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Why Free Software Is Important

Free Software - as defined by the  Free Software Foundation  -  is better than proprietary software because free software is morally superior to proprietary software.

All the other reasons - mostly of a technical nature - that people give in support of free software are really secondary to this. What is important about free software is that it empowers people, and is based upon reason in its application; what is important about proprietary software is that it is restrictive, and against reason in its application.

Free software empowers in three ways, just as proprietary software is restrictive in these three same ways. The empowerment that free software gives is: (1) the ability to interact effectively with the system (the computer) - that is, to understand the system because all the user-type software (programmes/utilities) are transparent in organization and can be changed by the user; (2) the ability to empower and educate others by sharing the software with others; and (3) the ability to change the basic operating software itself in any way necessary or desired because the source code is available and has no restrictions concerning alterations.

Since GNU/Linux seems to be in danger of being developed in the same way as proprietary systems - by business ventures more concerned with the success of their product by 'users' than by empowerment and freedom - I personally believe that the development and success of the GNU/Hurd Operating System is of vital importance to the future of computing as we understand computing today - based as present computing is upon digital electronics. Digital computers require an Operating System of the kind that has been developed - a command-line interface which enables us to alter the basic code which makes the various components work together. Only systems like GNU/Linux and GNU/Hurd fully exploit the features of these computers and empower the individual or individuals using them as well as those writing programmes for them.  They may be said to be reasonable operating systems, as against the unreasonable operating systems which are also in use.

We should be encouraging more people to understand computers and interact with them rather than trying to make the software easier to use and still restrictive. Proprietary software is driven not only by the desire to make a profit but also by marketing - or more correctly, by propaganda. The whole ethos, the spirit, behind such proprietary software is different from that behind free software. Proprietary software has created the concept - the marketing idea - of what may be called the 'servant user'. The machine here is seen as just another tool to be mass produced, with the software just another tool to be used by the servant user to get the machine to do a particular job done in the easiest way. Productivity and profit before understanding and empowerment.

So it is that the proprietary software which is developed is for these servant users - and positively discourages tinkering and  'tampering' (looking at the source code) in order to understand what is going in the machine they are using.

There is no attempt to educate individuals to understand and fix their machines, except for the type of education that enables an elite of 'enlightened individuals', trained or certified by the big proprietary concerns, to attempt to fix things when things go wrong. The servant user really is at the mercy of the marketing of such proprietary concerns, and even has to pay for the 'right' to use the proprietary tool on another machine, for the company owns such 'rights', with such 'ownership' itself being fundamentally anti-social and plainly against all reason.

In contrast, free software is an expression of a different philosophy of living. And this philosophy is not fundamentally political  - rather, it is a way of viewing the world; an answer to the question about the very meaning and purpose of our lives.

Free software is an expression of the quest for understanding and a belief in empowerment through freedom and reason, and the differences between the underlying philosophy of free software, and that behind proprietary corporations with their servant software is startlingly shown in the Internet - in what it was, what it is now becoming, and what it could or rather should be.

In essence, the underlying technology of the Net is based upon free software  - not on proprietary software; not on restrictive license agreements, and not on restrictive patents. The very idea of the Net is based upon the ideas underlying free software - the free flow of information with no one or two big companies being in control and regulating the type of data which flows or which can flow. That is, there is a real empowerment of the individual here - a working toward freedom through the development and sharing of ideas, technology and software.

Not many years ago, big proprietary companies like Microsoft mostly ignored the Net. Then they and others like them saw its economic potential - that is, they viewed it as a business opportunity. So they developed software for it - their usual restrictive servant software with applications such as the "all-singing, all-dancing" bloated browser - and this in itself led to the rapid use of the Net by individuals and business. So it is that today we have a Net with a predominance of badly-designed sites with unnecessary animations, java applets and other rubbish whose mostly poorly informed creators (and users) use servant software because "it works". For if they were informed - educated about computers - they would know and care about such software as lynx. Pure information exchange (and meaningful content) now comes third after business and entertainment, whereas before it was the raison d'être of the Net.

And lynx itself is a good illustration of my point: most  information-based and meaningful-content sites can be accessed by this browser, while most business and entertainment sites cannot.

In essence, free software gives us the chance to choose between two very different philosophies, and in the final analysis which we choose is up to us, on how we ourselves view the world we live in, and the technology, such as the computer and the Net, which has the potential to change our world. How the world is changed by these things very much depends on the choice that we make.

JD 2451534.2542

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