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Chris Holt [opinions]

Former social worker and tech CEO finally gets it! [ubuntu] [philosophy] [nonprofits] [charities] [ngo]

As a former founder/CEO of a paranoid technology company developingproprietary enterprise software, one would think "free" software and Iwouldn't mix any better than wax and water. After fighting lawsuits torecover my "stolen" software, the idea of ownership is etched into mypsyche. Hence the paranoia in my company... NDAs, trade secrets andpatent interests. The business models around giving software away havemade me confused. Funny though what time spent curled up withfreesoftware magazine will do. I have recently become a strong convertand advocate for the free software movement.

I have now seen the light and call it Ubuntu and it fits quiteironically with my previous career. (Of course, I sold the company;but that's a different blog entry.)

Prior to developing technology I was a social worker developing socialprograms to help disadvantaged people. I strongly believed in thespirit of community and service to others; and therefore it was odd Ideveloped a proprietary technology for this community marketplace. Butthis started pre-2000 before the great cataclysm of the tech meltdownwhen software-for-free wasn't exactly a recognized concept in thefinancing circles. I was building software for non-profits on asoftware for service (ASP) model, which I thought was better than thetraditional COTS approach, affordable for the sector and far moreegalitarian... it never occurred to me to seek investors who would behappy if I gave the software away.

The non-profits I previously worked for purchased DOS and thenWindows. We also purchased office suites from Corel or Microsoft, andexpensive products like Accpac. How many non-profits still do this?Many, and with public charities in the US reporting nearly $1.1trillion in revenues and over $1.0 trillion in total expensesaccording to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, they areprobably spending a chunk of that on software. Maybe it would bebetter to spend it on direct services and reduce the dependence.

If you are a non-profit today, or just a human being, there is noreason to be buying most of the software you will need. In futureentries, I will explore free software for various aspects ofnon-profit services, including donation tracking, memberships, website development and maintenance, case management systems, clinicalassessments, and electronic health/medical records; but for thedesktop I want to talk about the most exciting thing to hit thecomputer since the Macintosh—Ubuntu. In fact, if Steve Jobs was asocial entrepreneur I'm sure he'd have invented Ubuntu!

Ubuntu is a GNU/Linux based operating system for the desktop. I recentlydropped Windows and installed Ubuntu on my laptop. That's right... amore than complete replacement operating system for the desktop forfree. I haven't looked back and every day I relish using the system.Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical Ltd., a private company funded bySouth African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth who has a mission tobring this software not only to the regular and sophisticated computeruser throughout the world, but to those who are more disadvantaged aswell. Ubuntu means "humanity towards others" and this of course hitsthe nerve of my social work paradigm and has overridden my sense ofproprietorship.

The Ubuntu Philosophy promotes these core philosophical ideals whichI've pulled from their website:

  1. Every computer user should have the freedom to run, copy,distribute, study, share, change and improve their software for anypurpose, without paying licensing fees.
  2. Every computer user should be able to use their software in thelanguage of their choice.
  3. Every computer user should be given every opportunity to usesoftware, even if they work under a disability.

The Ubuntu philosophy and the philosophy of the non-profit world match!

Non-profits should be embracing this technology and investigating freesoftware systems... many of which come with Ubuntu. I don't have roomto describe how Ubuntu works, I'll do that in my next entry. Freesoftware for non-profits... there is more than you can imagine andusing Ubuntu is "almost" as easy as Windows and in some respectseasier; more on that later. For now... install it.


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