Five things Free Software has taught me

I’ve been in Free Software for a few years now and learned a ton from it.  Sure, I learned how to use new types of software, became efficient on them, and honed my programming skills, but stopping there would be missing the point.  Free software has so much more to offer than just computing and technical benefits.  In fact, the technical side is the least important thing I’ve learned from my experiences.  Free Software has brought me far beyond knowledge of its source code and taught me lessons I will value for a lifetime.

1. Centralized control isn’t worth it

When one single governing body gains absolute control over something, it is only a matter of time before that governing body increases its power tremendously.  Many times, it does this in order to avoid vice, but counterintuitively, only ends up creating more of it in the process.  Take any modern established proprietary software company that started out in the 60’s or 70’s for example.  These software companies were revolutionary in their decision not to share their software for the benefit of learning, but rather, keep it a secret in order to make money from it.  As time went on, the companies began imposing slightly harsher methods upon users in an attempt to foil the plans of those who refused to pay.  This was the beginning of techniques such as license keys.  As users developed ways around the methods, the methods kept getting progressively harsher, severely punishing casual proprietary software users who had been legally using and paying full price for the software since the beginning.

It would not be enough to stop here, though.  Proprietary software companies, caring only about eliminating competition, have no regret in choosing not to support competitors’ file formats (or even worse, supporting them incompletely), slowing down their software to sell the user a “speed upgrade”, and spying on the user without his/her consent to aid their marketing departments.  They even have no shame in not bothering to release security updates until there is already an epidemic.  Users don’t have the freedom to correct any of these because one company alone controls all aspects of the software in question.

Just the other day, I overheard a conversation between two of my peers.  It went something like this:

“I got a new iPhone the other day!”

“Sweet!  Are you going to try to hack it?” (Note: “Hack” here is used in the sense that it has come to mean in today’s society: breaking security.)

“I don’t know.  I know someone who broke into his iPhone and bricked it.  And, I mean, you can’t just go into the store and ask for a repair, because you’ve voided your warranty by hacking it.”

“I hacked my iPhone.  It worked perfectly.  And it is awesome!  Now I can run all sorts of apps on it that aren’t in the App Store!”

It is sad to see that people today actually have to use the term “breaking in” to describe changing the software on the cell phone they own.  People now willingly accept the fact that they just can’t run any application that the developing company didn’t authorize, because this restriction has become so common.  In the case of the iPhone, owners have to make a decision as to whether they want to try to modify the software on the device they own (described as “hacking”) and risk an update from Apple that destroys their phone, or use a device that performs only as Apple wishes it to perform.  Purchasing an iPhone is willingly handing over complete control of the device to Apple because this approach has been so tightly ingrained in society as necessary.

2. The strongest approach is a philosophical approach

As the main partitioner between the Free Software Movement and the Open Source Movement, it is apparent, in this regard alone, that it must have a significant amount of meaning.  When one really digs into the specifics, though, this idea becomes even more important.  Nobody would ever build a skyscraper without spending tiring hours on a sturdy foundation to keep the building up.  Likewise, constructing a movement on the grounds that a development style always produces less-buggy, more secure, or more featureful software is worthless.  On these foundationless grounds, what would be the problem with using Skype and locking not only yourself, but also all of your friends, into one company’s software and protocol?  When cost gets thrown into the mix, things get even uglier.  One who bases his/her opinions on these subjective measures would be enticed by high-quality software available at no cost.  Though I make no claim to it’s quality, even Microsoft Windows is “free of cost” to consumers.

The majority of the people in the world choose not to pickpocket.  But why?  It couldn’t possibly be too difficult.  If the thief runs, he/she probably won’t get caught, and it is a quick way to make some extra cash.  Most people believe it is wrong to steal, and therefore, won’t rob a wallet.  The philosophy that one should not steal overrides the benefits that may come from stealing someone’s wallet.  It is the same reason that Vegans don’t wear leather, Mormons abstain from caffeine/alcohol, and environmentalists drive hybrid cars.

When it comes to software, though, the majority of people take a lesser stance.  For those “casual users” who have somehow learned about the Free Software Movement, few will take the philosophies seriously since they create so much inconvenience and trouble.  Would one be likely to support dismantling one’s house upon learning that it was seated upon a sacred ancient burial ground?  Because it creates so much inconvenience and would be outrageously expensive, most people would likely ditch this new ethical dilemma, on the grounds that they had very little opinion about it before it began affecting their life.  Yes, the house is ruining the sacred area, but nobody informed the homeowner in question about this problem before the purchase, so the shame should be placed elsewhere.

When one keeps a 100% philosophy-based center when making every-day choices, it is impossible to make a regrettable decision on those aspects in which one has philosophies or values.  Putting morals before convenience and ease may be tough at times, but it will help ensure permanent solutions that carry much more meaning.

