Year of Open Source

One year of trying to use only free software, libre hardware, and option source options for all aspects of life.


Ways you can help!

Thanks for all the messages of support over the last couple of days, although the initial crowdfunding campaign has finished, you can now donate using flattr and BitCoin (my address is 1EFmHdKYV5oEx9wfT67MvARgyjaB9SahTv -there will be proper buttons & links etc on the new website up tomorrow). I’ve quit my part-time job to focus on this full-time, but I’m only just scraping by!

If you like the idea of the project and would like to help out, there is all sorts of non-financial help that I need:

I would like to make the project accessible to non-English speakers, so if you can help me with translation of videos or texts into your language, please let me know! I can provide transcripts to each video as they come out. I’ll be filming in various parts of Europe over the year – I can translate from Spanish or German into English, but not the other way around – I wouldn’t want viewers to have to put up with my crappy grammar errors.

Any suggestions for a good online video multi-language subtitling resource?

I don’t have the resources to be able to buy an open source phone, computer or camera, or even to buy the parts and put them together. If anyone can sponsor me with an open source product, or if you know anybody developing an interesting open source hardware project who might need some publicity, I would love to be able to at least borrow a test version to play with and discuss, even if only for a month or two.

If you’re based in Berlin, there are plenty of ways you can help. If you:

a) have some experience shooting with Canon DSLRs, or would like to learn

b) have some editing experience or would like to learn, and are keen to join me in getting to grips with open source NLEs

c) are experienced with Blender and would like to show off your skills (and Blender’s capabilities) with a little animation/compositing

d) have experience with open source audio programs and sound recording

e) are good at organizing and planning, and could help me make a timeline and organise some projects, visits and interviews to help me tackle this huge task (Native speakers of German would also be very helpful).

Berliners, you can also come down to Open Design City in Kreuzberg on Monday night at 19.00.  Come meet others interested in open source making and have a brainstorm about projects we can undertake throughout the year. There will be snacks. I’ll post more info tonight!

There are plenty of other ways people might be able to help, just send me an email if you think of something you can offer. The more skilled people who can help in any way, the better this project can be. If someone you know might be able to help me out, tell them to get in touch! I want it to be as far-reaching, entertaining and thought-provoking as possible, and I can only do so with your help. Thank you very much for all the suggestions so far, we’re currently working on turning this blog into a navigable, multi-functional website, so keep checking back!

in the meantime, feel free to contact me: sam at




Here are a few frequently asked questions (or frequently shouted criticisms) that I’ve received.

Feel free to add more questions in the comments!

What is Open Source to you? is it always copyleft?

No, not all open source is copyleft. There  are a number of different licenses and approaches.
The aim for my project is always to achieve the FSF’s definition of ‘the 4 Freedoms‘, and I plan to evaluate ideas, projects and products on their position in the free->open->closed/nonfree spectrum throughout the year, including whether they are true copyleft, or if they are simply permissively licensed, if they are public domain (NOT open source but still acceptable for my project in most situations) or if they are proprietary.

You have proprietary vaccines in your body! You’re not open source!

The aim to live 100% open source is the goal, and it’s a naive and impossible goal. But the project itself is about the attempt. I am interested in the philosophy of open source and free software, and I want to promote it, but I also want to be realistic about it.

I’m going to try to reach that goal, and I will still be trying, even when it makes my life difficult and uncomfortable. I’ll still be trying well past the point any sane person would have given up, gone home and had a warm, proprietary Nespresso.

I realise that there are current limitations, particularly in terms of what open source hardware is available. I’ll be trying to overcome some of these limitations by developing new projects, or outlining the best path towards developing solutions. There are also theoretical limitations – is it even possible to have an open source airline? should we allow modification and redistribution of swine flu?

Whenever I come across hurdles in my path, I’ll be trying various different methods of leaping over them, scurrying under them, or whacking them with a stick. I’ll share my experiences and solutions with the community. Some solutions will require plenty of creativity and lateral thinking. Many will make me look foolish. I am totally ok with this.

What about your Mac?

There has been plenty of discussion on tech sites about how I’m going to deal with the basic problem of my computer hardware. A MacBook Pro is an extremely closed-source machine, packed with patented, proprietary components. And there are no open source equivalents. So I’m going to approach the problem in three different ways:

1) FrankenBook Pro
I’m not going to throw it on a bonfire – I just don’t have the financial resources to go and buy a new computer. Even if I reach my crowdfunding goal, this is still a low-budget, bare-bones production. If you can provide me with a suitable, more open replacement, then sure, I’ll give the Mac to an organisation that needs it (with Linux installed, naturally).
So as well as switching to free software, I’m going to donate its body to science, so to speak – over the year I will try to replace as many of its hardware components as possible with open source components.

