A respected commentator, oldman, writing of the four freedoms of Free Software wrote, “As IMHO worthless as they are.” The four freedoms are:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
Those who do not value access to the source code could be excused for not valuing freedoms 1 and 3. However the values of freedoms 0 and 2 are huge.
Without freedom 0, the software is all but useless and a licence that prevents you from running the code would be bizarre but that’s what people often get with that other OS when they obtain the software pre-installed on an OEM’s PC. The EULA (End User Licence Agreement) prevents you from running the code under all kinds of circumstances:
- lost/ripped COA (Certificate of Authenticity). I have encountered many of those in schools where idle hands of students do evil.
- change of motherboard. You may not run that other OS with any other motherboard than the one that shipped on your PC.
- sale of the PC. The software has to go with the PC or it cannot be run.
- connection to more than 10 “devices”. Sheesh. If there are 12 PCs on your LAN the boss cannot share his blurb of the day by SMB/CIFS.
So, “POOF!”, the licence for which you recently paid ~$100 when you bought your PC is now worthless. You could try selling that $100 box for $200 but you likely will have no way to recoup the loss by selling the PC. So, freedom 0 can really save you money and headaches.
Freedom 2, the freedom to make and distribute copies, is obviously valuable as whatever the cost of acquisition of the software, you can make N copies for something like cost/N making the software even more valuable. M$ gets of the order of $50 per licence and the OEM gets of the order of $50 per licence so the consumer pays of the order of $100 per licence with that other OS. That is $100 X N for N exercises of Freedom 2. That’s real money in your pocket/budget that you can spend on other things like hardware, networks, documentation, training, etc., valuable stuff.
So, oldman is wrong. The four freedoms have great value even for those not accessing the source code. For those who do access the source code, the other two freedoms are priceless. M$ and others charge huge prices for that freedom and only a few select “partners” are eligible. Where I worked last year we ran GNU/Linux on 100 clients and servers so the four freedoms were worth something like $10K for the OS and likely more for the applications and servery. I value the four freedoms a lot just in terms of money.
When you consider the time/labour the four freedoms save, the value is much more than that listed above:
- Because the software may be copied without extra documentation/budgeting, the owner of the PC can update the OS and the applications together with a single package manager. Not having to account with the budget and a dozen suppliers really saves a lot of labour.
- Because the software may be copied, I can have a local repository and install over the network on a new PC, a repaired PC, a new hard drive, etc. over the LAN at very high speed with no need to buy a CD or licence for each machine.
- Because possession of the software includes the licence, I do not need to authenticate to M$’s servers or type/scan in an authentication code, or document/explain/plead that my PCs and software are properly/legally licensed. My licence does not disappear if a sticker is damaged or a CD disappears.
Finally, I believe, with reason, that Free Software source code being visible produces better software because bugs are more easily fixed and features added more easily, FLOSS has greater value than that other OS and many closed-source applications for it. Much non-FREE software has tons of features that include some that oldman and others appreciate but just the plethora of features makes the software more prone to bugs and more difficult to use, a negative value.
So, for many reasons, Free Software does have a lot of value and most of that value is a result of the four freedoms. A good place to start enjoying the value of Free/Libre Open Source Software is Debian where you can learn about and obtain Free Software for the cost of downloading.