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Linux and Free/Open Source Software: Why Code For Free? (part 1) - page 2

The Four Freedoms

  • July 24, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder

And just plain neglect, like bugs and security holes gone unfixed for years. And abandonware, where a company discontinues an application or goes out of business, leaving customers high and dry with their data locked away in closed, proprietary formats, so that even if you have the skills to fix these problems, you can't because you don't have the source code.

FOSS by its nature fosters openness, accountability, and honesty because there is nowhere to hide. Lock-in is impossible and no application is ever truly orphaned because it can be adopted by anyone. Even if you aren't capable of analyzing source code, tens of thousands of FOSS coders worldwide are.

A lot of FOSS code is very high quality, again because of the openness. It's like the entire world is potential peer review. The FOSS world is far from perfect; it's populated by humans, after all. But it is not hobbled by the constraints placed on proprietary software vendors such as inadequate budgets, bad managers, lack of clear vision and goals, marketing pressures, and pressures from business partners, all of which push code quality and customer needs to the bottom of the list.

There is an amazing amount of creativity and, with apologies for the buzzword, "innovation." Again, the proprietary software world simply cannot compete with FOSS for progress and creativity. There are no committees, focus groups, or clueless bosses to say "No." Have a great idea and want to do something about it? Then you just do it.

The Biggest Benefit

The biggest and most valuable benefit of FOSS is Microsoft cannot kill it. Nooo, you groan, can't you Linux weenies go one day without whining about Microsoft? I would love to not have to think about Microsoft. Their lock on the computing marketplace has been tight and destructive for many years; it is only because of Linux and FOSS that competitive bidding and pricing pressure are slowly re-entering the computer marketplace. And open standards, and open data formats. Apple can't take them on, and anyway they're even more restrictive than Microsoft. The big Unix vendors were served up for Microsoft's lunch long ago and retreated to the datacenter and server room. So who else is there? In a country (the United States) with a thousand different brands of bottled water, doesn't it strike you as a bit strange that computing, which is much more important than bottled water, offers so few choices? That is by design, and only Linux and FOSS have exhibited the power to change this.

But What's In It For Programmers?

Now you have an idea of the immense benefits of FOSS to end users. But we still haven't answered the questions about what's in it for programmers? Come back next week to hear the whys and whats from some real programmers.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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