Researcher, Free Software Advocate and peacemaker in the spare time.

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Free Software is about USERS

Marcel Ribeiro Dantas [mribeirodantas at]

Understanding this common misconception.

Published on June, 6th. (Last modified on: June, 6th)

Since the Free Software Movement was created by the hands of software developers, people nowadays tend to think it's a movement from developers to developers, or from technical people to technical people. Unfortunately, it's a common misconception that has spread all over the community and leads people to believe the four essential freedoms are aimed only at software developers.

Back in the 80's, Richard Matthew Stallman, father of the Free Software Movement, felt very frustrated when he had his freedom to modify a copy of software denied. At that time, you would receive a copy of the source code along with the software, and you were free to change and improve the source code as you needed. He became aware of this misleading path at the very beginning of the tide that made people believe proprietary software was the first common distribution of computer programs.

If RMS, as Richard Stallman is widely known, was never born and you or me stumbled into the same situation, things probably would be way worse nowadays. The difference is that RMS was an Operating System programmer, and then it was very clear to him that his goal from now on should be to build from scratch a new operating system that would respect people's most basic rights.

The right to use the computer program for any purpose. The right to have access to the source code of the computer program. The right to modify the source code according to your needs. The right to distribute the source code with or without your modifications.

Based on these four basic principles, he formulated for the first time in history the current concept of free software (which has nothing to do with price, but with free as in freedom). By that time, Free Software was impossible to come true without developers, after all, softwares must have been developed in order to people use them.

It's important to make clear that the goal was to build a free Operating System so that *users* would be able to use it without having to neglect their rights, or sign an agreement saying they were forbidden to share it with others. Or that they would not be able to use a copy of this version for work, or for personal use, or whatever.

Time has passed and a foundation named Free Software Foundation was built in order to make sure users freedoms were respected. And the GNU Project kept building free softwares, free libraries and free documentation along with software/document licenses to make sure users were legally protected.

What happens today, though, is that people tend to read the four basic freedoms as if users had no benefit from it at all. Let's read it over again:

0) The freedom to use the software for any purpose.

Being able to run a specific software at home, at work or at my beach house, seems like a freedom that would mostly benefit users, don't you think?

1) The freedom to have access to the source code.

Well, users may not program, but are you a cook expert? I must admit, I'm terrible in the kitchen. Nonetheless, I'm still worried if there's shrimp for dinner. I'm allergic to shrimp. Again, I'm not a doctor either, but I care about what chemical ingredients are in my medication, since I'm allergic to SAS, and so on. Therefore, not being able to do code does not mean you shouldn't care for the source code. In some situations, having access to the source code may guarantee your safety (medical devices, localization software and so on).

2) The freedom to modify the source code.

As I said I'm not a doctor, neither a Chemist. But once, I had to go to a lab and pay people to prepare some medication for me, since there was none in the drugstore. I had the recipe and paid them for doing it, regardles of my ignorance when it comes to chemistry or biology. If you ever had problems with your skin, you may have had to go to a place where they would prepare something specifically for you.

3) The freedom to distribuite it with or without modifications.

It's important to remember one does not buy software. One buys a license to use a software or subscribe for a subscription to have some services offered. Once I'm allowed to use a software, having paid for it or not (if it's gratis), why shouldn't I be allowed to allow my son to use the software? Or install it in his computer?

Draft to be continued :) I'm about to fall asleep lol

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Free Software is about USERS by Marcel Ribeiro Dantas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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