Where did our freedom go?

A kid jumps over a creek on a beach

My son Robin and I had this conversation about how Linux was created: a student called Linus Torvalds got a new computer and wanted to write a Unix-compatible kernel from scratch. In short, he wanted to create an operating system. In his bedroom. The story is fascinating as a testament of the power of the PC.

My son concluded by expressing his admiration for Torvalds by saying “this student project ended up as the third most used operating on PCs, after Windows and MacOS”, which is nice way to say that Linux (or actually GNU/Linux) is the least used operating system on PCs. I explained to Robin that this was not doing justice to Torvalds’ work, since the Linux Kernel is powering data centers as well as the gazillion Android smartphones that are activated everyday.

This, in turn, made me reflect on the evolution of computing. When I was a kid, there were no computers around. I saw the PC revolution happen and was part of it, then the Internet revolution, and now the smartphone revolution. What stroke me during these revolutions is the fact that these tools, the PC, then the Internet, were formidable tools for empowerment. If you had an idea, you could start “hacking” on it so that it became a reality. You did not have to ask for permission. You could use the computers on your own terms by making your own software or by adapting an existing piece of software by changing its source code, when it was accessible.

Fast forward to 2012. Tablets and smartphones are the current revolution, but things are a lot different. Creating an application for these devices is complicated. Take Apple’s iPhone & iPad for example. You need to register with their developer program, then write your application, then submit your application to the AppStore. There is no other way around to share with others the work that you’ve done. And you application may get rejected by Apple. It happens regularly.

Sure, smartphones and tablets are cool, but where did our freedom go? Was I lucky enough to be part of the only generation that could tinker with its computer? Do we really want the next generations to be just consumers and not creators? Should we accept that digital creativity has to limited to the Raspberry PI and the Arduino? These are very cool gadgets, but should we see our smartphones and tablets as devices for which only professionals can develop apps for?

I don’t think so. I enjoy the digital freedom that the PC and the Web have brought to me and those of my generation, and I expect the same from my tablet and smartphone. This is why I’m looking forward Firefox OS, and operating system for smartphones made of the Web, for which anyone with some Web knowledge can build applications.

Interested in Firefox OS and making the mobile ecosystem as open as the Web? There are several things you can do now:


2 responses

  1. And wrote on :

    When I was little, I could type in a text-mode-program in BASIC and I could keep it as long as the computer was powered. Later when we got a tape recorder hooked up, programs could be loaded and stored to and from tape if you tried a few times. Distributing software was done either printed in magazines, that you could then with some patience type in to your own computer, or on cassettes, that is not really an option for amateurs.

    > There is no other way around to share with others the work that you’ve done.
    So even if this was true, we would be no worse off, we could either pay apple or only distribute to the people we know and can help install manually (just as we borrowed cassette tapes). But since every computer now is connected to the internet and have a runtime for running graphical JavaScript-programs (a browser) which can be loaded and stored on the internet, I can just put it there for the whole world to use. I think you remember the past a little to rosy.

    > Get a job at Mozilla
    What do you do when there are ~5 similar position that sound interesting.

  2. Brandon Savage wrote on :

    Regarding the Apple Developer Network, you also have to pay for the privilege of getting rejected. Apple makes money whether they accept your app or not, whether you charge for your app or not. And with no (legitimate) alternate distribution channel, Apple essentially wholly owns the means of production and distribution for these apps.