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Freeware, free software and the open source paradigm

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Since Open Source Update debuted in December, a number of readers have suggested articles on various pieces of "freeware" that are useful to translators. Most of these are add-ons to programs such as Microsoft Word, and are distributed for free, but their code is not available to the user. While no one would disagree that free is a great price for software, it's important to keep in mind the first line on the Free Software Foundation's website, "Free Software is a matter of liberty, not price. You should think of 'Free' as in 'Free Speech'." or as the FSF used to put it, "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer."

The Free Software Foundation defines four types of freedom that characterize free software; numbered from zero to three: 0) The freedom to run the program for any purpose. 1) The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. Access to the source code is a precondition for this. 2) The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor. 3) The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

So, while software that turns your cursor into a dancing peanut might be free, and cute, unless you can look at the code, change it, and give it to someone else, it's not Free Software. Recently, I interviewed the CEO of an open source audio equipment company for an article on embedded Linux in consumer products. When I asked him to name some differences between his company and others that sell embedded Linux products, he answered (this is a paraphrase), "We run Linux on our products, and we put the code out to the community so that everyone can see it, use it, and adapt it. If you're running Linux on your products but you're not releasing your code, I call that leeching off the community, not contributing to it." While this point of view might be outside the mainstream, it's a great example of a business that has truly adopted the open source paradigm.




This article may be freely reproduced or redistributed
for non-commercial use with attribution to the author
Copyright 2005 by Corinne McKay

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