I, being currently involved with free software, see it being mentioned so often in publications that specialise on the subject and which target sad geeks like myself who have nothing better to do. However, an advertisement caught my eye in my non-technical local newspaper—Cambridge Evening News (That is Cambridge UK, not the one in Mass). It was entitled...
"Free software—but at what price?"
On Wednesday, October 5th, my alarm clock went off at an exceedingly uncivilized hour, whereupon I quickly donned some clothes, hurriedly grabbed some breakfast, all in order for me to race to an early train so that I might arrive at Hall 2 in Olympia, London for the 9.30 a.m. start of the 2005 LinuxWorld Expo. I arrived a few minutes early, and due to my registering for the event earlier through the internet I had a pre-printed pass in hand representing a waiver saving me the £15 registeration fee.
IBM’s London "Linux on Power" event, held on the evening of September 22nd in central London at the Planetarium, began at 7.00 p.m.
The start of the night
Free software, not just Linux, is a major problem for Microsoft. It’s a big mistake thinking they don’t understand free software, or its mechanics.
They understand it all too well, and they don’t like it - not one little bit!
The problem Microsoft has with free software is that it benefits the customer directly, not the software IP holders. The ways to make money from free software are:
- to use it (Google, Amazon etc.);
- to service the guys using it (RedHat, IBM, SuSE etc.);
- to include it as part of your product (Linksys etc).
You are a system administrator for a small company—the captain of the firm’s computers. Doing your job well means that you may sail through the seas of information technologies unhindered, in short, the company’s IT infrastructure will stay in place. Should you mess up you will find that the email has stopped working, the web surfers are stranded and you have pinned your ship on the reefs and rocks that scatter the virtual world, or in other words, the company will not be functioning well and you be burning its money.
I have my kids to blame, that is certain. There I was, last Christmas, in this auditorium, listening to the crunching of popcorn from my son on my left, and the slurping of soda from my daughter on the right, trying to behave like a responsible father. The lights had dimmed and we were being inflicted with the inevitable advertisements and trailers. When, at last, the fan fair that accompanied the main feature at the cinema trumpeted out of the speakers an anticipating hush spread around the audience. Even my daughter took a break from her munching.
Back in the good old days, when men were men, women were women and the standard way for two computers to talk to each other was through a cable plugged into the serial port, was when I first took the plunge into this “internet” thingy and signed up with an ISP. Then, armed with a modem, a telephone line that doubled as a fax, Netscape 1.1 and a sense of adventure, I surfed web sites, emailed the few others I knew who had also taken the plunge and joined in on worldwide discussions on what we called “News Groups”.
If you are reading this you probably use free software. In fact, I think the probability that you are reading this article using free software is extremely high, whether it is “free-as-in-speech” as in Firefox, or “free-as-in-beer” as in Internet Explorer. Free software is increasingly being taken for granted and is almost treated as some kind of legal right in some quarters. And so it should be. A lot of people have had to put a great deal of effort into ensuring sufficient “free-as-in-speech” software exists for this to be so.