3. An open and creative mind does wonders

Before I became involved in Free Software, I had far different opinions, ideas, and beliefs than I do today.  Free Software helped me open up my mind to new and unfamiliar concepts.  This software universe had been going on behind my back for years.  If there was this much in software alone that a technology-savvy guy had never even heard of, I figured, there must be quite a bit out there.

One of the best parts about the Free Software community is that it is composed of a huge diversity of people with a huge diversity of ideas.  Richard Stallman’s is a perfect example.  Most of his ideas and beliefs, especially his political ideals, are somewhat unorthodox and not widely accepted.  Previous to reading his opinions, I had laughed Ralph Nader off as a joke, as I had heard nothing but humor about him previously in my life.  When I actually met someone who supported him, I took the time to understand his politics.  It just so happened that I shared some of Nader views.  I stopped my warrantless distaste for the 3rd party candidate, and gained a great deal of respect for the man.

Another good example can be drawn from my life.  I am a composer, and one of the biggest hurdles for me in switching to exclusively Free Software was my sheet music typesetting software.  I used a proprietary package under Wine for quite some time, because none of the other options available did what I wanted.  Or so I thought.  I had tried Free Software packages to fill this purpose, from Rosegarden, to MuseScore, to Lilypond, to Canorus.  I convinced myself that, since none of them behaved exactly like the proprietary package I was used to using, none of them were as good.  Some time later, I decided the final movement of of my last piece of proprietary software should end soon, and that I best move to exclusively Free Software.  I forced myself to use MuseScore for my next composition project.  By the time I was done, I had actually forgotten how to use my old piece of proprietary garbageware.  MuseScore did everything I wanted and more.  Yes, it behaved slightly differently, but I found I could be much more efficient – while using Free Software!  It was a double win for me.

For developers, opening one’s mind to unfamiliar creative ideas is essential to creating practical solutions.  The majority of those working on Free Software are autonomous and get to choose what they want to work on.  (Even of the large corporately-funded developer base, many have a great deal of liberty in this regard.)  They are not told to implement specific attributes by their management, or pressured by paying customers to add a certain feature.  They work because they want to help themselves, their user base, or their software project.  There is plenty of room for experimentation.  One of the main arguments used for Free Software is the advantage of not reinventing the wheel, yet in the case of nearly every hole in the software platform to fill, there are at least two equally effective options.  KDE and Gnome.  Grub and Lilo.  OpenOffice and Koffice.  Emacs and Vi.  The list goes on.  These pairs exist because the developers had different ideas as to how to design an application, which features to implement, and what the goals of the project were.  In all of the cases above, the synergy created between the pairs has only gone to further enhance both projects.  In other words, contrasting ideas have improved each other.

4. Knowledge was meant to be shared

Back in the middle 1850’s, when the Industrial Revolution was beginning in Britain, the country attempted a quarantine of ideas.  Britain was the first country to go through an industrial revolution, and wanted the ideas for the machine designs to stay contained within the country so that it might prosper economically.  It was a failure.  It was unbelievably naïve of them to think they could stop the spread of an idea.  As the cliché goes, “If we both have an apple, and we exchange apples, we each still have one apple.  But, if we each have an idea and exchange those, each of us has two ideas.”

Some companies try to restrict the flow of this knowledge.  In fact, many companies do this and expect to get away with it.  They believe that putting DRM on digital media will prevent it from being illegally pirated.  They believe that product activation procedures will prevent it from being illegally shared.  They believe that information can be contained.  Even in the days before the Internet, information and so-called “intellectual property” could still be, and were, exchanged.  As the information age went on, though, corporations became progressively more obsessed with controlling the spread of knowledge.

This trend of open information holds true even in tightly-protected situations.  The Watergate scandal leaked to the press through one of US President Nixon’s most trusted colleagues.  Microsoft was recently discovered to be using code stolen from a competitor on a social networking site, even though the code was never released.  Pictures from the Iran protest in early June of this year circulated the Internet, despite the efforts of the government to prevent their spread.  The examples continue, but all hit the same chord: there is no use in preventing the spread of information.

So instead of working to prevent this spread, why not encourage it?  Why not get the ideas, capabilities, and functionality of any given piece of software out to as many people as possible and kindle the flame?  There are many ways to make money, so why choose a method that requires investing just as much time and effort into making software that lots of people want to use as trying to prevent the usage of said software?  It sounds counterintuitive and/or just plain stupid on paper, but is generally seen as the traditional and conservative way to do it.  Physical products must be treated differently than knowledge.  Government can assist in the process of selling knowledge in the same way as a physical product, but due to the nature of the commodity, it will never be the same.

