TLWIR 31: Using GNU/Linux and Free Software to Bring Back American Innovation

by Rex Djere on January 23, 2012 · 2 comments


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Free Software is mainly about innovation. Free Software engineers find radical new ways of solving old problems. In doing so, they teach those whose minds have ossified how to think outside of the box. The U.S. manufacturing sector is in trouble, partially because we have been outperformed by our neighbors in the East. They have tried bold new ways of doing things, while we cling to the past. Free Software is one of the boldest concepts yet created, and I believe that it can save American manufacturing…and jobs. In TLWIR 31, I will present the case that three fantastic projects demonstrate how we can revolutionize our own thinking. The LiMux Project, OScar, and Desurium all show us an alternative road that, if followed, can lead to the continued innovative leadership that has characterized the United States for over a century. I chronicle these three projects in this week’s three exciting tales:

  • Using Linux and Free Software to Bring Back American Innovation
  • The LiMux Migration Project Reports Success!
  • Desurium Brings More Open Source Gaming To GNU/Linux

Using GNU/Linux and Free Software to Bring Back American Innovation
Today, I read a great article about the state of U.S. manufacturing. In the article, several people, including the late Steve Jobs, concluded that the American jobs lost to Asia and other places are never coming back. The basic problem is that foreign manufacturing plants can produce items more cheaply, and much more flexibly, than the U.S. can. I believe that the mistake we are making is that we hold on to rigid, outdated standards that are crippling us. GNU/Linux and Free Software provide unique tools and ways of thinking that we can use to level the playing field. Let me explain.

The methods used to manufacture goods in the United States are over 100 years old. We use teams of workers on an assembly line. In some cases, many of those workers have been replaced by computer-controlled robots. However, cars and other devices are still designed in a closed process using proprietary software. How do we compete in a 21st century global economy?

  • Reform the patent system to make innovation easier. Abolish software patents. Patents should only be for hardware implementations.
  • Open up the design process. Using open source CAD software such as BRL-CAD, and using open source principles such as used in the OScar project, can lead to cheaper design and manufacturing processes.

Figure 1:The OScar, an Open Source Car Design (

Let me explain the second bullet in a little bit greater detail. The OScar Project is a fantastic project that aims to build a simple car based on an open design that anyone can contribute to. By accepting contributions from volunteers, the cost of research and development can be greatly reduced. I believe that the United States can revolutionize open source design and manufacturing by embracing it. How about this, the America worker is seen as being too expensive: union contracts, health care benefits, retirement benefits, and the highest standard of living in the world often make American workers unattractive to some employers when compared to cheaper labor in China, Malaysia, and elsewhere. However, by distributing the design, and perhaps even the manufacturing, of goods across a network made up of both paid individuals AND volunteers, the higher cost of U.S. wages, salaries, and benefits can be negated. Imagine how much the millions of Wikipedia articles would have cost to produce if every article author had to be paid. Free Software and Open Source simply allow high quality products to be produced more cost-effectively.

That all makes sense, but how would you open-source the manufacturing process? This is very simple. The chicken-and-the-egg problem in jobs is this: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. The United States currently has more than 14.2 million college-level students. Every one of them hopes to join the labor force at some point. Each one of them could do an apprenticeship building goods or performing services. Imagine this scenario: mechanical engineering students learn how to build cars at Ford, General Motors etc. They volunteer their time to the companies. They would actually get on the assembly line and help to build cars. They would intern in the engineering labs and assist in designing cars. In the classroom, they would contribute to the CAD process by testing and helping to refine car designs. All of this would be volunteer work that they could use to fill their resumes, and prove that they have real-world experience. They would have access to the same Free CAD Software used by professionals, and they would have access to Open Source reference designs of cars that they could improve upon. These designs could even become public domain. Imagine a $10,000 sedan built using an open source design. The college student that spent weeks improving the design could cite his or her work on their curriculum vitae.

If the United States were to adopt this concept broadly, we could again show the world that we are the leaders in innovation, and we would vault back to the top of the design and manufacturing processes.

