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An Attempt to Explain the Internet Governance Forum

A few days ago, over a glass of beer, I tried to explain to a friend of mine what I do. This was not an easy task. Since he is a programmer, I thought it would be easier to explain the Internet Governance part of my work to him (rather than the diplomatic part), including the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The start of my explanation was not promising. He had many questions. After a few beers, my reputation started to shake. But necessity is the mother of invention, so I decided to explain the IGF to him in terms of an operating system combining Windows, Unix and Mac.

My narrative went as follows....

Let’s start with Windows. Windows is the unofficial part of the global establishment. Stretching the analogy a bit, we can say that Windows is in the computer world, what the UN is in the diplomatic world. Both try to project an image of solidity and reliability. Like with the UN, we complain about Windows a lot, but most of us use it. Like the UN, Windows is constantly upgraded, making the system more complex and adding new functions, often useless. Although ordinary folks are starting to use it less, Windows is still used by the corporate sector (here we have an analogy with governments, which must work with the UN). Like the UN, it is not easy to change Windows from outside. So far, so good. (My friend is a hard-core Linux supporter.)

Back to the “Internet Governance Forum Operating System” (IGF OS). In the IGF OS, you can see “Windows” at work during the annual meetings, with flags, heavy protocol at the opening session and security guards in blue UN shirts. “Windows” also shows its face when the UN Secretary General appoints the IGF officials. It provides legitimacy.

Now, let’s think about Unix/Linux. Unix has influenced the way the IGF works. It is practical, solution-oriented and low cost. The many participants from the Internet engineering community added this ethos to the IGF OS. The IGF is “open source,” so like Linux, people can change the code (the way the IGF works). My friend asked me for an example, and I came up with remote participation.

Remote participation was introduced from the very beginning, at the first IGF in Athens, in the form of video broadcasting from the meetings. The broadcasts were followed by a few people, mainly those with a clear interest with IG who could not travel to the physical meeting for various reasons. Apart from these few, it would be difficult to find anyone who would watch a video with talking heads from the IGF. This led a few creative members of the IGF community (Ginger, Marilia and others) to offer an “upgrade.” They implemented “remote hubs,” as a way of actual remote participation. Last year, during the IGF meeting in Hyderabad, India, people gathered in Rio, Madrid, Bogota and other cities around the world. They were able to listen to the IGF broadcasts of the sessions of interest, and continued the discussion among themselves in classrooms, town halls, bars and other public places. For example, in Madrid, remote participants followed the IGF session on cybersecurity, and continued discussing cybersecurity in Spain. It was a simple, effective and cheap solution. The IGF Secretariat (the repository of the open source code) adopted this innovation and integrated it into the IGF OS. For the upcoming IGF, remote hubs can register through the IGF Secretariat website.

My friend was hooked! Another beer and another question: “What about the Mac OS?” I had been expecting this question. However, we did not get in techie-discussion about the Unix-kernel of Mac OS. Instead, I pointed out that the IGF OS is user-friendly, like Mac. Moreover, the IGF did what Mac did with the latest upgrade of Mac OS - White Leopard. The IGF is an upgrade of multilateralism through simplification. Like the MAC White Leopard, the IGF has fewer functions than other multilateral meetings, but it is stable, cheaper and fully functional.

After all this, I still had to explain what my job was, in this combination. I told him that I try to create “ports” between the three OSs, by helping each developer group to understand the others. A bit too complex for the 4th beer.

I did not tell him that IGF OS does not have a “print function.” Many voices are arguing that IGF OS should include a print function (recommendations). An upgrade to IGF OS 2.0 is likely in the near future. While introducing new functions – including “print” – it will be important to preserve this unique and delicate balance between Windows, Unix and Mac in the IGF OS.

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Comment by Ljubisa Gavrilovic on November 12, 2009 at 6:36am
Ultra brief history of OSes
People that came to computers in Windows Era think that computing has started with it. Unix was invented in 60ties developed in 70ties on PDP systems and after AT&T frenzy of monopoly of UNIX kernel it created spin-off systems like CP/M that later influenced creation of DRDOS that caused MS DOS/PC DOS and other variants which bore early Windows (v1) and later win95 kernel that formed base of whole win32 family ended with Win98ME popularizing personal computing and bluring people vision who invented what. With death of Digital VMS OS and Digital Alpha chip initiative VMS bore in marriage with Microsoft a NT kernel that we recognize as family of modern Windows systems NT,2000,XP,Vista,7.... Windows is born in 80ties from Microsoft Word and became "serious" OS in 90ties after nearly 25 years into UNIX existence. MacOS has been born from Motorola Pascal Based OS until v9 which ended era of so called "MacOS Classic". MacOS became UNIX shell and jumped to UNIX family greatly influenced by NeXT. MacOSX is marketing gimmick as much as future Google OS. There are only two real computing OSes today - NT/VMS family and UNIX family. On the other hand Motorola OS has variant used by PalmOS in embedded systems. We shall not underestimate and forget plunder of Xerox Palo Alto ideas of "document windows" and WIPM (Windows, Icons, PullDown Menu) concept that influenced both Windows and Mac world (and now totally forgotten Digital GEM).

If we teach people about ***REAL*** COMPUTING AND OS HISTORY they could possibly understand multitude influence that has created IGF.
Comment by Jovan on October 17, 2009 at 1:04pm
Good point Rafik. Metaphors are useful. They do not have scientific precision, but they help us to think out of the disciplinary box and to explain to others complex issues. Is ICANN Mozila and ITU Explorer?
Comment by Rafik on October 17, 2009 at 6:09am
about OS, in fact all of them have the same basic principles and functions (for kernel)m they can differ for implementation but they just try to make the same thing.
I am wondering how we can insert ICANN and ITU in that ecosystem :)? maybe browsers ;)

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