We all use PCs. With the schools going virtual, we all use our devices for multiple tasks: attending live classes, managing schoolwork, preparing for exams using online study materials etc. The more creative ones use them to produce electronic art, literature etc. Why? To express our thoughts and ideas. To portray our feelings and expressions. To ‘excersice our rights’, some might say. But to those of you who went for the last one, and those of you who didn’t as well, have you ever wondered about your software rights? Have you ever wondered, shouldn’t it be your right to distribute the software you use with everyone else as well? (I am not considering or supporting software piracy i.e. stealing, sorry.) I am talking about the right to legally share the software you use, and legally access, tweak and modify its code as well.
Most of the software we use today – be it the operating system, the office suite, the web browser even – aren’t actually free. As for the OS, Windows, which we all use (the-OS-which-shall-not-be-named ;) ) actually is paid (propreitary) and does not legally allow any distribution or modification of it. The company behind it also has the right to charge you a fine or take you to court if you are found to use illegal versions of it. Same goes for office suites (word proccessors, presentation designers and spredsheet editors) like The-Office-Suite-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
Most people use illegal aka ‘cracked’ versons without even realising it, forget about the fact we are so willingly giving up our rights.
This is where open source software come in. Open source software are those software which release their code publicly for the general public to view, modify and share. They are also known as FOSS i.e. Free and Open Source Software, ‘free’ here standing for freedom and not free lunch – however they are usually monetarily free too. These are the products which are legally free to download, use, modify and share. They have many advantages over propreitary software like:
• Most open source software are monetarily free of costs.
• They protect our rights as we are free to not only share but modify them as well.
• To modify the software, we need open access to its source code which is also always provided.
• They ensure our privacy as any code designed to spy on the end user will be open to see as well. Even if you can’t check the code personally (which you probably won’t), there will be others who can see the code, understand it and warn others against using it, who will tell others, and just by word-of-mouth the authors will be forced to remove such parts.
• As an extension to the the previous point, open-source software are usually developed by non-profit organisations, who won’t have any use of spying on you.
And if you think these applications will have lesser amount of features or will be underdeveloped as they are developed by nonprofits, think again. A lot of open source software have become industry standards due to their ease of use and well-developed nature. For example, one of the most popular media players in the world today – VLC - is open source. Audacity, regarded as the software of choice for audio recording and editing by everyone experienced in these spheres, is open source. Any YouTube livestreamer or gamer will probably use OBS for recording or streaming. Firefox, LibreOffice/OpenOffice, OpenShot, all are open source. And I haven’t even begun on the Linux operating systems which are all open source – Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora etc. - all are completely free and open source. Even Android is open source.
To conclude this article, I will share my personal experiences with open source software. I have used Linux off-and-on from 2014, and I have permanently switched to Linux on all my devices now. I use LibreOffice instead of The-Office-Suite-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named for document editing, GIMP for photo editing (I never shop for photo editing services) and Firefox for browsing and attending classes (worth 1 bonus point due to its privacy centric nature.) I used to use Ubuntu on my PC till a few months ago and it was very easy to use and worked like a charm. (Incase you are wondering, I use Debian now which is worth about a thousand bonus points as it is very tough to install for anyone who is not a Linux expert.) To top it all off, I am the designer of an IRL newsletter which I design using Scribus (open-source.)