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[ox-en] Report from Zuerich

Hi all!

I had a long traveling weekend and it was really very interesting.
Here is my first report on an event in Zürich where I have been
invited for an Oekonux introduction.

The event was organized by attac, Le Monde Diplomatique and WOZ and
was part of a sequence of events called "Gegenstimmen". Contrary to
the typical attac events where they tell you how bad things are,
Gegenstimmen tries to present thoughts which give reason for some hope
and show possible ways into the future. On Thursday information
society has been their topic and IMHO to invite someone from Oekonux
is really a good choice here ;-) .

Besides me they invited MichaelW from Zürich and Pedro from Samizdat
in France. Their talks are what I'm going to report about here. Their
talks were also very interesting because they gave me a lot of
practical observations and experiences I could reference in my
introduction to Oekonux. I'm `Cc:'-ing them so they can correct me
where I'm wrong (please send to the lists if so). {I'll embed some own
comments in curly braces - like this sentence.}

Michael has a small firm (I'm not naming it here because I don't know
whether Michael wants this mail to be found by Google so easily
through the archive). This firm tries to earn money with Free Software
(or Open Source as he would probably say). Also he founded Oscom which
as far as I understood is a non-profit organization to further Open
Source CMS (content management systems).

CMS is also the area his firm works in. In former times there was a
saying that each real programmer had to program his own editor. Today
it seems that this has shifted to CMS so there are a big number of
Free Software CMS out there. Also this is an area where a number of
(small) firms are and try to earn money with. In other words: A part
of the market where Free Software and commercial interests collide
probably more heavily than in other parts.

Micheal pointed out that the firms are competing for the same limited
market share so there is really a lot of competition. This competition
between the firms leads to an atmosphere in the projects which is all
but nice. Also the firms pursue their interests without idealism.

{Which is all something I'd perfectly expect this way in a situation
like this. Actually the situations in Free CMS seems to be really
crazy because of the heavy contradiction between a number of
commercial stakeholders and the Free Software approach. It would be
interesting to compare this to other areas where there are commercial
interests but for one reason or the other the contradictions are not
as heavy and what results from this.}

Michael told us that at the moment he thinks his firm won't survive
very long. They are putting a lot of effort in the programming of some
Free CMS and this is hardly paid for by anyone. He emphasized that
Free Software is not cheaper than proprietary software - but customers
constantly expect this. As key committers to the community they gain a
lot of attention from potential customers - but these customers often
turn around and leave when they see the prices.

{So in a sense it even for this important to differentiate between
gratis and libre.}

He feels a very heavy pressure from programmers / firms in Eastern
Europe because their costs - in particular for the wages - are much
lower than in Switzerland. Against these prices a competition is
impossible. Customers of course do this kind of out-sourcing so it is
really hard for an Zürich based firm.

Michael also emphasized that in Free Software innovations go away
immediately: Once invented they can be used by everyone immediately.
So being innovative is hardly an advantage in a highly competitive
market like this.

{Seeing this under the use value of Free Software this is of course
one of the major advantages. A very good example where there is a
heavy contradiction between the "needs" of capitalist firms and use
value production.}

He compared this to the steel industry where trade secrets are kept by
the firms and so they can sell specialized steel although there is
world market where plain steel is a standard commodity produced by a
lot of firms.

{This is what in the Oekonux introduction is pointed out when arguing
that Free Software is not a commodity. Because of the open sources
there are no trade secrets which protect the inventor. However, I
think the comparsion with the steel industry is not completely valid.
The difference I see is that to produce specialized steel you need not
only knowhow but also the means of production to do it - and you need
them for each and every piece. In the case of software, however, the
means of production to prodcuce a single result are located with the
customer. Therefore you "only" need to copy the innovation into your
piece of software. Hmm... not really a point if I think longer about

At the end of his talk Michael compared Free Software projects to
squatted houses. He sees similarities in the structure in that there
are usually a few people which go into the house to squat it and care
about it whereas there are a number of people who simply join in later
and do engage much less in the project than those who started it. He
pointed out that Free Software projects are usually run
"hierarchically" when it comes to decision making (he said himself he
didn't mean hierarchy in the normal sense but lacked a better word).
He thought that for squatted houses it would often be better to adopt
this structure than doing it the "basic democratic" way they usually

{Of course this is very much in line with my thinking about OHA
systems and what can be learned from the Free Software experience ;-) .}

All in all Michael's talk I understood as a nice proof to a number of
Oekonux thesises. In particular it underscored that it is at least
hard to earn money with the production of Free Software as such - at
least in a market like CMS where there are a big number of
competitors. It would be interesting to compare this to other markets.

Pedro reported from the project in France which as far as
I understood is similar to for instance the Nadir project in Germany.
The mission of the project is to provide Internet services to social
movements. One of the motivations is to give the social movements a
direct, unfiltered and up-to-date voice in the Internet. Therefore
they supply among other things mailing lists.

They started with a Windows NT server but had several problems with
it. In particular there was only one person who had the specialized
knowledge to administrate the server. Also this person had some
problems with license issues so this became less and less an option.

Pedro said that this situation was experienced as a limitation to
their wish to provide these services in the way they wanted to. This
was the reason that at one point they moved their project to Free

{In Oekonux terms: The proprietary software was not able to fulfill
their needs for a number of reasons.}

Pedro emphasized that the availability of the sources was and is very
important for them. He told us about a number of examples where they
tweaked the code so it better serves there needs. One example was a
simple change of a background color in some web application which
would not have been possible with closed sources. Another example was
to remove a lot of pictures from the design of a web site so it loaded
much faster and therefore was better usable through normal telephone

He emphasized that such options are very useful for actors in the
social movements. He also mentioned that their changes often have been
integrated in some way in the next version of the software. He also
mentioned the very good cooperation with the authors of the Free
Software in particular with those who are programming Sampa(?) which
is the mailing list sofware they are using.

In the end of his talk Pedro said that it is not so easy to switch to
Free Software but there is also Free Software for Windows such as, Apache, Gimp...

Pedro's talk I experienced also as a nice proof of a number of Oekonux
thesises. In particular Pedro pointed out the use value oriented way
of production which is found in Free Software projects. In this
respect the two talks gave an interesting contrast on two completely
different areas using Free Software. While Michael was very
pessimistic about the use of Free Software for making money Pedro told
us what Free Software is good for in terms of plain utility for
people. It was really a good background for my then following
introduction to Oekonux thoughts :-) .

After our presentations the project `' has been announced
which - as far as I understood - is a project to give a platform for
Free Music. I didn't check it until now but for sure this is the type
of project I'm waiting for since 1999 :-) .

						Mit Freien Grüßen


Organization: projekt

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