Saturday, March 2, 2013

What is Free Software?

Free Software is about the 4 essential freedoms of the customer, NOT about the price.

These 4 essential freedoms are:
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour
    (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others
    (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Free Software is available either for sale, or for a free price.

The opposite of Free Software, is Proprietary Software (also known as Closed Source Software).

Proprietary Software is also available either for sale, or for a free price; but it does not provide the customer with the 4 essential freedoms that the Free Software provides.

The most common ways to make a profit from a Free Software program, currently are:
  1. Sell the Free Software program itself.
  2. Sell Support for the Free Software program.
  3. Crowd funding.

More information about Free Software, is available here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why there isn't going to be “The Year of Linux”

(or in other words, why everyone will not switch to GNU/Linux and Free Software in a single year) 

1989. I just got my first computer as a home user. It is a HYUNDAI PC, with Microsoft MS-DOS 3.30 Operating System.

At the time, most home users owned Amstrad or Commodore computers.

In the hardware features area, Commodore Amiga machines provided 4096 colours, Amstrad CPC6128 machines provided 16 colours. Both were relatively cheap and came with a monitor. They also had great sound capabilities for the time.

In software territory, Commodore machines provided multitasking. Also there were some nice applications for them, like Deluxe Paint and Photon Paint for Amiga.

In comparison, mainstream PCs suffered a lot in terms of end-user features. Due to hardware limitations, they provided only 4 colours for graphics, with 16 colours possible only with some much more expensive graphics cards. Monitors were expensive. The sound PCs had, was an annoying beep.

In software territory, PCs came with Microsoft MS-DOS operating system, with IBM PC models coming with the equivalent IBM PC DOS, which was essentially the same, but with a different name. Both of them did not support multitasking.

Due to these, home users owning PCs, were only “power users”. Although PCs were inferior in terms of features, we knew at the time that PCs were the future. This was because of the configuration abilities (user freedom).

You could modify the hardware easily, by installing and uninstalling hardware cards. You could modify the software easily, including replacing the installed operating system with a different version.

Due to these software and hardware configuration abilities, eventually PC software and hardware became the largest mainstream markets on their own, and now almost all people use PCs. This switch did not happen in a single year. 

We are in a similar position now. Free Software (not necessarily free in price), among other things, allows users to modify and improve the software itself. 

Some claim that the vast majority of users do not care about advanced abilities. They only want to do simple things with their devices.

As shown with the PC case, and other cases like smartphones vs. simple mobile phones, this is wrong. People love additional abilities. 

Returning to Free Software. Now, most Internet web servers are running Free Software, in the form of a GNU/Linux distribution. Most smartphones and tablets are running Linux (Android included). Power users have been using GNU/Linux in their PCs since some time. Almost all PC users run some form of Free Software in their PCs already. A major switch to Free Software is already here.

We know Free Software is the future. But as was the case of PCs, vs. Amstrad and Commodore computers, do not expect the complete switch from closed source software to Free Software, in a single year.

Background note: The first IBM PC was released in 1981. GNU was introduced in 1983, however GNU became usable only after Linux kernel was integrated. Linux kernel version 1.0 was released on 14 March 1994.