Why Free Software?



What is the free software?

Free Software is software without distribution restrictions. The "free" word is refering to freedom, not price. You have the freedom to distribute copies of free software, to get the source code, and to change the software and use it as you want to.


How the free software developers are rewarded for their work?

There are more ways to reward the software developers:
- when you distribute a copy of free software, you can take money for this service;
- you can take money for the media on which the software is stored (tapes, CD-ROM, floppies, and so);
- you can provide support and technical assistance for a charge;
- donations made to these developers by companies that make money using their software or have some advantages from development of the software.


Is it legal to use and distribute free software?

It is perfectly legal to do that as long the free software is protected by a license that allow you to do so. The Free Software Foundation has created the GNU General Public License, and the most software in Unix world are protected by this, guarantee that you always have the freedom to use and distribute the software.


Reasons to use free software instead of commercial software

A very lot people wrongly thinks that the quality of the software is directly proportional to cost. As such, most companies consider the free software with a lot of distrust. You'll see that most free software is of a greater quality than commercial software.
Who writes free software? In most of cases, people that needs the software for themselves, rather than people paid to write something. This thing lead the programmer to make the software more suitable for his needs and as bug free as possible. By the way, as long as the software is distributed in source form, anyone who discover a bug can correct it and send a patch to the maintainer of the software, and the correct version is immediatly released to the public. Nowadays, the big software development companies is much slower responding to suggestions or bug reports, even if many users may depend on that bug being fixed (may be they thinks that costs too much, or may be they are just ignoring the bug reports, who knows?). Tell Microsoft that there is a bug in one of their program, or tell them you want a new feature! They'll say that "will be available in the next version". Most of the times, when the next version is released, you find out that they have added a lot of features you don't need, except the feature you need. More features, improved algorithms are much more simple to implement in case of free software, and then these modifications can be integrated into the software, making it better for everyone.
By the way, paying a programmer to do something doesn't mean necesarry that he will write quality software. When you contribute to a free software, nobody force you to write something. It's fun to you and you have time to do it, you just do it. You don't want to, you don't write it. The fact is that if everybody cooperates, everybody wins. Nobody cooperates, everybody looses.
Making the sources freely available have another advantage: this let other programmers read and use the source code. This way, they can learn from the code, instead of reading learn_C_in_21_days "books" of very low quality. They don't need to "reinvent the wheel"; they can take pieces of software that is already written and use it for their own benefit.
A lot of companies don't want to deal with free software because they are saying that nobody offer support for it. We should think to the kind of what "support" some commercial companies offer. I think the people which are working in free software domain are much more open-minded than the companies that sell commercial software. If you ask somebody on a mailing list or even the author for support, they'll sure help you with pleasure, as much as they can. Anyway, there are some companies that provide support for free software.
You don't have to go the Microsoft way and to develop proprietary software and make a lot of money with it. In fact, the fewer companies that go the Microsoft way, the better the world would be. I don't see nothing stoping anyone from paying a programmer to write some software, and then the software to become freely available. People needs for some software solutions won't dissapear just because the software is freely distributable. There are some companies that make free software for people who really need to get some jobs done, so they don't really care if the sources are public or not. Companies like Cygnus and Redhat proves that is possible.
Huge companies as Microsoft have changed the people's mind: they make people to buy something they don't want to buy, they don't need it, but they will buy it anyway. It's a very strange situation, but this is the way it is. And it's nothing about quality software; these products are known as very unstable, most of them broken in serious ways. Having the biggest company in the world doesn't mean that you are producing the best software in the world. Microsoft are not selling software; they are selling fucking lies. Why the most people living in the free software house can say that their experience with commercial software is that it is almost always inefficient and authoritarian? By the other way, these companies pays a lot for writing software; in fact, it costs very little to create software. Why is this way?

I'm not saying, anyway, that all the software should be free. Some sort of software can't be free, just because it can't: for example, an accounting program, that will never be written by somebody for fun and make the sources freely available.
Most of the software should be free, except the bussiness-related programs (at least some basically things, like the operating systems, window systems, or general purpose libraries). That doesn't mean you can't gain any money making software. Of course, you shouldn't take money for the software itself. You can take money for distributing the software - for linking everything together, for packing, for the media on which the software is stored, or you can provide support and technical assistance for a charge.



Written by Dragos Acostachioaie © 1997
Last updated: February 14, 1997

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