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Free software is changing the world for the better

The free software movement was started decades ago, but never before has it been more important.  With our economy in peril, consumers and small businesses must be prudent about spending.  While some may mistakenly associate free software with spyware, ads and other annoyances, most free programs do not have these “features”. In fact, a few that I mention are aimed at fighting spyware and reducing ads.

Examples of real world free software

There are many great examples of free software being used by people all over the world.  One of my favorite free programs is Firefox.  It is a fast and secure web browser that is completely community driven in its development and features.  You can even add plug-ins to enhance your functionality to block ads and Javascript, see the current weather or even play your iTunes.

Another great example is Open Office.  It is by far the most powerful free office suite on Earth.  It has more features than most of the commercial office suites, its development is entirely community driven and of course it can read and write files that Microsoft Office, Word Perfect and other word processing programs can read.  It’s interface is similar enough to other office document composition programs that it only takes a short time to learn.

Everyone must stay secure with the dangerous viruses and spyware that are pervasive on the Internet and in workplaces.  I find that the AVG Anti-Virus / Anti-Spyware 8.0 Free Edition is more powerful than its commercial competition, like Norton and McAfee.   Many viruses are familiar with how to render these scanners useless by injecting rogue code in to memory and circumvent the security protection.  While AVG is not a community driven effort, the quality of the software is such that it warrants inclusion as a top tier free software product.

There is a growing community of people who have grown dissatisfied with commercial operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X and moved to open source.  Operating systems like FreeBSD and Linux provide incredibly robust, secure and dynamic alternatives to the commercial operating systems that many feel are overpriced and underwhelming in features.  For new users I recommend trying Ubuntu Linux.  It’s an easy to use graphically driven Linux distribution that allows for a more horizontal learning curve when adjusting from Windows or Mac OS X.

Empowering the individual

Most people are genuinely thrilled by the prospect of a free software solution to what was once an expensive and complex licensing nightmare.  A community of dedicated and brilliant developers who generously share their skills and resources to create wonderful and powerful software is a surely great value.

My company, Envescent, favors open source software.  We use all of the above mentioned free software and more for our every day operations and for our many clients. Since I opened shop in 1999, I’ve always been passionate about using open source for my company.  If you’re still skeptical consider the following:

  • Free software allows individuals and businesses to save funds and focus spending on other areas or expand profit margins.
  • Many free software programs are open source and community driven, meaning there is also a community to rely on for support.
  • Licensing for commercial software is extremely complex and for many people it is unclear what their rights are or how long the software is usable.
  • Free software uses much less complex and restrictive licensing.
  • Most free software is freely distributable and usable by individuals without significant restrictions.
  • Free software brings education, productivity, security and communication to developing nations and disenfranchised individuals.
  • Community-driven free software improves security and quality because bugs are addressed quickly and transparently.

Keeping the competition in check

Commercial vendors are forced to improve their products or be pushed aside by free software.  This keeps them in check and if they can’t make their software worthwhile to purchase, then they will lose market share.  Indeed, in recent years market share of Internet Explorer has significantly eroded to the open source Firefox browser.

Microsoft has been pooling resources to determine how it will compete with open source.  This move signals that the management sees free software a true threat to their desktop market dominance.

Improving the world

Free software is making the technology world, and really the world as a whole, a better, more affordable place.  The unrealistically overpriced and burdensomely licensed commercial alternatives are becoing dinosaurs on the digital landscape.  Novice computer users all over the world are embracing free alternatives and with that Microsoft and their ilk should be determining their next move carefully.  Commercial software vendors would do well to embrace the one core philosophy of open source.  Let the community drive the software, it makes the world a better place!

Posted: February 23rd, 2009
Categories: free software, small business
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