5. Anyone can make a difference

When I started off in the world of Free Software, I wanted to contribute, but didn’t think that an 8th grade student would be able to contribute anything worthwhile.  I proved myself wrong, and joined the Joomla! Documentation team, writing and editing documentation for the software package.  As I learned later, documentation was one of the most lacking areas in the Free Software community.  When I started learning to program in PHP, I wrote small extensions for the Content Management System I then knew so well.  They were small enough to be easily written by someone with little experience, yet useful enough to be widely-deployed.  I moved on to larger applications and contributions.  Frequent emails from users of my software showed me just how much of a difference I was making for them.

No matter what you do, remember that your actions do make a difference.  If you find a bug, report it!  The first bug report of your life may be a little shaky, but how else can one learn to report bugs?  Your reports make the software better for everyone.  Just maybe that crash you reported will save some people from a major data loss in the future.  If you have decent writing skills, consider writing or improving some documentation for your favorite Free Software application so others will have a less frustrating learning curve.  Translating documentation or an application itself opens up that software to a new demographic of people, most of whom could not possibly use the application prior to your translation.  Bringing up Free Software in a conversation and/or promoting it more seriously opens the philosophies and the software itself up to new people as well.

Even a simple “thank you” to a project member can go a long way.  Free Software isn’t written by machines; it is written by countless individuals that give up a significant amount of time each day to do what they do.  Showing appreciation helps developers know their work is worthwhile.

Now, just for a second, I challenge the reader to imagine what the world of Free Software would be like if nobody believed they could make a difference.  Very little Free Software would be written, and that which was written may not be released to the public.  A completely Free operating system would be out of the question, as only small research projects would exist.  Businesses, with no faith in their ability to succeed with Open Source, would resort to writing proprietary software that can be sold on a shelf.  The Free Software Movement would be inexistent without this wisp of a thought.  In fact, Richard Stallman wouldn’t have bothered writing the GNU system if he thought his project wouldn’t mean anything.

It is so easy to imagine how horrible the world of Free Software could be like this, so why do people all too often let it slide in the “real” world?  This world is so much bigger than the Free Software Sphere that people tend to feel that their actions mean less.  However, they seem to be forgetting that, while some action we make won’t directly influence everybody, every action we make affects somebody.  And just maybe, when one totals the sum of the somebodies and the somebodies of those somebodies, just maybe every one of us changes the world every day.

Because our actions mean so much, it is vital that one governing body, be it a corporation, government, or other mass, doesn’t take away our freedom to express ourselves as we please.  We would no longer be changing the world in our own way, but in the way desired by this group in power.  It is vital that we keep a philosophical approach so that our beliefs stand behind our actions.  Even if we make an unwise decision, we make it for a rational reason that shines through to others.  It is vital that we keep an open mind to ensure no good idea goes unnoticed, and a creative one to generate good ideas of our own.  One man’s seemingly worthless idea may be another man’s inspiration.  It is vital that there is an uninterrupted stream of knowledge, and that information is not held back for personal benefit at the cost of others.  Knowledge and information are the building blocks of change.  These concepts are vital not only to software, but also to every-day life.

And to think some people only see the technical benefits.

Published in: on December 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm  Comments (69)  
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  1. good thoughts…buddy..keep posting….

  2. i have been using A Linux version of some sort for a few years now.. Open Office software for a little while.. and lots of Free software. I am a rather poor guy who is not a Business man a programmer or any sort of developer. I wish i could find a way to ADD to the whole like you said. I used to have crashes , virus’s , hackers even on nearly a yearly basis.. i just could not keep up with the Newest Proprietary software or OS upgrade or Hardware upgrade to match the OS upgrade. Once i went to Open source.. i have strong software, Extras galore.. and has not had one hard core Crash, No virus or hackers.. and i can use my older Hardware till it falls apart of old age. This has been helpful to me as a poorer person. I can not thank you developers enough for the Freedom and Usability you have provided. the Untold HOURS you have put into the software so many would pay BIG money for.. so far i have helped install Open source office , K office , Firefox , some Linux versions.. and a few dozen APPS for about a dozen persons in the past 3 years. NOT a one of them has asked to Go back to the more common OS’s or Applications .. NOT one.. and they are happy with the same freedoms i have told them of. that and NO VIRUS’S . again.. Thank you thank You thank You.

  3. oh give me a break…you keep on lament about 100% free software, i need my codecs 😛

    • FREE codecs ? try OGG at

      • Awesome post.

        BTW, codecs? Have you tried VLC? That should get you 90% of the way (if not 100%).

        While codecs like mp3 are not free. It is a least a published standard. Fragmentation of file formats and codecs is a much bigger threat than Free or Closed software.

        There are many different approaches to software construction. Just don’t lock away my data in a proprietary format.

    • I have yet to find a codec that VLC won’t play. That is something that can’t be said about any proprietary program.
      sudo apt-get install vlc

  4. to ljenux
    1. there are ways to get your codecs working.
    2. if all you can comment on this article is that you need your codecs you certainly don’t get the big picture. just imagine a communist country and the need for transparency in such a regime. proprietary software affects your liberty in the same way. and besides who could possibly know if behind proprietary code they don’t gather personal data on you and some other undesired stuff?

