About 27 years back in 1984 at the AI lab of MIT a hacker Richard Mathew Stallman frustrated by the commercialization of the then popular operating system unix and rise of proprietary softwares set out to launch a revolution that was about to change the Software industry. A revolution that would liberate programmers to think innovate and share freely their programs and source code. Thus GNU(GNU is not Unix) was born soon after in 1985 he founded the free software foundation and thus the free software movement started. In 1991 Linus Trovalds a Computer science student at Helsinki University made the Linux, a giant leap in the free software movement.

Free software does not essentially mean software free of cost but it means software that respects the users freedom and rights. Imagine you buy a car paying its amount in full and the company tells you that you are not supposed to make any modifications , or lend your car to anyone or sell your car to anyone, isn’t that an encroachment on your rights? The same is the case applicable to softwares and also we have every right to know what the program is doing on our computer systems and to ensure that they are not doing any unwanted actions. Still we do not realize this fact and buy softwares spending our money on licenses, updates and patches. Free software does not mean anti Microsoft but it stands for a larger cause to protect the freedom of users and programmers alike and to help people learn more about softwares.

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. The user’s must have the four essential freedoms which are formulated by the free software foundation.

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor .
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Every one who comes in contact with a computer either at home or work needs to know about FOSS. Why should we pay for Operating systems, multimedia players , office suites and other software when open source alternatives exists, in most cases the home users use pirated version of proprietary softwares which is illegal. So why worry about all these when we have free software that you can use and share and no one is going to call you a “pirate” . You will be supported by a large community of programmers who are willing to promote FOSS. Free software doesn’t mean low quality non user friendly softwares but they are as good as their proprietary counter parts.
There have been successful implementation of free software throughout the world, The Kerala government has adopted free software. KSEB( Kerala State Electricity Board) has saved almost Rs 8 crores by switching to free and open source software for billing purposes it uses a software called Oruma which was developed by programmers at KSEB. The success of IT at school which is intended to educate students on the effectiveness o free software, is yet another stepping stone for the FOSS movement. France, Germany, UK, Peru, Brazil, Finland, Taiwan China and India have all adopted the FOSS alternatives. All of us have knowingly or unknowingly used FOSS in our daily
lives almost all the websites in the internet are hosted on Apache web server which is an Open source software, Our mobile phones may have the symbian Os or the Android which are again open source softwares.
So FOSS holds a promising future in Industry, education, research. Free software activist all over the world have been celebrating Software freedom Day Since 2006 on the third Saturday of September. We can all contribute to FOSS not necessarily by coding but just by sharing your knowledge even by just spreading the word about free software like I did.

{This article was written for the Op-ED page of the Hindu, but it went unpublished}


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