After the last post, I realized it had been mainly a rant. This post will provide the alternative of some possible solutions to shackling oneself to DRM and cloud space owned by corporations.
Like a lot of things “open”, Linux and Software Freedom are a solution most people don’t appear to care about. Linux hovers somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of desktop deployment. Linux and GNU/Free Software is important in the cloud, however, serving as the most common server operating system of the Internet. The problem is that the “plumbing” of the Internet gets little attention from the public. We plug into an Ethernet wire that disappears into a wall socket at work. We “connect” our laptops to WiFi in the house and at the coffee shop or book store. We use all the standardized protocols to get to some Web site, to data stored on our school or company’s servers, to social network sites, etc. We don’t really care about TCP/IP, HTML, CGI, or if it is a Linux kernel on the servers, routers, not even if it is Linux at the core of our Android phones. It doesn’t matter to most users if a cousin of Linux like BSD or Darwin is under the cover of Macintosh OSX. It doesn’t matter if Windows OS is running at both ends. With the exception of a few nerd/geeks, people who connect don’t care about the stuff that runs their information through the system.
Nonetheless, there are the geeks, the nerds, they are the developers of Linux, GNU utilities, and all the rest of open and free software.
The programmers of free software are working very hard to provide alternatives to the corporate, proprietary layers built on the open plumbing. They want their data to be free of control by anybody other than themselves.
Steps to a Free Cloud
Switch from Twitter –> Statusnet exemplified in http://www.identi.ca
Many people like the quick style of comment and link that Twitter has promoted. In a maximum 140 characters, people are having constructive conversations. Adding the use of hashtags, (#edchat – #sschat – #edtech) makes it easy to follow a message thread from a bunch of people discussing a common topic. Twitter is the popular cloud tool. The software isn’t open.
Statusnet is open software. The most well known implementation is identi.ca which is a “competitor” of Twitter. You can deploy your own school or district server. You can make connections to other districts possible, too. This is a concept called “federation.” You “own” your local information and decide what links to establish. Federation is like what happens when you send email. It doesn’t matter who your service provider is. Carl@sample.com can send and receive messages with Sarah@server.org even though the email is hosted by different providers.
Switch from Facebook –> Diaspora (currently in alpha stage testing – ask for invitation. I have some)
Facebook is banned as a way to connect teachers and students in many districts.
Diaspora might be the answer again. Being open software, Diaspora can be installed on a district server and make the connections more controlled. Federation is in the software plan, too. One nice feature is the ability to create groups called “aspects” which would be perfect for classroom-specific interactions, school level interactions, departmental clusters, etc. Facebook is a walled garden. You are in, all in, or out.
Both Tonido and ownCloud offer you a way to store your files in a web accessible location. Easy click to upload and to download. Applications are coming to make more of both systems.
Tonido isn’t open source, quite, but you can install it for free. Alternately, you can buy a Tonido Plug, attach a USB hard drive and start it up.
ownCloud is in the early stages of development. Stay tuned as it grows more capable.
EtherPad lets you work simultaneously on the same word processing document (this technology is built into Google Docs.) EtherPad is great for keeping notes, collaborative study by a group of students.
Wikis – There are many choices here. Here’s a good list. Wikis are the tool to use if you want to develop a series of linked documents, like a curriculum with sample lessons, links to core documents, rubrics, etc.
WordPress.com offers free blog space, but you can take more control by installing an instance of WordPress on your own server and offer every teacher and student in your school a controlled space for their publishing.
None of these suggestions are school specific, of course. They apply to individuals too. You can take charge of your own cloud, just for your family or just for you. You are on the Web, though, so your material is as open as you want to make it. The more you dig in, the more control you can take over your cloud experience.
How about hardware?
A PC can run Linux and all the open software you want, which you control. Nobody will take away your licenses for the software or the operating system. You don’t sign any End User License Agreements (EULA) which are required for both OSX on Apple computers and Windows of every vintage.
ePub is an open format for ebooks. The Nook from Barnes and Noble (all models) can work with DRM ebooks, but also work just fine with unshackled ePub books. Project Gutenberg has thousands of DRM-free books available and there are emerging textbook options using open educational resources (OER).
Open tablets are coming. The latest news is that Linux hardware vendor ZaReason will sell a tablet like the iPad “soon.”
As in many things, these days, the choice is yours. The nice thing is that you do have choice.
You may, of course, choose to let Amazon or Google or Apple or Microsoft control your cloud, your computer use, whatever. That is your choice, too.
I’m going to keep my eyes open for the opportunities to run as much of my own life through software freedom. Thanks for reading.