On Free Software

Oh no, not again. I can hardly think of a better way to approach this never ending debate. And yet I feel compelled to throw my tuppence into it all.

I would dearly like to know how many open source and free (free, in the context of this document applies to freedom, not price; it may help to think of it instead as software libre) software users (respectively) there are in the world today. One can speculate, but the lack of hard numbers makes the precise metrics impossible to measure.

In the beginning, there was GNU and the philosophy with GNU, and the philosophy was GNU. So, it is no big secret that the majority of computer users are neither idealists nor politicians. Those of us who align ourselves on neither side of the fence are pragmatists, and prefer to use free or open source software due to either its general lack of shortcomings or on its technical merit.

And what better reason to choose one package over the other?

I have been thinking recently, and have realised that perhaps these ideologies are not so divergent after all. They represent two trains of thought, but not two intersecting or opposing trains; the tracks they follow appear to be parallel.

Open Source Software (OSS) is a fascinating phenomenon, made all the more interesting by its slow rate of adoption. In many ways, OSS is superior to proprietary offerings, but in no way quite so obviously when it comes to software licensing.

You don't have to agree to the license to install or use software under the GNU General Public License. You can even disagree to the terms, and you may still install and use the software. The GPL was designed to protect the freedom of the user, which in this case is you.

The GPL is not an End User License Agreement. It is a developer and distributor license. You aren't bound by its terms unless you redistribute copies of the software, in either original or modified form. And if you modify it, you have to keep your users' freedom intact, and release the modified version under the GPL as well.

With provisions to protect you, it's no wonder that Free and Open Source software have Microsoft scared.

One need only look at their .NET, Palladium, and Trusted Computing initiatives to see that they do not wish their users to have any freedom; freedom to install or use software, freedom to use software of their choosing, or even freedom to open their own documents on any computer with any word processor.

Must you switch to GNU/Linux? No, you are not required to. But the more time you give for microsoft to own your documents, the more difficult it's going to become. There is no time quite like the present to deny the Redmond Megalith the freedoms it wishes to steal from you.