Monday, December 19, 2005

What is "Decoding Liberation" about?

Software is more than instructions for computing machines: it enables (and disables) political imperatives and policies. Nowhere is this potential for radical social and political change more apparent than in the practice and movement known as free software.

While it is theoretically possible to determine (and subsequently modify) the design and function of a computer program by examining its 0s and 1s, it is time-consuming and rarely attempted. Instead, modern software is written in ‘high-level languages’ which are based on natural languages, enabling programmers to read, understand, and modify each other’s work. Automated translation programs then convert this ‘source code’ into computer-executable binary code. Most commercial software is distributed in binary form only, thereby concealing the programming techniques by which these programs achieve their purposes. But there is an alternative: to distribute software with its source code. This is the guiding principle of free software.

Free software makes the knowledge and innovation of its creators publicly available. This liberation of code—celebrated in free software’s explicatory slogan “Think free speech, not free beer”—is the foundation, for example, of the Linux phenomenon. Some facets of the free software movement have been extensively documented: questions of the microeconomics (i.e., the individual motivations of free software developers) and macroeconomics (i.e., structures that support successful free software development) have been considered both by ‘insiders’ and by outside observers. Other questions, such as the place of free software with respect to labor and technology, and its role in the future regulation of cyberspace, have been examined by some theorists but remain analytically underdeveloped.

This book provides a synoptic philosophical perspective on the fundamental relationships between free software and freedom. Focusing on five main themes—the emancipatory potential of technology, social liberties, the facilitation of creativity, the objectivity of computing as a scientific practice, and the role of software as a language of interaction in a technologized world—we ask, What are the freedoms of free software, and how are they manifested? Free software continues to be hyped in the computing community; we show that the hype is well-founded and yet too narrowly focused: free software promises to transform not only technology but society as well.


Post a Comment

<< Home