  5. […] the original here: Five things Free Software has taught me « A High School Student's … Рубрика: Разные рубрики | Метки: a-few-years, a-ton-from, and-honed, […]

  6. Good !. You conveyed open source philosophy in your own words.

  7. Although I have found another path to free software – after 15 years as a Windows admin – your article reminded me of how much FLOSS and its ideals has brought to my life and perspective.

    Its good to hear from a fellow user along this journey. Keep up the contributing and the writing!

  8. give me a break…again…

    i use linux for 3 years now and yes i still need my proprietary codecs that you cannot replace with ogg or xvid or whatever you think…and i would never use anything than proprietary adobe reader…and graphic drivers…

    the big picture is that no one would use linux on desktop anyway without those things.

    and we should be praising adobe for making flash for linux and be thankful to nvidia and ati for making those drivers, because without those i would be absurd to use linux on desktop anyway.

    instead fanatic nerds keep on preaching about all software must be free…and keep antagonizing companies that are willing to make software for linux.

    yes, i’m quite happy with FOSS operating system with main programs and beside that, having codecs, flash, adobe reader, opera and drivers closed so far.
    i would be happy if we could have autocad, games and some 3D modeling software closed source, but working on linux. than we would have 99% linux on desktop and 1% windows, instead of situation now.

    • oh Hi again, didn’t realised you had written more, unfortunately it is the usual unresearched stereotyped view that you write. Linux is very suitable for the desktop, tens of thousands use it everyday.
      You are also confusing FREE as in FREEDOM Homer with FREE as in BEER, Doh !

      • A Freedom of his is also the Freedom of Choice in who he supports. Now, I disagree on the proprietary Adobe Reader, I actually find XPDF or Okular to be much better, but in terms of Codecs, perhaps he feels in his heart that the quality of MPEG outweighs the freedoms of OGG, for example.

    • WOW… so you say that you need to thank Adobe, NVIDIA and ATI for allowing you to use “your” hardware and read “your” documents.. did you take away anything from what you read…

      the entire point was that you are restricted by these companies to do what they not you want… if you created a document and could and sent it to a friend… it would be assumed that you want your friend to read it… you want to maybe pass-on some knowledge.. by you using software intentionally created to hinder the transfer of knowledge unless money is provided then your knowledge and your wishes are being over ridden by those same companies you want to thank….

      by downloading those codecs.. those companies have converted you into a thief… because your FOSS software was not authorized by them to be used as a medium for you to listen or watch your chosen media files.. yet.. your saying they need to be thanked for allowing the creation of those media files that you can’t legally read….

      • I can’t understand how people can be so 1 or 0. There is nothing bad if a company like ATI or NVIDIA decides to have their drivers NOT open source. They are competing selling graphics cards, they need to have some specs undisclosed.

        As for codecs, one has to understand that one share of people decide to try to get their brainshare paid, while others allow it to be free. Problematic is that once a company has built a market share that allows her to push their format into the market, you do not have a valid competition any more. While ideologically, the use of proprietary codecs should be strictly avoided, it is not a practical thing to actually do. So my approach to deal with that is, avoid where I can but have the codecs installed where I cannot do without; ask content provider if a free format is also available where I can (so that the content providers see that there are people outside, who appreciate other formats than e.g. wma and wmv.

        All those “evalgelists” please offer solutions that actually match with reality.

        P.S.: yes I use ogg, I have searched a portable player that supports it, I do without the mp3/wma functionality of ma portable CD player, my compact stereo, my car stereo, my cell phone … but I DO find it annoying that others tell my that I should use and support free formats. My digital camera saves files in .jpg, I am not aware of one that does .png instead (and also .raw is not a solution here).

    • I strongly recommend that you (and some others who have commented) read my second point more closely, and understand that I was lucky enough to catch myself only partially done building my house, and was able to move it to a lot that wouldn’t disrupt the burial ground. Keeping this point in mind, it would have been highly illogical for me to disregard the new information and continue building my house on the tainted site. Accepting vice, and claiming it is necessary or not your fault, is no way to deal with the problems of the underlying foundation.

  9. Great lessons to have learned, and for a youngen (are you 16 or 17?), you write very well and with clean structure and organization.

    This may be one of those articles to save for those days when people ask why I use FLOSS 🙂

  10. Fantastic article! But don’t limit yourself to only free software. I run PCLinuxOS as my primary OS and Windows XP in VirtualBox. It’s the best of both worlds. Flexibility is the true benefit of FOSS.

    I would also encourage everyone to join their local Linux users group. If you do not have one in your community, start one. It’s a great way to get involved in the open source movement.

