Anna Morris is co-founder of FLOSSIE conference for women in Free Software, Manchester Fellowship Group Deputy Coordinator, and Co-Director of ethical-pets.co.uk. She is currently writing a book on video editing with Free Software, and volunteering with Document Freedom Day 2013 in her spare time.
Ana Galan: You recently started a new e-commerce business. What led you to that decision?
Anna Morris: My partner Joseph contracted a viral meningitis a few years ago and never recovered – he couldn’t go out to work any more. After about a year of supporting us both with an online teaching job, I was struggling to match my expectations of a creative and fulfilling life with the burden of being the “breadwinner”. By running an online business we can both work from home together and structure our time freely, to suit both his health and my creative whims! It has worked well over our first year and we are getting close to taking a small income from our sales – which is great, as we started with only a tiny loan from my Grandparents.
AG: How is Free Software helping you to run your business?
AM: Well, as a Free Software advocate I am aware that most computer/internet related things are dependant on Free Software in some way, even if its not noticeable to the untrained eye (like mine). In terms of the software that I am aware of using, however, I can say for sure that it’s been a big help.
On a basic level, one impact has been the software that I can afford to access (especially in terms of commercial use). My web-shop platform is Free Software and my payment gateway (Skrill) gave me a big discount because of this (I assume because its easier for them to interoperate with).
My e-commerce payment gateway gave me a big discount because I use Free Software
Also, things like video editing software, which I use a lot to make promotional materials – I would never have been able to afford the proprietary equivalents (or the pricey manuals). Then, there are things like the creative commons music which I totally depend upon for my videos, and the fonts, so vital to our “brand”, which use the Open Font License.
My blogging platform, operating system, email system, phone software (which I depend upon for social media interaction) are all Free too.
Of-course – some of this has come about through my deliberate choice to use only Free Software, however even if I had no knowledge of Free Software (and even if I opposed it) I don’t suppose many things would be different. For example, I would still be using WordPress and Prestashop without a doubt!
Perhaps most importantly, the learning and subsequent freedom that I have achieved is also down to Free software (and the community surrounding it). Free Software challenges you to learn: to do for yourself, to be fearlessly independent when it comes to your tech. In the past few years I have taken pride in watching my skill base catchup with and overtake that of my proprietary-loving peers, even some paid professionals, simply by having a free and curious mindset. Free software frees you in many ways.
AG: Do you think Free Software could be a good way to help entrepreneurs
and to aid the economy?
Free Software challenges you to be fearlessly independent when it comes to your tech
AM: Yes. But then I think Free Software is a good way to do most things
AG: Most of the businesses associated with Free Software are related to software. As yours
is not, do you have advice to entrepreneurs about the use of Free Software and how they can benefit from it?
AM: Well, my business is specifically an ethical business. Any ethical business should be thinking about the ethics of the tools they use – even if it is difficult to understand all the information straight away.
If I had a physical shop, I would not build it with means and materials that are detrimental to society: why should my web-shop be different?
Why should we give money to companies with appalling labour practices?
We spend a lot of energy encouraging customers to research, contemplate and make up their own mind about issues such as animal nutrition, animal testing and environmental impact. Should I therefore give my custom to companies who lock down their products/software and invest in censorship?
Also, as a Christian, I find the idea of such grandiose gluttony and tech coverting quite abhorrent.
Of course, just like sourcing Ethical Pet products, it’s not a simple learning curve to reach the point where you use Free Software in every aspect of your business and life… but making a start easy enough, and the extensive community actually makes it a real joy.
AG: Name a Free Software application you cannot live without it
AM: Clever answer: When Joey was very ill with meningitis, many of the hospital machines, for example the MRI scanners, were running Free Software – “live without” is a relative term in Free Software.
Real answer: well, other than my Star Trek tricorder from F-droid Android repository… (I was a happy little geek the day I found THAT app!) I guess KDEnlive is my real baby: It has opened up so many creative doors and windows for me! I recently got a job writing a manual (for Arabic speaking political activists) about video editing using Free Software – this was a pivotal moment for me on a personal level.
AG: Is there any Free Software you would particularly like to see improved?
GNU/Linux users are too often the last to get their hands on the latest versions of software
AM: Again, KDEnlive: I get tired of depreciated versions being the only ones available on most Free operating systems. In fact, this is an issue in general – GNU/Linux users are too often the last to get their hands on the latest versions of software. In KDEnlive, if I report a bug and it gets fixed, I don’t get that updated version for months on my current OS. I don’t want to be forced to learn how to compile this software myself just to keep up to speed: I do have a social life to attend to, ya’know!
Also, I think that Free Software has problems with hosted options – for example: social media, web-mail, mail-shot software etc. The few Free Software options here are often specialised for techies with money to spend on server space. They often lack friendly interfaces and rely on skill and time to spend from the user. I know I have said that one of the joys of Free Software is the learning curve – but it shouldn’t require quite so much work on my part to, for example, make a newsletter for my business, as I recently did for the first time. Folks with a day job or children would probably have to give up where I have time to persevere.
AG: What Free Software motto should readers take away this Christmas?
AM: Any of the many words of encouragement bestowed by my good friend Sam Tuke would do – he just wont let me quit! Everyone should have a Free Software buddy: to keep them on the right path when problems are abundant, be proud of them when they have learned something new, and help them contribute to more and better to Free Software. We all have something to give!
An separate interview with Anna which has not been published in this series is available here.