Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Bradley Kuhn: a life devoted to Free Software

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Bradley Kuhn is well-known in the world of Free Software. That he works for the Software Freedom Conservancy - and what that august organisation does - is less well publicised.

Kuhn has been around in Free Software circles for a long time; he knows the movement well and has contributed an enormous amount to the progress it has made.

It takes dedication, perseverance and idealism to work and keep working in this area. Kuhn has all three in spades and exemplifies the type of person who is needed more and more as commercialism makes inroads into, and often sullies, the ideals that gave birth to FOSS.

iTWire spoke to Kuhn about life, free software and what lies ahead. Excerpts:

Was there some kind of early influence which drove you in the direction of free/open source software? Family, friends, siblings?

I was always a political radical. In high school, I volunteered for Amnesty International and ran my local chapter. My senior year of high school, I took one of those inventory tests that helps you pick which career you might like; these sorts of things were really popular in the 70s and 80s in the US.

The final report had a circle, which had various types of activities, and most reports gave you a "slice" that overlapped a few similar areas.

I was the only person in the class to get back a report with two slices in disjoint areas, which were, generally, "political activism" and "science". I often think back to that report and realise that it's somewhat obvious that I'd end up in the area of software freedom activism, since it mixes computer science and activism perfectly.
Bradley Kuhn
Who was influential in your choice of computer science in college - you or someone else? And why?

I remember in my freshman year of college, I half-joked that I once considered changing my major. A friend of mine responded with: "Yes, you changed your major from 'fireman' to 'Computer Science" at the age of five." That was probably pretty accurate.

In fact, I once had visual evidence of this which was sadly lost in a flood in my parent's basement. At the age of 10, I had a caricature drawn of me at the beach. The artist asked me what I liked to do, obviously expecting some sport or game. With a straight face I answered: "computer programming". He drew, at the time (pre-PC-revolution), the best representation he could muster: my 10-year-old self pressing buttons on a keyboard attached to teletype.

I never really wanted to do anything else but work with computers, and software in particular. I've actually still find it quite jarring that everyone in industrialised society uses a computer every day. I suppose I suspected that might happen, but I somewhat miss the days when I was the only person at the airport security *that day* bringing a laptop through.

I think I'm jarred by it because most people treat computers as mere tools. Computers are special to me; I feel about them the way musicians feel about their instruments. For example, I'm often teased because of my obsession with old hardware, but I've never really considered the idea of switching to a new computer while the one I have still works. I buy all my computers used on the second-hand market; it just feels more "real" that way to me, like picking out a dog at the shelter.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.