    And keep writing! You’re on the right path.

    Good work.

  11. I played with the first Linux kernel and was amazed at the speed with which the OS grew. When I started using Linux exclusively, colleagues thought I was crazy, but I was able to do everything they could with Windows, just that and much more.
    Years later when Linux was in the Corporation’s vocabulary, I’d been there years before them.
    Great article and written with great insights. Every advance almost is met by it’s expert detractors, the transistor was of no practical use, Gene Amdahl and company weren’t very bright/didn’t know what they were doing, Linux? – that hacker’s OS?, Linux can never/will never, etc., etc.
    I recently coined a statement – The world is 3D, most people are 1D and the majority of “smart” people are only 2D in outlook and understanding.

    • yawn…

  12. First of all,I will say thank you for your opinion,knowledge and willingness to share.The topic was awesome.I read it throughly.In first paragraph,It does not building any interest.But as I proceed,It motivates and guides me.Most of the time,I do not read these articles.Because I feel that It does not affect any way.But today after reading my article,I felt that I was completely wrong.
    Thanks Buddy.

  13. Very well written and I agree with most of it. BUT Windows is NEVER free un less you steal it! If is came installed on a computer, YOU paid for it in the higher cost to purchase that computer, as the company that sold you that computer passed on the cost of the license fees to you the purchaser.

    The main reason most people end up using propriatory codecs is because of silly, stupid draconian laws like the DMCA here in the US, that prohibit the use of many viable alternatives (by that I mean FOSS codecs that were written to replace proprietary ones).

    • Technically, no, Microsoft Windows is not free of cost (nor free as in freedom). However, due to the license deals that Microsoft cuts with the vendors, I personally have yet to see a case where an OEM computer running Free Software actually costs less than an OEM machine running Microsoft Windows.

      Regardless, the point I was trying to make was that all computers one can purchase in a store (and most of those one can purchase online) come with Microsoft Windows preinstalled, meaning the price is invisible and inevitable to the end users. Even if one purchases a Dell computer running GNU/Linux, indirectly, the company will use those profits to pay for Windows licenses for other computers.

  14. Great article man!
    I just love the way you have managed to express what I feel about free software. I value the ideology behind free software and whereas people will continue to dismiss up as zealous, I shall continue to teach people about free software, after showing them the practical, technical benefits of course.
    It is extremely easy to loose sight of this when everyone wants you to be “more like windows, only without the viruses”. Free software is important and not just in terms of technical merit, we need to have some people fighting for our freedom to do as we wish with _OUR_ data on _OUR_ computers.
    I do not dislike anyone who uses proprietary software, I would just like to be able to buy a computer without microsoft on it and without having to pay for taking it _OF_.

  15. I also agree that it is a very good article. Congratulations. I have started using Linux since 2007. It was a kind of prophetic action to protest against the power of corporations that tries to dominate our lives. And I have never regretted it. I still have a long way to go along the line of FOSS. I am still using skype to communicate with my friends and opera browser, and in my Arch I get the codecs, but for the rest I am fully satisfied with the open source software. And yes, it is due to those great men and women who have turn Linux into such a great OS. So a big thanks goes to them.

  16. very nice post 🙂

  17. Much like the “environmentalists (who) drive hybrid cars” your philosophy is misguided. Hybrid cars over their lifetime are more polluting than similar non-hybrid cars and of course vastly more polluting than purchasing a second hand car. In fact a 5 litre Mercedes S Class causes less pollution over its lifetime than a Toyota Prius due to the formers use of recycled materials. However, a dogmatic philosophy leads environmentalists to achieve less.

    Sadly you are doing the same and missing out on great software that is simply better than the Opensource alternative.

    Like anyone sensible I use the best tools for the situation. For example Photoshop is significantly better than Gimp. Although I do use Open Office, Office 2007 is definitely better, just not for the price.

    Sadly even Linux is lacking in some areas. I decided to make one of my machines a Media centre. Although my Linux knowledge is fairly weak as I only administer a Fedora server and a CentOS server for my company I enlisted the help of my friend who manages linux cluster servers and has been running Debian as his primary desktop and laptop for several years now. We attempted to get Linux running on my Pioneer plasma TV and after several hours of attempting to get X windows to work we gave up and I installed Windows XP. My XP install worked first time without issue.

    So while I had fun learning a bit more about Linux, in the end there appeared to be no examples of anyone using my TV as a media centre on the Net and despite my friends years of Linux experience it took Windows 1 hour to achieve more than Linux could (display anything other than the console on my TV!)

    You also seem to suggest that all companies view “hacking” as voiding of warranties and against the company philosophy. This is simple not true. Take id Software, Valve Soft or Epic where “hacking” of Quake, Half-life and Unreal is not frowned upon, but in fact actively encouraged, actually you might argue they bend over backwards to enable easy “hacking”.

