A run for FS (I): Destroying the myths surrounding FS

The same way  someone who has never run cannot decide to run a marathon, nobody without any software knowledge can write a computer program. Both goals can be reached with training, effort, willingness and time but also you do not need to run a marathon if you just enjoy jogging as well as you do not need to write your software if you want to be a Free Software supporter (although in that case you can be considered a “free rider”).  And, the good news it is that, as well as running,  everyone can (really) do it.

One of the first “stages” is to demystify Free Software. Some people reject running because of stereotypes and misconceptions; the same is happening about Free Software. Here are some of the FS and OS myths.

  • “I do not understand computers and I just need an easy tool”.

Most of the computers available at the market are coming with a specific proprietary distribution (which can, also, raised a question of anti-trust. Check the EU vs Microsoft case for more information about this. Or this article about selling computers without an Operating System)

A lack of information (or to say, of information in the mainstream media) together with a lack of education and a outstanding market campaign have done the rest.

A Free Software distribution can be an easier tool than a proprietary one. It can be easier as it can be adapted to your specific needs but also there are lots of people checking it which are able to fix bugs (bug = a problem, an error in the source code // source code= the commands or computer instructions which allow the program to run ) so it is faster and more efficient to solve its problems.

  • “I am not a nerd”:

EXCUSE ME??. As I stated at the beginning of this post, you do not need to have IT skills or to know how to program to use Free Software. And Free Software is not a black screen with strange words… as well as proprietary software it has different interfaces (and distributions), which means that it is user-friendly and really inductive.

@”basic users”: if you know how to use proprietary software, you can also use Free Software (e. g. if you were a Microsoft user and you changed to Apple, why are you not going to be able to use any of the Linux distributions?).  And I am sure some people are already using Free Software without even realizing it. VLC Media Player, Audacity, Mozilla Firefox, Inkscape… are some examples of the latter.

To be fair, I have to say that I also had this misconception. I thought I had to be able to create code to be able to use a Linux Distribution. I couldn’t be further from the truth

  •  “It cannot be trusted as it is made by collaborative work”

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Wikipedia is based on this collaborative and peer to peer production ideas, the so called crowd sourcing. Several studies (from Nature and other relevant academic institutions) have shown that Wikipedia is more reliable than Britannica (you can find the links to those studies and more information in a Wikipedia  entry about it). So, if you trust Wikipedia, why don’t you trust, for example, LibreOffice?

In fact, Free Software is even more reliable than proprietary one for many reasons. First, you are able to control your data as you can access the source code so you (or someone who understands it) can control that it does not go to any company. But also, as any hacker can improve it, the update time is lower and bugs are repaired sooner.

  • “I would love to change but I need an specific program and it only runs with proprietary software”:

Have you tried to find the same tool? There are a lot of software and apps run by Free Software which can fit your specific needs. From a software that allows you to draw 3D building plans to an app to help you when using references in an academic paper. Of course, there can be some exceptions so you can check if the one you need can be run by a Linux distribution (I bet so!) and get it.

And you can also ask the FS community to help you to make the application you need. Someone might be able to help you.

  • “Free Software is gratis”

Free Software can be “gratis” but that is not the meaning of the term free in this case. We should understand the “free” in Free Software does not refers to free of cost (gratis) but to freedom. So, Free Software can be commercial and proprietary and it is the developer own decision the kind of  licence to commercialize it.

  • “Free Software is bad for the economy”

On the contrary. Free Software can help entrepreneurs and start-ups as it allows to reduce project costs Citing an article about this topic: ” There is a fundamental flaw in the reasoning: software is not a resource like any other resource – it has special quirks attached to it. But before we go into that we must take notice that there is no free software. In many areas, for example, free Linux is a substantially more expensive proposition than Windows. So free software can’t be bad because free software does not exist (at least it hasn’t been invented yet, future might change this).”

Two more interesting articles about this:

-Economy to Give Open-Source a Good Thumping

- Red Hat CEO: From the economic rubble, open source will emerge stronger