first place?

In reality, the FOSS movement itself is well connected worldwide, the FOSS

leaders are continuously interconnected through electronic mailing-lists and various global activities. What has been already achieved is a strong example of the commitment of the members of the global FOSS movement.

FOSS is really causing a surge throughout the globe. FOSS didn’t grow by cover stories or paid advertising to revolutionize the software world, as it does today> On the other hand, proprietorial software companies like Microsoft has been working hard to disrupt a movement which could challenge their entire software model, and more.

They penetrated in to the FOSSFA-IDLELO2 event held in Feb 2006 in Nairobi, Kenya conference to chant their (proprietorial software interests-oriented) "Shared Source" concept that doesn’t come anywhere near the concepts or the spirit of the global FOSS movement.

Wait till you see the FOSS movement confrontation with Microsoft from the event on tape through another producer to be released by next year.

Does Microsoft even understand what the FOSS Movement really is? From the looks of the documentary and previous related activities, Microsoft appears to perceive the FOSS movement as being just about code sharing.

So they come in and give the idea of sharing and make friends with these pony tailed geeks in sandals (remember the issues from Massachusetts and ODF)?

Uh, right? Sorry to say, Microsoft seems to be still as ignorant as it has

always been to towards the FOSS movement.

Before describing more of the BBC documentary episode two, let me guide you through the spirit of the FOSS movement in order to identify the clear dissimilarities between Microsoft’s misperception of sharing and the FOSS concept of sharing for humanitarian benefit.

SPIRIT OF FOSS: I will not be explaining the four freedoms of the Free Software Foundation and the principles of the Open Source Initiative. What I will focus on instead are the underlying human motivational principles of developing social or community oriented software for human benefit at large.

First of all, whether we are software designers and developers, humanitarian aid workers, United Nation’s folks (that is, the pro-FOSS group and not the anti-FOSS group), members of development organizations and global forums, academia,

researchers, groups or individual enthusiasts, we all want to make a positive difference to the people in the world around us.

They can belong anywhere from the ‘developed’ or from the ‘developing’ world irrespective of age, color, race, religion, ethnicity or economic status.

We believe that the social or community software we generate as a result of our thoughts and volunteer actions influences the people around us. Our motivation to develop such software comes from the inner urge on how we can add to the spirit of life, rather than subtract from it.

Since we have the knowledge and resources to do so, and that leaders of the movement have made such resources available globally, we can utilize this power to change the world around us through software built under the umbrella of Open Standards and FOSS.

We are all well aware of this ability and thus we will never underestimate or neglect this power of software development sharing that we have acquired through the contributions and struggle of many heroes of the FOSS movement.

We will always nurture it and help others benefit from the true spirit of the FOSS movement. It’s our choice and not Microsoft’s regarding what software we should use!

Thus, the above ideology helps us understand that Free and Open Source Software is a result of Freedom. If we let others decide what software we should use, we are not seizing our own Freedoms, like our own human rights.

We have a choice for adopting software for every situation in our life without restrictions, and that choice should be supported with the fact that whenever we want and whenever we feel it necessary to make changes or modifications, we should have access to its source code. We should be free to choose software just like our actions and attitudes.

EULA OR EULAS? Should we opt for the End User Licensing Agreement or EULAS-Enabling Users Legal Access to Source? Should we believe that the BBC or even Microsoft will ever be able to understand this ideology of Freedom? Will Microsoft products ever carry an open license to securing Freedom? Will the Microsoft EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) be altered so as to freely allow anyone to carry the concept of code sharing, modification, redistribution of derivate works? Will I be able to go to the Microsoft website tomorrow morning and download the source code of Microsoft Office, add to that source the ODF (Open Document Format) compatibility and upload it to the Microsoft website to make it available to the rest of the world to download it freely on their Linux, Unix, Solaris operating systems?

I believe not.

An attempt is being by Microsoft to tell the world that they co-exist with the FOSS

Movement. From what both the episodes of the documentary have portrayed, it can be believed that Microsoft and BBC have attempted to show the world that there is a co-existence of two software development models.

One is the FOSS Movement and the other is the Proprietary Commercial Model that has now come into parallel existence.

It further shows that the FOSS movement has given Microsoft competition. FLOSS simply makes us expect to have software freedom as one of our basic freedom and rights to access and create information and knowledge.

BBC’S SECOND EPISODE: Awww, poor little IBM and HP. Let’s give you the chance to at least say something about OSS In the last episode of the documentary.BBC was very kind enough to at least allow the other Aliens like IBM and HP talk about what they were doing with OSS and they gave their point of view. Then, in pops Microsoft again every now and then to find some way to negate what these giants were talking about.

These giants did not adopt OSS or FOSS just because it was there; they adopted it because they were forward thinkers and saw that the future was towards ICT Software Freedom and choice to choose openness or closed software.

Sadly, again everyone was shouting out loud, about freedom and coice. But BBC and Microsoft were unable to hear that or understand it, I believe only aliens like us can understand these words.

A couple of mobile Indian buses and disaster-coping software Sahana is FOSS. Since we don’t have money, and we are poor, we use FOSS. Or so it’s made out to be. Since the Sahana People didn’t have money, they used FOSS; since kids in India are poor and barefooted, they are taught to use FOSS.

Once again, Microsoft pops in, and we will do it together?

Sigh, why is only the ‘developing’ world using FOSS, to reduce the digital divide?

These questions and comments might be a bit rude or absurd, the intent is to help us realize the this is a misleading portrayal. That is not why these organizations and countries used FOSS. They had better and more access to FOSS resources than proprietary resources, more and more people were willing to contribute and work in a situation that could not have been facilitated by proprietary licensing and regulatory schemes.

These are people taking action finding solutions to their own problems at the

right place and time. They don’t have to wait for someone from the proprietary software megacorp to tell them what is good or bad for their situations. FOSS involves a participatory approach to solving the problems through software for their communities and answering to disaster relief calls on time and providing affordable education.

I know my ICT Software Freedoms, do you?

What am I trying to prove in all this discussion is just one small thing that has wider global implications: FREEDOM to access information and knowledge, FREEDOM to share that information and knowledge for the common good and benefit of all humanity, FREEDOM to improve and add to that information and knowledge, FREEDOM to create further information and knowledge for mutual benefit through derivative works acknowledging the contributions of others. This is more important than all else.

The ability to understand and practice my choices, rights and Freedom and to accept that others can share my FREEDOMS as they share the air I breathe, they share the water I drink, they share the food I eat, they share the education I receive, they share the same humanity that composes me in to the human being I am, that is my motivation, my inspiration, my spirit.

Will Microsoft and BBC ever understand that? Is there anyone in the world who understands this and can make a new documentary about the true ‘Code Breakers’ from the FOSS Movement? I leave this question to be answered by the readers.

These are the words of a South Asian Free & Open Source Software developer

and FOSS advocate. Or, could we say, one who’s trying to be a FOSS Code Breakers. Promoting ICT software freedom for everyone!


1. BBC World documentary titled "Code Breakers"

2. Microsoft

3. Free Software Foundation

4. The Open Source Initiative

5. Raymond, E. S. (2001), The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and

Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, O’Reilly & Associates.

6. Raymond, E. S., The Cathedral and the Bazaar,

7. The Spirit of Free and Open Source Software, Free and Open Source

Software Foundation of Pakistan

FOSS Mullah’s blog