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Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Free Software is a Fad

Categories: [ IT ]

I started to use free software in 1996 (or was it 97?), with Slackware 3.0. The first reason why I decided to learn Linux is because Unix systems were the ones used by real coders. Windows already looked too much like a toy, had the bad reputation of a shaky house built over the sand of MS-DOS. And also because it was cool (from a geek's perspective, of course). The reason why I continued to use free software was that even though free software is free as in “free speech”, it is also free as in “free beer”. There were software filling my needs, and I adapted the topic of my free-time projects to what was available on Linux. For example, I could have continued to play aimlessly with SoundForge in Windows, but coding an IRC bot in Perl on Linux was more appealing. It was a creative process, the creation of somethat that acts (if only by reflex), on the contrary of something you contemplate with more or less awe (like music or a painting). And also, the IRC bot was working on my behalf, providing a service.

I had a long discussion with two colleagues the other morning, who claimed that Free Software is a fad. I didn't agree with them at first, thinking about the origins of the free software movement, but after reflection I have to admit that in the last five years it actually has turned into a fad. Not a passing fad like clothing fashion (although the pointy shoe fashion could have changed more quickly for my taste), but in the sense of something that a lot of people use, and who use it because everybody else is also using it. The reason for this is that free software is free (as in “free beer”) and people are more often than not choosing something free over something they have to pay for. The average software user doesn't care whether he has the right to modify software or not. He's a user, not a developer, and he doesn't know how to use this right. I guess plenty of users still use warez software or free (as in “beer”) proprietary software instead of free software, because warez doesn't cost more than free software (at lease from the point of view of money). In some cases, one free (as in “speech”) software can drive the fad. This is the case of Firefox I guess, which was in its time technically superior to Internet Explorer (it respected the standards of the Web and had popup and ad blockers). And I wouldn't be surprised that Firefox has been the main driving force behind the free software fad.

To be continued.

[ Posted on October 22nd, 2008 at 22:32 | no comment | ]

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