Free Software

It is working silently in the background, but it makes essential contributions to our everyday life. Almost everytime you send or receive emails or read web pages, free software is involved.

When you read “free software” you might think of giveaway software whose quality you do not question because you could download it for free.

That's not what we are talking about here.

Free software is no “free beer” but it gives you the freedom

  1. to run the program, for any purpose,
  2. to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs,
  3. to redistribute copies,
  4. and to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public.

In particular, as a user of free software you get access to its source code which is a precondition for studying, adapting, and improving the software. For this reason, many people refer to free software as Open Source software.

Objective: Public Welfare

Free software is not a matter of price, but of attitude. The programmer grants extensive rights to the user. In contrast to proprietary software where the license strictly forbids to distribute copies, free software explicitly allows you to help your neighbour by giving him a copy of the software. It is explicitly allowed to let the public benefit from your improvements to the software.

When you had to use a computer in the past, you could either spend all your money on software licenses, or get illegal copies of the many, many little tools you need to get your work done. Nowadays you can get a complete operating system including office and Internet software as free software. This goal of the GNU Project was reached in 1991 with the release of the GNU/Linux operating system. This was the end of the de-facto necessity to act against the law and against the declared intention of the author of the software, just to make use of a computer.

For many programmers, this ethical component is a good reason to contribute to the development of free software.

Technical Benefits

Moreover there are many technical reasons for a programmer to attend to free software.

Many programmers have accustomed themselves to some annoyances of their job. But these annoyances are no laws of nature. They are consequences of the concealment of the source code.

Every day, this unnecessary work causes a huge economic damage. Free software helps to avoid it.

Next: why it is an advantage to get the source code along with the software you use