Exclusive Interview: Chris McGimpsey-Jones, An Open-Source Advocate.
We have been thinking for a long time to interview people who use free, open-source software and Linux from all around the world. We recently interviewed one of our friends of the independent media industry and mentor, Mr. Chris McGimpsey-Jones. He is an open-source advocate, publisher and Pirate Party President from Australia. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Freedom Publishers Union. In addition to his duties as a Editor and Publisher, he is increasingly involved in politics in his role as the President of Democratic Pirates Australia, an alternate Australian-based Pirate Party.
We are thankful to Chris for taking time and giving OSTechNix our first interview, in-between his busy schedule.
How did you first become interested in the concept of software freedom and the open-source software movement?
It was way back in 2002 when I was an avid reader of PC computing and technology magazines. It was when they used to include a CD-ROM disc on the cover each month, which contained all the latest software and program updates. There was one particular month that I bought the magazine and it contained SUSE Linux 8.0 on the front cover. At the time, I was naive and thought that Windows was the only operating system for desktop users. I had no idea there were other choices and prior to this moment, I had never heard of Linux. Naturally, curiosity got the better of me and I booted from the disc into SUSE Linux.
When I booted into this ‘brand new’ operating system, I was blown away by what I witnessed. It was a feeling of instant excitement and amazement. I still remember the feeling to this day. The more I poked around inside SUSE Linux, the more excited I got. Two important things I remember from that day have had a major influence on what I do as a profession. I couldn’t believe there was an alternative desktop operating system that was not Microsoft Windows. Also, I kept wondering to myself why I did not know anything about Linux prior to this moment. It felt like this really cool operating system that gave users a real choice, was being kept a big secret. And I had been given access to that secret. I instantly felt compelled from that moment on to share my new knowledge with my fellow computing community. The spark inside me had been set alight and the fire within still burns strong to this day.
Do you work with Linux/Unix and open-source software as a professional, or is it just a hobby?
What started out as a hobby gradually opened up more and more opportunities for me to share my knowledge and experience that I had learned from Linux and open-source software. Many years ago before people even knew what blogs were, I was writing on different topics related to technology and other computing news for a small website I had setup. This spawned into a love for technical writing. I worked on my own websites and then began to help others with their own websites. Casual writing jobs turned into full time gigs. Then I landed myself a role as Chief Editor of a popular Linux and open-source software news site. I performed in this role for about one year before I started to get frustrated with specific elements of the role. It seemed that I was not alone in my frustrations, so I made note that I was leaving, to move on and form my own media website and was lucky enough that many of my previous staff followed me onto the new platform.
Projects that I am now involved in started very small. Now, they’ve developed into full time roles which I literally work on them 7 days a week to keep everything alive and thriving, with various help from my loyal colleagues. At times I get very tired and question myself as to whether it is all worth it, to be so dedicated to sharing my knowledge and skills of free and open-source software in the public domain. I reach the same answer each and every time – It is absolutely worth it.
How do you think Linux is shaping up against the latest evolution of Windows 10 and Apple OS X?
That’s always a really tough question to answer. People need to remember that Linux itself is not a commercial entity. It’s a kernel that is the base for other operating systems. Sure, there are commercial entities that have been built around the core that is Linux such as Red Hat and Canonical. But Linux itself doesn’t have to compete in the same way Microsoft is competing against Apple and vice versa.
Looking at Linux 1.0 and then looking at the latest stable versions of Linux in 2016, heading into 2017, it has undoubtedly evolved. There’s a massive amount of support for it now and contributions to the kernel development is applied from so many different aspects of the industry. It’s literally mind boggling how far it has come.
People ask all the time, “When is Linux going to take over the desktop?” I say, well it was never the intention. If Linux did go ahead and take over, that would create just another monopoly. I am not against commercial software and believe that we need diversity in the sector. Consumers need to have a choice of operating systems. Linux is essentially providing that third choice if that’s what consumers want.
What I am against is locking down hardware so that third-party software is effectively blocked from being installed on the platform. Microsoft have tried this and for many years Apple done it. To a large degree, they’re still doing it. Richard Stallman has spoke about this recently and I absolutely agree with him. An open platform and framework for hardware should be pursued because if it’s not, we’re going to see commercial computer vendors locking down systems by even more strict hardware methods than what we see today. That could cause problems for open-source software and Linux. Or it will simply spawn a new generation of hardware hackers determined to get it installed and bypass any potential hardware restrictions that are placed in front of them.
Which Linux distribution do you use and why?
I operate a server which runs Linux Mint, which is essentially a tweaked version of Ubuntu. I always stick to the Ubuntu platform as my primary operating system. I also run a couple of others in VirtualBox – Ubuntu 16.10, Fedora 25 and OpenSUSE 42.2, the latter two being development builds.
As part of my work, I’m constantly playing around with new versions of Linux distributions on physical hardware and virtual machines. So I’m very adaptable to any Linux environment that I am placed in front of.
Do you use any other operating systems other than Linux? If yes, which others do you use?
Yes, our office laptop runs Windows 10. And we’re also considering a new purchase of an Apple laptop in the first half of 2017 as part of our small business expansion plans.
