Is it difficult to explain the benefits of free software to people who don't understand computers? Just as you don't have to be a journalist to understand the benefits of the freedom of the press, you don't have to be a programmer to understand the benefits of free software.
Free software guarantees four essential freedoms to users:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does it to one's own needs. Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.
- The freedom to improve the program and to publish the improvements, so that the whole community benefits. Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
By guaranteeing these freedoms to users, free software reduces, if not eliminates, any possibility of domination of the program's creators over the user. In essence, it is about preventing anyone from taking advantage of the users' lack of knowledge to try to control or otherwise take advantage of them.
The basic concept for understanding free software is freedom. With free software, users have the freedom and control to do whatever they please with their computer, except to deprive someone else of one of the four basic freedoms.
Free software, because of its characteristics, has advantages that can be transferred to many areas:
- Ecological. Free software is completely reusable, it is not complicit in programmed obsolescence and uncontrolled consumption.
- Economical. Free software is very cheap, most of the time free, because it can always be reused. Normally it is usually paid for the programming of very specific functionalities or for technical service.
- Educational. It is impossible to learn how a program really works without access to the source code.
- Ethical. It responds to the claim that all knowledge should be free and not subject to any form of censorship or restriction.
- Political. Control of the population is very difficult with free software, since, as the source code is accessible, anyone can detect malicious functionalities.
- Private. Privacy is a greater guarantee with free software. Mass espionage through hidden functionalities in programs is not possible, as the code is auditable.
Free software is empirical and follows a scientific working method. Proprietary software, on the other hand, is based on obscurantism, on faith or on the goodwill or skill of its creators. Basically, it is like comparing the working methods and beliefs of alchemy with those of science.