Your Computer, Your Control

Fri, 12 Apr 2024

In today's digital age, our computers have become central to so many aspect of our lives. Yet, how much control do we have over the software that powers these machines? Proprietary software restricts users. This is where the concept of free software comes in, offering a set of fundamental freedoms that empower users and free them from the subjugation of proprietary software.

The cornerstone of free software lies in the four essential freedoms, defined by the Free Software Foundation. These freedoms ensure users have the power to control, modify, and share the software they use. Let's delve into each freedom and understand why they are crucial.

Perhaps the most fundamental freedom is running the program as you wish, for any purpose. This might seem self-evident, but proprietary software can often restrict how it's used. Imagine buying a word processor that only allows you to write business documents. This blatantly disregards your right to use the software for your needs, be it writing poetry, writing software, or anything else that suits your purpose - including writing documents criticizing the word processor developer for restricting what you can write with it. Freedom 0 ensures that the software serves you, not vice versa, because you have the freedom to run the software for any purpose, even purpoes that someone else might not like.

Freedom 0 grants you the ability to run the program, but the rest of your control comes with the freedom 1. Access to the source code lets you understand how the program works and change it to do what you want.

Imagine a photo editing program that lacks a crucial feature you require or that does something you don't like. Freedom 1 empowers you to delve into the source code, implement the missing functionality, or remove things you don't want.

When combined, Freedoms 0 and 1 create a powerful force for user control. You have the ability to use the software for any purpose (Freedom 0) and the ability to modify it as you wish (Freedom 1). These two freedoms empower you to be in charge of the software on your computer.

Think about it this way: If you can't run the software for your desired purpose and can't modify it to function as you wish, then who is indeed calling the shots? Certainly not you, the user. Free software puts the power back in your hands, allowing you to bend the software to your will and not vice versa.

However, while these freedoms may give individual users control over the software on their machine, more is needed for an entire community.

Freedom 0 and 1 empower the individual, but Freedom 2, the freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others, is for the community. This freedom grants you the right to share copies of the software with friends, family, or anyone else. Imagine discovering a fantastic new photo editor. Freedom 2 allows you to share this program with your friends.

Freedom 3, the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others, builds upon the power of sharing. While not everyone may be a programmer, Freedom 3 allows those who modify the original software to share those changes with the community.

Let's revisit the photo editing software example. You might have modified the code to add a specific feature you needed. Freedom 3 allows you to share this modification with others, potentially benefiting the entire community.

These four essential freedoms are not arbitrary concepts. It's these four freedoms, and not some different ones, that are crucial for ensuring user control, individually and collectively.