Like I mentioned earlier, we need diversity in the sector and that ethos is echoed here in the office. We simply don’t restrict ourselves to one sole platform or operating system.
Microsoft has done an excellent job with Windows 10 and reestablished confidence in the Windows platform. We might not agree with the marketing practices of Apple, but no one can deny that they do produce beautifully designed hardware that can be appreciated by anyone that understands quality design.
Are you involved in software development or any other projects as part of the free software movement?
I have developed a few pieces of code, yes. One of my personal favorites that I developed is Powershell-Bash. It was developed a few years ago to attempt to ease the burden of system administrators who work in multi-platform environments and regularly switch between Powershell and Bash shell environments. I developed Powershell-Bash to use a sub-selection of the Powershell syntax to perform the same equivalent function in a Bash environment on Linux. It’s not really as necessary now that Microsoft is developing Powershell to run natively on Linux, but for now it still serves its purpose well and I still continue with its development along with a small integrated package management program which cuts down long apt-get commands to much shorter length, with performing the exact same functions.
Additionally, I have developed a couple of programming languages which are not yet complete to any kind of workable state. They require a hell of a lot more debugging before I release those into the wild. More recent stuff has included a encryption algorithm called Numerical-Data-Scrambling, which I refer to as simply NDS. Work is ongoing on this, but it’s coming along nicely. I have a couple of other smaller packages that I have developed over the last 5 years, but nothing groundbreaking and mostly just used for internal purpose. With age comes coding laziness and it has turned me into a bit of a script junkie these days.
In my spare time, I like to give back to the free and open-source community. I do this by dedicating 1-2 hours a week to sit on Ubuntu Support Channel on IRC. Helping out people who are completely new to the Ubuntu/Linux experience is always satisfying. Plus, I believe it’s good to give back to a community in return for everything that it has given me. Finally, I’m a pretty passionate advocate for Creative Commons and Tor Project.
Who are your inspirations?
I have many inspirations, so I’ll try and narrow it down to just a few and keep my reasons brief;
Mark Zuckerberg, because he is part of a new generation of Silicon Valley moguls. He has developed the world most connected social media platform, yet still shows every sign of his original self when Facebook was in its early days. He is still young and already made such a massive impact on connecting the world. Absolute brilliance.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are some of the two most interesting, inspirational individuals who both undoubtedly massively contributed and helped shaped the industry we see today. Gates continues his efforts to better humanity using his great wealth for philanthropic purposes. Jobs was an extremely complex individual, yet somehow provided inspiration to so many people, by his brutal work ethic methods. Opinion on Jobs may differ greatly, yet I still believe him to be a very inspirational person, albeit complex.
There is only several people that I would describe as a genius. Stephen Hawkings is textbook genius. I don’t believe I would come across anyone that would dispute that. He has made massive contributions to help shape modern science, physics and cosmology. He may be disabled, yet he never lost his intelligence and is never shy to put his wonderful sense of humor on public display. I just love the guy.
There are probably others that provide inspiration to me, for a variety of different reasons. Richard Stallman being an inspiration to so many individuals among the freedom software movement is also worthy of a mention. Dennis M. Ritchie, Ian Murdock, Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange. The list goes on and on and on. The people I have mentioned might seem mediocre, yet they are in-fact making real visible change in the world and the effect of their actions is being felt by so many. Sadly a number of them are no longer with us. But the effects of their contributions are still felt today, which justifies their status for inspiration.
What are your thoughts for Microsoft aggressively embracing Linux through the Windows subsystem for Linux?
It’s absolutely commendable. And I don’t honestly believe that it would have happened if Satya Nadella was not appointed as Microsoft CEO. To integrate native Linux inside Windows without the requirement for running third-party virtual machine software is incredible. As a developer, I can really appreciate the extra hurdles that have essentially been removed for us as a result of the subsystem for Linux.
This comes in addition to Powershell being open-sourced and developed to run natively on Linux. It is really putting Microsoft’s efforts to open up collaboration with open-source software and the community in a sensible way on display and good things can only come from it.
Integration and collaboration between operating systems and platform can only bring positive results. I look forward to the future.
What does the future hold for the free software movement?
There will be progress, but I don’t really think we’re going to see anything we have not yet witnessed. Most likely just improvements. Open-source software development will continue to developed, modified and adopted across an entire range of technology and its associated sectors.
What should be of concern is keeping hardware open to allow for open-source software to be applied in its intended form, rather than resort to hacking. It will be interesting to see where this goes heading into the next 5-10 years. But we must not sit idle and wait for it to happen. We must be part of the fight to prevent it from happening.
On more recent events, there’s an increasing amount of cases of hacking and data breaches. How do you think open-source software could be used to improve and better the overall security of servers and systems?
Short answer is, it’s already doing a very good job. And if implemented and administered as it should be, it already does the job of security very well. Usually, data breaches or hacks are accessed because someone has essentially ‘left the door open’ due to incompetence or lack of human resources. Sometimes this is unintentional by the individuals. In most cases, the latter is most likely the cause for concern here. Skimming on human ability to implement proper software security will have a flow-on effect on software security and hackers will look for easy targets and take advantage of this point. It’s that simple.
We will be posting more interesting interviews of inspirational people in the days to come. If you are interested in becoming the next interviewee, contact me via mail.
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