Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Windows Is Not Free

Three years ago, I read one of the finest articles on the issues concerning the difficulties faced by the advocates of Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS or FOSS), and the endless efforts to get people to give F/OSS an opportunity to work for them.

The article is "Windows Is Free: The Impact of Pirated Software on Free Software", along with the follow up article by the same author, "No Really - Windows Is Free."

Commonly, people first gravitate to LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Linux, the GIMP, and other F/OSS applications because they are, almost always, gratis. That is, free of a monetary cost. But, as is persuasively argued, for a large number of people, so is Windows.

And because of the flexibility of F/OSS, a large number of individual F/OSS applications run just fine on Windows and Mac systems, so there is even less motivation to examine the underlying principles involved.

One of the major reasons for this confusion is the fact that in English, "free" can mean both "gratis", as in no price, and "libre" as in without restrictions.

People who use F/OSS on a regular basis, or who have changed to F/OSS after using proprietary software for the same purposes, including resellers and manufacturers, come to realize that the "free as in beer" aspect of F/OSS is actually not the best part.

MadDog Hall gave a presentation recently, "The Hidden Costs of Closed-Source Software" at the 2011 CeBIT Open Source Forum.

In My Opinion, this talk deserves to be heard by anyone with even the slightest interest in software, from the kid in mom's basement to the purchasing executive who wants to improve his product and his bottom line.

For years (decades!), Richard Stallman has been telling anyone who would sit still long enough to listen that the most important part of software "freedom" has nothing what so ever to do with price. It has to do with the freedom, the liberty, to use the programs, modify the code, AND understand the formats, so that those fundamental aspects of computing systems can be adapted to one's own needs, rather than the other way around.

MadDog does a wonderful job of communicating the benefits of this software liberty, and why Closed Source applications do not, and cannot, meet the needs of its users, because the users are forced to adapt to the software rather than the other way around.



  1. In the last sentence probably you mean "users are forced to adapt TO the software rather than the other way around." Software adaptability is part of Open Source ideology indeed.

    Great entry! Thanks a lot for sharing the video, too!

  2. Fixed! Thank you, and thank you for your kind words.

  3. Anonymous28/1/12 16:18

    Good article, and true story for me as well... I initially installed a Linux distro b/c i could not afford windows. After experiencing the freedom to modify my software to suit me, i have never looked back.

  4. Anonymous27/9/13 12:20

    Note - companies pay for customized software all the time, just not Windows - most aren't interested in the OS, just the applications like accounting, HR, manufacturing etc. So F/OSS seems limited to a small set of universal applications, like email, spreadsheet, text editors, etc. I've never heard of a F/OSS version of Human Resources / Payroll / tax accounting system. I like Open Office, but there is a price paid to use it. You must unlearn the MS Word, EXCEL way and learn to use the Open Office way. The 20 percent of differences between them can drive you crazy! Same with Windows or Mac. Going from one to the other is an investment of time and frustration trying to figure how to do things in the new system. Microsoft did this to themselves when upgrading from office 2007 to 2010. Changing all the controls and menu bars was, I think, a wasted exercise in user frustration. All continuity benefits were lost. I still prefer the 2007 scheme even though I use 2010 every day.

    1. Assuming that the "Free" in "Free and Open Source Software" means "without cost" is a common error. It's free as in freedom, not necessarily gratis. Most F/OSS is in fact also gratis, it just isn't a requirement.

      It's also a fallacy that things come without any cost at all. There is always opportunity cost, familiarity, and the simple fact that no two people would put all the buttons in exactly the same places.

      Yes, firms and people pay for customizing software to their particular needs. With F/OSS, anything CAN be customized, where you can't when you're just renting the software, like Windows or MS Office.

      As has been said, many times by many people, learning Libre Office, or Open Office, or KOffice, is no more difficult than going from one version of Microsoft Office to another. People do that all the time.

      From my own experience with introducing Libre Office to new users, going from any MS Office version prior to 2010 to Libre Office is _easier_ than going to MS Office 2010, because of those very changes MS made mandatory.

      Have you tried looking for HR, Payroll or Tax applications that run on Linux? Maybe the one you want to use only runs on Windows. Then try WINE, or tell them you'll buy it if they put it on Linux.