IDIOMA/LANGUAGE

Be GNU, be free

Introduction

Welcome to my corner of Free Software.

Here, I will try to explain what is Free Software and what are its advantages.

I will also try to recommend some Free Software alternatives in order to substitute the most commonly used propietary programs. Take a look at the security and privacy section because it contains information about websites and Internet services which are respectful with user privacy (usually based on Free Software).

Do you want to know some of the reasons for which migrating to a free operative system, such as GNU/Linux is interesting? Click in the following picture:

Close Windows, Open Doors

What is Free Software?

This is the starting point: what is Free Software?

Free Software is a kind of software, a type of programs, which comply with some particular requirements:


Simple please

In an easy way we could say that Free Software are programs which respect users' freedoms. That means that those programs have some special features which make possible the fact that users have, at every moment, warranties about what those programs do in their computers.

While other types of software (propietary or private) do not allow users to know what are those programs doing in their computers, Free Software provide transparecy.

This programs (Free Software) base their market model in service delivery, and not in selling products. Consequently, the market competitiveness implies that they are usually free of charge programs (the immense majority of them). And, they are not only free of charge, they also allow users to freely make copies and distribute them. In other words, we are allow to install them in as many computers as we want and even make copies for other people, and all of this is absolutely legal.

Copyleft In addition, some Free Software programs have a feature called Copyleft, which implies that the future versions of those programs are going to have the same features than the original program.

These concepts could appear to be a little abstract, furthermore if we do not go into detail. Thus, we are going to focus in the important things for a normal user who demands an easy explanation.

If we use Free Software at home we will find situations characterized by the following points:

  • We will have access to free of charge programs in order to do the same tasks we traditionally do with propietary software.
  • In the future Free Software will continue to be free of charge, even if those programs evolve (100% sure when programs have Copyleft).
  • We will be able to install those programs in every computer we want, and we also can share copies with our family and friends (without committing piracy acts).
  • Even if we do not know anything about programming, we can be sure that there are many people around the world who know exactly what these programs are doing in their computers. This way, if some program does something strange soon there will be news about on the Internet. Hence, Free Software improves notably our security and also our privacy.
  • In the case of the GNU/Linux operative systems (the Free Software equivalent to the famous Windows systems) we will be much less exposed to virus attacks and other malwares (malicious programs). Another big difference regarding security.
  • The use of GNU/Linux systems is easier. Without continuous messages from the system, the antivirus, etc (which, moreover, many users do not understand).
  • In GNU/Linux updates are centralized. Once we have noticed that there are new available updates, we can install them at any moment. With this simple (and fast) action we have updated all the software of the computer at the same time, and we do not need to check updates program by program.
  • In order to install a new program we only need to go to the “software manager” application. From there we can install the programs we want. We will not need to go to the Internet to search a program, surfing several websites, link after link, to finally having to distinguish among the true download link and many very similar others around (many times a source of malware). Besides, we will not have to deal with all those undesirable toolbars (or other software) which are usually installed during the installation of a desired program.


I want a more technical explanation.

Free Software is the software which has a free licence and, therefore, fulfils its conditions. The free licence which is usually taken as an example with the aim of explaining what is Free Software is the GPL license, or GNU project license.

The GPL licence establishes four basic freedoms for users:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code (the code the programmer writes in order to create the program) is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help other people.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. 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.

Copyleft Moreover, many free licences include a condition called Copyleft (by pure opposition to copyright). Copyleft implies that every modified version of a program must have the same license than the original program. Thus, the freedoms that the original author wanted to grant users will remain in derivative products.

Nevertheless, there are many free licenses which do not have Copyleft. They are also free, but their derivative products can have any licence. For this reason, here we recommend using Free Software with Copyleft whenever possible, because in that way we would be supporting projects with a high commitment with user freedoms.

Now, let's see in a more detailed way the implications of these freedoms.

If you can use a program with any purpose then you are not going to have restrictions on carrying out professional tasks, for example. The program is what it is, in order to do simple thing or very complex ones.

The freedom of studying the program has two main advantages. On the one hand, the developers of the program can make new programs relying on other already existing programs, without having to make them from the scratch. In addition, this way, every programmer can contribute improvements to Free Software, due to the fact that the source code is open and they can study it. By the way, the whole users community will benefit from those improvements (whether programmers or not). And this will help in an important way with the development and evolution of those programs.

