Sunday, April 05, 2009

Free as in Freedom (Apr 06 09)

My friend and co-teacher Dr. Prof. Mr. Kardi Teknomo, associate professor of computer science at Ateneo de Manila University, one day asked me why some programmers write free open source programs. He reasoned out that a good programmer can make a lot of money from the programs that they write, and he could not understand why they give their programs away for free. I could not give him a short one sentence answer that will be satisfactory both for him and for me. I have read three books: "A Quarter Century of Unix", by Peter Salus (, "Just for Fun: the Story of an Accidental Revolutionary", by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond (, and "Free as in Freedom", by Sam Williams (, and I know that the answer is in one of those pages that I have read. It's just that these three books make a beautiful account of the struggles of the programming community to write programs and to share them with the rest of the programming community, without regard for monetary reward. In particular, "Free as in Freedom" is an account of Richard Stallman's crusade to make source code of programs available for programmers to study and to improve upon, and to make the source code of such improvements available for programmers to study and to further improve upon. If the source code is kept a trade secret (by making only the binary executables available for sale or for free), then only the programmers hired by the copyright owner can make improvements to the program, and the program does not grow as fast as when the source code is made available. This seems to be the view of Stallman, and it is a view shared by all free open source advocates, and by companies that have made their products open source, products like Mozilla's Firefox, Sun's OpenOffice, Apache's webserver, Debian's GNU-Linux operating system, Canonical's Ubuntu Linux operating system, UC Berkeley's BSD derivative operating systems, and many others.

All that we wait for is for Bill Gate's Windows-8 operating system to be made truly free GPL open source, with GFDL manuals, so that we can use it to teach our operating systems laboratory course in the university.

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