Free Software & Free Data Formats,
an opportunity for Everyone
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” Mahatma Gandhi
With this document I will try to explain why it's opportune to use Free Software and Free Data Formats rather than proprietary software/closed formats.
Free Software definition
Free Software is the kind of software distributed with a license that grants 4 fundamental freedom: 1. The Freedom to run the program, for any purpose (Freedom 0) 2. The Freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (Freedom 1) Access to the source code is a precondition for this 3. The Freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2) 4. The Freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (Freedom 3) Access to the source code is a precondition for this
What is NOT Free Software
Just to clearyfy: It's NOT a technology A technology manages the study of the production process, not how the final product must be distributed (not with which license) It's NOT a development model A development model is a set of rules that describes how to project and write software. Free Software can be developed in many different ways (by one single person, by a team of fans, by a company, by people that don't know each other, in asynchronous mode, hierarchic, …). The development model does not deal with the rules of use and freedoms granted to the end user.
Free Data Format definition
A free file format is a file format that is both: 1) published so that anyone can read and study it in its entirety and 2) not encumbered by any copyrights, patents, trademarks or other restrictions so that anyone may use it at no monetary cost for any desired purpose
How is it possible to base a commercial activity on software (or data formats) with such freedom?
Examples of Free Information used commercially
The economic/commercial exploitation of free information is not a novelty of the computer era: • The laws are free (freely accessible, they're not freely alterable), they are not protected from copyright or patents, but in spike of this lawyers are able to get fair earnings managing this free information on our behalf. Why having anyway the possibility to freely access all the laws, do we decide to use a middleman that gets paid for this? Would you live better in a state where access to the laws was restricted to a limited number of people? • The words are free (and modifiable), not “gratuitous”. Books have a cost (and I am not paying only for the paper) giving the possibility to the writers (and not only them) to earn money. Their works are protected by copyright, not by patents. Would there be more books or better books if single words were protected by patents or copyright? • Cooking recipes are free (and modifiable), not patented either under copyright. Yet a lot of people (cooks) are paid by us for using this information to our benefit. Why do we decide to pay someone else to cook a dish that we could have done by ourselves? Would we eat better if the recipes were patented/copyrighted? • Musical notes are free (not modifiable), yet composers are able to earn fairly from an opportune matching of notes. Why don't we produce our own musical information that we need so much? Who prevents it? The songs/music fruit of their labour are protected with copyright, not with patents.
The truth is that we are not all equal, we don't reach the same results even if we own the same information.
But then where is the “added value”, if it is not in the information itself?
Possibility of commercial use of Free Software
With Free Software you don't sell a sequence of bytes or instructions, but you sell the assistance, the consultation, the documentation, the courses for the use of the software, the certifications, the support, the personalization... The “added value” of any information technology solution is the Human Being who knows how to: • choose • install • configure • use • update and correct the software, making it a solution to a problem (to write a letter or do some calculations). Software and the hardware are not a solution by themself. Free Software realizes this and says: Can you do it by yourself? Well, good luck and “bon voyage”... Don't you know how to do this? Nice to meet you! Paolo Pedaletti, 50 € per hour :–)
The most important change that Free Software introduces is to move the “added value” from the immaterial object to the Person.
In this way there is an enormous contractual power from both the parts. From the point of view of the supplier of solutions, he/she can be paid as much as is necessary the provided added value. From the client's point of view, he/she can choose the level of quality of the supplier of solutions on the basis of his own choice, taste, budget. He/she doesn't depend on a single supplier anymore with all the benefits that derive from it (50€ is too much for you? You are free to find someone else, much cheaper but hopefully with the same skill, performance and professionality).
There is Freedom of Choice for Everybody
Benefits of developing Free Software
Why should a programmer find it interesting/useful to develop Free Software? Because the profit is mutual, both for the one who writes Free Software and the one who uses Free Software. The detection and correction of inevitable defects that every software has, is boring and difficult work for the person who has written the program (like it is boring and difficult to find the errors of typing for who write a text). It is more productive to submit this assignment to others. To detect a problem is simple and immediate for person who uses that software every day, trying to correct it can be very instructive and useful for anyone wants to begin to program. But only if the source code is freely available is it possible for everyone to try to correct the “bug”. Consequently the original programmer who makes his own software freely available has a return both economic (like personalization and education to the use of the software) and educational (with the suggestions and the corrections that can be introduced in the original program) You create a natural two-way flow of information, among the producers and users of Free Software.
Free Software, the value is in the freedom.
The advantage of Free Software is not just in the fact that it is commercially exploitable, but in the fact that is Free.
In this way it's not possible to create monopolies, clients are not forced to make unwanted choices. Whoever provides Free Software has the opportunity to spread his/her own computer solution in the widest possible way, creating a customers base that for professional use seeks dedicated assistance.
