maddog's Keynote for the Idlelo 4 conference in Accra, Ghana


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

May 23, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I was fortunate enough to do a keynote at for the Idlelo 4 conference in Accra, Ghana, right before their Minister of IT gave his speech. Here is the text of my speech:


Mr. Minister, Honorable and honored guests.



It is a great pleasure and honor to address you today, and particularly right before the Minister.



I was asked to bring a small present for the Minister, as is customary. I had to think long and hard about this, for I am not a wealthy man, and I wondered what I could give the Minister of a country like Ghana, a nation of over 23 million people, that he could possibly value.



I am not a king, so I could not bring gold, frankincense and myrrh, but then I remembered the "Little Drummer Boy", and I knew I could bring a few articles that I thought he might like:

  • a tie


  • a tie bar


both with a certain winged, flightless bird that has become the symbol of the Linux operating system. These


have no great material value, but I hope that he accepts them in the spirit that they are given, of camaraderie and community.



And I hope that he wears them the next time that Microsoft comes to visit.



The final gift that I am going to give him is not from me alone, but from millions of people around the world. It represents over forty years of computer science research and development.



I first recognized the value of this last gift when I went to Fiji. At that time the entire island of Fiji was connected to the Internet by a very slow connection, and every time the University in Fiji tried to download the Linux operating system, there would be a storm in the South Pacific, the line would drop, and they would have to start all over again.



I gave the University a copy of Red Hat Linux, and they were emancipated from their software suppliers.



In giving them the disk, I realized that I was handing over billions of dollars of software development freely. I felt a part of the picture on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where God is giving Adam the gift of knowledge:


Sistine Chapel



The next time I felt the same power of Free Software was in Soweto, South Africa. Soweto was at that time a place where drugs were rampant and the very word "Soweto" was a synonym for hopelessness.



I convinced CSIR, the government agency responsible for IT research, that Free Software could help the people of Soweto create their own businesses, and that "Free Software exists even in Soweto". The management of CSIR did not at first believe me, but to their credit they investigated.



They found a young black man who was running a software consulting service out of his house in Soweto over dial-up networking, who was communicating with Linus Torvalds and helping him debug an issue in the Kernel of Linux.



They also found a group of people who were trying to create their own wireless mesh network using free software, because they felt the government would not help them.



From my visit, and their investigations, they decided to open a Open Source Competency center in Soweto. I was fortunate to attend the opening of that center, where the director of CSIR told me that "You have no idea of the impact of your words that day". That became one of the defining moments of my life.



This gift, Mr. Minister, is the result of millions of individuals and companies contributing their time and ideas for the common good. This gift has generated jobs and companies, made millionaires and allowed "software freedom" for many millions of additional people.



People sometimes have a problem understanding "software freedom", so I use the term "software slavery" to show the opposite:



Software slaves are told:


  • when to upgrade their software


  • how many computers they can put their software on


  • how many users can use the software


  • how the software will or will not work


  • what languages the software will support


  • when they will receive needed bug fixes or enhancements



Ironically only the richest peoples can afford software slavery. Poor people are persecuted as "software pirates".



Software Freedom allows:


  • you to use the software for any purpose


  • you to see how the software works


  • you to have control over the software


  • money used to improve and develop the software to stay in your own country, paying your own people to be programmers


  • you to stop the brain drain of your best computer science students from leaving Ghana and going to the United States or Western Europe


  • you to develop the software sovereignty necessary to create a secure nation



There have been many other “defining moments” in my life with FOSS. People have come up to me and thanked me for introducing them to Free Software, that FOSS created jobs and businesses for them. Every single time “a defining moment” happens I remember the Sistine Chapel.



Yet I say to these people that if they want to see the most important person in Free Software, when they get up in the morning, look in the mirror, for they will see the person decided to end their software slavery.



What does this software freedom cost? The price has already been paid, the gift has already been given. All you have to do is reach out your hand and accept it.



And when you get up tomorrow morning, look in the mirror.



Thank you.

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