Free Software - Powerful Alternatives to Budget-Busting Software
When you buy a computer, it most likely comes with Microsoft Windows preinstalled.
And when you need a word processor, spreadsheet, or other software, you probably
buy it from a computer store. That software is vital. Without it, a computer is just an
But you can find free and low-cost alternatives to commercial software. Free
software has been available for years but has never been so accessible to everyday
computer users. These
programs have long been the domain of, well, geeks - experts who were willing to
download huge programs from the Internet and who knew how to compile the
programs from source code. But free software is entering the mainstream, thanks to
faster Internet connections and easier-to-use installers that don't require a degree
in computer science.
Free software appeals to those on a budget as well as anyone who simply wants
another choice. Examples of free software include GNU/Linux, an operating system
that replaces Microsoft Windows; OpenOffice, a word processor, spreadsheet, and
presentation manager suite; and The GIMP, an image editor
that rivals Adobe Photoshop. A PC with GNU/Linux preinstalled can cost hundreds
of dollars less than a Microsoft Windows PC.
Free software takes time and money to run, and Microsoft will eagerly tell you that
the total cost of ownership for GNU/Linux is umpteen times higher than Windows.
But advocates of free software say cost is not the only issue.
"Free software means the users are in control," says Richard Stallman, founder of the
not-for-profit Free Software Foundation. "Each non-free program has an owner, a
feudal lord in effect, who dominates the program and its users. The owners of non-
free software often impose changes on the users, changes meant to suit them, not
Free software advocates say there are two kinds of free: free as in "free beer" and
free as in "free speech." They're both good but for different reasons. The mantra of
the Free Software Foundation is "Free software' is a matter of liberty, not price."
Commercial software licenses - those wordy, legalese-filled documents that no one
actually reads before clicking "I Agree" when installing software - usually impose
strict limits: You can't install the software on more than one computer; if it doesn't
work the way you want, you can't change it; and so on. Free software often has a
license too, but it's far less restrictive. Users can amend the software to make it
"The main advantage is the community of people who will continue to improve the
software on a voluntary basis, especially as it relates to security flaws," says Irwin
Taranto, treasurer of the International Computer Users Fellowship of Rotarians. Case
in point is Mozilla Firefox, a web browser that's emphasizes speed and
security. The program has taken a quick foothold amongst Internet users who are
tired of the security flaws in Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Most free software can be downloaded from the Internet. The programs are
sometimes large, so a fast Internet connection helps. Some programs are sold in
stores. Many free software licenses allow others to sell the software. Although it
may seem ironic, free software users often opt to pay in exchange for value-added
features such as printed documentation, a CD installer, and technical support.
The next time you need software for your computer, you might consider free
alternatives. It may not be as free as free beer, but it can be as liberating as free
Copyright 2005 by Kevin Savetz.
Kevin Savetz is a freelance www.savetz.com">technology journalist who has written for more than 80 publications. He is the founder of FreeDownloadADay.com, which features high-quality www.FreeDownloadADay.com">free software. You can subscribe to the site's www.FreeDownloadADay.com/about-this-site/subscribe-free">Free Downloads newsletter, which is also free.