Linux

Celebrating freedom with open source

As of this writing, it is Independence Day here in the USA. On this day, Jack Wallen ruminates on the freedoms that Linux has brought to him and millions of other users. Do you share in his sentiment? Or are you one of those that calims, "It's just an operating system!"?

Happy Independence Day to my U.S. readers. This holiday is a celebration of the United States' adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Of course many countries have similar celebrations serving a similar event in their history. And with this celebration, I thought it would be a good day to remind everyone what open source is all about...at least on a fundamental, non-TCO-ROI level.

Freedom.

I have a license plate hanging in my office that I received from one of the last major Linux conventions I attended. The convention was in New York at the Jacob Javitz center. It was huge. The convention was filled to the rim with big business. IBM, Oracle, Compaq, Novell - many of the big guns were in attendance. And those big guns were showing off everything they planned on doing with Linux. Most of them, of course, were there to show they could, in fact, make money with Linux. But they were not just showing they could turn a profit...they wanted to show just how much of a profit they could turn.

Anyone with a calculator can figure this one out. Now that license plate in my office is an homage to the New Hampshire motto: "Live free or die." The plate also has the Compaq name printed on the upper left corner. What I always found interesting about that slogan on that plate was that although the convention carried the air of big business, it did not mean that Linux would lose its sense of freedom. In fact, the presence of big business only proved that Linux would, from that point on, enjoy yet another sense of freedom - the freedom to compete on every level.

Ever since that plate fell into my hands I have tried very hard to keep up that ideal (minus the "die" of course). For the most part I have had much success. Of course I have benefited from open source in more ways than living up to an ideology. I have made a living with open source. I currently write for three major Web sites (Techrepublic, Linux.com, and Ghacks) and I use strictly open source tools to take care of clients.

Open source software has allowed me (and many others) freedoms, on many levels, that I never would enjoy with closed source software.

(1) Freedom of financial gain. I realize I am a niche writer. That niche, however, is growing ever-larger as open source software gains more and more traction. I happened into Linux very early in the game as I was also developing the necessary skills for technical writing. I realize that many struggle to solve the enigma of making money with open source. It's a challenge, but it is one that companies have bested. Red Hat, Novell, System 76, and others have donned the boxing gloves and taken up the fight with proprietary companies. None have KOd such giants as Microsoft, but they are at least getting their jabs in and continue to fight.

(2) Freedom from cost-prohibitive licenses. The global economy is still less than stellar. For that reason, more and more people are turning to open source. If your company has become financially challenged and your software is seriously out of date, you can free yourself from this situation by giving Linux a chance. This is a freedom you will come to appreciate more and more as you are able to always be up to date with the latest, greatest release of your operating system without having to pony up for costly licenses.

(3) Freedom to alter source. I am not a developer. But I do, often, open up source code and make changes in order to get the software I use to do what I need it to do. Most often these changes are very minor, but at least they could be made. So many IT pros manage to use open source software in ways they would never dream of using closed source equivalents. That is due, in part, to the flexible nature of open source software.

(4) Freedom from monopolistic practices. This is the big one. I have never been one to follow the lead. When I was a Computer Information Systems student at a local university I had a rather large fight with the chairman of the department because he refused to add any UNIX or Linux content to the curriculum. He stated that as long as Microsoft held the market share, that's what they would teach. I argued that UNIX was the backbone of the Internet and it was necessary to at least have some knowledge of how it functioned. He loudly disagreed. I stormed off and left the department.

Monopolies stifle growth and evolution. For the longest time, Microsoft had a stranglehold on the nation's IT. To a degree they still do. Open source software enables us to escape these monopolies so we can be free to use technology in ways that better suit our needs. There is, unfortunately a catch to this. Many enterprises and SMBs are already locked into costly licenses or large scale deployments of one Windows operating system or another. For many IT pros the only way to get open source software into the mix is to either create it from the ground up (to perfectly fit their needs) or to use it only in small areas where it can just do its job. This is where software like Apache, MySQL, Postfix, and Drupal fit in. By deploying these in key areas you free yourself from the many-headed lock-down monster created by Microsoft.

%5) Freedom of choice. I couldn't help but use that Devo song as a title. In fact a small quote from the song is apropos: "Don't be tricked by what you see. You got two ways to go." To apply that quote to open source is almost doing it a disservice. Why? Only two ways to go? Really? To think that way is not the open source way. With open source you have the freedom to go as many ways as necessary. I have always extolled one of the benefits of using open source software is that there is always multiple solutions for a single problem. And if one solution doesn't work, you can bridge two together or create your own. That is truly freedom of choice.

Of course there are those out there that will proclaim, "It's just software and an operating system!" Yes and no. Saying that open source and Linux are just software and an operating system is like saying Star Wars is just a movie. To those who have dedicated their lives ensuring the "force" is strong within them, a very different picture would be painted. But without those die-hard fan boys Star Wars might just have been nothing more than a movie. Imagine how hollow science fiction would be without Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia in that sexy slave costume?

