Does state-mandated free software permit freedom?
19 Sep 2007

Does state-mandated free software permit freedom?

Tailing the news that India is making

19 Sep 2007

Tailing the news that India is making Linux compulsory in schools, the Russian government is working to create a national operating system for schools:

Russian OS is to be installed on every school computer in Russia by 2009. Furthermore, every pupil will get the opportunity to operate the applied software produced in Russia, Leonid Reiman, acting Minister of Communication stated at a press conference. Experts and market participants consider the terms within which software is to be developed quite reasonable. According to Mr. Reiman, that might significantly reduce Russian dependence on foreign software…

Again, I ask, can we expect free software to correlate to freedom? By soliciting bids for the selection of a sole distribution vendor to develop and implement a monolithic, Russian OS, is Russian OS an effort to boost software freedom or is it an effort to increase state control?

Linux Today reader Artem Vakhitov notes that the project is probably not as ambitious as the Minister stated. As he understands it, “several Russian Linux vendors and solution providers, including ALTLinux, formed an alliance to jointly participate in a bid to develop and implement a FOSS operating system and necessary software packages for Russian schools.” There is no guarantee that the government will actually move ahead with the plan. (See the ALT Linux statement…)

Leave a comment
More Posts
Comments
  1. Diana Yefanova September 19th, 2007 11:10AM

    Well, let’s see, you write about India’s decision to have Linux as a compulsory OS: “This is huge for a huge country making a huge investment in IT” while in Russia you warn of a looming menace of “state control” over students’ hearts and minds via OS they are using – while speaking of essentially the same, innovative, open-source, currently most democratic Linux-based OS initiative…do I sense any kind of, let’s say, political inference here – or is it seeing similar events in a different political light?

    Another thing: if you would have actually read the translation of an article you are giving a link for, you would notice that Russian Linux vendors and providers alliance are stating that they are open to collaboration with foreign software/hardware producers and other parties who agree to respect the fact that applied software (still based on Linux but adapted to national educational standards) will have to be “technologically independent” (i.e. not a copy of other national models). So the big bad state in Russia (and, admittedly, it is in many cases) is only adapting the OS to its country’s educational needs and simultaneously trying to decrease the foreign- software-piracy levels – how controlling, indeed.

    As far as I know, in democratic India state control and commercialization of education co-exist, as in all other countries, including Russia. The trick is the balance, which I think what concerns you when you warn of too much state involvement in this post. Correct me if I am wrong: absolute software freedom is impossible at the moment in most countries in transition on mass-scale as the state still plays the regulating role necessary to transition toward more autonomy.

    Best regards,
    Diana

  2. Diana Yefanova September 19th, 2007 11:10AM

    Well, let’s see, you write about India’s decision to have Linux as a compulsory OS: “This is huge for a huge country making a huge investment in IT” while in Russia you warn of a looming menace of “state control” over students’ hearts and minds via OS they are using – while speaking of essentially the same, innovative, open-source, currently most democratic Linux-based OS initiative…do I sense any kind of, let’s say, political inference here – or is it seeing similar events in a different political light?

    Another thing: if you would have actually read the translation of an article you are giving a link for, you would notice that Russian Linux vendors and providers alliance are stating that they are open to collaboration with foreign software/hardware producers and other parties who agree to respect the fact that applied software (still based on Linux but adapted to national educational standards) will have to be “technologically independent” (i.e. not a copy of other national models). So the big bad state in Russia (and, admittedly, it is in many cases) is only adapting the OS to its country’s educational needs and simultaneously trying to decrease the foreign- software-piracy levels – how controlling, indeed.

    As far as I know, in democratic India state control and commercialization of education co-exist, as in all other countries, including Russia. The trick is the balance, which I think what concerns you when you warn of too much state involvement in this post. Correct me if I am wrong: absolute software freedom is impossible at the moment in most countries in transition on mass-scale as the state still plays the regulating role necessary to transition toward more autonomy.

    Best regards,
    Diana

  3. John Moravec September 19th, 2007 1:28PM

    Of course my post has a political slant to it. There is nothing more political than education!

    If you check out my post regarding India’s decision to move to a F/OSS framework, you’ll see that I asked the same question: “When free software becomes mandatory, is it still what GNU founder Richard Stallman would term ‘free as in freedom?'” If the U.S. Department of Education decided to pursue a monolithic “America OS” that would be compulsory for all schools, I would ask the same questions. (And, since I would be critiquing my home educational system, I would be far more straight-forward in questioning the implied nationalism behind such a program.)

    Let me be clear: I LOVE GNU/Linux, and I think it’s great that Russia is adopting open source solutions for its schools. What I’m concerned about is that Russia is moving toward a single platform.

    The intent of GNU/Linux is to make the platform accessible to anybody who wants to build their own distributions, derivatives, etc. This is seen in the varieties of GNU/Linux available (e.g., Debian, Red Hat, Ubuntu, Slackware, ALT Linux, and so forth). Moving to a monolithic platform for an entire educational system would reduce the variety in the ecosystem.

    It’s my fear that a state-controlled, monolithic platform would recreate the same conditions (Microsoft monopoly) that necessitated the formation of a F/OSS movement. Attempting to “balance” the inherent freedom and autonomy of GNU/Linux with state control under a thin veil of social transition is, in my view, irresponsible.

  4. Diana Yefanova October 1st, 2007 9:17AM

    John, your point is well-taken. I share your concerns, in fact, least of all I would like to see that “total control” happen. However, having it in schools ONLY does not mean that all segments of society other than students will have to use the platform. I hope the diversity will still exist, albeit less so. Technically, exchange of one monolithic platform for another doesn’t change much, except the sense of state control is higher, which, for some, may be preferable to being controlled by Microsoft (notwithstanding the high piracy rates :)).
    Diana

Comment