Free software is free as in no cost, but also free to do what you like with, so you can change it and pass it on to others. It’s the opposite of ‘closed source’, or proprietary software such as that produced by Microsoft or Apple, the code of which is not available for you to look at.
Apart from its non-corporate nature, here are some other benefits of open source / free software:
- it’s free (as in gratis)
- upgrades are free too
- avoids ‘vendor lock-in’ – i.e. software that will only work with one company’s products
- fewer bugs: you don’t need anti-virus software slowing you down
- more secure: open source programmes prevent surveillance or data harvesting
- works well on old computers – you don’t have to keep buying new kit
What to do
Thinking about changing to open source software can be scary for non-technical people (i.e. almost everybody). We’d like to persuade you that it’s really quite simple to start, and you’ll gain confidence as you use it more. If you can use the proprietary software, you’ll be able to use open source / free software too.
Below is a list of the things that you can do easily with open source, and the list is growing all the time.
Firefox web browser
Alternative to Internet Explorer, Chrome etc.
Libre Office Writer – word processing, desktop publishing etc.
Alternative to Microsoft Word.
Libre Office Calc & Impress – spreadsheets and presentations
Alternative to Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint.
Create PDFs from Libre Office documents.
GIMP image manipulation
Alternative to Photoshop.
VLC Media Player
Alternative to Windows Media Player.
WordPress blogs & websites
Seems to be taking over, so not an alternative to anything, really.
Jitsi – online calls & video chat
Alternative to Skype.
DuckDuckGo search engine
Alternative to Google.
Free / open source software is much more secure, so you don’t need it!
What if I get stuck?
Because open source is enthusiast-driven, if you put any question into a search engine, you’ll get lots of forum discussions and videos about how to do what you’re trying to do. This is a much easier route than looking at official tutorials or guides, which always seem to assume knowledge that you may not have. That’s often the key – people who know a bit more than you will be more likely to speak you language, in a way that people who know a lot more than you don’t.
But if you’re still stuck after doing your research, you can pay an open source specialist to help you. Although the programmes themselves are free, support and services can be charged for, and this is the way open source software developers / specialists can make a living but still stay on the ‘open source way’.
The Empire strikes back
Open source is not perfect, and in many cases, the corporate sector is trying to infiltrate it or even take it over (see below), and they’ve been successful in some cases. There’s something quite sad about the corporate sector using the work of volunteer enthusiasts to make profit, but it’s still free – and therefore something we don’t have to give corporations money for at the point of use.
Android, for example, is in theory open source – an operating system for mobile phones. But you couldn’t really say that it’s non-corporate – the corporate sector can release open source, free software, but harvest data from it, to target advertising. They also sell apps that only work on ‘their’ open source software, which is against the spirit of the movement. And also, corporates make money from service contracts – e.g. if a government uses ubuntu – they might pay a corporation many millions per year to maintain the infrastructure.
Microsoft try to make it as difficult as possible for people to jettison their software. Apart from forcing most people to pay for a Windows operating system when they buy a laptop – produced by another corporation (in a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours sort of way), they make it difficult in lots of small ways, such as copying content from Microsoft to open source products.