posted by Michael L. Love on Mon 3rd Nov 2003 19:19 UTC
IconThe GNU-Darwin Distribution is a free operating system and a popular source of free software for Mac OS X and Darwin-x86 users, but it is also a platform for digital activism. Founded in November of 2000, the Distribution has the stated goal of bringing software freedom to computer users of every stripe, and vigilantly defending digital liberties.

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of osnews.com

Hexley, the Darwin Mascot GNU-Darwin is a Darwin-based operating system, but it also GNU-based, in that many thousands of free software titles are provided, all of which are compatible with the Darwin and Mac OS X. Software packaging tools were adapted from FreeBSD for the purpose of distributing the GNU part of the system and other free software items, but Darwin itself also includes many crucial GNU software titles, such as bash and GCC.

Recently, Apple's public source license was revised so that Darwin could be distributed as an FSF recognized free operating system, and we have modified Darwin in accordance with that goal, so that the GNU-Darwin developers now feel free to compete directly against "Linux" and other "open source" projects. In addition, GNU-Darwin continues to support the PowerPC platform and to help Apple users, who may be free software novices. Moreover, now that we have a free version of Darwin, our horizons are greatly expanded. Here we present our third yearly report.

GNU-Darwin is an activist distribution

GNU-Darwin has been an ardent defender of digital liberties, and it is a platform for digital activism. Given the current state of things in the US and elsewhere, strident expressions of democratic power are necessary. The tools of such action include, but are not limited to; boycotts, blockades, community response, de-branding, labor solidarity, whistle-blowing, etc. Once your credibility to engage is established, then the mere threat of such action is often sufficient to produce results.

We have been prepared to take the Distro off-line a couple of times as a form of political action. It is important to realize that the software freedom status of GNU-Darwin was tenuous before the change to the APSL, so we were ready to cut our losses, and remove GNU-Darwin from the internet, if necessary. Now things have improved very much.

In fact, we did blackout the home page as a war protest in March, and we blackened the whole website, after Apple used the DMCA, but we have never actually taken it off line. Fortunately, the situation has never warranted taking the package collection off line, which would be an even more drastic step, and our actual users have never been affected by these actions. In fact, we received many orders and messages of support as a result of our activism.

In general the effects of such action are ambiguous by nature, because the rulers certainly have an interest in denying the influence of democratic power. In particular cases, we can only say that the results are consistent with successful action; Darwin is free. Dmitry is free. The "telescreen" initiative was scuttled at the Commerce Department. Technology companies have been repelled from DMCA-based legal action.

Our users support such action, as illustrated most recently by the predictable upsurge in downloads and orders that accompanied the Europatent protest and the WIPO open source initiative, and we were joined by many new users as well. The upshot for free software projects is this: If your users agree with your sentiments, then they will welcome a small inconvenience in order to join a prominent statement against injustice. This is probably true of the majority of free software projects and many website communities as well. This is how we will make the internet work for us, and do its intended job. We encourage free software projects everywhere to adopt these methods of activism (but also to support groups like EFF, which assist the legislative and legal agenda).

In the SCO dispute, GNU-Darwin has no stake at all, but the lessons of GNU-Darwin-style activism may provide some illumination to those who do have a stake in it. Expressions of strident democratic power are appropriate and to be encouraged. Actions should target SCO and their supporters, including users. If the government takes the side of SCO, then target the government as well. In a capitalistic world, free software projects have a tremendous advantage: By acting without greed, your actions are unfathomable to the corporate oligarchy, which can be easily bested, if you cooperate with your natural allies.

SCO compatibility is the power that you wield. Your users will not mind a little inconvenience in order to be associated with the good that you are doing, and by engaging injustice, you create strong allies for yourself. Don't worry about creating enemies; The cockroaches scatter when you turn on the lights.

A SCO blockade would be an action of community response, which is analogous in some ways to our Free Darwin action. Our third year commenced with the initiation of the The Free Darwin campaign which was followed by the antiwar blackout in March. Free Darwin was an engagement of Apple by GNU-Darwin, wherein we stated that we would continue to develop for the ppc architecture only under certain conditions. The action was amplified by our usership, the strong democratic power that underlies and validates the actions of GNU-Darwin. I'm certainly not trying to take the credit for GNU-Darwin for something that was clearly the work of Apple and FSF. The question is whether or not Free Darwin had a hand in it.

We don't know for sure yet how much GNU-Darwin influenced the events in question, and we may never know. That is the nature of actions like Free Darwin, Free Dmitry, and Stakeholders-7/17, where the rulers will certainly deny that democratic power influenced the event. People will tell you to this day that Adobe "was not hurt" by the boycott. Our aim in Free Darwin was not to hurt Apple, but to assist their excellent progress. Many of us had portentious discussions with people inside Apple during the execution of that action, and we may soon learn the truth about Free Darwin, but maybe never.

Here is what we do know. There was no indication whatsoever that Apple was pursuing free software listing before the Free Darwin action, even though we had been asking for it for almost three years. In fact, Apple's own Darwin FAQ derided the necessity of it. Apple attained that listing 7 months (corporate lightspeed) after commencement of Free Darwin. Fortunately, the action provoked huge coverage and a human groundswell on the web, and apparently impacted Apple's stock price. It provided a focal point for the discontent of the community, so that Apple employees had an opportunity to point to the action and say, "We need to do something positive about this."

We would hope that SCO users and employees would have a similar response to the actions of the free software community, which are for their benefit in the long run.

In isolation, the Free Darwin case is quite weak because of the ambiguity of results. On the other hand, taken together with many other such actions, the case is now overwhelmingly strong. Strident expressions of democratic power appear to be consistently effective (although we have not yet impacted the war against Iraq). We would like people to look at these accomplishments and be inspired to engage themselves for good. It is important not to disparage anyone's efforts, which is the same as discouraging your allies. If everyone does everything that they can, no matter how small, then together we can make an impact. Together we can stop the Englobulators!

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, an activist distribution"
  2. "Bringing GNU/Free Software to all users"
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