9 Free and Open Source Software Stories to Watch in 2011: Page 3

Posted December 28, 2010

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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As ACTA moves towards acceptance and enforcement, groups like the Free Software Foundation will be trying to educate the public about these issues, making clear how they affect consumer rights and privacy. Depending on the speed with which ACTA is implemented, demonstrations and other grass root protests may emerge in 2011.

9) WikiLeaks Affects Perception of Free Software

The ongoing story of WikiLeaks is a rare example of free software concerns coming to the attention of the general public. Transparency and openness, the accountability of authorities and decision-making -- all these issues overlap with the concerns and purposes of free software advocates.

As the story continues in 2011, it may provide an opportunity for educating people about these issues. However, what seems even likelier is a backlash against these issues.

For one thing, WikiLeaks may have compromised its effectiveness by releasing indiscriminate information that sounds more like gossip than revelation. Even more importantly, efforts by diplomats and governments to discredit Wikileaks may discredit free software by association.

For example, in the last few weeks, I have had several people ask me if Wikipedia was associated with WikiLeaks in some way. In each case, the implication was that, if the association existed, Wikipedia was somehow less reliable.

It is all too easy to imagine issues like transparency and openness being linked in people's minds to irresponsibility. Although WikiLeaks is not directly connected to free software, the distinction may be clear in many people's minds, and in 2011 one may become confused with the other. Since WikiLeaks is being scapegoated, that connection would be unfortunate, regardless of how you view WikiLeaks.

The Sole Prediction

These stories add up to the sole prediction that I am willing to make: 2011 is going to be an interesting year for free and open source software.

The trouble is, you can always say that about free software. And, undoubtedly, much of what makes 2011 interesting will be events that nobody looking ahead can predict.

Personally, though, I can't say that I would have things any other way. In the popular adage, living in interesting times is a curse, but that's what makes writing about free software worth my time. For all its growing popularity, free software remains the bleeding edge, and the scratches and scar tissue that contact with it sometimes brings are far preferable to writing about Windows 7 or Microsoft Office.

Just don't hold me accountable if these stories are less important than I've suggested. The fact that I have given up predictions doesn't make me any more responsible than I was last year.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Gnome, Wikileaks

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