2) Simple solutions
I have thought about my computing needs for this project and year, and what I need, at its most basic, is a simple machine for editing videos and connecting to the internet. I want to put together a simple, cheap, and extremely basic computer, that will perform the basic task necessary.
My aim is to work with others – developers, programmers, electronics and hardware experts – to develop a very basic solution to the problem.
Is there a way to hook up a Raspberry Pi with a basic open hardware LCD screen or other monitor and run an extremely simplistic video editing program? even if it is black and white, slow, with seriously crappy resolution, the idea is to provide a test project, something that others can build on to improve.
An inspiration for this kind of project is The Toaster Project – it’s not meant to be a practical solution to the problem but an interesting way to visualize and think about the complexity of the issue.

3) Predicting the future
I intend to conduct interviews with experts on computer hardware and investigate the problems facing development of a suitable open source alternative to a MacBook Pro. What problems remain unsolved? Is there any hope for a better solution in the future?
I’ll present the results of my interviews and research in video and/or writing on the website.

Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Debian have nonfree elements. Firefox has nonfree elements. Does that mean you can’t use them?

Some would say yes. I say no. The intent of my project is to get more people interested and involved in Open Source. Having me bawling my eyes out at how difficult it is to use open source software is not the best way to do this.
Firefox and Ubuntu are good examples of open source software designed with non-technical users in mind, and they are great ways to bring more people into the community. I will not be using only one distro or browser exclusively throughout the year, however. I’ll test-drive plenty, and use different software for different needs.
But what I will do when faced with free software with nonfree elements is be explicit and transparent about the nonfree parts, see if there is any way around them, and raise awareness of the issue so that the developers of the software know it is important and not forgotten.

Why Open Source, not free software? It’s about freedom!

Since starting my campaign I’ve had a few discussions with people about this issue, and at this stage I’m trying to stay relatively neutral with regards to terminology.
The main reason not to use a name referring to ‘free software’ is simply because a huge part of my project, perhaps the majority, is going to be focused on free and open source hardware, which tends to only use the open source moniker. However, I am also using the term ‘libre hardware’. Now I am trying to mostly use ‘free software’ but also ‘free and open source software’ and simply ‘open source’, although that is usually when referring to the general movement rather than software specifically.
The terminology I use will be up for debate early on in the project itself – I want to bring in many opinions to the discussion and work out what I should be saying, or rather how I should be saying it.

So on August 1st you’ll be living totally open source?

From the first of August I will avoid buying any more traditionally copyrighted products, and will start the process of replacing as many of my proprietary possessions as possible.
Obviously I can’t achieve all my aims within the first week. I’ll be tackling issues one-by-one in order to be able to research, get feedback and input, conduct interviews, develop solutions and write up documentation.
The things I use everyday, the clearest solutions and the things I buy regularly will be first.So the first project will be the obvious one – On August 1 I’ll switch to Linux and open source software. Beer has to follow soon after.
This might mean those of you giddy with excitement at the thought of tackling open source refrigeration might have to wait a couple of months while I deal with the issue of an open source cellphone. But of course if my fridge dies in the meantime (which it is constantly threatening to do), then it will cut in to the front of the line, and I’ll have to deal with the issue there and then. This is a one-year process and I hope at the end of the year to be living as open source as humanly possible, while still being connected to the internet, eating food and making videos.

What are you talking about, toilet paper?! Surely toilet paper is public domain!

My mention of toilet paper was a throwaway comment meant to make people understand the extent of the issues I’ll be investigating, and that I won’t just be dealing with high-tech issues. The line has been included in a few headlines, and unfortunately far too much importance has been placed upon this particular point and derailed the conversation on some sites.

For fulfilling my project I see it as ‘public domain good, open source better’ – I will use plenty of products whose production patents have expired (eg toilet paper, or dried spaghetti, or a bicycle). I can use these public domain products, but if I can occasionally make explicitly open source versions which explain how something is made and actively encourage others to make or modify their own, all the better. This will often be done to explain the difference between public domain and open source.

What rules are you setting yourself – what can you still buy?
Basic materials – textiles and food which are not made or grown from patented seed strains or still covered by patents. Basic foodstuffs where the production process is clear and only one ingredient is used, eg orange juice, olive oil, milk. I’m OK with these products, although I may experiment. Wires, circuit boards, basic components for making electronics projects. Wood, nails, glue etc for DIY projects.

Some of the mining and metallurgy involved in the production of these materials is probably proprietary. The trucks that deliver the food are proprietary. There are all sorts of proprietary processes involved in these not-particularly proprietary materials. This project is not just about seeing how much of an effect open source has on the real world but it’s also a way to show how closed-source and proprietary our current products, lifestyles and production systems are.  I’ll be acknowledging, discussing and examining these issues over the year.
General nit-picking is fine, but constructive suggestions are much more helpful – If you know of ways around these issues please tell me.

