Software Freedom and Empowerment

My first introduction to Open Source was the Firefox browser. I can’t remember how I found out about it, but I do remember that I liked the idea of a “underdog” competitor to the omnipresent Internet Explorer. The company I was working for as a product manager in the early 2000s was using the Microsoft Office Suite, and standard users like me didn’t even have permission to install new programs on our work PCs. Luckily, I was on good terms with the sysadmin team and persuaded them to install Firefox on my computer.

Fast forward to early 2008. Looking for a new job because I needed a change, I got offered a job by KDE e.V.. This organisation is a non-profit that supports the Free Software community KDE .

I was a newbie in the tech world before and I was intrigued by the ideals and vision of Free and Open Source Software. The mid-2000s were the prime time of Web 2.0, Wikipedia became a serious competitor for traditional printed encyclopaedias, user-generated content, and the ideas Free and Open Knowledge was getting mainstream traction. I knew about Creative Commons and Linux, Open Data and Open Government initiatives but would have never thought that I’d end up in a serious corner of the Free Software world.

Being a self-determined user of software

When I started my job for KDE eV, I got handed a laptop with the OpenSuse and KDE preinstalled. I didn’t know what a distribution was, or a package manager. But since I was the only employee, and there were no colleagues in my office that could help me, I got some help via the KDE IRC channel and just trying out things.

I learned how to use the command line and to use the package manager of my Linux distribution. I customised my desktop, fought with buggy software, emailed maintainers with bug reports and learned how to update SVN repositories.

It might seem trivial now but then, being able to install whatever I wanted on my laptop, being able to download new tools and programs was a big deal for me. Not only did it give me a better understanding of the tools I used daily but I was suddenly in control of what tools I wanted to use. Switching to Free Software was liberating and empowering.

Working with a big FOSS community taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons was to look closely at the software tools I’m using every day. It’s important to care about who created them and how much control they give you over how you can use and study them.