On the other hand, from the normal user point of view, this could appear to be superfluous since normal users (usually) are no going to be able to understand the programs' source code. However, the fact that many people can study a program warranties that its functioning will be well known. In other words, what those programs are exactly doing in our computers (or other devices). Thus, if a program is doing something “illicit” with our data, for instance, somebody will quickly notice it and news will be spread like wildfire on the Internet, as it has already happened in the past occasionally. Therefore, people will have access to that information and they will be able to look for another free program which can satisfies their necessities without making those “illicit” things, because there are multitude of alternatives. It must no be forgotten, comparing this situation to what happens in the case of proprietary software, that with the second one we will never know what those programs are exactly doing.

The freedom of making and distributing copies is something, certainly, appreciable. To begin with, everybody has access in the same way to these programs, no matter their purchase power. And this question has a really important advantage, since everybody can use this programs. If all of us use the same software, compatibility problems disappear.

Lastly, Copyleft, when present in licenses, contributes in a notable way to maintain opened the process of software development. Which implies that the programs capability to evolve will remain great in time, and that users will be able to benefit from all the improvements added to the programs.



Compairing Free Software and propietary software (in general sense).

Now we are going to briefly overview the main differences between Free Software and proprietary software through a comparative table.

DIFERENCES BETWEEN FREE SOFTWARE AND PROPIETARY SOFTWARE

Free Software

Propietary software

We know what the software is doing in our computers because the source code is available.

We can not know what the software is doing in our computers because the source code is not available.

Everybody can use it.

Most of those programs have to be paid. They can only be used by whom can paid for them (piracy is illegal).

Everybody, who wants to do it, can contribute improvements and/or correct errors. Or simply inform about those errors.

Only some people can access to the code and check if those programs have any errors. When they appear only some people can work on them.

Operative systems: there are much less malware for GNU/Linux. Moreover, it is more difficult to make a virus for GNU/Linux than for Windows systems.

The open correction of errors and the update methodology make easier to solve this kind of problems.

Windows systems accumulate the most part of the known operative systems' vulnerabilities. Creating malware for Windows systems is easier than for GNU/Linux. Thus, apart from exposing users to more dangers, this situation pushes them to buy antimalware software (antivirus, antispyware, etc). This antimalware software consumes system resources constantly contributing to their premature obsolescence.

GNU/Linux systems consume a significantly lower amount of resources than their counterparts in the Windows family.

In addition, there are GNU/Linux distributions specially designed for computers with limited resources, among them computers which begin to be a little bit old. Thank to these distributions we can extend the useful life of our devices.

The hight resources consumption of Windows systems together with the antimalware software contribute to the premature obsolescence of the computers.

Using GNU/Linux is much simpler for novice or new users than using Windows systems.

There are almost no system notifications and the software update is centralized. That means that when we install updates we are updating all the software of the computer at the same time.

Using these systems is hard for novel or new users. The amount of notifications from the system and other software (such us antivirus) can be annoying.

In addition, there are many times in which users do not know how to interpret those messages, even reaching an uncertain and mistrust situation which makes difficult the positive experience on the use of the system.

The installing and updating methods imply the necessity of knowledge about basic IT security on the part of the user. Otherwise, they will be easily target of different scams.


References (recommended readings):

Free Software definition (Free Software Foundation): https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html

Free Software (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software

Publications: my personal contributions (Spanish).

Migrando a Software Libre: aprovechamiento de equipos en las aulas públicas

The book is published in this online library: etnassoft, which is a site I really encourage you to visit because it is full of amazing publications (all of them free of charge). Thanks to Etnassoft for taking into account my work.

Link to the book (Spanish) → Migrando a Software Libre: aprovechamiento de equipos en las aulas públicas

Abstract

Public education should be accessible for every student equally. The only one type of software which is able to comply with this requirement is Free Software, due to the freedoms it provides to users. This work consists in the study of Free Software alternatives to programs that are being used in the degree Administration of IT Systems on Net. With this aim, we have studied the available Free Software to replace from the operative system to the text editors, including all programs used in the classroom during the two years the studies consists of.

Programs have been structured in modules in order to address them. Apart from studying alternatives, we have explain how to install those programs in the GNU/Linux distribution selected, exhibiting the difficulties found in the process and the procedure carried on to solve them.

Lastly, we have analysed the economic impact of using proprietary software in the students when they finish their studies, and also during them.

Conclusions are economic, but ethical above all. Only with values and principles (ethic, creativity, collaboration, no discrimination, science, transparency, competitiveness, privacy, solidarity and freedom) rise the need for carrying out endeavours that otherwise appear to be unnecessary.

Creative Commons license The text of this article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Each of the pictures is under its corresponding license.

Sources of the external pictures: