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Free software: solidarity, freedom, cooperation, ethics

The majority of platforms used at the moment such as Linux, Open Office and Android are open source. And it is thanks to the collaborative efforts of a few programmers who decided to break the rules of ownership and ethics, and to encourage freedom of expression in the world of information technology.


Lluis Andreu Oliver Obrador


In the article “The Linux Code”, Richard Matthew Stallman, founder of the term free software points out that “a computer program and a recipe have many things in common – they both follow norms in order to achieve an end result. If you like the way a meal turned out, you might decide to share the recipe with your friends and if you make improvements to the dish, you’ll tell your friends how to make it even better.”

Sometimes the term free software is often associated with well-known platforms such as Linux and Open Office, without people knowing what lies behind these platforms.

Free software is not limited to a few programs that are free to use without limitations.

No, it revolves around the freedom of the user to run, share and change the code to improve a computer program or digital platform.

Of course, the term free software should not be interpreted as software that is free of charge, since programs can be marketed, but should instead be understood to offer freedom of expression.

Freedom for the user and the programmer, as anyone can modify it for their own use and re-launch it on the network. The most important point is that there are no regulations surrounding free software, except three basic rules – the freedom of use, adaptation to needs, and improvements and free redistribution of those improvements.

Free software is an example of co-operation, collaboration and mutual learning. Also, having the freedom to create and share is an ethical and social form of behaviour that enhances human values and creates freedom for users.

In a quest for freedom of expression

The term free software did not appear until the 1980s and was given its name by computer programmer Richard Matthew Stallman.

Until that point, the entire computer progamming community and computers worked on their own software. Each code belonged to the company that had created it and nobody could access or modify it.

The reason was purely commercial, and was part of the strategy of many companies. The user and the programmer were limited to a closed source product with its related limitations – no-one could share or modify it and it caused problems with some  peripherals not belonging to the company.

The open source initiative soon appeared and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded. The appearance of this free system was a matter of time because since the advent of the Internet, which was free to use and in the public domain, the human values in the field of computers had changed and people had changed their behaviour towards a model of cooperation and the exchange of information.

Copyleft became the term representing the free software project. Invented by Stallman himself, this was based on the ability to give users freedom, as well as preventing the appropriation of this free code. Based on this model, programmers across the world started to create and share their work freely.

Linux and GNU, the first of their kind

The projects and platforms for free software best-known so far are GNU (GPL) and Linux GNU, created by Stallman, were the first free operating system with public access under the licence GPL (GNU Public License).

But in 1991 Linux appeared in the world of IT by way of a Swedish student called Linus Torvalds.

With  co-operation between GNU and Linus himself, this free, public powerful operating system appeared that would soon compete with giant Microsoft Linux quickly became a way of life and an ideology for programmers keen for freedom with coding.

They see the freedom that comes with working in a public operating system without the restrictions of the private platforms. Nowadays, the majority of Internet servers run on this operating system, making the net a much more public platform.

Open source did not appear until 1997, thanks to Eric Raymond and users of free software who promised open source software that was much more elaborate and constantly evolving.  The idea is the same – that the users can assess, modify and redistribute the source code of a program.

Little by little, free software has begun to grow and its presence now is considerable. In 1999 Microsoft announced that Linux was selling more than Windows in major stores.

Many users are not up-to-date with the number of programs used and programmed with open source. This is not only now limited to computers, but to users of mobile devices with Google’s Android operating system who are using a platform created with free software.

Google, the most widely-used platform for internet users, uses an open source based on GNU/Linux. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a good example when talking about open source and co-operation. More than an online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia is the result of the work of thousands of users whose input has led to the store of knowledge, with access to everyone. This platform is one of the precedents of Web 2.0, a democratic and participatory system based on the ideologies of free software.

CMS (Content Management Systems) such as Drupal, WordPress and Joomla, all of which are open source, are used these days, above all, for the web page creation. The ability of the user to obtain a pre-designed open source program that is free of charge, and to convert it on their company’s website without much effort has accelerated the emergence of many businesses on the internet.

Open Office is one of the best-known open source programs, but it is not the only one. It was bought in 1999 by Sun Microsystems to compete with the famous Microsoft Office, which is private and not free of charge.

Users are the main beneficiary of the open source initiative, as the majority of these programs are free of charge and are updated regularly by volunteers, but we must not forget that it is thanks to the collective work of many programmers and their ethical values that free, public software is possible.

(Translated by Victoria Nicholls)

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