Free software, free world

The concept of a free world is near and dear to those advocates of FOSS. In recent years free software advocacy has grown in volume if not in momentum. Subscribers to this peculiar philosophy – that all software should be free, open source, and readily available to the public at large – seem to hold certain similarities to other philosophical positions.

Anarchism, for one. Libertarianism for another. But it goes deeper than those mere labels.

All software being freely available as a good and desirable trait of a society implies…nay, requires that believers subscribe to the idea that materialism and ownership are inherently negative concepts. In this they resemble some beliefs of a few Native American tribes. Non-market economies based on concepts of barter and dumb-barter, however, almost always have a concept of ownership behind them even if there is no currency or common value basis for items. In small societies, the materialistic bent of placing value on an item gives way to placing value on the exchange of the item, thereby replacing economic value with social value. In today’s anonymous global village, social value is of far less importance, and thus materialism has risen as a natural consequence.

Interestingly, the FOSS advocacy movement seems to be pushing for a return to social value over material value. Linus Torvalds is considered influential and prestigious for his uncompromising dedication, generosity, and competence. Bill Gates, while similarly intelligent, is reviled for his tremendous wealth and reputed anti-FOSS tactics. A developer’s prestige in the FOSS community is directly proportional to his or her contributions to the community.

Now, while this is all well and good and I applaud a return to social value over material value, there is one glaring flaw in the FOSS advocacy philosophy – free software doesn’t pay the bills. Some companies get around this by offering services to support their free products, but service isn’t particularly time-consuming, thus enabling fewer developers to support a single product and restricting the number of jobs available at a given company. This suggests that the entire software industry is either flawed in its concept or flawed in its execution and gives rise to questions regarding the legitimacy and efficiency of the current paradigm.

For FOSS to become a viable methodology, the software industry must shift from a production-centric environment to a service-centric one. This is not to say that development itself must go by the wayside; rather, services need to be placed higher in priority than development so as to foster an equivalent financial return for developers and still promote the free usage of software. Service industries account for 70% of the economic activity in the United States; certainly, by transforming the software industry into such will bring no great harm to the pocketbooks of developers as a whole…but its effects on the individual developer can’t be directly determined.

Personally, I hope that the FOSS philosophy and its focus on social value is a sign of a general disillusionment with materialism in general. Certainly, it can’t hurt to help others through ideas such as FOSS. To find out more, check out the Free Software Foundation’s website. Their Resources section is particularly helpful.

Leveraging Web 2.0 for a tabletop gaming company

After the successful launch of the Silver Gryphon Games website, I began looking around at web technologies and software that we could use to better operate as a decentralized company. These days, it’s impractical for an RPG company – especially one as small as SGG – to keep offices and on-site staff. Only a select few of the larger companies do this. For the rest of us, it’s mostly a matter of keeping track of freelancers and perhaps one or two local resources. For that, we don’t need offices. We don’t even need warehouses when we use POD services for printing purposes.

That’s where Web 2.0 comes in. Recently, we’ve been using several of Google’s tools for communication and collaboration. Gmail and Google Docs have been central to our efforts for awhile now. We are experimenting with Groups as a collaborative medium. It seems to be most useful as a way to communicate with multiple freelancers at the same time, kind of like a super-Wiki. We have yet to leverage Calendar, though I do see that on the horizon. I personally use Blogger for this devlog.

Since we began using these tools, our productivity has increased measurably. Even Blogger, which isn’t used in the creative process directly, grants a certain measure of accountability that serves as excellent motivation.

The one thing we really lack in terms of pre-built solutions is something to handle milestone scheduling and task management. Google doesn’t have a tool like this, which makes it a little more difficult to integrate into our workflow. I’ve been looking at a few options, like Basecamp, but we have yet to select any. It’s possible that we’ll just use Groups for this purpose.

What would be really useful, though, would be an integrated suite that combines all of our needs into one package. These needs can be loosely defined as the following:

  • Searchable, indexable, categorized email
  • Real-time multi-user text, voice, and video communication
  • Quick notes
  • Hierarchical roles-based task and project management
  • Accounting control and analysis
  • Collaborative document editing
  • Easy-to-use interfaces for all of the above

Of course, there are others, but they’re more nebulous or uniquely “RPG.” For example, the ability to playtest online is useful when we need to all hack away at a particular mechanic. For this, online RPG software like the old and obsolete OpenRPG helps but isn’t well-suited to either √Üther or Eiridia.

If anyone knows of any software that can do what we’re looking for (that is NOT Lotus Notes or a Microsoft product), let me know. I love Google’s tools, but if there’s something better out there, that’d be wonderful.

From Lord of the Rings Online to…

I canceled my LotRO account, having decided it just wasn’t the kind of game experience I’m looking for. While some of the features were interesting and the quest content was phenomenal, other games I’ve played – like SWG – held my interest for much longer.

So, I’m playing 8 days of a SWG trial with my old account, and I bought Guild Wars. So far, GW is a lot more fun than when I last played. That 5 minutes at a friend’s was nothing compared to my current experience.

SWG…well, it remains to be seen whether I’ll resub or not. I also bought a copy of D&D Online, as it was on sale, but I probably won’t install that until I tire of GW.

More later.