Free Software is software that respects the user’s freedom
$ free 🤔?
To someone who is not a programmer, this sounds totally absurd.
What the heck is freedom? that these people keep talking about? I thought it meant software — that was free of charge. Respects the user from what? Bullying? Ads? Time? I have no clue what you’re talking about.
But to a GNU/Linux nerd this perfectly makes sense 👨💻
Huh? Let me explain 👀
This is your 💻
It can do all sorts of cool stuff, browsing the internet for dank memes, you can use it to make art, to write a blog post like this one, watching videos, storing photos & other precious memories. The possibilities are endless! The same computer ages ago was techincally powerful enough to send humans to the moon. All of these computers share a common component - a chip, specifically special electronic chips called processors powered by electricity.
A phone 📱 is also a 💻 computer
A phone can also do all of the same stuff, albeit on a smaller screen and at a slower pace. Because it’s powered by a ‘processor’ & works the same way with electricity. This is called a universal computer.
Of course humans can not understand the electric signals ⚡ and we ought to communicate naturally using words and simple phrases ever since we were babies. A computer is a non living thing, a tool for us to use for our needs and benefits. It can not grow or divide into cells like living bacteria. It always does the job you give it and has no intuition of its own.
In the 1940s people wrote — programs (instructions) written in English that made the apps you use work. Computers translate these long lines of instructions into electric signals in the form of 1s and 0s and other yada yada that you can read here so that the the computer gives us the desired result.
The only job of the computer is to take a program & run it as it is
If we know what the computer does we can predict what it’ll do. The computer can not be picky, or have a mind of its own. Nor can it decide if it’s going to harm the user or help the user, it does what is told. A computer does not have life or a conscience of its own.
What if this code was used to detonate a bomb?
The computer will run the code, and trigger the bomb 💣
Use your camera to spy on you?
Zoom, Google Meet & other such software are tools used against you.
Delete your files?
Including all your photos, music & movies that you got via Netflix, Spotify & iTunes? Remotely delete your apps like the case where Apple removed Fortnite from the AppStore?
A computer is not to blame, it simply did what it was told
But wait? Who gave the computer the instructions?
Ah yes, the programmer!👨💻
Did you get what I’m trying to tell? the programmer through their software has an unjust power over your computer and effectively your digital / personal life.
Often it isn’t one programmer but large companies that trap you into running their non-free software. We don’t have time to check for all the non-free software each time the programs run. So we don’t actually know what it is doing, and don’t have the ability to change it to our needs. This is totally unfair!
So how do we have control over our computers?
Why can’t I know what the program does?
We aren’t computers and can’t understand the 1s and 0s nor do we have time to reverse engineer things. So we ask for the source code for the software we use. The english text for the 1s and 0s. We can then remove the parts that harm our goals and do our computing as we wish. This is how we have control over our computers and not the other way round
This is software that respects the user
Interesting ideas include - removing spyware from a program, add new features, change the theme, translating it to help other people, debloating, reviving old games making the things run faster and so on. ✨
What if the programmer does not give you the source code?
You are left vulnerable.. it’s like playing Russian Roulette every time you run your computer, because you don’t know what the billions of 1s and 0s are doing 😵💫 when it’s opening Chrome or Zoom. It may be spying on your computer, selling your data and you do not have the freedom to even remove it or verify their so called claims that it is ‘spyware free’. They didn’t even give you the source code to start with!
This way the programmer, often huge groups of programmer teams have control over your computer with their non-free proprietary software
Popular companies that do this are Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and literally any company that does not legally license their software to provide source code and other freedoms to their beloved users have control over the users.
Wait so this means I don’t actually own my computer?
Windows, MacOS, iOS, and many many Operating Systems today are mediums of unjust power over users
It does not mean they have to remain evil. These companies can stand-up and move on from their old ways and start proving their ’not-spying’,‘secure’ or ‘malware-free’ claims by providing the source code and other freedoms.
What are these other freedoms?
Source code - freedom to run the program in any way you wish and permission to redistribute copies are 2 of the freedoms which give you personal control over the program but we aren’t all programmers so therefore we need collective control over the program that’s where the next 2 freedoms come into play.
A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms.
The four essential freedoms
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
In true programming fashion - we start counting from 0 instead of 1
You deserve freedom too
Not everyone knows how to drive, but the roads are indirectly used when you sit in a bus or walk on the road. These days everyone uses computers and software on the computer
And by using free-software you can exercise those rights. Everyone uses freedom number 0. Demand freedom and you will get it. Reject proprietary non-free software and the market will follow.
P.S. You can help in the development of free software in other ways too, writing documentation, art, hosting events or hire someone to do it for you.
