Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why schools should exclusively use free software


by Richard Stallman

There are general reasons why all computer users should insist on free software. It gives users the freedom to control their own computers—with proprietary software, the computer does what the software owner wants it to do, not what the software user wants it to do. Free software also gives users the freedom to cooperate with each other, to lead an upright life. These reasons apply to schools as they do to everyone.

But there are special reasons that apply to schools. They are the subject of this article.

First, free software can save the schools money. Even in the richest countries, schools are short of money. Free software gives schools, like other users, the freedom to copy and redistribute the software, so the school system can make copies for all the computers they have. In poor countries, this can help close the digital divide.

This obvious reason, while important, is rather shallow. And proprietary software developers can eliminate this disadvantage by donating copies to the schools. (Watch out!—a school that accepts this offer may have to pay for future upgrades.) So let's look at the deeper reasons.

School should teach students ways of life that will benefit society as a whole. They should promote the use of free software just as they promote recycling. If schools teach students free software, then the students will use free software after they graduate. This will help society as a whole escape from being dominated (and gouged) by megacorporations. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes: to get children addicted (1). They will not give discounts to these students once they grow up and graduate.

Free software permits students to learn how software works. When students reach their teens, some of them want to learn everything there is to know about their computer system and its software. That is the age when people who will be good programmers should learn it. To learn to write software well, students need to read a lot of code and write a lot of code. They need to read and understand real programs that people really use. They will be intensely curious to read the source code of the programs that they use every day.

Proprietary software rejects their thirst for knowledge: it says, “The knowledge you want is a secret—learning is forbidden!” Free software encourages everyone to learn. The free software community rejects the “priesthood of technology”, which keeps the general public in ignorance of how technology works; we encourage students of any age and situation to read the source code and learn as much as they want to know. Schools that use free software will enable gifted programming students to advance.

The next reason for using free software in schools is on an even deeper level. We expect schools to teach students basic facts, and useful skills, but that is not their whole job. The most fundamental mission of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good neighbors—to cooperate with others who need their help. In the area of computers, this means teaching them to share software. Elementary schools, above all, should tell their pupils, “If you bring software to school, you must share it with the other children.” Of course, the school must practice what it preaches: all the software installed by the school should be available for students to copy, take home, and redistribute further.

Teaching the students to use free software, and to participate in the free software community, is a hands-on civics lesson. It also teaches students the role model of public service rather than that of tycoons. All levels of school should use free software.

  1. RJ Reynolds tobacco company was fined $15m in 2002 for handing out free samples of cigarettes at events attended by children. See

Bill Gates and the importance of source code

Bill Gates was interviewed by the BBC’s Money Programme. As he prepares to significantly reduce his direct work for Microsoft Corporation, Bill reflects upon what got him started in the first place and what kept him ahead of the ‘competition’. The video provides a brief glimpse into the character that founded and guided Microsoft. Regardless of whether you love him or hate him, he is indeed a fascinating character.

Skip ahead to the 40 second mark, to the segment titled “How the teenage Gates and his friend Paul Allen got access to a computer”. The story according to Gates was that he and his friends were allowed to hack on a company’s computer “like monkeys” at night to find bugs. He spent hours reading manuals and experimenting to figure out this “fascinating puzzle”. However, they were stuck at the “tinkering” stage until they stumbled across the source code in a rubbish bin. It was only then could the monkeys evolve.

I don’t think the producers of the show realised the significance of this admission, since they quickly cut to another segment. Reading between the lines, Gates is essentially confessing that he would not have progressed had he and Paul Allen not found the source code. Without this knowledge, and without this opportunity to understand and experiment with how the internals of a computer worked, Gates and Allen would have been severely constrained in their ability to found a software company and develop products

I would go so far as to say that Microsoft owes its very existence to this access to source code.

To anyone with a passing familiarity to how things worked back then, this comes as no surprise. Source code was expected to be free, and this in turn nurtured a generation of computer hackers. But whereas Richard Stallman saw the amazing potential of this freedom and wanted to preserve it for all, Bill Gates appears to have perceived it as an advantage for himself that he must deny to others.


©2008 Sridhar Dhanapalan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Changing screen resolution in Xorg.conf

My screen with a resolution of 1240x1024 wasn't accurately displayed by Xandros desktop 4.1. The fonts were looking fuzzy and were barely readable.
How to solve:

Backup Xorg.conf file:
sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf_backup

Go to folder and file with root privileges for example in Ubuntu:
sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Open file by clicking and look for Section Screen and ad a line like:
Modes "1240x1024_60.00"
Look at the way it's defined in the existing xorg file; it may be a bit different according to your distro.

This also can be of importance by lacking performance of your monitor:

How to edit or add HorizSync and VertRefresh lines
Find your monitors manual (manufacturers website and Google are useful).
Look for hozizontal sync and vertical refresh rates, also if bandwidth or maximum dot clock / pixel clock is mentioned, write it down.

Edit xorg.conf and put correct values to your's Monitor section. Something like this:

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "CM752ET"
HorizSync 31-101
VertRefresh 60-160

By changing this to a broad range your monitor will likely fit into it.

Blog Archive

About Me

Exclusion of liability Regarding StillStupid: The use you make of the guides, tips and downloads that you listed on this web site or on another website to which I refer is entirely at your own risk. In no way can I be held liable for damage or consequential damages of any kind, which occurs as a result of that use.