    The ability to access core code is not always helpful as you might suggest. For example I was debugging an issue in SugarCrm. I found a major bug in the software, it was so significant that when I could find no mention of it anywhere on the forums I thought it must be data specific. I debugged the behaviour, it traversed through some really badly written javascript which used single letter variable names, which did not help matters, this then called various sections of Php running approproximately 380 SQL queries. I found what I believed to be the root cause of the problem, but I feared that as it was so deep in the Php that without significant testing I could do more harm than good. After 3 patches the SugarCrm team fixed this major bug. Personally if my company released software with that bug in the first place we would be fairly embarrassed and would have released a patch fixing it within a week. But then again people are paying for our software where as SugarCrm was free.

    Now despite knowing Php, Javascript and SQL I could not realistically fix my issue (I could not divert my time away from my other projects to realistically test a potential solution). Now if a similar issue is encountered in software it does not matter for most people if the source is open or closed, as they cannot fix it either way, and require a more knowledgeable person to fix it. Luckily with major vendors those fixes come a long quickly or people move on to the other vendor.

    Open source has its uses, but Linux simply cannot do everything I want therefore I use Linux and Windows.

    So I agree with your principle statement that “The strongest approach is a philosophical approach”, my philosophy being that the software I use has to be the most efficient use of my available resources, rather than your dogmatic free for the sake of it.

    • Funny I just had the reverse experience. My nephew has an old laptop and the hard drive died. Back in 2004, he paid $3,000 dollars for it and it is still in beautiful shape. So he bought a new drive for it and proceeded to reinstall xp, because Vista and Win 7 will never run on it.

      Tracking down drivers was a pain in the butt. ATI no longer supports drivers for his video card for XP and the new realtek wireless driver doesn’t work, the old one is unavailable. We spent 2 days trying to figure out the driver issue. We finally downloaded a driver from one of the dicey driver sites, and after clicking through a dozen pages of a consumer registration, the driver turned out to be adware. Was even worse luck with the wireless driver.
      He decided to download a trial version of Windows 7 and though we had to jump around hoops to get the video working, we still couldn’t get the wireless working.
      Finally I just gave up and I said, “let’s try Ubuntu.” To our surprise everything just worked. No hunting down drivers. The wireless and video card work flawlessly. Was even able to activate 3d effects and wobbly windows (he’s into that kind of thing). His scanner and printer work flawlessly with out having to download a driver.
      So now there is a new Ubuntu evangelist in the world.
      I understand that sometimes, the choice to use FOSS is inconvenient, and you sometimes have little choice but to use locked-in software. I’m completely on FOSS for all my day to day computing and most of my work. But sadly, I still have to fire up Windows 7 because I’m a graphic artist and I need to use Zbrush, and photoshop CS4.
      But the goal behind freedom granted by FOSS is worth striving for. FOSS is paving the way for one to own the hardware they use and to have the freedom to use it the way they want, for as long as they want.

  18. gud luck for your free product..

  19. i love free software 😀

  20. I’m a software developer. Linux is my operating system of choice. Freedom of access to source, and algorithmic logic is crucial in continued learning. Open source software has its place, and I agree with you in relation to the culmination of continued idea making.

    Even so, computing has shown us that efficiency, and ease of use is also crucial. Linux presents an excellent operating system experience for the savvy. To non technical people (CEO, CFO, and nominal staffing) learning curves are completely undesired. I know that my employer would rather pay money for simplicity, then deal with operating system “qualms”.

    The majority of today’s business generation does not understand, nor want to understand the topic of “Open Source”, and as such, never will. The next business generation is apart of the Internet gen, to which proprietary software is slowly phasing out.

    I don’t know about you guys, but I believe that complaining about proprietary idealism is counterproductive in itself, why not just let nature take its course?

  21. someone explain me how companies who make free as no cost software FOR LINUX make me a thief and restrict my freedom. I don’t feel my freedoms are being restricted with flash and similar stuff.

    I feel my freedoms being restricted by fanatic GNU zealot nerds who are saying, for instance, that we should use gnash that doesn’t work instead of flash. I feel restricted when i can’t do something on my computer, or, even better when i can’t run some software because someone has changed kernel and libraries over and over again, without any backwards compatibility.

    instead, companies like Adobe, NVIDA and AMD/ATI are expanding the linux user base, and yes we should thank them for making software for this, still largely unsupported platform.

    instead of attacking me and saying that i “miss the point” you better think about what you are writing.
    Instead of preaching, you better get real, and ask people who has 20 years into computing (like myself), what is real freedom?

    by the way, do you have 20 years at all?

    • Yes, I have four years less life experience than you have computing experience. Maybe those added years transfer to close-mindedness.

      First of all, I am talking about the freedom to control my own computing platform. When I choose to use Free Software, I choose to have complete control over my software platform.

