An Introduction to the World of Free Software
For years (perhaps I should say decades), we have all been used to buying software for our computers. A Windows license to make the whole computer work, an office suite to write our documents, an accounting software for our businesses, a designer’s suite for our image editions. The list can get endless.
However, there has also been another path, although usually under the radar: free software. They also offer us office suites, accounting applications, designer’s suites and, again, the list can get endless. But is it worth it?
This article aims at providing some answers to the most common questions people have about it:
What is free software?
I think the best way to understand it is this: Corporate software is created as products by companies, and they mostly sell it for profit; free software is created collaboratively by groups of programmers around the world, and it is mostly given away for free.
One of the key people of the free software movement is Mr. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. He began motivating programmers to work on software we could all share, use and modify to fit our needs about 30 years ago. This does not mean the FSF is behind all free software around the world, no. They certainly have their own software, but their mission is more concentrated in promoting rather than building it.
Is free software really free?
Yes, most of it is free. You may be used to thirty-day trial copies of software you need to purchase later, or to freeware tools which include some sort of advertising or paid upgrades, or to software which is given away for free but includes some ‘nosy’ terms and conditions; but that is not common on free software. If it is given away for free, then it is 100% free almost always with no catch and no strings attached.
Yet if it is given away for free, perhaps it is not as good?
That’s a very common misconception, and let me tell you it is very wrong too. Free software is most of the times as good as the corporate software you may already be used to; yet I might admit there are a few differences…
- As commercial software is built as products, they are often more polished than their free peers.
- Commercial software is more popular thanks to advertising and marketing investment.
- Commercial software is more utilized under corporate environments because it is usually the standard software for the job.
- Free software, conversely, may have some rough edges, but it does the job and does it well.
- Free software is more geared to work with international or ISO standards, making your work more universal (for example, a .DOCx file is not an international standard, a .ODT file is).
- Free software, as it can be reviewed by many professional programmers, is often more secure than its commercial peers.
- Last but not least, free software is most of the times less demanding of computer resources than its commercial peers, making your computer work slightly more efficient than when using corporate software.
Is free software not for geeks?
Of course not. Anybody can download, install and use free software. It is just as good as its commercial peers. The learning curve is most of the times not steep either.
Can free software be used in professional environments?
Yes it can. To end this article let me leave you an animation short film made 100% using free software. In my next post, I will show you some alternatives free software offers you to the common software you may be using in your computer now:
Until then, good bye.