Linux, Law Offices and Renewable Resources

Lora Bentley

For two days last week I sat through continuing education classes that are required to maintain my law license in Kentucky. More often than not, the updates I receive are interesting but have little to do with my work here at IT Business Edge.


Imagine my surprise on Friday when, not halfway through his presentation on setting up and running a law office, Richard Setterberg launched into a discussion of technology choices. (In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have been such a surprise given that snail mail and hard copy court filings are going the way of the dinosaur, but anyway...)


Software and hardware choices, he said, should be largely based on your level of technology expertise, what you need to do with them, and compatibility with your existing equipment. In Setterberg's opinion, the realistic choices are between Microsoft and Apple. "If you're looking at Linux... it's probably best to leave that to the IT guys," he said, indicating the open source OS is not exactly user-friendly.


(A few minutes more and it became clear that Setterberg is a Mac enthusiast -- he reportedly stopped using antivirus solutions some time ago because he found them "unnecessary." But that discussion's for another forum.)


Sure, Linux and open source may not be for the technically faint of heart. But other attorneys have come to rely solely on open source in their work. Not the least of these is Software Freedom Law Center founder Eben Moglen. Moglen is a software programmer and an attorney who, according to Computerworld, is "so serious about open source that he's never used Windows or the Mac OS."


In a recent interview, Moglen told Computerworld that software is like a "renewable natural resource."

You can treat software like forest products or fish in the sea. If you build community, if you make broadly accessible the ability to create, then you can use your limited resources not on the creation or maintenance of anything, but on the editing of that which is already created elsewhere. We package them for your advantage, things you didn't have to make because you were given them by the bounty of nature.

He noted that whether they realize it or not, many of today's businesses have become dependent on the open source community for their businesses. As more of them "get it," he likened his own work to that of one who "train[s] forest rangers."

If you've become dependent on a commons, for whatever role in your business, then what you need is commons management. You don't strip mine the forest, you don't fish every fish out of the sea. And, in particular, you become interested in conservation and equality. You want the fish to remain in the sea and you don't want anybody else overfishing. So you get interested in how the fisheries are protected.

As for the occasional Microsoft patent threat against open source, Moglen says:

My job has been preparing for those activities for more years than Microsoft has been preparing. I have been thinking about how their patent portfolio might be used against the free world since long before the bulk of the free world was my client... If as a dying empire Microsoft launches its missiles, we will protect our clients. If they die without launching their missiles, it will be better for everyone.

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