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Talking Freedom:

Free Software vs. Ease of Use


It is essential that we talk and write about three things when we talk and write about GNU/Linux: (1) that we actually call the Operating System (OS) we use GNU/Linux and not Linux; (2) that we point out that what is important about the GNU/Linux OS is that it is, or should be, composed of free software as defined by the GNU Project and covered by GNU copyleft; and (3) that GNU/Linux is an interactive OS.

We should realize that it is these three things which define GNU/Linux and make it unique. For this reason, it is fundamentally wrong to compare GNU/Linux with another well-known Operating System, and fundamentally wrong to try and imitate that particular OS in the quest to make GNU/Linux more user-friendly and increase the number of people who use or wish to use GNU/Linux.

What really matters are the three fundamental principles above; what does not matter is how 'popular' GNU/Linux is or becomes - for it is irrelevant how many people actually use it and how many restrictive, commercial applications or utilities there are for GNU/Linux which may make it 'easier' to use.

GNU/Linux, and its continued development based upon the three fundamental principles, represents a wonderful and exciting opportunity in the world of computing and for the world itself, and if the principles of GNU/Linux are abandoned in a quest for popularity or because of commercial exploitation, then these opportunities will be lost.

The opportunity for computing lies is the interactive nature of the GNU/Linux OS and its non-commercial development by individuals who believe in the principle of free software. This is an opportunity for education and software robustness. An interactive OS encourages people to learn, as it takes advantage of and seeks to develop the true nature of computers - that almost symbiotic relationship which exists, or which can exist between the system and the user. This is the two-way dynamic flow between system and user which the user can learn to understand and control so as to alter how the system itself functions. This education and this interaction simply does not exist in another well-known Operating System - because the flow is essentially one-way, from the system to the user (some information about what is happening) and the user cannot change the system through this flow in any meaningful way. For this interaction is not fundamentally about changing icons and widgets to suit your personal taste - it is about being able to configure the whole system: to be able to access what makes the system work and, for instance, actually write scripts which do or change important things.

This is where the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux easily wins from all the others - you can find what you need in the right place (e.g. /etc for system config), and alter it.

The opportunity for the world lies in the social consequences of free software. There is the sense of world-wide community spirit which exists between both GNU/Linux developers and GNU/Linux users, and the practical social benefits which people like Richard Stallman and others involved with the GNU Project have outlined. The exploitation which commercial software is based upon cannot be justified - the opportunities and benefits which modern computers can and do bring should be available to all. Why should a large corporation - any large corporation - be able to charge what is an exorbitant price for software when a free, and better, alternative is available? Because there has been a triumph of marketing - of propaganda.

Freedom requires a triumph of principles and we can only achieve this if we keep talking and writing about GNU/Linux in terms of its three fundamental principles.


Copyleft 1999 by Space-Time Systems. This document is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the license, or (at your option) any later version.
This document is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but without any warranty; without even the implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. See the GNU General Public License for more details.
Should you be lacking a copy of this, look at www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html.