In an other way,
Monopoly says “Me or no one else”, Free Software says “If not me, someone else”. '''
For this reason Free Software maximizes the probabilities of success / survival (maximizes, it doesn't mean guarantees, considering that nobody can guarantee anything for sure about the future)
The obstacles to Free Software
Contrarily to what can be thought (or wrote, even on important sites of reference), the obstacle to the Free Software is not proprietary/closed software. The problems come from the: • software patents • proprietary closed data format because these constraints prevent the Free Software to exist/work. For the information (software, books, music...) it's more proper, rather perfect the copyright, not certain the patent. The difference between copyright and patent consists in the fact that: • the copyright makes exclusive an implementation (a single program, a book, a song) • the patent makes exclusive an idea (a functionality, a story, a melody) The patent works very well (it works = it reaches the purpose for which has been introduced) as it regards the matter, while it would be (and it is) harmful if applied to the Information. The monopoly that derives to patent the information is an excess of private ownership, because it prevents the competition, contrarily of the copyright. I want to clarify that this last sentence doesn't have any connection with some ideologies trend in the past, because I consider the private ownership a value inalienable (it is “the excess” to be not correct/opportune). The misunderstanding comes from the mistake of not considering the intrinsic and fundamental differences between matter and the information:
• Uniqueness ◦ MATERIAL: it's necessarily “localized” My watch is on my wrist, and if it “appears” on someone else wrist, it means necessary that it has disappeared from mine INFORMATION: to communicate the information that I own doesn't imply that I “forget” it (not necessarily) • Duplicability ◦ MATERIAL: it's not easily duplicable My watch surely it's not the only one existing in the world, but to duplicate it it's necessary a not negligible amount of energy, prime-material, work and time INFORMATION: digital information is easily duplicable with a consumption of practically negligible energy/material/work/time • Customization ◦ MATERIAL: it's hardly editable/customizable. It's sufficient to consider a car, and think of change the color of the chassis or the interns. Any modification is surely expensive (many percent point of value of the car) INFORMATION: digital information is easily editable / customizable. Obviously you need to have a knowledge (even if only superficial) of the language which the program has been written in (having available the source code) • Transportation ◦ MATERIAL: to transport matter from one place to another costs a lot. Generally, the cost is directly proportional to the quantity of matter and the distance to cross INFORMATION: it's easy to transport and the cost of the transport is practically insignificant, if you don't consider really notable quantities of information (encyclopedias? libraries?) • Speed ◦ MATERIAL: the velocity of transport/diffusion is very slow (compared to the information) INFORMATION; the velocity of transport/diffusion is very hight (compared to the material)
It is evident that the greatest part of the “natural” property of the material is ballast for information.
Coming from an economy based on the exchange of material, there are those who find it normal (but only for mental inertia) “to stick” to the old properties to the new good (the information), while on the other side there are those who realize this useless ballast and would gladly act without them. But why do we persist with old traditions, if now we can do it better? Why bring along the old limitations, if it's possible to act without them?
The real problem
The problem is only apparently technical or economic. In reality the problem is Social and Political. We are digitalizing our Life more than ever • our Identity, with electronic signatures and the digital ID cards • our Activity, with on-line purchasing, on-line banking transitions and on-line “navigation” In this way we are creating a digital alter-ego of ourselves, that lives and acts on behalf of us in the digital world. Who will rule the digital world will also rule what our digital alter-ego will or will not be able to do on “the other side” of the monitor. And who will rule our digital alter-ego will rule by reflex, also automatically our real life and us, here, on this side of the monitor10. To be able to continue to have the freedom that we have from this part of the monitor (laboriously gotten in the past), we must give the possibility to our digital alter-ego to enjoy the same freedom, on the other side of the monitor.
I hope to have clarified what Free Software and Free Data Formats really mean, and why it is important to keep on guaranteeing the freedom of choice that we have earned with so much hard work in the real world, also in the digital world, toward which we are heading.11
''' Because the Freedom of Choice in a Democracy is vital. '''
Useful links: Andrew Oram: Promoting Open Source Software in Government Marco Fioretti: Cos'è più importante, l'alfabeto o la penna? Marco Fioretti: How to turn into Free Software supporters people who couldn't care less Simone Aliprandi: http://www.standardaperti.it Simone Aliprandi: http://www.copyleft-italia.it Paolo Pedaletti: http://www.scribd.com/doc/932152/Software-Libero-una-opportunita-per-tutti Richard Stallman: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.en.html John Mark Walker: https://opensource.com/business/16/11/open-source-not-free-software Bill Gates Lawyers: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/servicesagreement
The use of open formats would permit the free and public data distribution of commonly called OpenData, data that • could be analyzed, correlated and republished/sold developing a market and a business that is now very limited • could permit citizen to be informed/aware about the effects of their lifestyle and their actions. Data accessibility Concerning data accessibility in the long term, two different problems must be distinguished: hardware accessibility: physical support must be accessible/readable, otherwise even if I own it I won't be able to access the information contained inside (who still has a 8' or 5'¼ floppy drive?) software accessibility: format, if it's in open format, it means that technical specifications are freely available and freely implementable. This guarantees the accessibility of the information memorized in those formats for a very long time without any (artificial) legal obligation. This feature (of data accessibility without constrains over a long period) is indispensable for a State (hopefully a long term project...).
Where were you?
I worry about my child and the Internet all the time, even though she's too young to have logged on yet. Here's what I worry about. I worry that 10 or 15 years from now, she will come to me and say: 'Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press away from the Internet?'”
Mike Godwin Electronic Frontier Foundation http://eff.org