Free Software, Drupal, and Kittens

This past Saturday was the 7th NYC Drupal Camp, and apparently something I said started a little bit of a twit-storm.

As part of the introduction to the event, I was asked to give a quick introduction to Open Source/Free Software. I've given similar presentations at many of the past camps and other conferences, and it was a busy week so I did not really prepare as well as I should have so I improvised a bit more than I usually do.

I pulled out one of my earlier presentations and gave the fastest possible history of the GPL, Free Software and the relationship between the copyleft nature of the GPL sofware license and the community-centric development process of a tool like Drupal.

Along the way I babbled about how participation in use of and development of Free Software tools is in itself a political act. Our agreement to be bound by the license and to return our modifications to the community -- a community that in traditional economic perspective includes one's competition -- is a radical act that in many ways is building a new cooperative economic model within the rotting corpse of free-market Capitalism.

I love Drupal Camp, it's not often I get to say "the rotting corpse of free-market Capitalism" to a crowded room of people.

In order to explain the use of the word free in the context of Free Software -- to get past the non-specific meaning of free in english -- often the phrase "Free as in Speech" is used to make it clear that even though most Free Software is also "Free as in Beer" we're talking about the rights the license protects more than the cost.

A while back, I had read an article and a blog post by a librarian, Karen Schneider, where she discussed Open Source/Free Software and compared Free Software to kittens.

“But how do I maintain it?” is another reasonable concern of librarians. Sure, OSS doesn’t cost, but that’s free as in "free kittens." Like all software, open source products require maintenance by knowledgable staff.

So, inspired by Karen's writing, I opted to use the phrase "Free as in Kittens"

This got tweeted and re-tweeted and I wanted to make sure that credit for the idea went to the right person.

For those that asked me to give the exact quote from my presentation, here it is as close as I can get based on my notes and memory: Free Software is Free as in kittens -- you can have it but you need to take care of it, nurture it, and clean out its litter box. Drupal is one of those cute kittens, it's free but you have to take care of it and maintain it, and if you do it won't shit all over your server.

Nice turn of phrase!

I'll have to remember that one.

A recent article of mine

A recent article of mine also references Karen's quote: