I just saw the new IBM Linux ad. I have to admit it gave me goosebumps.

I figure there are a few times in every person’s life when they have a chance to do the right thing. For me, helping develop and promote Free Software is one of those chances.

I used to think that Free Software was something for geeks in rich countries. Not any more. When I was in South Africa two weeks ago, I got a chance to meet with people who have very little money – journalists from Zambia, net activists from Namibia, NGO representatives from Rwanda. The amount of money they have to spend on technology is very limited, and they’ll be damned if they have to spend that money on software licenses whose pricing policies can be summed up in one word: usury.

In December, all the world’s leaders will attend the World Summit on Information Society, a UN-sponsored event which is trying to create global consensus on the issues raised by the rise of an Information Society. The leaders will come, shake hands, take a big group picture and everyone will most likely go home.

But the African representatives to WSIS will bring a different message: the promotion of Free and Open Source software has the opportunity to help speed the development of an Information Society in their countries. It does this in two ways: first, it means that money that would be sent abroad for software licenses doesn’t get paid. Second, by training local IT professionals in Free and Open Source methods, they’re building capacity for future generations.

Watching the Linux ad today, I’m reminded that this isn’t just about getting IBM to sell more mainframes to banks. It’s for all of us; even the least fortunate of us.

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