Either the user controls the program or the program controls the user
Isn’t this opensource? ❌
Open-source quite simply means software which has it’s source available for people to read. It does not guarantee anything. The developer can still use it spy on you and legally prevent anyone from making changes to the software, preventing distribution of copies that you bought. It is a diluted term often used to misrepresent the goals of free software.
There are some open-source licences that offer a bit more freedom.
Here’s a great article to read why opensource isn’t going to save you.
Free? Does that mean I can’t sell my software?
- Free(dom) not about free of cost.
You can sell your software for any amount. For example take the example of Elementary OS, Ardour or get money by hosting the free software as a service. The important thing to note is when you ‘sell’ software the person who gets the code is able to ‘own the software’. Unlike proprietary services like the Adobe Creative suite, Discord or other things. Discord is sold too, for 0 charge in this case but the con is - it prevents the user from changing the software as per your needs.
This practically means you never ‘owned’ the software you bought. It’s like buying paper from a bookstore and you can’t write on it because the license says you are not allowed to. Like buying a book that you can’t re-sell it again
Ringing any bells? Spotify, Netflix, ebook readers like Amazon Kindle are prime examples of this kind of injustice.
Watch my video on DRM
Software designed to self destruct. 💣
Apple and Microsoft stop updates after the support cycle is over
If it were free software users could have patched the code against security threats or hardened the OS to minimize the risk of getting malware after 5 years after the last update and redistribute their changes if they wished. Squash em’ bugs! too🐞
Want an insane example? Life or Death 🫀
Read this article about this woman running a pacemaker in her heart. It literally controls her life. If the software in the pacemaker doesn’t work or stopped working, she loses her life. The company behind the pacemaker did not agree to give her the source code and freedoms to control the machine. Insane!
If you received a ‘free’ copy of the program. You must not distribute proprietary copies of the program and grant the same freedoms you received
Let’s take this to the next level - what if we added another rule to the 4 freedoms which says - This is a key point illustrating how the goals of the free software movement differ from open source. There’s strong copyleft licenses and weak ones.
Note: the work under copyleft licenses are still copyrighted (haha pun), but grant users the freedom to share copies as long as they grant it to whoever they plan to share to. Popular licenses include GNU GPL, Mozilla’s MPL is a weaker one. For collective freedom always choose strong copylefted ones when you can. It also extends the lifespan of the project.
This benefits both the original authors and the end users. The only people who don’t benefit are the ones trying to deprive you of your freedoms. There are also other reasons to do so like this.
Non-copylefted software is still libre-software but doesn’t help users or the developer in the long run.
You can start by switching your browser
- Here’s a popular list of programs you can try
- KDE apps
- GNOME apps
- F-Droid apps
- Tell your Friends to Use Free Software
Here’s how I do my computing if you’re interested
- I haven’t reached 100% libre software, but that’s the goal.
- If you’re technically inclined try learning to code or contribute to projects
- Join us in the fediverse, forums & other cool social media and interact with other people enjoying computing freedom
How did I get into this?
I gradually discovered this over the course of the past 2 years learning about software, the internet and its history. I first got to know about free software from a free-software program called VLC Media Player. It told me about it’s free software license called the GNU-GPL license when I first ran the program.
I then went down the rabbit hole and learnt about called Richard Stallman, he’s the one who popularized free-software outside the AI labs / the hacker community at MIT. Watch his TED talk. He’s a really dedicated guy and he’s the guy behind the start of GNU/Linux, free-software OS that’s running the web and most of the computers these days.
This article practically paraphrases many of his words, and puts things into perspective for most teenagers computing in the non-free world of MacOS, Windows and what not.Richard Stallman's TEDx video: "Introduction to Free Software and the Liberation of Cyberspace"
Free software is a movement, for computing freedom — for everyone
He made very accurate predictions, lookup #StallmanWasRight it proves how free-software keeps the users in control over the program & how non-free software is a manifestation of unjust power.
Even today it hold true. A lot of the free software has remained free because of these 4 freedoms and the spread of strong copyleft licenses. His work has helped billions of people everywhere even the companies which took away our freedoms like Microsoft / Google are in some minor % contributing back to free-software projects.
For the liberation of cyberspace — Happy hacking!
- Do try switching to free software, you don’t have to go 100% libre on day 1 but that’s always better than non-free software!
- There were massive smear campaigns against Stallman & free-software indirectly. Read this for an explainer
- I don’t agree with Stallman’s sour political views, but everyone has a right to free speech & he distances his personal views from that of free-software.
- Check out the free-software videos by @blenderdumbass & the other articles linked in this video.
- Attribution for the illustrations (slides): Copyright 2014 Christian Noguera, Valentin Pasquier, Richard Stallman Released under CC-BY 3.0