I realize open source brings about more freedoms than those I have listed. Can you think of any? Any that have directly affected you? Let's hear about them.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

24 comments
shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

Freedom from Fair-Use restrictions is my vote. I really don't care all that much if I can see the code, nor do I have a problem paying a fair price. The greatest benefit I personally derive from open source is freedom to use my stuff when, where and how I want. I don't have to record and keep track of a magic license key. I don't have to connect to the internet every x days to be re-authorized, I don't have to fiddle with license servers, or files, and I can move my software from one system to another at will, without having to call anyone to beg their permission.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

I agree wholeheartedly. Same reason i use OGG/vorbis only for music. Freedom!

lastchip
lastchip

It's freedom from nurse-maiding Windows, though I would subscribe to the first six choices!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

And, I can't select "all" in the poll. 1. I'm gainfully employed as the *nix admin and security expert in my company due to knowledge of FOSS and security. There be gold in them thar hills. 2. Prohibitive license costs are a big one. Exchange at 10 grand is prohibitive for home users and nearly so for small businesses. Only through the belief that it's the only true way does it justify that price. By contrast, eGroupware offers functions that Exchange didn't have until 2008 and it took an hour to install at home this weekend. No trip to the computer store or extra hardware costs. Calendars, todo, project management, bookmark management, sync to most platforms and browser interface for universal access; got it covered. 4 grand in hardware gives me a server I'd pay three times that cost for with other platforms. Between VMs and personal hardware, my home would be well above 50 grand in license costs alone but it's not, and it's all legal. My workstation alone would be over ten grand in software to come remotely close to the functionality my build scripts setup in an hour. In short, I'd have to forgo much of my own education if limited by license costs since copyright infringement is not a viable option. In some cases, I have programs that sit on either side of #2 which provides good comparison. For home use and learning, I can run Nessus any time I like with barely older than latest signature data. At the same time, I have to be aware and not run it for professional purposes without that 10 grand annual subscription fee. 3. Freedom to alter. Bastille is a great baseline for starting a safe system configuration. It doesn't recognize Debian 5 Lenny though it does recognize Debian 4 Etch and runs perfectly with either version. if it was closed source, I'd be out of luck doing the initial config changes by hand. Instead, I edit two program files in under ten seconds and it's ready to go. Source access isn't always about developer modification. 4. Monopolistic practices; see #2 and #3. I'm also not limited to one company's marketing calendar or imposed decisions on what I want or need. Things like strong cryptography are not dolled out only when it serves the shareholders. The only time I'm limited to poor security is when I have to interact with those closed systems (CIFS/SMB, I mean you; you miserable clear text prot). 5. Freedom of choice. Lots of options for any function I may want or need. If a better program comes along, I can change. Password Safe didn't work for me, Keepass works great. Changing web server doesn't effect OS or website layers. Changing databases, dependent layers don't much care if the back end is MySQL, Postgresql or sqlite so have at it. All within the OS specific repositories rather than having to go elsewhere for competitive software. Software build quality was listed in the discussion above though not int he article. I didn't think of it until reading the first comment so kudos to J-Mart on that one. Between early highschool and now well into professional life, I couldn't have afforded a quarter of the software and systems learning I've had access too if not for open licenses. I'm voting for #2 because the prohibitive cost is a huge hurdle that limits learning closed systems to the financially rich regardless of the learning ability. The other benefits are very important but to truly realize them, you have to be allowed to learn first.

Jaqui
Jaqui

The Freedom to make a system work exactly the way I want, and redistribute the software IF I CHOOSE.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

I chose this one because it encompasses all the others, in my opinion. I have a choice between owning my computer and its software, or renting. Guess which one I chose. There is no section 8 in the GPL.

RealGem
RealGem

Most of those choices in the survey don't have much of a downside. What's the downside to lower costs, or more choice, etc. The thing that concerns me is the freedom to alter the source. Ask anyone who has purchased software, like an ERP, and then applied customizations to make it fit their operation better. The next time you upgrade, your customizations break. Or they have to be redone. Or removed. At minimum, they have to analyzed and tested. I would like to see the open source community deal with this. For starters, how about a utility that compares the code to the out-of-the-box version and identifies differences, thus spotting customizations. Then, some guidance about which code areas have been modified; pair that up with the customizations and you can help spot pain points on the upgrade. This would required some metadata (and processing) about the code itself that can identify it's state, it's base state, and make the comparison.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

debsum tells you if the software installed from package has been modified or not. You can also specify packages which should not be updated when you pull in the rest of the updates. If a company is making customizations, they are also aware of the potential outcomes of that change or they should be. Either way, they have the freedom to do so.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

Pacman under Arch also lets you exclude updates

Jaqui
Jaqui

with open source. it's called diff. make a patch set for the original version, with your customizations. then pull a patch set of the two ORIGINAL code bases, and compare the patch sets. you only have to see where those differ to see if your customizations will apply.

