Top 10 Benefits of Using Free SoftwareDecember 8, 2011 | Shahzad Saeed
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. --Lao Tzu
We are living in a world which encourages a culture of proprietary software. Most of us have always used only proprietary software on our computers. Our children are being taught to use it, too, but they are partially or completely unaware of free software and the benefits it provides.
Educating students signifies a major revenue source for some of the proprietary software vendors. In addition, it is a huge opportunity for these vendors to acquaint future adults with their product and keep their dominance forever. They spend huge amounts of money on marketing to acquire the support of educational departments. As an open source enthusiast, I believe proprietary software is incompatible with education because users are just inert consumers and are legally restricted from examining its source code. Education using computers should be free. It should not be an opportunity for corporations to ensure their software monopoly.
I am not forgetting the fact that proprietary software is sometimes powerful and reliable. However, it does not respect the users' freedom. Software can be said to serve its users only if it respects their freedom. But designers have been known to add malicious features that spy on users, restrict their use, force them to accept upgrades, etc. Moreover, some states in the U.S. even boast that they cooperate with proprietary software vendors like Microsoft by accepting freebies with or without understanding the harmful effects of using proprietary software in society.
No Corporate Obligations
On the other hand, free software is a gateway for students to explore and learn. This article is dedicated to those people who are not aware of the benefits of using free software.
1) Available at minimal cost
Free software does not mean zero cost software. It is true that most current open source projects are available for free of cost, which leads ambiguity around the commonly used term "free software." So the common saying is, "Think free as in free speech (freedom) and not free as in free beer (zero cost)." Free software lowers the production cost. Making a system like MS-Windows costs millions of dollars. But if you produce the same kind of system using a free POSIX version, it would probably cost less than a hundred dollars.
2) Provides full freedom
Originally, computer manufacturers aimed only for hardware innovation and didn't consider software as a business asset. This is because most computer users were scientists and technicians who could modify the software themselves, so hardware was distributed with the software pre-installed. Later, high level programming languages were introduced which were compatible for almost every kind of computer. That meant even less efficient hardware design could be made to work better. This led to a decline in profit margin for hardware manufacturers who led design innovations and considered hardware as their only business assets. They had to start treating software as an essential part of their hardware sales, enforcing strict copyright policies. This led to the rise of proprietary software.
Richard Stallman once said:
"The first step in using a computer was to promise not to help your neighbor. A cooperating community was forbidden. The rule made by the owners of proprietary software was, 'If you share with your neighbor, you are a pirate. If you want any changes, beg us to make them.'"
Free software gives users the freedom to study how the program works by accessing the source code, writing additional code, testing, modifying and distributing it. These things are prohibited for proprietary software.
3) No imposed upgrades
Free software never disappears like proprietary. If proprietary vendors stop supporting a product, users have two options: either use an unsupported version of the software, or go for an (unwanted) upgrade. Imposed upgrading never happens for free software. For example when RedHat decided to stop supporting their RedHat Linux 7, 8, and 9, various other companies came forward to support them.
4) No spying on users
If users have no control over the software they are using, it can easily spy on their activity. The company behind proprietary software often installs features that restrict users from sharing it with others. Since anyone who buys proprietary software must sign a licensing agreement before using it, they are agreeing that the vendor has the right to inspect hard drive content without warning. This violates our privacy because our computers hold our personal information and daily activities.
When closed-source software manufacturers claim that they made improvements in the program, improved security and restricted backdoors, users are forced to believe it. Since the source code is not provided, there is no evidence for such claims.
6) Provides better security
It is a commonly known fact that proprietary software threatens users' security. There is a long history of security vulnerabilities. Proprietary software doesn't necessarily stop the spreading of viruses and letting hackers to take over people's computers for sending spam. Because the software is secret, all users are dependent on the corporation to fix these kinds of problems.
7) No monopolies
It is easier and cheaper to switch from one free software to another compared to switching proprietary software. Free software does not tie you down to any corporation.
8) Truly user-oriented
One of proprietary software's major claims is that free software is not user-oriented. A proprietary vendor used to listen to its customers' needs and respond and develop accordingly. But companies like Red Hat and IBM are crafting strategies that rely on all end users having the same needs.
9) No lock-in standards
Proprietary vendors lock-in proprietary standards to ensure that their users will become returning customers. Free software works in open standards.
10) Part of social movement
Free software is not just for the individual user's sake. It promotes social solidarity and represents society as a whole through sharing and cooperation. Since our activities are progressively digitized, free software is becoming an even more essential part of our culture and life activities.
Let's put our hands together and take a pledge for a better world by using free software. Spread the idea of freedom. A funny quote comes to mind: "Software is like sex, it is better when it is free."