the force of freedom

August 8 | 2013

today we’re gonna go down the rabbit hole into geek world and explore their ideals of creativity flows and examine how or if they can benefit art and design in any way. But first, lets get into the basics. I’ll keep it short and simple, I promise!

closed or open?

there are, simply put 2 models of creating software, one is proprietary, that keeps their app’s programming code hidden and not accessible to the public, the other – open, gives access to the app’s programming code to the public and allows to make changes. The operating system Linux has rose that way, being improved and developed by a huge number of programmers all over the world. From there, we got projects like the Firefox browser or OpenOffice.

open and/or free

within this non-proprietary model, there is a distinction between open source software and free software. Both movements live in symbiosis with each other, yet they have different views regarding their ideologies. Open source does not exclude the proprietary model by default, it can co-exist next to it, or even collaborate. Apple is one the leading examples. The free software movement goes a bit further, their ideal is to make everything free to use/share and modify and explicitly declaring the proprietary model as their “enemy”.

the GPL glue

the GPL (general public license) is the common ground for most non-proprietary software models. In a nutshell, it allows the user to share/distribute (even commercially) and to modify (or let modify) the programming code under the condition to publish the changes under the same license.

reality check

the open source movement gained a huge amount of popularity in the academic and IT administrative sector, it partly even made it to some average Joe User’s desktop. Stability, flexibility and variety gives users the power to adjust the software as it suits them, unless they’re capable to do so. The operating system Linux offers many distributions that can be downloaded for free, can be used and re-used as it pleases you.

the downsides

there is however, another side of the coin. Due to copyright regulations and/or patents, there is no specialized software that can compete against the proprietary counterparts. As for the design sector, there is no comparable alternative that can run on Linux and meet the professional requirements of produced material. Furthermore, the idea of complete freedom overweights the demands for quality and actual usability. It is often joked, free (open source) software is only made for nerds, by nerds. Unfortunately, this creates a certain exclusive environment. There surely were attempts, but things got stagnated too often due to the lack of the ability to determine and meet the needs of an end-user.

open your art?

apart from the quirks and troubles with the software, would a model like the GPL suit designers to distribute their work? During my own (creative) involvement in the open source community, I enjoyed voluntary contributing graphically, in order to help promising and outstanding projects with their appearance. The fact that I did it without getting paid might make many designers cringe, but I have to say that this has given me a huge platform to show my skills to a huge audience. Many of my “paid” projects had come out of this, which certainly was a benefit. However, within the community itself, the fact that I was not using Linux in order to produce the needed material has often caused a controversy. I had many, sometimes tiring discussions about why I simply MUST use a Mac and Adobe software, in order to have high quality results, or even results at all. Since most of the developers have no idea about the workflow of professional design, I couldn’t blame them for raising the issue and indeed, if the software I use would run on Linux, or if there will be a real alternative, I’d be more than happy to switch. But to this day, this is not possible and I seriously doubt that this will change in the future anytime soon. In most of my projects I was involved, they simply turned a blind eye to the actual visualizing process, they got their material and I could market myself, everyone was happy.

the freedom forces

the idea of free software might sound quite appealing and it’s just great to watch how people are dedicating themselves because they believe that they can make a change for the better for everyone. This is clearly a positive thing, but as good as it sounds, there is a darker side which many oversee. To give a glimpse, I’ll share one of my own experiences in one of many projects identifying itself within the free software movement. As already stated, anything proprietary is the enemy and must be avoided – whatever it takes. This has caused a huge dilemma for me and the project as a whole. In order to follow the philosophy, I would have had to go way below my professional standards, just for the sake of the “freeness”. This would have caused harm on many levels, not even to mention a huge loss of quality of the end result, which when presented to any audience – would have backfired negatively on my career. But the most disturbing thing of it all was the fact, was that the whole idea of freedom was turned upside down: In order to represent it according to the ideology, I’d be forced to use the wrong tools, only because they are “free”. Yet freedom, as I understand it, is to have a freedom of choice. This freedom would be rigorously taken away from me, and this is where the ideology goes ad absurdum. It’s sad to see when some ideology becomes so dominant, that it gets detached from the reality we live in. Is it right to use a wrong tool just because it’s free even though it will produce bad results and not benefit people? I don’t think it is. In fact, it seems dogmatic and totalitarian. These mechanisms can be observed in almost all ideology based communities, such as religions, political movements etc… As for the moderate open source movement, they are being pushed in a bad position for either being a gateway to the extreme, or being stigmatized to be extreme, such as being labeled communists.

my path to freedom

considering myself a free individual, I give myself the freedom of choice on how my work is supposed to be used. The earlier mentioned GPL works very well with many software projects, which require constant maintenance in order to work more efficiently and benefit the user. But as for art or design, this type of licensing would be rather suicidal. Of course a specific project can be created just for the purpose of sharing and modifying, but it can’t be applied to everything design related. The reason lies in the conception of it. While a program code has to be constantly improved, either in a closed group or an open community, a design concept is self-contained. In order to improve, one chapter must be closed and a new (better) one is opened. If something else breaks into that circulation, the whole construction collapses, the actual idea gets broken apart, spreads and mutates out of control. In such case, the author must have the right to decide by themselves, for themselves on how their work is to be used/purchased/shared. The Creative Common license meets this requirement perfectly xv6800.html , where I as the author can determine the level of sharing, modifying and crediting for all or individual projects. The best license variant in my case is “by-nc-nd”, which means the following:

  • by:  attribution — you must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
  • nc:noncommercial — you may not use this work for commercial purposes.
  • nd: no derivative works — you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.
making a change for a better world
there are different views and ideologies out there, for good and bad reasons with good and bad sides, whether you like it or not. No matter what side you’re on Michigan phones , under above or in-between, don’t force it down everyone’s throat. Not everyone is willing or able to share or apply your views. Your ideology is not the center of all things, get over it. Closed and open software are here to stay, both can actually benefit from each other once both sides let go of their own narcissism. How about finding out what people really need, what would help them and how to make life easier for them? How about taking the feedback of users seriously and giving them what they want and need (regardless if open/free or closed)? Wouldn’t it be a great reward for any skilled developer, making the users happy and enjoying to use their product? Wouldn’t then the world be a better place? You tell me…

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