Last modified: Tue Nov 13 18:40:53 CST 2001
The Public Service Software Team (PSST) described below doesn't exist yet. This is a draft proposal that may serve as the specification for a real PSST.
Cyberspace is a real thing, and the quality of society in the next century will depend to a great extent on the quality of cyberspace. Technical details in the implementation of computer and communication systems will create de facto social policy. It is important for people with humane social ideas to take part in the construction of cyberspace, in order to exert a civilizing influence. In cyberspace, computing and communication are not separate activities. We communicate information, and information is as much concerned with insightful processing of data as with access to data. Computing is essentially a form of communication between the people involved in computing, both as creators and as users of software.
The Public Service Software Team contributes to the construction of cyberspace, primarily by designing, creating, supporting, and distributing free computer software. We seize opportunities to promote civilized behavior, responsible personal liberty, and the broadest possible access to information and computing.
|We support software products that attract a substantial number of people to expand their expertise in using information.||We focus first on software for education and for individual consumers, then on products for other producers of free software, and last on products for commercial users.|
|We support bundles of free software, whose components may be created by us or by others, providing complete working environments for interesting niche activities. A possible example is a kit for publishing an online journal.|
|We promote portability of useful free software.||We distribute software primarily as Debian GNU/Linux packages, under the GNU General Public License|
|We would probably support an effort to make Debian GNU/Linux packages install on other sorts of systems|
|We promote effective modularization of functionality.||When possible, we provide output in HTML so that every HTML browser provides a user interface.|
|When HTML is not sufficient, we support user interfaces that run under X Windows.|
|We support commercial efforts to increase profit by improving service. We do not support commercial efforts to increase profit by controlling customers or limiting their choice and power.||We are likely to support projects that allow commercial hardware components to be used with GNU/Linux, and that allow commercial software products to run under GNU/Linux. We are unlikely to support projects that depend on proprietary information, formats, and standards, unless they are distributed under particularly liberal licenses.|
|We do not allow the basic viability of PSST to depend on special allocation of outside resources.||We commit to core activities that can be performed by a single tenured faculty member, while satisfying responsibilities to students and the university, using private funds plus facilities that are routinely available to faculty members.|
|We expand core activities when possible through institutional funds, outside grants, donations, and volunteers.|
|We choose projects that increase our expertise, improving both our understanding of social implications and our power to provide good influence.||We focus at first on system projects. A good early project might be an improvement to the automation of system updates in Debian GNU/Linux. After solidifying our understanding of the basic system issues, we will seek projects that serve users' intellectual and social needs more directly.|
At worst, PSST will an overblown service project, eating up the time that a tenured faculty member is supposed to put into aggrandizing his research reputation. It has the potential to be even better. At a state university, a PSST can provide a computing analog to the agricultural extension office, serving the public at large with academic expertise. But, a PSST will not be like an agricultual extension office of today; in some ways it will be like an agricultural extension office serving the pioneers who first farmed the land, without the ethical liabilities of displacing native people, animals, and plants. At any university, a PSST can involve students in projects with all of the service satisfaction of the Peace Corps, and tremendous value to their employability as well. The University of Chicago Student Computing Organization and the Iowa Student Computer Association already serve to a great extent as PSSTs. The PSST vision will expand their horizons beyond their particular campuses. Many PSST projects can benefit instruction and recruiting at the university. At least, PSST will serve as a source of GNU/Linux expertise and software installation. Many natural projects could involve instructional software, and/or more general-purpose groupware with instructional applications.