FREE Software - A Case From The Heart

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Roland Taylor
published Oct. 17, 2018, 11:04 a.m.

This is a bit of an unusual post in the tech community, but one that I feel has been needed for many years. I'm writing both for myself, and for others who have been, or are like me.

First off, let me just make something clear. Developers have to eat. I get that. I believe that. I support that. I'd fight for that - if such a fight were necessary. So, to those who didn't read this and are already writing nasty replies, just know that I've already covered this point.

A Cost Assessment:

We live in a world built on profits. Everyone wants money, and the more money they can get, the more money they will get. That's fine, I guess. After all, we all need money to survive in a world that pretty much runs on it. But, for many people, money just isn't something they have a lot of, and in a world where everything is connected, or becoming connected, to technology, having a lot of money to burn has become an inescapable requirement, just to get by.

If you want to get a good (conventional) education, you'll probably a computer, a modern computer. You'll also need access to the internet, and you don't pay a lifetime fee for that. You'll also need to pay your bills, and eat. And wear clothes. And have somewhere to live. And pay for running water. And in some cases/places, heating. Or, air-conditioning.

Add it all up, and you can begin to see where this is going. On the average salary, you'll be broke in no time just thinking about it.

But then, you're told you need an office suite to type up your assignments, expensive mathematics software to run calculations for your research, a monthly subscription to keep using the graphics software you need to produce material for your small business you're trying to do on the side just to make it through every month.

By now, you're despondent, and you want to give up. But then, a friend comes along and tells you about something impossible: free software.

That's right.

FREE Software

But it can't be! Developers have to eat, just like you! No developer could ever possibly get by producing software that no one pays for, right? Yet, somehow, they do. And they keep their software up to date - unbelievable!

Still unconvinced that this goodness is true, you decide to just go ahead and use it, before someone finds out! Because surely, there must be a catch! But there is no catch. 10 years later, you're still using the same software.

By now, you've made it. You're finished studying. You've got a successful job/business of your own. You're making enough money to have some left to burn. In fact, you're burning most of it by now, because you really don't need that much to survive any longer.

...and that's where the story ends; for many people.

Sadly, this is also the view held by what feels like a majority of people. I'm talking about the ones who are born into privileged situations, not knowing the struggle. I'm talking about those who've made it out of the crab-barrel, and forgotten what it was like to be a crab. How many times have you seen people on the internet lighting into someone for making a case for free (as in no money required) software? I know I've experienced the backlash on a personal level.

I don't say it with pride, but I know the days of using pirated software - not because you could do better, but just wanted to anyway. No, it was because if you don't get that copy of (insert program here), you're not going to be able to finish the course you're already struggling to pay for. You'll fail - trying to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and "work hard", like those who are already swimming in money always tell others to do.

NB: I'm not saying this to condone piracy. Piracy is wrong - that's true, but the sad reality is that it's also been made necessary and inescapable by a world so heavily driven by profits and greed.

In a world increasingly driven by technology, truly free (and open source) software is more than a convenience - it's a life line. It was necessary for me to get through my studies (thanks Codeblocks), it has allowed me to make an income in a tough market (thanks Atom, Inkscape, FileZilla, and so many others).

Free software has allowed my church to flourish - and as a non-profit, you can only begin to imagine what a big boon software such as LibreOffice, Xiphos and OpenLP have been. Add to that, we've been able to produce quality materials to inspire others, thanks to the likes of Audacity, OpenShot, Kdenlive, GIMP, Pinta, Wordpress - and so many others too numerous to mention.

Without a free operating system, like Ubuntu, I'd still be struggling to make life happen with out of date hardware and bloated software. Not having to pay for an OS, or hope to get a copy from someone else who doesn't need it any more, or worse, pirate software - has been a major blessing. Sure, I may not have the latest and greatest hardware, but I have the freedom of choice to pick an OS that works with what I have, enabling me to "pull myself up" by actual bootstraps.

TL;DR: Truly Free Software Makes Life Happen.

Find a fancy acronym for that if you'd like.

Until the world has no such thing as poverty, or until we completely eliminate mankind's greed - there will always be a case, and a place, for truly free software.