An Open Welcome

I was wondering how to welcome the visitors of my blog and finally decided that a lecture by Richard Stallman, the founder of GNU and the Free Software Movement, would be the best. Here is Mr. Stallman’s or rather rms’ (as we all call him) speech at Zagreb. Here rms defines the freedom we should have while using softwares. Read on.

Logo of the FSF

Logo of the Free Software Foundation

What is Free Software?

Free Software means software that respects the user’s freedom. Software available to you but without respecting your freedom is called proprietary software or non-Free Software.Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Divided because each user is forbidden to share with other people, and helpless because the users don’t have the source code, so they can’t change anything, they can’t even tell what the program is really doing.

So, what are the essential freedoms one should have while using softwares?

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman: The founder of GNU

There are four essential freedoms for the user of a program.

  • Freedom zero is the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  • Freedom one is the freedom to study the source code of the program and change it to do what you wish.
  • Freedom two is the freedom to help your neighbour. That’s the freedom to make copies and distribute them to others, when you wish.
  • Freedom three is the freedom to help your community. That’s the freedom to distribute or publish modified versions, when you wish.

With all four of these freedoms, the program is Free Software. If one of these freedoms is substantially missing – is insufficiently available – then the program is proprietary software, which means it is distributed in an unethical system and therefore should not be used and should not be developed at all.

But why are these four freedoms essential? Why define the term Free Software this way?

The GNU logo

The GNU logo

Freedom two is essential on fundamental ethical grounds, so that you can live an upright, ethical life as a member of your community. If you use a program that does not give you freedom number two, you’re in danger of falling at any moment into a moral dilema. When your friend says “that’s a nice program, could I have a copy?” At that moment, you will have to choose between two evils. One evil is: give your friend a copy and violate the licence of the program. The other evil is: deny your friend a copy and comply with the licence of the program.

Once you are in that situation, you should choose the lesser evil. The lesser evil is to give your friend a copy and violate the licence of the program. 😀

Now, why is that the lesser evil? The reason is that we can assume that your friend has treated you well and has been a good person and deserves your cooperation. The reason we can assume this is that in the other case, if a nasty person you don’t really like asked you for help, of course you can say “Why should I help you?” So that’s an easy case. The hard case is the case where that person has been a good person to you and other people and you would want to help him normally.

Support freedom

Whereas, the developer of the program has deliberately attacked the social solidarity of your community. Deliberately tried to separate you from everyone else in the World. So if you can’t help doing wrong in some direction or other, better to aim the wrong at somebody who deserves it, who has done something wrong, rather than at somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong.

However, to be the lesser evil does not mean it is good. It’s never good – not entirely – to make some kind of agreement and then break it. It may be the right thing to do, but it’s not entirely good.

The only thing in the software field that is worse than an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program, is an authorised copy of the proprietary program because this does the same harm to its whole community of users, and in addition, usually the developer, the perpetrator of this evil, profits from it.Once you have thought about this and understood the nature of the dilema, what you should really do is make sure you don’t get into the dilema.

There are two ways of doing this. One way, the way that the proprietary software developers perhaps prefer, is: don’t have any friends.The other is: don’t use proprietary software.

The lecture was pretty big but this should be enough to get you started. If you want to know more about rms or want to contact him, visit: stallman.org

Copyright 2001-2010 FSFE.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

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