Much has been written about free software, yet many people still think: What good is it for regular users? They buy or copy software, not caring if doing so is legal, and they have no need for source code they wouldn't understand anyway. I heard that a couple times lately and explained my personal view of that matter, so I may as well write it up.

What does free software mean to you, personally?

To me, the true answer is not technical. It has got nothing to do with Linux, it is not related to source code, and avoiding Microsoft is not an issue, either. The true answer is freedom, no more, no less. If you care about freedom, it applies to you, no matter who you are or how well you understand computers.

Software consists of thoughts and ideas expressed in a language that can be understood by machines to let them perform a certain task. That's not exactly news. Like thoughts can be spread by telling, software can be copied. Freedom of speech, expressed in native language, is considered a high value, yet freedom to spread thoughts expressed in a programming language is a strange idea to many people. In my opinion, that's because they do not understand programming languages, so why should they feel concerned?

The concept of freedom in software is not easy to grasp. Let me give an example what free software means for regular users. If you see a cool program on a friend's computer, you may want a copy. No problem if it is free. If it is not, he would act illegal by doing you that favour that does not even cost him money. In a world of free software, you could share software like ideas and thoughts are shared by people of common interests anywhere else. It would be very hard for software authors to integrate features that compromise your privacy, like sending a profile of your computer or your installed software back to them, and even if someone did, someone else would remove them and you could use the version that does not publish private information. To summarise, you could share anything you want, and you had control over what you share. Proprietary software does the opposite: It wants to control what you share, and take any information from your computer on its own.

Like most movements to reach freedom in a particular aspect, free software is also led by individuals spending many efforts in what they believe, but it can only succeed by a majority discovering its advantages. That movement is on its way, and by now already large enough to let large software companies worry, like nondemocratic gouvernments worry and consider free speech and information interchange dangerous. It is just at its beginning, though, and still needs any support there is to advance.

Many hackers (= smart and artful programmers) build said world of free software, because freedom matters to them. Their freedom is not just free access to software, but also the freedom to work on it any way they like to. You can only win by supporting them in getting new software, and support can be as easy as thinking about freedom, and explaining a new, old idea, to people who are not aware of it yet. The idea of freedom has changed the face of the world a couple times, and the end has not been reached, yet.

Depending on you considering freedom important, free software has a lot more to offer than just saving some money.

Source - "On Free Software"


comments powered by Disqus