Why I use Ubuntu...

Or, why Open Source Software is vital for moving forward as a global community.

As anyone knows who has been reading the blog (or the old one for that matter), I am very passionate about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). But why is this? How did I get here and why do I think it’s critical for our future?

Since i have blogged about this history before, I won’t go into the details here. Let me just say that it was because of Mac OS X that I ventured into the world of Open Source Software and stayed there, like any new relationship, after a few minor hiccups.

I started testing Ubuntu around October 2007 and starting using it regularly the following year. And by regularly, I mean that I no longer used any other Operating System (OS). Ubuntu was the only personal computer OS I used. This also means that I have used about 8 different releases (I am currently dual-booting between the latest release - 10.10 - and the Alpha release of 11.04). But, again, why?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. To me, it’s the ethos of using FOSS that is of the most important. And that ethos is community. It’s about putting the needs of the community before ones personal needs. And, to me, that spells service. The ethos of the FOSS community is one of serving. And that reminds me of Christ. Let me flesh this out a bit more.

I used to believe (like so many in American culture) that the goal was individualism. That is, the only thing that mattered was my personal salvation - of Christ being my ‘personal savior’ and my ‘going to heaven when I die’. No idea about the community or my responsibility to serve others. That wasn’t my job. My job was to ‘lead other people to Jesus’ (which in turn became a numbers game and, coupled with my giving, was a way of ‘evaluating’ my faithfulness to Jesus). There was nothing in my early life up to adulthood about service. That is, not until I had to face the reality that something was not right. Things that I learned as a young person no longer worked for me as an adult. So I started searching. And as many of you know, my searching led me to a completely new way of seeing, one based on an ancient way of seeing. And with this new way of seeing, the scriptures opened in a new way - a way that emphasised doing good works (meaning social justice work) and thinking more of the needs of others (and not just saving their souls). I started seeing the sacred and the secular as being so integrated that they can’t be separated. If we remove the sacred from the secular, the secular will be destroyed. With this new way of seeing, FOSS, especially Ubuntu, became all the more important.

See, Ubuntu is all about the needs of those they serve - the men and women who use computers on a daily basis. One of those needs is financial. That is, there are plenty of people (more than 2/3rds of the worlds population) that can’t afford Windows or Mac OS X. According to Ubuntu’s philosophy page:

Ubuntu software is free. Always was, always will be. Free software gives everyone the freedom to use it however they want and share with whoever they like. This freedom has huge benefits. At one end of the spectrum it enables the Ubuntu community to grow and share its collective experience and expertise to continually improve all things Ubuntu. At the other, we are able to give access to essential software for those who couldn’t otherwise afford it – an advantage that’s keenly felt by individuals and organisations all over the world.

Another neat things about this freedom is the fact that Ubuntu has been translated in to more than 50 languages. This not only includes the language of the system itself, but the various support material as well. And, because it is Open Source, people from all over the world can translate Ubuntu into their own languages if one is not available.

This idea of sharing, of giving of ourselves for the betterment of others, is so much of the Christian ethos as well. Here are a couple of passages to illustrate this:

Matthew 14.15-21. That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

“Bring them here,” he said. Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

Acts 4.32-35. All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

This is exactly what the Ubuntu community does (maybe not ‘testify[ing] powerfully to the resurrection of . . . Jesus’ but you never know!). And that’s what’s so exciting about it! Even I can share. I don’t know how to develop (or program) applications but I can help people with their simple issues like wireless cards not working, or getting their new mp3 player to work, or just helping someone start using Ubuntu. Those little things add up. And it’s the little things that really make a difference to people. The smile, the cup of warm coffee, a simple prayer, a listening ear - all of these things matter and matter a great deal to those people who are hurting.

Now, granted, I can do all of those (little) things when helping a person with Windows or Mac OS X. But, a lot of the time, I am dependant on the developer even releasing the software to work with those OSes. And that’s true of Ubuntu as well. But here is the big difference. Since Ubuntu is Open Source, that software is already available to the public. And if the developer hasn’t released a new version, then someone else can! And she doesn’t have to worry about getting sued or paying huge licensing fees. The software is made available for all to help all.

And that mentality, that ethos, is the key for us to move forward as a species. We have to get away from the idea of ‘us vs. them’. Sure it worked for a while (I think that really depends on whom you ask), but we didn’t think about the long term effects of such a worldview. And because of that, the effects have been building up and are now reaching a critical stage. And I’m not even talking about the ecological ramifications of our actions or lack thereof. I’m just talking about the human element. But, in all honesty, we can’t talk about the human element without taking into consideration the ecological and economic situations of the people who suffer. Again, life is too complex to be divided into such neat little packages. All things are dependant on all things.

In summary, I am seeking ways of incorporating these two things. More specifically, I am looking into ways of getting more people to use Ubuntu, especially those who are non-profits and religious traditions who share this way of seeing. I have already contacted Ken from Helios in Austin. It’s a great program and I’m wondering of something like that might work here.

Lastly, if you get the chance, take a little time and browse through Ubuntu’s philosophy page and see how it fits with your personal philosophy. Also, if you are so inclined, maybe take Ubuntu for a spin and see what you think. It think you will be pleasantly surprised.

In the Name of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC


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