What does Free Software have to do with ending poverty? More than you probably think. It is not just at the core of consumer products like the Android loaded G1 phone from HTC, or the One Laptop Per Child XO. Linux operating systems like Ubuntu are deployed by community technology centers around the globe providing access to the internet, and all the information, data and resources that come with it. The Free Software (while having $0 in licensing costs) also reduces the cost of hardware, and allows programmers to improve upon it, and share their improvements without fear.
It is not just desktop software, gigabytes have probably been spilled on the benefits of free software running web sites and web applications. Indeed Free Software is at the core of our business: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP and Drupal. Our engineering team is regularly contributing to the Drupal Project through patches and modules. Recently, many have been working on i18N (internationalization and multi lingual support) compatibility for a number of modules important modules. The work that we do on these and other modules can (and likely will) be leveraged by countless organizations including NGOs working to erradicate poverty. In turn, we leverage the contributions of thousands of other developers to deliver functionality for our clients working on issues including Human Rights (Amnesty International and Witness) and the environment (Rare Conservation – forthcoming). Other consulting firms like Development Seed work with similar clients including the United Nations Millenium Campaign’s Stand Against Poverty. Together we all can build a toolset that is within the reach and meets the needs of organizations working on the most pressing issues of our time without the added costs of licensing that proprietary software and web applications require.
Years ago I used to say that as a technology professional I felt a duty to recommend Free Software alternatives to proprietary applications whenever possible. I believe this now more than ever. If we are to solve vexing problems like poverty, environmental degredation and health care access among them, we must make the most efficient use of resources. Organizations working on these issues cannot afford to reinvent the wheel. They (and we) must share our technolgoies and innovations, and Free Software (and the Free Software Movement) offers a framework for that sharing.