Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 3:19pm

The concept of “free” in software (Happy Holidays!)

Posted by Jordan Erickson

I’d like to make a distinction between “free” and “free”, if I may.

The free you hear everywhere is usually the type of free that you see in the marketable world. Free diagnostic, free coffee with purchase, free seminar… And that’s great. What a lot of people haven’t had the chance to explore, however, is the concept of free in open source software.

Now I’m not talking about free as in price, although a lot of open source software doesn’t cost a dime. The free that is truly valuable in open source software is the concept of freedom. Open source software is created by countless programmers across our Earth with the intention of allowing anybody with the interest to look at it, to modify it to suit their needs, and to re-distribute it as long as they provide the same freedoms to others in their modified version. Sounds fair, right? It’s like ensuring that the yearly vaccinations for influenza don’t stay behind closed doors by a single greedy pharmaceutical company that only wishes to make mass profit off of it, at the expense of possible production shortage and people not being able to receive it.

Open source software ensures that our future is open to possibility rather than restriction. It ensures that the formats we save our data in are open standards. This means that documents, pictures, e-mails, databases and other things that are important to you will stay accessible over time, not to be obsoleted by forced upgrades or companies that go out of business. This is of incredible importance when you look at the big picture – if you are unsure that the things you put on your computer will be accessible in 5 years because of software, there’s something wrong. Using open source software ensures this will never happen.

So the free you constantly hear about on TV, radio, billboards and all over the mall is fine and dandy – but the freedom you gain with using open source software is of paramount importance to our future. Keep that in mind as you snap those digital photographs, send those e-mails and capture the precious video of your friends and family this holiday season. The most important part about computers and technology is the information we store on it.

Best wishes for the new year!

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