...or why Linux and Open Source Software in general are a Good Thing™
I think the preamble to the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation pretty much sums up the spirit of Free Software. Here is that preamble:
The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software--to make sure the software is free for all its users. This General Public License applies to most of the Free Software Foundation's software and to any other program whose authors commit to using it. (Some other Free Software Foundation software is covered by the GNU Library General Public License instead.) You can apply it to your programs, too.
When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.
To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.
For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.
We protect your rights with two steps: (1) copyright the software, and (2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission to copy, distribute and/or modify the software.
Also, for each author's protection and ours, we want to make certain that everyone understands that there is no warranty for this free software. If the software is modified by someone else and passed on, we want its recipients to know that what they have is not the original, so that any problems introduced by others will not reflect on the original authors' reputations.
Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.
So, by using Free Software, you are ensuring your ability to use the software with no strings attached other than the obligation to release the source code and assert the original author's copyright if you release a modified version of the software. The average end user is not going to be modifying anything, and can use the software as (s)he wishes. You will not be wasting time and money making sure all your software licenses are paid for. You will not have thugs from the BSA (Business Software Alliance) breathing down your neck every minute of the day. You will not be producing documents in a proprietary format exploitable 100% only by users of the proprietary software which generated it. You will be able to get on with the task at hand using tools which are not going to disappear from the market.
Those of you who are as yet unwilling to switch your PC to Linux can still use Free Software. A repository of such Free Software for Microsoft® Windows™ which comes immediately to mind is TheOpenCD project. You must ALWAYS bear in mind, however, that you will not be using an entirely Free Software system as long as you're using a proprietary operating system intended solely to "relieve" you of some hard earned cash and to restrict what your computer can do to what the vendor of that operating system thinks is suitable (see Ross Anderson's FAQ on the TCPA).
So far, I have written three main advocacy documents.
The first one is a FAQ for Windows users which, as its name suggests, is designed to cover the questions often asked by Windows users who are interested in switching over to Free Software but who may be afraid of the unfamiliar environment provided by Linux.
The second, although originally written for the French Linux User Group I co-founded, still contains information pertinent to sufferers of Windows the world over. This Why Linux? document is intended to be more hard-hitting, exposing the chronic shortcomings of the commercial, closed, proprietary software model.
The third document is basically a rant against people sending me MS-Office documents, but rather than stopping at the rant, it tries to explain why I'm ranting about this nuisance and what can be done to make Free circulation of information easier.
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