Free(dom) Software: Why Your PC Should Have Liberty
“Freedom” is the very word at the core of libertarianism: the ability for us to be able to do anything we believe in freely, so long as it does not infringe on the freedoms of another individual. When you think of freedom, what comes to your mind? Speech, religion, assembly, press, property, perhaps the right to bear arms, perhaps the ability for us to do whatever we please to our own bodies, and we can go on from there. So why do many not consider freedom to mean the ability to own our software in our own computers like we view our bodies or our vehicles? This is where Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS aka Free or Libre) comes in. What exactly does Free and Open Source mean? Free and Open source software is software whose source code is available for modification or enhancement by anyone. But let us always remember, Free software came before Open Source.
“Source code” is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code which computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works. Programmers who have access to a computer program’s source code can improve that program by adding features to it, or fixing parts that don’t always work correctly.
The problems with Windows and Apple are that you can’t really trust them all that much in terms of privacy. They both have backdoors for the government. Now, while the government may have good intentions according to some, they are severely flawed. The problems with a backdoor in a system that I can’t close as a user, means that malicious hackers have another exploit to get into your system with and potentially monitor or steal information from you. Allowing software to be Free means that it is transparent and vetted by thousands of people all around the world, who are constantly working on the software.
Take for example Mozilla Firefox, formerly Netscape Navigator. It’s not maintained by some giant company like Google, Apple, or Microsoft that make their browsers and have parts that are completely closed. Firefox, being Free, is maintained by a large community who make one of the freest browsers, with a non-profit foundation maintaining all the thousands of additions to code that go on every day. We can ensure there are no intentional backdoors in the code, while making it as customizable as we want. In fact the GNU/Linux (often just called “Linux”) back door attempt of 2003 some suspected of being done by the NSA, is proof of that very fact that Free software is more secure.
“Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”. We sometimes call it “libre software” to show we do not mean it is gratis.
Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, said Windows and OS X are malware, even stated the observation Amazon’s Kindle has an Orwellian back door, and has said that only an idiot would trust the Internet of Things.
“Malware is the name for a program designed to mistreat its users,” Stallman wrote in The Guardian.
What kinds of programs constitute malware? Operating systems, first of all. Windows snoops on users, shackles users and, on mobiles, censors apps; it also has a universal backdoor that allows Microsoft to remotely impose software changes. Microsoft sabotages Windows users by showing security holes to the NSA before fixing them.
Apple systems are malware too: MacOS [OS X] snoops and shackles; iOS snoops, shackles, censors apps and has a backdoor. Even Android contains malware in a non-free component: a backdoor for remote forcible installation or de-installation of any app.
In fact the entire Free, Libre, and Open Software Software Movements are already unsung heroes of our most precious example of our freedom, the internet. People don’t recall, but many years ago the internet as a whole was very close to becoming proprietary in the software market. You had to buy a lot of closed source software to even connect to the internet. Once upon a time, you actually used to pay for an Internet browser. Microsoft was very close to choking off freedom on the internet when it had, at its peak, 95% of the market share on internet browsers. The internet stagnated for many years, and we were stuck with Internet Explorer, one of the worst browsers ever because it was so full of holes, for a very long time. Microsoft could have also done the same with Windows server, when in fact the majority of web servers and critical components that run the web today are run on GNU/Linux or FreeBSD which are both Free and Open Sourced. In fact GNU/Linux and FreeBSD were the first to have the components to even be able to connect to the internet. For years people were forced to pay for software to create documents, we had Open Office (now deprecated), and LibreOffice which has replaced Open Office. In fact I wrote this rough draft on my laptop running GNU/Linux using LibreOffice. The Being Libertarian site itself is run on GNU/Linux and WordPress, both are Free and Open Sourced software. In fact Bitcoin wouldn’t even exist were it not for FLOSS. I have actually been a member of the FOSS and FLOSS movements for 10 years now, starting when I was 14 years old. GNU/Linux and the FLOSS communities were the first to introduce many of the features now found common on Windows and Mac OS X, including, but not limited to, remote desktop, virtual desktops, and a TCP/IP stack so they can use the internet. In fact a lot of Mac OS X relies on Open Source software, but it’s not as Free as it actually should be, because there is no way I can have access to the complete source code and compile my own Mac OS X, like I can do with GNU/Linux or FreeBSD.
