[hackerspaces] Hackerspaces survey on Free/Libre Open Source Software

William Macfarlane wmacfarl at gmail.com
Sun Apr 6 18:58:59 CEST 2014

I think that many European Hackerspaces (I won't say "most" because, as a
North American with a life that affords very little travel time, I haven't
visited very many) have an explicitly political/activist self-definition,
whereas many American spaces don't (this comes up every year or so on list
n arguments about "Hackerspace" vs. "Makerspace".)

This is , for one, not to say that there aren't explicitly political
American spaces, but, more importantly, it's not to say that American
Hacker/Maker spaces are apolitical.  I think that there's a sense, even in
the least explicitly political American hackerspaces, that the thing we are
doing is, somehow, radical, even if this radicalism doesn't fall in any
kind of traditional activist framework.  Just creating public/semi-public
community spaces is a huge achievement and an implicitly radical one in
America (radical in the sense of being about individual/collective

I'm usually the guy in my space who says "hey, let's use the FLOSS solution
for this task."  A lot of times, people are receptive, and where they
aren't, it's usually because, either, the FLOSS version of the tool is
significantly worse for the task at hand than the proprietary one, or
because they already know how to use the proprietary one, have access to
the proprietary one, and the workflow of the FLOSS version is significantly

"Make a brochure for the space" and "learn to use Scribus to make a
brochure for the space " (let alone "hack Scribus into something I can
use") are distinctly different tasks, and while they both have value, the
second one can feel like an artificial barrier between you and getting the
task done.

It's also true that there is a vast space of political/politicized ideals
that you can focus on, and that you probably can't do them all well
simultaneously.  I, personally, have a sense that running a hackerspace and
keeping it going -- having an open community space for people to learn
about and use tech and tools -- is both a significant achievement and a
significant challenge.  While, in an ideal world, I would use FLOSS for
everything, and hack it whenver it didn't meet my goals precisely, this is
more-or-less equivalent to the ideal world in which I do all of our
plumbing and building maintenance and fix our truck disaster of a pick-up
truck when it breaks (which is all the time.)  Sometimes things need to be
easy in order to get done, and sometimes this means using proprietary
software (and/or letting people use proprietary software.)

There's also  an issue of welcomingness/accessibility.  A lot of people in
the world have never thought about FLOSS principles, proprietary software,
etc etc.  It's incredibly uncomfortable to come into a space and find
yourself told (implicitly or explicitly) that you're bad because you're
Doing It Wrong in a context that's unfamiliar to you.  This can
accidentally play into a lot of bad tech-elitism dynamics (i.e. software
people telling designer people that they are Bad for using Adobe products,
and not acknowledging the knowledge/expertise that said design people have
about what makes a tool a good one for their field.)

Around piracy -- not making a case either direction (because I think it's
complicated), I will say that a lot of people think that piracy is a
perfectly reasonable and legitimate form of action against proprietaryt
software, big copyright, etc etc.  Maybe they're wrong, but they might not
think so.

I think that hackerspaces probably should run workshops teaching FLOSS
tools, where possible.  I want people to leave workshops more capable of
accomplishing their goals, which means I want them to have easy access to
the tools that they just learned how to use.  The counterexample to this is
where a particular proprietary tool is the industry standard.  I think that
teaching people the skills that they need to get jobs is a legitimate goal
for a hackerspace to have (because I think that subverting traditional
educational/credentialling systems is super-important and worth doing.)
 Learning KiCad might be really awesome for doing your own circuit board
design, but learning Eagle might be more helpful if you want to get an
engineering job. (or Blender vs. Maya, etc etc.)

Since both of these things seem related to hackerspace goals of
democratizing education, tech access, etc etc, running both sorts of
classes seems legit.


On Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 12:27 PM, Randall G. Arnold <
randall.arnold at texrat.net> wrote:

>   To some extent I can agree, even though it's generalizing.  My hacking
> friends in Finland approach the subjects you're polling on very differently
> than the hackers/makers in my area (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX).  But then, my
> Finnish friends are not very different from those I'm familiar with in
> Boston, Northern California and other regions of the US.  Kansas and Texas,
> in my experience, are generally more resistant to changing the status quo,
> to disruption, than those in the other areas I mentioned.  But even then, I
> find it to be a consequence of corporate culture-- decades of working in
> cubes with a mandate to keep your eyeballs glued to your PC and a fear of
> sticking your neck out.  Of course we should work to overcome that
> conditioning.  My Finnish friends don't exhibit it at all.  Very
> intelligent, very independent, very prone to questioning things.
>  I've found in parts of Europe I've visited that, yes, there is generally
> more emphasis on FLOSS and related principles.  Hell, Berlin runs their
> largest commercial airport on an open source air traffic control system.
> We're not ready for that here yet.  On the other hand, the makers I know in
> this area develop on Arduinos and use Android phones.  Some here are so
> hard core that they make a religion out of avoiding Microsoft products.  So
> the situation isn't completely dire for FLOSS.
>  Having said all that, I struggled with your poll.  It's replete with
> questions couched in confirmation bias.  I found myself faced with
> questions that required answers with caveats.  "Hackerspaces are for using,
> creating and promoting Free/Libre Open Source Software" -- sure, but while
> I love Inkscape,  nine times out of ten I'm going to get my work done with
> Adobe Illustrator and I'm not going to apologize for it.  And don't get me
> started on Scribus vs InDesign.
>  In principle we should be *encouraging* use of FLOSS, definitely.  But I
> don't want to create an atmosphere where that's forced, and your poll seems
> to be on that path.
>  Now excuse me, I have to set up some ThinkPads to run both Windows and
> Linux...
>  Randall Arnold
>  Tarrant Makers
> On April 6, 2014 at 9:26 AM Mike Dupont <jamesmikedupont at googlemail.com>
> wrote:
>   Hello Fellow Hackers,
> I recently moved to Kansas and found hackerspaces that are not really what
> I would have expected from my experience with hackerspaces in Europe
> (cbase, matrax and others) .  I find much less FLOSS and very little
> knowledge or awareness of any of the issues that I feel are important.
> Of courseI don't want to dictate or tell people what to do, and I see
> hackerspaces and people as totally independent.
> But what I would like to see is some guidelines or criteria for a FLOSS
> supporting hackerspace, something that is supported by many people. Ideally
> we can come up with a set of guiding principles that hackerspaces can
> freely adopt and identify with that will tell people that they support
> software freedom. If enough hackerspaces do this it would be attractive to
> new and budding hackerspaces as voluntary self identification.
> So I made a short survey to get peoples opinion on this :
> https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9WYC6SY
> Thanks to  wannabe1987, gmc, Wil5on, Otter on irc for debugging this and
> providing constructive feedback
>  Also I wanted to say that I am starting a free software association for
> Kansas http://flosokaks.thefr33.com/ and looking for support.
>  thanks,
> mike
>  Randall (Randy) Arnold
> Developer and Enthusiast Advocate
> http://texrat.net
> +18177396806
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.hackerspaces.org/pipermail/discuss/attachments/20140406/b670391d/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Discuss mailing list