Paris, July 2002.
I’m a 23 years old computer engineering student. I’m a member of APRIL, a Free Software advocacy association, I fight against software patents, troll people using Microsoft Windows, and I play Go. A lot.
We play in a small bar in the center of Paris. There are students, teachers, a wanna be actor (who’ll later get a major role in the most popular French series ever), and there’s that guy, let’s call him Pierre.
Pierre plays go too. He arrives at the bar around 4PM, stays until it closes, and he accepts to play with the beginner I am. He crushes me without remorse but I learn a lot from him.
Pierre is about to turn 50. He spends his days at the bar because he doesn’t have a job. Pierre is not a go player, he’s a developper. He’s probably not a great one, and in a post September 11 youth glorifying world, there’s no work for him. I don’t know much about him, except what he told me one day when he was drunk enough to speak. Pierre has lost everything he owned, lives in a small room in a far suburb thanks to government subsidiaries. He’s so broke he can’t buy a computer, which means he can’t even work from home.
My 14 meters square flat is full of computers. I’m running various free operating systems. There are some Linux distros, and 3 flavors of BSD, much more than I actually need.
I offer Pierre to give him one of them with my old, spare 14 inches cathodic screen so he can start coding again, maybe create some utilities he can start selling.
I remember his look of disbelief. He had been out of the system for so long he didn’t have a hope of coming back. He asks me if I can install a Windows and Visual Basic environment on the computer so he can start working. He doesn’t even know where to find them and doesn’t have an Internet connection at home.
Indeed I can. My school gives me free student Microsoft licenses and I have an unlimited access to their product. But I refuse.
I refuse and as he doesn’t seem to understand why, I’m getting mad at him. There’s no way I can install non free software on one of my computers. There’s no way I provide someone with proprietary software, even if he asks me to. I refuse for his own sake. He’ll write C, or Perl or Python or whatever runs on Linux and runs with free software.
His look and words become more and more confused as the argument runs. And I don’t understand, I don’t want to understand he can’t do anything else.
I sip my tea, pay for his drink and leave the bar. He comes back on the topic once or twice but I start avoiding him. He still doesn’t have a job, leaves in a 6 square meters bedroom but at least he didn’t fall in the pit of proprietary software.
Talk me about an asshole.