Free everything

OK, I lied.  I’m not going to give you free everything. However, I am a big fan of the open source movement and can tell you from my own experience that you never need to pay a penny for a new computer again.  Better yet, it’s all completely 100% legal.  No joke.

On this page:

  • What does “open source” mean, and is it really free?
  • How to get a free computer.
  • How to get your free computer up and running.
  • How to get the latest software for your new computer.

What does “open source” mean, and is it really free?

Let’s say that I write a computer program that makes obscene crossword puzzles.  And, as if that wasn’t weird enough, I didn’t sell the program but gave it away to anybody who wanted it.  And I didn’t just give the program away, but I gave the underlying computer code to anybody who wanted it, too.  And let’s say that when I gave all of this stuff away, I encouraged people to share it with others, or to change it on their own, or to give away their own versions of it.  Not a very good business model, eh?

If something is open source, this means that everybody is given free access to it and given complete permission to change it, post it, use it, sell it, or do whatever they want with it. They don’t have to ask permission to do this – they can just do it when they like.  As Richard Stallman, an early and vocal proponent of this idea puts it, “Think free as in free speech, not free beer.”  Once you get your hands on something that’s open source, you can literally do anything you want with it.

One of the most popular examples of open source software is the Ubuntu Linux operating system.  Though not based on either Windows or OSx, it provides a desktop computing experience that’s just as good as either.  And it’s free.  Free to download and free to use. And if you want to change it around and put it back together again under your own name, you can do that, too.  Because Ubuntu, itself, is based on another operating system known as Debian.  Right now, I’m typing this on a computer running the Linux Lite OS, which is one of the many Ubuntu derivatives.

Now, for the big question: Is it really free?

Yes.  In two years of using Linux, I have never paid a dime for software and I have never given anybody my name, much less any personal information.  It was literally just a “click and download” experience.

According to the Linux Lite OS website, “We encourage people to make copies of Linux Lite and hand them out to friends and family, and to show other people there are alternatives out there that are not only free, but provide a safer, simpler way to use your computer.”  This sentiment is pretty much echoed by everybody in the open source movement, regardless of what project they’re working on.

About the only difficulty with the open source model is that there’s quite a bit of fighting over ideological purity.  Richard Stallman runs the Free Software Foundation, which is dedicated to an ideologically pure idea of what open source really means.  He has refused to endorse any Linux distribution because most of them are capable with running DRM and/or proprietary software, even if they don’t ship that way.  Heck, Stallman still refers to Linux as “GNU/Linux” despite the nearly universal use of “Linux” without the “GNU” (he developed GNU, which I’m sure is a coincidence).   Though Stallman is a somewhat difficult personality, and rubs many people the wrong way, it’s undeniable that his unwavering demands for openness and freedom have made a deep impression on those who develop open source ideas – a deep impression for the better.


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