      Nobody can force you to use Free Software. Therefore, choosing to use exclusively Free Software does not limit your freedom. You still have every right to use proprietary software, even if you choose not to. The ability to choose is significantly more important than actually choosing process itself.

      Sometimes, to aid in achieving one’s philosophies, one has to sacrifice using the best tool for the job. People, especially traditionalists, find this very difficult to wrap their minds around, but once they manage to do so, they will experience true freedom.

  22. I have to say that this is one of the best pieces of writing I have encountered in quite a long time. For quite some time, I have stood back and watched the Open Source movement and Free Software movement espouse their ideologies and beliefs. Yet for some reason, they just couldn’t realize or understand that they are essentially wanting the same thing; to be able to use computers the way they want to, not the way the corporations want them to (like Apple for instance). When it comes to liberation of computer software and hardware, people often do not think about it, and to see a high school student such as yourself writing about software that is liberated from the control of corporations who are afraid of sharing information and liberating to those who use it to its fullest potential, I see nothing but hope for the future, for if you are talking about such things, you are probably not the only one who has such thinking. I have a proposition for you that you might find interesting. Since you use WordPress, you’ll already have my e-mail address. Feel free to contact me at that address, and thank you for the inspiring words.

  23. I like this article, it’s well writen and has a friendly tone. Keep up the good work 🙂

  24. People keep talking about codecs being non-free, so I think I should probably clear a few things up.

    There are Free Software implementations of most of the major media formats. Mp3, Quicktime, etc. all have free software libraries to support them. The problem with using these codecs is the same as using Mono: they are protected by various patents, which could be used to hold users of this software accountable at any time.

    Formats like wma and wave are common misconceptions. Just because they have the name “Microsoft” in them does not mean that they are non-free. In fact, in terms of patents, they are more free than Mp3 and Quicktime.

    DRM is the major issue in terms of Free Software. There is no even semi-legal way to make a Free Software player for DRM’ed content. Even still, some (illegal) libraries, such as libdvdcss2, are Free Software.

    I personally use Ogg for all of my audio because it is patent free, and companies do not have to pay for a license to produce it because of this. In this sense, it is much more free as in freedom.

  25. […] Five things Free Software has taught me I’ve been in Free Software for a few years now and learned a ton from it.  Sure, I learned how to use new types […] […]

  26. I happened across this article via Linux Forum news letter. Gee whiz, I must commend you on wisdom beyond your youth and experience. Very nicely said.

    Although, I would personally not vote for Ralph, albeit in my youth and inexperience I would have, I agree that even he has ideas that bear merit. I once attended a speech he gave, part of the University of Montana symposium series, in which he stated “Having a television is like having an open sewer in your living room.” To which, as a member of a faith that eschews not only alcohol and tobacco, but also television, I could only respond…Amen. He also voiced some very conservative family views.

    But I diverge. Anyway, again I applaud your vision. As a man on the other side of life’s summit, I commend you for your vision.

    Signed, a Linux usr since 1992,

  27. Great post. It motivates the good!

  28. I completely agree with you, but you are not alone in thinking that software should be free.

    Check out this website and the reason why this company is giving away free software to the masses.

    [Link removed – let’s not promote proprietary software here!]

    Keep posting!

    • BeBob, You are missing the point. Ssuitesoft is given away for free, but it is not free. It is still proprietary software. You have no rights and no freedoms. There is a huge difference between freeware and software that is free.

      Re-read Stallman’s four tenets of free software.

      (freedom 0) The freedom to run the program, for any purpose .

      (freedom 1) The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish . Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

      (freedom 2) The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor .

      (freedom 3) The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits . Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

      Ssuitesoft provides none of these freedoms.

      It is OK to sell “free” software for a profit and the GPL makes no mention of how much you can charge for it. It can be one penny or a billion dollars.

      required reading:

  29. Nice article, thanx 😉

  30. Simple AWESOME !!!!!!!!!

  31. Great job in expressing very valuable concepts that many just don’t get. It is not just about $$$ but also the freedom to develop in a flexible agile manner.

  32. Good Afternoon:

    Thank you for a great post on Free Software — the best I’ve read in quite a while (and I read *a lot* of Linux and FOSS-related news items as part of my research for my Loads of Linux Links site, a GPL’d database and software to generate a website with 4000+ subject-classified and searchable Linux links for all levels of Linux users.

    I have added you essay to my site under Advocacy and Linux General. I have given it a *cool* (thumbs-up icon) rating.

    All the best in 2010.


  33. GOOD JUB!!! i think you are so right!

  34. […] Five things Free Software has taught me […]

  35. […] was just reading this inspiring article called Five things Free Software taught me. One of the things that stuck with me is the idea that knowledge tends to spread, beyond any […]

  36. […] Categorías:Comunicación, Política, Sociología, Sociología de la cultura Etiquetas:sociedad […]

  37. Thanks for all your words are sincerely true, I learned something extra for free software: everyone is free to do whatever they want, and can comfortably live with them respecting the decisions of their choice (even if not successful) with a little more time I learned that many find hard to accept the peace you get in our life and career using free software.

