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My internship at the FSF, and the domino effect of thoughts

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on Jun 16, 2021 04:57 PM
Contributors: Panos Alevropoulos

Hello! My name is Panos Alevropoulos. I was born in and live in Thessaloniki, Greece, and I am a law student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. This is my introductory post in the course of my internship at the Free Software Foundation. Specifically, I will work remotely with the campaigns and licensing teams, contributing to areas that could benefit from someone with legal experience. The campaign I will focus on most is End Software Patents, a legal topic that I find particularly fascinating, and which I hope to delve into. In this short article, I would like to briefly recount how I came to know about free software.

In general, I have had a great interest in technology since I was a young child. I started using a computer at the age of about four (an old Mac), and then my father bought me my first personal computer when I was seven (a Windows XP system). From a very early age, I became familiar with the logic of computers, and felt the need to adapt my system to my liking (for example, I wanted the word "start" in Windows XP to be changed to spell my name -- I managed to do it by tweaking the Windows Registry). For many years, I used Windows, but slowly I realized that I was using a very closed system. The ability to configure Windows seemed to be minimal to none; when I encountered a technical problem, the information available to solve it was laconic and inadequate. Then, if I wanted to research a particular technical aspect on the Internet, I only came across Windows support sites, with bland and vague answers that not even the most familiar Windows user would understand. I could not provide any answer as to why the world's most widespread operating system felt like a black box. However, for many years, I truly believed that there was no alternative.

When I became a university student, I had more time to spend on things that interested me. One hobby I had already developed since my student days, mainly to pass time, was playing online chess. In my eyes, when I started, there were two available appealing services: chess.com (the most popular) and lichess.org (which was relatively unknown then). I decided to play on Lichess, mainly because it had no ads and had a nicer look and feel -- no other real reason. At some point, while exploring its homepage, I came across the features page. It offers a breakdown of the features of the service, which has a fairly familiar format: the separation of gratis features, and features to which one only has access if they pay a fee. However, scrolling down, I was confused: the accessible features were the same for both gratis users and those who chose to pay. I wondered how this could be.

The answer was relatively simple: Lichess is essentially donationware, available under a free software license. However, my realization was deeper: for the first time, I encountered a service that I felt respected me as a user. Suddenly, I found myself in a state of euphoria not because I found something gratis, but because I came across something that in my mind had only been depicted as utopian, even though it was actually something very simple in nature: user freedom. Up to that point, I had only known a competitive relationship between user and producer. The user tries to benefit from as many things of value as they can for as little money as possible, while the producer tries to provide as few things of value as they can, for the most money. Reading that page, however, I realized that the relationship between the two can be cooperative, providing both have a common denominator: passion for the same interest and genuine communication. As a result, software developers refusing to settle for an inferior user experience earned my respect.

After this, it didn't take me long to discover the world of free software. I learned about GNU/Linux, and slowly started replacing every bit of proprietary software and service I had used with libre alternatives. Nowadays, I try to contribute to as many free software communities as I can.

The central theme of free software is freedom, the ability to control the product and not be controlled by it. Once a first realization is made, the same reasoning can be applied to other areas of life, like a domino effect of thoughts. This is my story, and I believe it is similar to many other free software people.

But, just like a domino, the chain of thoughts will never be realized until the first tile falls.

This first domino tile we are obliged to drop is in the minds of all other people.

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