November 11, 2011, 11:29 AM — Today is Veteran's Day here in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations. It's a holiday that gets a bit of short shrift these days, so it's important to take a moment and understand that we have a lot of people to thank for the freedoms we now enjoy.
And there is a lot of work still to do.
That work is being done by armed forces around the world, and it can also be done by us.
In the last decade, one of the ways the free and open source software communities were going to work on the problems of global illiteracy and information distribution was to be the source of computer software for developing nations.
With grand plans like the One Laptop Per Child program in place, the FLOSS community was gung-ho on the notion of delivering great software at a perfect cost: free.
So what happened?
[Author Update: The following paragraph was corrected for a factual error: OLPC laptops never used Windows. The author regrets the error.]
Despite some successes with the OLPC, the program never took off as expected, with OLPC even flirting with embedded Windows to operate the XO laptops. A new sub-$100 tablet, the XO-3, was announced in 2009 with a planned 2012 release that utilizes Android or ChromeOS.
Last year, IBM, Canonical, and Simmtronics banded together to launch a $190 netbook--the Simmbook--to developing nation customers, but I honestly have heard nothing about sales of this device since the initial announcements last March.
In April of this year, Canonical announced that it would discontinue its ShipIt program, citing expenses. The responsibility of creating Ubuntu CDs was shifted to approved LoCo teams.
There are some efforts, as you can see, underway, but the impetus and drive that we say in the 2000s has clearly diminished. I want to be clear here: this is not an effort to single out one organization or another as lacking in this area. There were just examples that came to mind first. Assisting those in need is a broad problem, and I think there may have been an attitude shift in the FLOSS community about this issue.
We don't hear about community installfests so much anymore (though I know they happen), and information about computer recycling programs is thin on the ground. So, either these events aren't being broadcast, or their frequency is decreasing.
Did the FLOSS community, caught up in the success it has enjoyed on the commercial side, shift its priorities? I would like to think not, but perhaps those priorities need a bit of a kick.
The promise of FLOSS is still there: getting software in the hands of those who need it. But the delivery of that promise seems to have gotten lost in the cacophony of noise about the enterprise and the mobile and the cloud.
Remembering those who fought for our respective nations' freedom is important--today and all days. But with our unique talents and resources, the FLOSS community can fight for those who still need freedom from want and freedom from fear.
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