Now I know a lot of libertarians and conservatives would rather place their trust in businesses managing things. But this is where voluntarism come in, because no one is forcing you to contribute to the code. Far more people are using the software without contributing the software, but if you see a problem or feature that can be added you are more than welcome to do so. This is best explained in Eric Raymond’s “Cathedral and the Bazaar”, of why the FLOSS model of a bazaar with the community voluntarily working together is better than the cathedral approach of Apple or Microsoft. It’s also one of the most influential essays ever written in the IT world.
Linux overturned much of what I thought I knew. I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.
Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.
*I highly recommend reading the entire essay (~36 Pages on paper)
I have mentioned LibreOffice and Mozilla Firefox as FLOSS software, but there are thousands of distributions of GNU/Linux to use, and thousands of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software out there. It’s all about freedom of choice. If you don’t like one part of the system or program you can change it. For example I used to be a Gentoo GNU/Linux user where I can completely build my own system the way I wanted, then I became a bit lazy and switched to Ubuntu a few years ago as I didn’t want to have to spend so much time on each installation. I, of course, still didn’t like Ubuntu on a few parts, so I modified a lot of the operating system, until eventually Ubuntu decided to add the Unity User Interface, which I hated with a passion. So I switched to Xubuntu as a day to day work OS, with Kali GNU/Linux on the same laptop for all my tools to penetrate network security as part of my job. One GNU/Linux in particular a lot of people who love their privacy like is Tails, which leaves no trace of you on the host computer, and encrypts as well as anonymizes all of your data. The Condor intraoral scanner, which I previously covered in March of 2015, is running Manjaro GNU/Linux. I also have been looking into Trisquel GNU/Linux which is a completely Free version of GNU/Linux, which Richard Stallman himself uses. There are parts in a quite a few distributions of GNU/Linux that use “non-free” software meaning its use, redistribution or modification is prohibited, or requires you to ask for permission, or is restricted so much that you effectively can’t do it freely. There are a few classes of types of software which the Free Software Foundation does a good job of explaining to the average user.
But back to the main point. The beauty of GNU/Linux and FLOSS in general is freedom, as what works for some, doesn’t work for all. Linus Torvalds, the maker of the GNU/Linux kernel, himself didn’t like Ubuntu, whereas I kind of like the Ubuntu environment.
So at the end of it all, those who call themselves true libertarians, conservatives, or even just a full out privacy rights advocate should be throwing their closed source software away whenever possible, and embrace the true freedom only granted by software to the user which is FOSS or even better, FLOSS. It’s time to really embrace freedom to its fullest extent in all facets of your life. You can even start slowly dipping your toes in the water of the open source movement. I use Mozilla Thunderbird instead of Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Firefox or even better GNU IceCat instead of Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer, Notepad++ (NotepadQQ in GNU/Linux) instead of Notepad, LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, GNUCash instead of Quickbooks, ProjectLibre instead of Microsoft Project, 7-zip instead of WinZIP and WinRAR, Dia instead of Microsoft Visio, Scribus instead of Microsoft Publisher, and etc. You can find a FOSS or FLOSS solution for almost any task that you need to do today.
If any readers are interested in a deep look into the philosophy, culture, and history of the entire Free, Libre, and Open Source Movements, I highly recommend watching the documentary Revolution OS (About 1 1/2 hours) which is freely available on YouTube ( https://youtu.be/jw8K460vx1c) and elsewhere.
Update: After Speaking to Richard Stallman some changes were made