Free software: discover its pros and cons.

Free software: discover its pros and cons.
Photo by Lukas / Unsplash

Free software not only refers to those programs whose code is open to the public so that anyone can improve it, it also represents all those who respect the essential user freedoms defined by the Free Software Foundation.

In the times of digital transformation and technological acceleration that we live in, the use of free software is increasingly common; For this reason, we want to dedicate an article to it today and tell you in detail what it is, what it is for and what its advantages and disadvantages are.

The relevance of free software is such that these developments have allowed thousands of companies to access powerful management platforms and have the opportunity to customize them according to their needs, often creating even more powerful and complete solutions than the original ones. Its name is due to the creation of the Free Software Foundation in 1985 by Richard Stallman, an American physicist and programmer who also founded the GNU operating system.

Now, it is very common that when talking about free software, many associate it with open source software but there are differences between the two. On February 3, 1998, several members of the free software community decided to go it alone and created the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The decision was made just after the release of Netscape, seeing in it an opportunity to educate users and companies about the practical benefits for projects that decide to release their code.

On the other hand, there are some requirements or characteristics that the software must meet to be called one or the other; being some of these:

Free software:

  1. It provides the freedom to run the program as desired, for any purpose.
  2. It offers the freedom to study how the program works, and to change it. Access to the source code is a necessary condition for this.
  3. It guarantees the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to third parties. This allows you to offer the entire community the opportunity to benefit from the mods. As in the previous point, access to the source code is a necessary condition for this.

Open Source Software:

  1. Free redistribution: The software license must not prevent it from being freely given away or sold as part of a larger distribution that contains programs from different sources. Nor should you demand payment for doing so.
  2. Source code: When publishing a program, its entire source code must be included or it must be freely accessible.
  3. The license must not restrict other software: The fact that a project is open source does not mean that the programs in which it is included are also open source.

It is important to note that free software is not synonymous with free. If the software is available for download without paying, but the source cannot be modified by the user, then it cannot be defined as "free".

Photo by Lukas / Unsplash

Types of free software

There is a wide variety of programs considered as free software, some are:

  • Operating systems: designed to allow the management and interaction of a user with the computer, such as Linux.
  • Programs and applications: programmed and distributed to allow the user to perform multiple tasks, such as media players and video editors.
  • Web browsers: For browsing the Internet and managing files online, such as Mozilla Firefox.
  • P2P programs: applications aimed at facilitating the exchange of files and information through a network or local community.

Advantages of free software

Among the advantages provided by free software, four main benefits can be identified:

  1. Compatibility: seeks that applications work well on any hardware, avoiding that equipment must be changed just because an application changes its version.
  2. Technical support: Every free software program has a large community behind it, with many members who can provide assistance.
  3. Security: having the source code of an application is a great advantage, taking into account that proprietary software protects it so that nobody can access it, creating a security problem (it is not known what it does and it depends on the owner in case of find an error). In free software there is a community that permanently reviews potential vulnerabilities and strengthens it.
  4. Error correction: when finding an error in a proprietary software application, the user can only send a report of said error, while in free software the source code is available and a solution can be provided.

In addition, the programs and applications designed under this model are generally constantly improving and evolving through updates, and users have the right to distribute this type of software free of charge and without limitation.

Disadvantages of free software

In the same way that free software produces concrete benefits, it also presents some disadvantages, which are less than its advantages:

  1. In some cases, they do not reach the functionalities and ease of use of proprietary software.
  2. Technical support: if the user assistance is contracted with a company, there are no major problems. Otherwise, the technical support provided by the free software community may not meet the requirements of an emergency.
  3. Usability of the applications: some applications tend to have a usability that is not very worked on.
  4. The variety of versions fragments the market and creates confusion for the user. When uncontrolled versions of a program are presented, they tend to generate errors when reading the files.
  5. By belonging to the community there is no person in charge to claim a guarantee.

In conclusion, free software has a long time (more than 30 years) with us and, as an additional fact, there have been many companies that have made a lot of money making free software and using it. It has even changed the way of thinking of large corporations, which have surrendered to the developments of the community, as in the case of GNU/LiNUX, which is the operating system that predominates on servers.

Free software should not be considered solely for economic reasons, it is a strategic and ethical option that must be in tune with the objectives of your company.

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