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We want our freedom!

We're celebrating the impending release of issue 100 this week. Kicking off the celebration is previous Linux User editor, Simon Brew who says we shouldn’t be afraid of opening our wallet for open source, but we should fight hammer and tongs to ensure freedom is kept at its core...

Celebrating 100 issues of Linux User!

It was my honour to edit this very magazine a few years back, and it’s continually an eye-opener to see how much things have evolved in just that short space of time since I relinquished the reins. That’s the magic of open source. The barriers are down, the brains are activated and the software tends to be riskier as a result. I, for one, say long may that continue.

If you go and buy an MP3 file from the HMV website, it’ll generally cost you around 79p for a track. That’s a great price, especially for those who were paying more than that to buy 7-inch singles back in the 1980s. We went through CD singles at £3.99, and finally technology met price met supply, and 79p turned out to be
a welcome central point. It’s a fair price, which passes on the
benefits of a digital delivery system.

And personally, I have no problem in paying people for good work. If someone has put together a song that I like, I have no inherent right to have that for free. If they want to give it to me for free, I’m not going to say no to that. But often, with Linux, the whole ‘free’ issue gets a little clouded for me. I know this is banging a well-beaten drum, but it’s the freedom aspect of free that interests me more. Heck, I’d have no trouble handing over £20-30 for something as useful as LibreOffice, and the open source community works on the honour system to facilitate that.

Freedom, ironically, is ultimately what’s missing from what HMV has to offer. Just to buy one song, to download to one computer, requires that you accept the terms and conditions that the firm sets down. These aren’t negotiable, of course. It’s a take it or leave it deal. The word count of these terms and conditions? A mere 5,497. It would not be an unfair conclusion to suggest that most of those terms and conditions are not about protecting the end consumer. It’s HMV’s ass that’s being covered. It’s not alone, of course, it just happens to be the case at hand. I do wonder, and I’m no lawyer, how many of these T&Cs would stand up were they tested in the highest court, but maybe that’s a question for another time.

Instead, I want to go back to the donation system. The open source community, even in its definition of donation, is relaxed. You are invited to donate time, to donate talent and to donate cash. It’s hard to find an entry point on a project, to be fair, and in my experience it’s a small core of people who drive most individual projects in life. If you’re outside that core, it can sometimes be hard to get in.

But then there’s a cash option, and I do wonder at a consumer level whether Linux should at least be a little more brash in asking for financial support. Because, let’s face it, you can equip a brand new PC with all the software it needs for nothing. Zilch. It’s a deal that’s too good to be true in many ways, but in this case, there’s not really a catch. I also appreciate that people don’t get involved in open source for financial reward.

Yet as I look back over the developments of the open source community in the 100 issues that Linux User has been in business, I do think that the ‘free’ that’s most worth protecting, above all, is freedom. Freedom, for me, beats free every time. I’m greatly enjoying the benefits of having the best of both, and I type this using a fully-featured LibreOffice suite that’s cost nothing to install. But in another 100 issues’ time? I just think that open source doesn’t need to be shy about financially rewarding, to a small degree, some of the geniuses that make this community just what it is. Just a thought. I’ll go and put my flame jacket on, now…