The LiMux Migration Project Reports Success!
Germany has made an extremely bold move: turning its back on proprietary software. The city of Munich decided long ago to switch all local government institutions to GNU/Linux, Free Software, and Open Source. The ultimate goal of the project is to convert 14,000 public employee laptop and desktop computers over to GNU/Linux and other Free Software. The computers will run LiMux, an Ubuntu-based GNU/Linux distro. The project recently announced that the first 9000 computers had been successfully deployed running LiMux. This will be the first in a long line of similar announcements. Vladimir Putin is leading Russia towards a similar deployment of GNU/Linux. I believe that as more countries see the value and freedom associated with moving to Free Software, many more will follow suit.

Desurium Brings More Open Source Gaming To GNU/Linux
Desura is a popular game engine that supports both Windows and GNU/Linux. However, until now, there was no truly open source implementation of Desura. That has changed with the release of Desurium under version 3 of GNU’s GPL license. Desurium is a client that allow you to play both free and paid games on your GNU/Linux machine. Desura is basically a game repository and distribution network. The games are downloaded and played using the closed-source Desura client or the open-source Desurium client. Desurium will be a much preferred option for Free Software advocates such as GNU/Linux and FreeBSD distro builders. I could not find a screenshot of Desurium, but it will probably look pretty similar to Desura in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Desura, the GNU/Linux/Windows Game Engine in Action

Human nature is to adapt and overcome. GNU/Linux and the Free Software Movement represent one of the best adaptations to the problem of intellectual property collision. While intellectual property fights threaten to stall progress in several sectors, Free Software provides a path around the problem. I am writing this article on a Fedora 16 system while ignoring the patent battles that are stifling proprietary systems. THAT is progress! I’ll see you in The GNU/Linux Week in Review 32.

[1]. Reed, Michael. [Jan 02, 2012]. Munich Linux Migration Project LiMux Reports Success. Linux Journal.
[2]. LiMux. [2012, January 9]. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:39, January 23, 2012, from


Caleb Cushing ( xenoterracide ) January 26, 2012 at 1:55 am

I imagine that will lead to like no paid workers… however, we have a problem. We have laws that say if a worker does useful work, you have to pay them. e.g. you can’t hire an intern to do productive work for you, use it, and not pay them. It’s ok to have an intern move a train back and forth if it doesn’t need to be done, but if it needs to be done you have to pay them.

Rex Djere January 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

@Caleb Thank you for the comment.

Here is the Department of Labor’s Six Point Test for determining whether an unpaid internship is legal. These apply to a for-profit organization:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

I agree with you that based on item 4, an employer normally must pay an intern at least minimum wage. However, minimum wage is far lower than many companies such as GM pay their full-time employees, so the company would still save money by utilizing interns for some of the work. The interns would gain valuable experience AND resume bullets from the work. There is a simple way that a company could get around paying the volunteers: build a non-profit sister company, and have the volunteers volunteer to make products for this sister company. Non-profits CAN have unpaid interns. The non-profit could then donate the products to the for-profit. This too is legal, but I believe that the non-profit would have to claim the donations as taxable income.

I understand why the Labor Law is in place: to protect interns. However, I think that the Department of Labor SHOULD change the law as follows.
An unpaid intern should be allowed in a for-profit company as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The unpaid intern can come in/leave work at any time that they wish, or they can choose not to come in work at all on any given day.
  2. The unpaid intern intern must abide by any workplace-related laws (e.g. safety regulations), and the intern must be provided any equipment needed to comply with those laws free of charge (e.g. safety glasses, flashlight etc.).
  3. The unpaid intern volunteers his or her time and labor completely of their own free will, without coercion of any kind.
  4. The unpaid intern can quit the job at any time, without any fear of retribution.
  5. The company can terminate the intern and/or take the appropriate legal action against the intern if at any time that they feel that the intern presents some kind of internal risk to the company (e.g. stealing the company’s intellectual property and selling it to a competitor).

This set of rules or something similar would help to protect both the company and the unpaid intern. Basically, what I am advocating is reforming the existing law, and implementing a system similar to this one to make the United States more competitive.

Thanks again for the comment!

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