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I just want some freedom

Ex Linux User & Developer editor, Simon Brew, ponders just what kind of definition of free is preferable where software is concerned…

Installing a piece of software recently, the set-up process invited me to become part of some customer improvement programme or other. I’ve no urge to do unpaid work on behalf of big software companies, so I looked to politely decline the offer. Yet in that marvellous way that dialog boxes tend to do, it actually gave me two choices: I could either help, or I could join the programme later. Friends, I looked at every corner of the screen, and the option to say ‘get stuffed’ was nowhere to be found.

This, for me, all ties in to definitions of free. Free software that doesn’t damage my pocket in any way, shape or form is a splendid invention, particularly in the climate that we now find ourselves in. However, there’s also a freedom from the cumbersome tat that more and more frequently is being tacked on to software. I’m thus free from having to type in a 32-digit code simply for wanting to use the software that I’ve legally bought. I’m free from having to connect to a server on the other side of the planet, and being at its whims as to whether I’m allowed to use my purchase or not. I’m free from pop-up windows, nagware, from software that prevents me using it because I didn’t give its publisher my name and address on a registration form.

These, for me, are the frees that money simply can’t buy. I don’t remember back, tinkering in the days of the 8-bit machines, that the world was so draconian. The irony, of course, is that as more and more people have made serious money off computer status, so more and more gets spent on making sure that can continue. Never mind it was the free status of the market in the first place that gave proprietary tools the chance to thrive. The hand that fed them was being bitten not long after the first million rolled into the bank.

As a consumer, I’ve never really minded paying for software, and while I’m far from made of money, the free that interests me the most where open source software is concerned is the kind that lets me use said programs for what I want, without the fussiness and demands of a publisher on the other side of the planet getting in my way. Bluntly, I’d rather commercial publishers just said thanks and went on their way, rather than filling my in-box with junk.

To those, therefore, who work away on open source software: my thanks. Because even though the comments on message boards and suchlike may kid you otherwise, your work is appreciated. And your ethos most certainly is too…

Simon Brew
A former editor of Linux User & Developer, he spends his time moving between Windows, Mac OS and Linux. His desk also needs a thorough tidy-up.

This article first appeared in issue 82 of Linux User & Developer and is available online here.