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.


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.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....