Guest author: Julià Minguillón Alfonso
Professor, Computer Engineering, Multimedia and Telecommunications
Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) Assistant Director
UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Julià is professor at UOC since 2001. He has been teaching programming, statistics and data mining, graphical computing and learning technology. His research interests are modelling students’ behaviour on virtual learning environments, the development of tools for learning process’ support and its personalization and the accesibility, mobility and usability topics related.
He is directing the PERSONAL(ONTO) project, about Personalizing the Learning Process in Virtual Environments by means of Adaptive Formative Itineraries based on Reusable Learning Objects and Ontologies. He was also involved in the OLCOS project about open educational contents.
Richard Stallman as a FSF evangelist at FKFT 2008 (photo by baldiri)
I would like to complement the previous entry about Richard Stallman’s talk at FKFT 2008. Stallman tried to convice us about being free and exercising our rights: free to use a certain piece of software whenever and wherever (i.e. in any computer) we like, free to read and learn from the software (its source code), free to modify it in order to adapt it to our needs and, finally, free to share and distribute it amoung our friends and colleagues. These statements are what Stallman defines as freedom with respect to software. Proprietary software is evil, as it refrains users from exercising their freedom.
Of course I agree with this idea about freedom, but despite Stallman’s vehement defense of his positions, there is something weak in this reasoning, in my humble opinion. Stallman compared computer programs to recipes, a very good metaphor indeed, as everybody is able to cook any recipe if all the ingredients are available and there is also a well equipped kitchen. A minimum of cooking skills are required, obviously. Stallman was asked whether making medicaments is also a valid metaphor or not, and he said that yes but the quality control checks should be very strict, obviously.
Programming is not difficult, hundreds of thousands of people (probably millions) do it every day, but real programming is beyond the capacity of a single programmer, large programming projects require large programming communities. Such a situation where everybody is able to create their own programs and modify other people’s ones is utopic.
But maybe Stallman is right, and if we know how to cook, to talk, to read, to write, to drive a car, etc., why are not we taught to program? Should everybody be a programmer? Should be programming a basic skill of any citizen in the Information Society? Once again, education plays an important role in people’s lives, as only from the knowledge of all the available options the users will be really free to choose according to their interests. Maybe not everybody needs to be a programmer (or a plumber, or a driver, or a writer), but evil is not the only option, as the FSF tries to disseminate.
Learn (to program) and be free, my friend!