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Year of Open Source Press Release

Bye-bye Apple, Auf Wiedersehen Häagen-Dazs:

Filmmaker to attempt year of Open Source Everything.

4th July 2012, Berlin, Germany

On August 1st, Berlin-based filmmaker Sam Muirhead is abandoning all copyrighted products and switching to Open Source software, hardware, and services for one year, as the subject of his own series of online documentary videos.

Sam Muirhead aims to raise awareness of open source projects and methods, and get people from outside the tech world interested and involved in Open Source.

As someone without a background in high-tech, I want to show people that Open Source is not just for hackers – it is an idea that can be adapted to any aspect of life.”

The internet has changed the film world immensely, and created new means of funding, production and distribution. Utilising these new methods, Muirhead is exploring another big idea from the internet, Open Source, and its growing effect on the ‘real’ world.

Open Source originated in the world of software, with the Firefox web browser, Linux operating system, and much of the underlying structure of the Internet itself being collaboratively developed and released under Open Source licenses. But Muirhead is interested in the philosophy of Open Source – as an alternative to the traditional use of copyright and patents, it gives access to the plans and design used to make a product. This means users can adapt the product to their own personal needs or redistribute it. The idea has already spread from software to other areas, from Wikipedia to robotics to tractor design.

Technology’s rapid pace of development means a traditional long-form film about Open Source is impossible – by the time it is edited, it will be out of date.

Muirhead will be taking the software development approach of ‘release early, release often’ to documentary making. With new videos and projects to be released every week, the result will be an evolving portrait of Open Source, and will enable the community to get involved in the project as it progresses.

The project is funded by and made for the online community, with an active campaign on crowdfunding website IndieGoGo hoping to raise $20000 in donations in just 37 days.

Muirhead will make his own Open Source shoes, jeans, toothbrush and furniture (and release the designs for others). He’ll be using Open Source educational methods to learn Turkish, avoiding food grown from copyrighted seed strains, and abandoning Apple software.

When asked what he hoped to achieve by only using Open Source solutions for everything in his life, Muirhead stated, “Open source is a fascinating way of collaborating, of creating, and working together for common goals, but it’s seen by most as something only relevant to software. By bringing it into ‘real life’ and adapting it to everyday purposes, I hope to get people thinking about how Open Source could work in their lives.”

Muirhead suggests there’s a journalistic approach too: “I want to highlight the problems of the current copyright and patent system. Every week you see Apple, Samsung and Google throwing million-dollar lawsuits at each other, when technologically they all have shared goals. Whereas in the Open Source community there’s the adage that competitors stand on each others’ shoulders, not on each others’ toes.” The project will be highlighting the achievements and methods of companies and individuals working with Open Source, and discussing their different business models.

As well as running workshops to develop Open Source solutions, Muirhead will also be speaking on the Open Source & Free Software stage at the 10000-strong Campus Party tech conference in Berlin in August.


Readers can learn more, donate and spread the word on the Year of Open Source pitch page here:

Sam Muirhead is a music video director, editor and documentary maker from Auckland, New Zealand, with a background in web-based, festival and broadcast media.



Sam Muirhead is trying to live entirely without traditionally copyrighted products



[UPDATE] The IndieGoGo campaign has come to an end, and thanks to generosity of 134 lovely people, we raised $6,731!

That’s enough for me to be able to focus on this project for the year, pay for plenty of materials required, and I don’t have to spend as much time working on other jobs. I’ll send out the Copyleft Cookies recipe and an update email in the next couple of days, and the other perks will follow in the next couple of weeks. Thank you so much to all who helped out,  and if you like you can see who all these wonderful supporters were.

What is the Year of Open Source?

From August 2012, I’m trying to live Open Source for a year – avoiding traditionally copyrighted products, using products released under open licenses, or adapting or developing my own.

I plan to use myself as a subject in an experiment to canvas the range of open source ideas and products, search out and discuss ways around traditional licensing, and see how the ideas of free software, libre hardware and openness can affect different areas of everyday life.
In every aspect of my life, from the clothes I wear to the film equipment and appliances I use, I will be looking for and switching to open source alternatives, in hardware, software and services, documenting everything in order to show as many people as possible the many directions and applications of this way of thinking.

If you missed the crowdfunding campaign but would still like to contribute, please consider a small donation through Flattr

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How I explained it to my Mum:

The original Coke recipe? Taken from the This American Life episode Original Recipe

My mum sent me an email saying she didn’t quite understand what I was doing. So I wrote her a simpler explanation:

The basic idea behind open source is transparency, allowing modification and access to a product.

