Sanctuary for Independent Media’s open-source workshop is
all about utilizing the oldest resource around
Rabinovich, a software designer in his mid-20s, has his laptop
cabled to a projector, and the first slide of the presentation
he has spent weeks preparing fills a small, white screen.
He watches anxiously as people file into the backroom at Troy’s
Sanctuary for Independent Media. Behind him, lounging with
computers in their laps, soaking up the free bandwidth, sit
Armando Di Cianno and Andrew Andkjar, coworkers of Rabinovich
at a small, start-up technology company. The two casual coders
have his back, and throughout the next four hours will jump
in to help Rabinovich lead a discussion on the exciting range
of open-source software’s technological, political, and economic
first, Rabinovich asks the assembled: What is it you would
like to know about open-source software?
are a dozen pieces of software to compete with Photoshop,”
a woman says. “How do you know what to download?”
The writer wants a word processor that performs simply and
effectively, “not like the crap they got out now.” The unemployed
college student is interested in open-source software for
financial reasons. The Perl developer wants to make his living
without being tied to Microsoft.
don’t know much about open source,” an older woman volunteers,
“but I know one thing for sure—I hate Microsoft.”
Everyone agrees. Microsoft sucks.
think we can answer most of your questions,” Rabinovich says.
Di Cianno chuckles.
Rabinovich concedes, and he launches into the history of open
source, starting in the mid-1970s, with an MIT hacker and
some flaky proprietary printer drivers.
future of software wasn’t necessarily proprietary,” Rabinovich
says. Back in those days, hardware was king and software was
secondary. Few people were thinking about the thousands of
ways to make money off of software; they were just thinking
about making the hardware work. The future was wide open;
people freely shared their code. When proprietary software
started to take off, it was considered by many as an affront
In 1998, when Netscape, once a frontrunner in the Web-browsing
software racket, was collapsing, it decided to release the
source code for its browser.
was a swan song,” Rabinovich says. And from the open sourcing
of the Netscape code, Mozilla was born.
Mozilla is the producer of the incredibly popular Web browser
Firefox. This browser is arguably the most well-known piece
of open-source software around. People use it without even
thinking about the political or social implications of the
software, Rabinovich says. “It is well known simply because
it works beautifully, and is extremely accessible.”
that functions supremely is a natural outcome of the open-source
development process,” Rabinovich adds, “and if regular people
choose to dig down a little deeper and realize that Firefox
is actually open source, they will probably be only slightly
surprised. As more and more software is developed by using
open-source methodologies, people will be less surprised every
This is one of seven such workshops offered this spring by
the Sanctuary as a part of its Be the Media series. The goal
of the workshops, as described by Steve Pierce, is to move
forward the promise of new-media technologies, in which people
are not just passive consumers, but active participants. “Where
people aren’t just looking at the works other people produce,”
he says, “but produce the work themselves.”
the explosion of information technology in our lives, we think
that it is a liberating force. And it is not,” Branda Miller
adds. “These media tools are just tools like anything else.
And we need to think of old-fashioned tools like community
building, social networking, the relationship of a local place
and how that connects to a virtual space.”
think there is a growing consciousness that there is some
sort of scam that people are trapped in with all of this incredibly
seductive technology,” she says. “And part of this workshop
is about waking up.”
People who have been bred to be software purchasers are realizing
that this is not right, says Pierce, and the attraction of
open-source is that it offers an honest, free alternative.
“If you just participate, pay attention, if are a participant
in the process and not just a consumer, than you will get
more out of it. You will have control.”
And control is definitely what people have come for today.
The concern over who exactly controls their computers is palpable.
The continual updates, downloads, patches, though not necessarily
nefarious, leave this crowd with the sense that someone else,
someone they don’t trust at all, is doing something suspicious
with their computers—spying on them, manipulating them, cheating
them out of money and time.
Miller agrees that most people simply don’t trust the media
giants, and thinks that the interest in open-source software
is indicative of a larger media-reform movement. The tools
are available for people to create their media, their own
news, and avoid the currently oppressive system that propped
up by the almighty dollar.
It’s this freedom from corporate constraints, the intellectual
freedom that open-source software presents that is so appealing
to Rabinovich and his cohorts. They talk excitedly about Venezuela,
and how that country has just passed an open-source law, transitioning
all of its public agencies to open-source software.
They mention how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
has brought the principle of the free exchange of information
ingrained in open source to its academic knowledge by offering
OpenCourseWare. With OCW, MIT has made much of its course
material available online, completely free.
we can take college courses for free?” an attendee asks.
Andkjar adds, “you don’t get the degree.”
deal!” the attendee dismisses. “You get the information!”
For more information about the Sanctuary for Independent Media’s
ongoing Be The Media workshop series, visit www.the sanctuaryforindependentmedia.org.