How Joining the Free Software Movement Uplifts Us All

Mon, 24 Jun 2024

Welcome to the free software movement, where 'free' refers to freedom, not price. In this context, 'free software' means software that respects your independence and the community's freedom to run, study, change, and share the software. The movement's premise is a world where you are empowered to control your computing, because it's wrong for it to be any other way.

In this blog post, I'll cover the essence of this inspiring movement, examining its principles and the impact it can have on our lives. By the end, you'll understand why joining the free software movement isn't just a choice but a powerful act of empowerment for yourself and society. Whether you're a tech enthusiast, a casual computer user, or someone simply curious about the future of technology, this post will shed light on a movement shaping a better future.

Imagine this: You're a digital artist crafting intricate designs on your computer. You've invested in a popular graphics software touted for its rich features and professional-grade capabilities. However, this software is proprietary, and as your art evolves, you need more customized tools to bring your creative visions to life. Unfortunately, the software's proprietary nature means you cannot modify or extend it to do what you need. You contact the software developer, and they're not interested in implementing what you'd like to see the program do.

Another day, you encounter a software bug that significantly disrupts your ability to use a crucial tool within the program - the tool that handles layer blending. This glitch causes unexpected behavior, turning what should be a straightforward task into a frustrating ordeal that slows down your work. You reach out to the developer, only to be informed that they know about the bug but have no plans to fix it.

In both of these cases you need access to the source and the legal right to be able to change the code and, lacking both of these, can't do these yourself or even ask someone else to do it.

These scenarios, and more on https://www.gnu.org/proprietary/, highlight a fundamental issue: a lack of control over the software we use and depend on. Free software addresses this imbalance of power. At its core, free software asserts that users, not the developers, should be in control.

This principle isn't just for tech-savvy individuals; it's for everyone. Whether you're a student writing a paper, a scientist analyzing data, a musician composing a symphony, or a grandparent video chatting with loved ones, software's ubiquitous nature impacts everyone.

Richard Stallman started the free software movement. It all began in the early 1980s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The lab had a Xerox printer that frequently jammed, and Stallman wanted to modify the printer's software to send an alert when it jammed, but the printer's software was proprietary and he couldn't access the source code to make the necessary changes. This experience highlighted the restrictions and subjugation made possible by proprietary software, where users are at the mercy of the developer when they aren't permited to study, change, or share the software they use.

This incident was a key moment that led Stallman to realize the importance of free software. In response, he founded the GNU Project in 1983 to create a free Unix-like operating system and founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1985. The free software movement has grown significantly since then, promoting the ethical imperative of software freedom.

At the heart of the free software movement lies four essential freedoms, a blueprint for a world where users control the software. Let's delve into each of these freedoms and explore their profound implications.

Freedom 0: The Freedom to Run the Program as You Wish, for Any Purpose. This fundamental freedom ensures that you, the user, can use the software on your terms for whatever purpose you want. That includes purposes that the original developer might never have considered or liked. Whether you're using it for personal projects, business ventures, creative endeavors, or something else entirely, this freedom ensures that your computer is doing what you want it to and for the purposes you want it to be doing.

Freedom 1: The Freedom to Study How the Program Works and Adapt It. This freedom unlocks the inner workings of software, granting you the ability to understand its code and modify it to do what you want it to do. It empowers you to change it in whatever ways you desire.

Freedom 2: The Freedom to Redistribute Copies So You Can Help Your Neighbor. Imagine freely sharing software with friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers in need. This freedom fosters a spirit of generosity and mutual aid. If someone sees a program you're using and asks for a copy, you can give it to them.

Freedom 3: The Freedom to Distribute Copies of Your Modified Versions to Others. Your modifications can benefit the entire community! If your changes are generally helpful, or even if the're very niche, you can share them with others.

If you think about it, these four freedoms are essential and well thought-out because it's these specific ones, not some set of different ones, that are needed to empower users to be in control where you're not at the mercy of the developer and have the power to change it yourself or seek help from a vast network of fellow users. When software is proprietary, the developer controls the software and, ultimately, the users. The free software movement's four essential freedoms offer a roadmap towards a digital world that is truly by the people, for the people. By embracing these freedoms, we can collectively shape a future where software is a tool of liberation, not restriction.

By advocating for free software, we're not just pushing for a different type of software license but a shift in how the world thinks about software. We're standing up for a world prioritizing user rights over developer restriction and subjugation.

So, whether you're a floral arrangement designer, nature trail hiker, classic car restorer, quirky sock collector, or someone with a completely different interest, your computing should be governed by your choices, not by the software developer's. The free software movement is for everyone, regardless of their field or interest.

Advocating for change requires action, and that's why the Free Software Foundation comes in. By joining the FSF as an Associate Member, you're not just supporting a cause but becoming part of a community working to make this future a reality.

Your membership will benefit you personally and contribute to the Free Software Foundation's work in legal advocacy, public education, and more areas. By joining, you're becoming a part of a movement shaping the future of technology, ensuring that it serves as a force for good, empowering individuals, and fostering a better society. Your contribution, no matter how small, is a significant step towards this collective goal.

If you believe in a digital world where users have control and software should be a tool of liberation, not subjugation and exploitation, the time to act is now. Please join the Free Software Foundation. Together, we can make a difference and build a future where software truly serves the people. The future of free software starts with you. Are you ready to join the movement and shape the future?