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GNU/Linux: Too Much about Hate, Not Enough about Pride - page 4

Negative Identity

  • April 7, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

All this influence is impressive in itself. Yet the greatest influence of free software lies elsewhere. Starting with the idea that free software was a necessary corollary of freedom of expression in a computerized society, the free software community has done more than any other group to publicize the social implications of technology, and to make its benefits accessible to all.

For average users, free software represents the opportunity to take control of their computing. Paradoxically, because no one owns free software, everyone has owners' rights in it. Instead of receiving a license to use software in a limited way, they can redistribute and modify it as they choose without any need for activation or concern about the legality of their actions.

Moreover, free software has introduced freedom of choice. Where Internet Explorer once monopolized the Web browser, Firefox now has a healthy and growing market share. Where MS Office was the only choice (or perhaps WordPerfect, if you could find it), OpenOffice.org has provided an alternative. Similarly, in the struggle against so-called Digital Rights Management, free software advocates have emerged as protectors of consumer rights.

For other users, free software has made the difference between having a computer and not having one. Being concerned with other things than profit, free software has become the choice for both poor citizens and cash-strapped governments and academic institutions. In developing nations, it is the only way that a technological infrastructure can be constructed. For minority language users, it is the only way to participate in modern technology in their own languages, instead of being forced to learn English. For endangered languages defenders, it is a way to preserve and restore pride and interest. And for people with disabilities, applications like the Orca screen reader offer access to computers without spending thousands of dollars.

Wherever you look, free software is addressing the interaction between society and technology. Moreover, it does not do so in a charity carefully calculated to result in the maximum of publicity, but quietly and with an emphasis on human dignity in which anyone involved should take satisfaction.

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