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Getting into free software

The H: What drew you towards the free software movement, and what was your background in the law?

PJ: I worked as a paralegal, and I was in a small firm that had no IT department. I got anointed to try to find out what kind of computers to buy and then to keep them running.

Most law firms are like that, by the way. We've been covering the work of really large, international firms, and it's been a real pleasure to watch them work, but most lawyers in the US are either in small firms or working as solo practitioners.

So we got Windows 95 computers for the office, and thus began my education. What a headache! When I read the other day that Sergey Brin said Microsoft tortures its users, I knew what he meant. It was torture. In the course of trying to deal with it, I discovered two tools, first a free editor called EditPad and then Knoppix. I discovered that in EditPad, I could open up files in Windows that were system files. I could then see abnormalities because I could compare the files on all the computers, the infected one and the others, because they were identical. So I would look for abnormalities. Like I saw once some guy wrote how we didn't have enough space for music. It was a comment deep in a file you'd never look at because it looks like gobbledy gook, so things like that would stand out, and then I'd know we had a problem. It's how I learned computers, by just trying to solve things. Lots of reinstallations! When I read about how hard it is to install LInux, I laugh. Try installing Windows 95 or 98. Ugh. The drivers! When I learned that with Linux you could keep your /home partition and easily just reinstall the rest, I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven.

And being responsible made me start to read about security issues and how to solve things in Windows. Little by little I came to the conclusion that there was no way to be safe in Windows 95 or later 98. And as I played with Knoppix, trying to fix all the headaches in Windows, I started to realize that I loved Knoppix. I really loved it. I still do, by the way. That was how it started.

The H: Can you remember what you hoped from Groklaw at that time. Did it work out as planned?

PJ: I had no hopes at all. I was startled and appalled when I first learned that people were reading Groklaw. I was a real dope about the Internet, and I was totally unaware that I was writing to the world.

It was the feeling you'd get if you were singing or dancing by yourself, with the relaxed abandon that flows from privacy, only to find out hundreds of people had watched the whole thing. But then readers started to teach me things, and as I realized how much they knew about the tech, I understood what Groklaw could be, with me trying to explain the legal process and readers explaining the technology, so each of us could see what was and wasn't true about SCO's accusations and how to prove it with facts. That was a total thrill. FUD wilts under a bucket of facts.

The H: How did you get involved and how easy will it be to let go? How satisfying has your, presumably accidental, adventure into the world of free software and the law been?

PJ: It isn't easy to let go, but I feel like we created something that changed the world in a small but real way. What I hoped for did happen, and it was such a challenging and deeply creative process, I feel fulfilled. It's a wonderful feeling to know that your hard work is enjoyed and appreciated by so many people all over the world.

The H: Groklaw played a large part in exposing the issues around SCO. How big a role do you feel the participation of Groklaw and others have played in highlighting the issues and opening up the legal process? And what are you most proud of?

PJ: I think Groklaw altered the course of legal history. Period. In fact, I know we did.

Next: Learning from Groklaw

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