  38. Nice and wonderful blog! Keep up the posting…

  39. Great opinion.. keep posting friend..

  40. Your blog is simply awesome…..

  41. I agree with your blog and would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Open Source movement.

    R (the statistics environment) is an outstanding example of Open Source success because of its versatility. It is written by statisticians from many Universities and countries, with thousands of extension packages contributed by users. It means that scientists from all over the world have access to the best statistical software free of charge. It is also of use to engineers, students, mathematicians and financiers, and many business opportunities have been created to provide R training or commercial support for R.

    However, in the area of office suites, I think we are trying to produce too many competing programs and it would be more efficient to spend that time and energy on taking the best program forward. We must work with a common purpose rather than trying to support our pet programs.

  42. I’m reposting your this piece on my blog at of course with full credits to you.

  43. I agree. Your articles worth re-publishing, with full rights of course.

  44. Those of you who think that Linux is too complicated and only for geeks, haven’t seen Linux in a long time.
    I took a cheap sony viao and installed Edubuntu on it and gave it to my 4-year old daughter, not knowing what to expect. I added bookmarks in Firefox to popular children sites like,, and noggin. I also added a few desktop links to programs I thought she would like, like gcompris, and tuxpaint. Incredibly, in no time at all, she is using programs that are not desktop and figuring them out. And she surfs to her favorite websites and has her youtube videos she likes (I taught her how to bookmark her youtube videos).
    She has learned to download the pictures from her playskool camera and put them into her pictures folder! She has done dozens of digital paintings using tuxpaint and she learned how to save them and show them to people on her own!
    When we go on vacation, she brings her laptop and her favorite DVDs (I installed VLC and libdvdcss2 codecs for her) and can play them herself without any help or supervision from me! Did I tell you she just turned 4!!!

    Best thing is that since she is using linux, I’m not worrying about her laptop catching viruses nor am I worried that she will screw something up. That is something I couldn’t imagine with Windows. Maybe possible with OSX. But many people forget that OSX is built on FOSS. (FreeBSD)

    I couldn’t be happier, thanks to FOSS.

    BTW, Did I mention that my daughter is only 4!

  45. Sparkling gems of logic bourne out in this writing. Enjoyed it very much, and is why I switched to Linux a year and half ago, as just a newbie user… One of the main reasons I switched is that I was looking to align my all-too-right-brained-self with the more flexible minds in the world, and your writing gives me precisely that ! Many thanks to all in Linux. It’s been really amazing to be around you all.

  46. Giga Pulsa adalah penyedia jasa isi ulang pulsa elektronik GSM & CDMA atau yang sering disebut (all operator), dimana anda hanya membutuhkan 1 nomor yang didaftar di system kami (setelah itu disebut chip) maka nomor anda sudah bisa mengisi nomor dari provider manapun (setelah anda melakukan deposit untuk chip anda). Sistem yang kami gunakan di Giga Pulsa adalah sebuah sistem isi ulang pulsa elektronik terpadu. Artinya dengan bergabung bersama kami, anda berkesempatan menggunakan sebuah sistem yang didesain dengan sangat kompak (user friendly). Apapun jenis kebutuhan isi ulang produk seluler prabayar anda saat ini, telah kami sediakan solusinya. Baik itu untuk memenuhi kebutuhan anda dan keluarga, sahabat dan relasi anda, usaha sampingan berupa retail kecil-kecilan, bahkan bila anda adalah dealer dengan banyak agen yang menekuni bisnis ini secara serius.

  47. nice info..

    thanks for share this.

  48. nice article, glad to able to visit your blog. I have been looking for useful information like this. I wait for other useful information.

  49. Nice Post, i like the article in your blog…
    i will visit this blog more often…
    Nice info in there…

    specially about
    Five things Free Software has taught me


  50. “If we both have an apple, and we exchange apples, we each still have one apple. But, if we each have an idea and exchange those, each of us has two ideas.”

    I never heard this saying before and love it the minute i read it. It’s very well put. I cannot more agree.

  51. thanks for sharing, very interesting information ..

  52. Best Core Processor i love that . Thank for sharing

  53. i got this link from someoene in our FOSS mailing list. now I am doind some workshops on FOSS in Education and Elearning. I have compiled some case studies and i have icluded your material. Thank you in advance . I am in Chimoio, Mozambique. Please do keep me update of anything of interest, you may want to share

    campira mulauzi

  54. So are you still in high school?
    What will happen when you finish high school? Move to a blog named: A College’s Student views on Software Freedom?
    Then what about after college?

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