RealGem
RealGem

There's no technical reason why the current set of ERP vendors cannot do this themselves. Many of them try, with long lists of changes included in a release, or conversion utilities, etc. My experience is that a lot of those conversion utilities don't work. We're going through a HR/Payroll upgrade it's awful. You've got to remember that most vendors offer services. If the upgrades were less painful, they would sell less services. If open-source can stay altruistic long to deal with this problem, I would start to given it a serious look for large-scale business problems. Right now, I would only consider it for routine things like the OS or office productivity suites.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Not trying to start anything but I found that ironic. Most people state that Linux is only viable in the server room and that desktop or office use is never going to happen. It's a refreshing twist to hear it going the other way; office and small desktop use would be ok but not back end systems.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

or like a webserver/database stack that handles millions of credit card transactions a day. very routine. And Closed Source isn't any better in the update hell than FLOSS. SP3 broke about three must have programs at my work, and we have to avoid ie8 for much the same reason. Closed source != better upgrade paths.

nkhaghani8
nkhaghani8

Yes Sir, Open source is easy to talk about. Businesses who have implemented Linux had easy times at the beginning but as soon as the programs became more complex hallelujah. No body could figure it out. They had to call all kind of organizations who claimed competency!. That saying "nothing is free" proves even in an open source business!!.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

With closed source as well. Plenty of paper trained MCSE's out there selling their "knowledge". And consider companies left holding the bag when their closed source vendor went belly up. Worse for them, they have no access to the source to help fix problems, or work on a transition strategy. I agree with what I think was your real point - open source doesn't mean free($). But then I didn't get that this article was about that kind of free either.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Most businesses worship "support" so then have a head to hang when dodging blame. Other's hire resources internally that can support the product. Those companies had the option to go it alone and support themselves or choose a service contract from a third party though. Again, that pesky choice thing turns up. Nothing wrong with any business seeking outside help if they don't have the internal skill sets available yet though. If complexity has increased to the point they need it, your probably talking enterprise levels so support contracts are a given regardless of platform.

bobdavis321
bobdavis321

Microsoft was considering charging a monthly fee to be able to use your computer. Linux saved us from that!!!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In varying degrees. The big one for me and many others is most likely freedom from cost-prohibitive licenses. I know several people who have found a hobby or avocation in graphics, music, writing, design, or engineering; each of them says, "Well, it all started when I discovered [insert open source application name here]." The open-source model makes it possible for those with an interest (but not the financial resources) to experiment with software that duplicates or approximates the functions of commercial applications costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Strayer
Strayer

I learned Linux all by my lonesome with Debian. I was volunteer tech for a non profit and introduced Ubuntu into the room. It now has MAC, Windows and Ubuntu. This was a place that couldn't afford an ink cartridge. I had a time getting Ubuntu accepted, but soon the director is fine with it. I quit the tech bit because I wouldn't allow anyone to have the password and fiddle with the machines. Ubuntu saves that place. MAC is limited on new software. Windows is a pain. It's freedom from control of information by Microsoft.

Mr_Tech
Mr_Tech

You forgot to mention Stargate SG-1. It's not just a show, it's real ;) http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10274268-52.html?tag=newsLeadStoriesArea.1 Just kidding, it is something I found which reminds me on SG-1 :) In relation to the poll above, I voted for Freedom of Choice but I also wanted to vote for Freedom from monopolistic practices and they are both equally important.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

It is a two-fer in my case; actually a 3-fer since I like the freedom from having to run all those extra utilities to fix the mess the O/S created (crap cleaner, malware, adware, spybot, defrag). In fact it was getting tired of having to run those utilities so often that led me to try Linux in the first place and in the long run decide to dump Windows since there was nothing I intended to do that required Windows (I don't like computer games and what else is there that requires Windows).

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I was curious about non-Windows OS and at that time long ago, Linux also offered some interesting tools not available for Windows. (ah.. so much fun on IRC with that nasty win98 ping of death) These days, it's amazing how many Windows machine I fix through non-windows tools. Your Windows won't boot, let me see if your data is there.. ok.. let's copy your data somewhere safe then fix this beast. Any viruses.. there's one but it can't run outside of windows.. I'll just clean that up before we reboot. Now it's clean, is it safe from network and easy local attacks?

j-mart
j-mart

The open collaborative process to produce Open Source Software makes for built in quality assurance, as every one involved is putting their skills and ability out there to be easily scrutinized by Their peers. This has two effects, as you name is on your work, which you will be judged on, contributers will strive to produce their best work and as many clever people will review and check out your code so flaws will be found and repaired quickly. In my job my employer provides me with proprietary software to do my work, at home I use only FOSS, the corporate mind set seems to be entrenched in the Microsoft world, the IT consultants all having come through the narrow minded Technical Training Institutions, have never been exposed to Linux, and all have Microsoft qualifications, many don't have the slightest clue about all the alternatives out there, most not interested in going out of their way or put any effort into learning computers, they only bother with what Microsoft has to tell them about computing. From my experience many tasks computers are use for in the workplace can be often more economically performed using open source alternatives to proprietary software, but the attitude of many IT consultants, and their understanding of only the Microsoft way is making a wider use of FOSS in the Corporate world more difficult than it should be.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

University didn't teach me programming concepts, it taught .Net Studio's Visual C. LDAP network management, nope.. MS-AD administration. Database design and administartion, nope; Access usage. It's not limited to the consultants being pushed through Cert schools unfortunately. "Never let school get in the way of your education" becomes more true every day.

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