Cooking recipes are a good example of something that already is, and always has been, open source – nobody can copyright a recipe, and nobody can stop me from adapting that recipe to my own needs and posting it on the internet, publishing it in a book and so on.

Coca-Cola tries to keep its recipe secret, even though it can’t copyright it. The formula is apparently written down and locked in a bank vault. This is very much closed-source.

OpenCola, however, publishes its recipe, and encourages others to make, adapt, and publish their recipes. Open Cola is open source.

The main advantage for the user in open source products is that they can see how it is made. if they’re not happy with a product, they can alter it, or they can release their own version based on a product’s plans or recipe. It allows specification to each user’s needs, gives more consumer/user more choice, and can help prevent monopolization of the market.

The main advantage for the producer is that you have people experimenting with their product, each trying in their own way to improve it. It creates a wide array of researchers, developers, critics and real customers who are giving them feedback and feeling connected with the product. The producer no longer has to rely on small-scale, slow, expensive consultancy and focus groups.

My project involves avoiding products like Coca-Cola and instead using products like Open Cola, in order to raise awareness of licensing issues, publicize open source projects and get people thinking about ideas of transparency and modification.

The problem is that there is not an Open alternative to every product we currently use. There are no OpenPajamas, no OpenCanOpener, no OpenElectricityProvider or OpenHairdresser. And this is where it gets interesting.

What I have to do is work out what an open alternative might be, or if it is necessary – How might an open source power company work? Is copyright or intellectual property even a concern in hairdressing? This kind of thinking has had some great results – applying the open source model to an encyclopedia seems to work quite well, for example.

In this project, if I want to eat at a cafe or restaurant, I can only do so if the chef will also give me the recipe for whatever I want to eat. Otherwise, I pack my own sandwiches.



Computer nerds know about Open Source.
Copyright experts know about Open Source.
Hackers know about Open Source.
But the majority of people in the world have no idea. In fact, the prevalent idea seems to be that Open Source means ‘software you can download for free’.
Open Source is much, much more than that. Open Source is a philosophy, legal framework and working method which encourages sharing, openness and editability.  Rather than copyright, where the owner permits only certain uses by certain people for certain time periods in exchange for a license fee, open source is a form of ‘copyleft.’

At its core is the GNU General Public License, with which the holder permits any use or modification of their product by anyone, at any time, with the only provision that any modified versions of the product are also released under the same license. It permits, encourages, even requires sharing. It means the licensed product and all of its derivatives are, and will always be, open for use and modification.

Starting August 2012, I plan to ‘live’ Open Source for one year.

The plan is to use myself as a subject in an experiment to canvas the range of open source ideas and products, search out and discuss ways around traditional use of copyright, and see how the idea of open source can affect different areas of everyday life.
In every aspect of my life, from the clothes I wear to the film equipment and appliances I use, I will be looking for and switching to Open Source alternatives, in hardware, software and services. I will be documenting my projects, challenges and interviews in regular writing and videos on a website, gathering opinions and suggestions from experts in the field and from my readers.
I’m starting this project for the following reasons.
1. to tell the world about Open Source, to explain the idea, its use, its history and its potential.
2. to contribute to Open Source projects myself, despite not being a hacker or developer.
3. to be involved in making and learning about how products and tools are made.
4. to present a portrait of Berlin’s Open Source, DIY, political and self-organised scene.
5. to test-drive the philosophy of OS, to see how far the idea will stretch.

-I’ll be actively avoiding companies and industries which rely on a very closed-source model (eg food from copyrighted Monsanto seed strains).
-I’ll be looking at how Open Source affects education, and using open, collaborative learning methods to learn how to code, how to solder, and how to speak Turkish.
-In some aspects of my life, (eg. air travel) no Open Source option will be apparent. In this case I will research and try to outline why not – what barriers there may be in that industry/service to a viable Open Source option, and what possibilities there may be for the future.

I then have a few choices:
1. develop my own DIY project and release the ‘source code’  for download (plans, instructions, recipes, 3D printing files…) In the case of air travel, building a microlight and flying to Poland is of course a rather labour-, time- and money-intensive solution…
2. find the option which best fits in with Open Source ideals – the ‘Shariest’ – in this case it would probably be using the ride-sharing website to get a lift.
3. Determine whether air travel is really necessary – do I need to physically go there or can I achieve my goals online, through Skype and other online conferencing tools?

The website will not only be a place to read my articles and watch my videos, but as a place where people can suggest ideas, provide links to interesting projects and developments, and discuss their own experiences with Open Source.

If you would like to be kept updated on the progress of the project, please subscribe to this website.

Or if you can offer your help in any way, or have suggestions either for specific projects or the year in general, please email me!