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Friday, 28 March 2008

Open soucery.

Open source has become synonymous with free software which itself has become synonymous with the Linux operating system or more correctly, an operating system distribution based around the Linux kernel and GNU software. Phew, quite a mouthful eh? That mouthful can be said thusly GNU/Linux operating system. However, the whole modern idea behind open source software goes much deeper than this. In fact, it is my opinion that this commercialised way of looking at it is damaging to the whole ethos behind it. Let me try to explain my reasonings.

Many Microsoft Windows home based users do not even know there are free software alternatives for 99.9% of the programs they use. I mean freely available alternatives on their current Microsoft based platform not an alternative operating system though alternative operating systems do exist and do have software within them to match the proprietary ones they currently use. Just like the home market do not know likewise it is for businesses. Many home based computer users and businesses know they exist but are tied into expensive contractual agreements forbidding them to seek out and implement alternative solutions and many simply use the operating system that comes pre-bundled with the machine for no other reason than it gets the job done. There is nothing wrong with that. Many of the pre-built computers bought in to the home come pre-installed with a none free operating system and often come with many none free software choices. The none technical home user is none the wiser about free software alternatives being available such as those collections from theOpenDisc and others.

And so it goes. Upon this bundling of software on pre-built machines a foundation was built around vendor lock-in.

Then there those, like me, who with 30+ years in the computer industry under his belt has only ever paid and used on a personal level only 2 propriety operating systems in that time and has, and still does, pay for a GNU/Linux operating system that is otherwise freely available. Why do I pay for something I can get for free? Well, it comes down to ethics and my ethics dictate that as someone created the operating system I use he/she deserves some recompense for his time and expertise. Of those 2 proprietery ones, 1 was a UNIX operating system bought in the days before freely available clones came to market and the other was AmigaOS that came bundled with the Amiga range of computers.

Nowadays I use a Linux based distribution and many freely available open source softwares, some of which accept donations which if they do and the program is used often enough, I duly pay into.

So, what is the difference between freely available software an open source software and why is it so important that the distinction is made and kept alive?

A guy called Richard Stallman, he of GNU software fame, says it better than I can here. Even though I advise you to read it all the first paragraph says it all. He says "When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects
the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.”

For me, the GNU term is the correct ethically pleasing term. How you view open source software versus free software could be important to the future definition and acceptance of the term so it is vitally important to GNU softwares authors that you understand the differences being banded about by marketting teams. I hope in this short piece to have helped you in that goal.

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