Originally Published: Thursday, 9 September 1999 Author: Brian Fabrizio
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux Like Bottled Water?

In this piece, Brian Fabrizio attempts to clarify the GNU GPL (General Public License). "Linux is not simply about getting your hands on 'free' software. Granted, free software accessibility is incredibly exciting, but this is really only one of the many perks associated with software under the GPL. "

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In a computing world thus far strangled by proprietary operating systems and closed-source kernels, Linux continues to breath deeply thanks in large part to a flexible General Public License (GPL). Contrary to popular belief, Linux is not simply about getting your hands on "free" software. Granted, free software accessibility is incredibly exciting, but this is really only one of the many perks associated with software under the GPL.

To begin, let me address two issues that perpetuate confusion with regards to Linux distributions under the GPL. First, all Linux distributions must be accessible free of charge. This is typically done by providing copies via FTP sites on the Internet. Secondly, distributions can be made available to the public for a price provided the first condition is concurrently fulfilled. These prices tend to vary, but you can usually rest assured that small loans are not needed to access a distributors latest update.

Distributions by the way are specific versions of Linux that are made available to the public. Each distribution is a fully functioning operating system adorned with software hand picked by the distributors. Not only do the majority of these distributions come with software such as spreadsheet generators and word processors, but also reference books and documentation concerning installation and step-by-step tutorials. Although there are numerous independent distributions, the basic software included is similar in terms of general computing needs.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. Why even bother with licensing Linux if you can access all the distributions for free? Well, it just so happens there are some very good reasons. I will focus on the three reasons I find most important.

Resting steadfast at the forefront of the GPL is the adamancy of attempting to create a non-monopolistic presence. Linux is not about controlling the operating system market, nor is it about affording people with the means by which to accomplish that goal. The fact that you can obtain free distributions helps safeguard against such an endeavor. Many distributors do manage to make some substantial profits, Red Hat is a prime example, but the truth is, everyone who purchased distributions did so willingly and according to their own terms. With Linux, there is no more saying, "Well I have to use this operating system, it is the one that came with my system." "I don't want to spend even more money on another OS!"

Linux is like deciding whether or not to try bottled water. You can either drink the sediment ridden water that comes from to tap (proprietary software), or you can enjoy a pristine beverage packaged by water enthusiasts that contains no bitter aftertaste. Personally, I don't mind spending a little money to show my appreciation to all the people who have shared their skills and knowledge to bring me a quality OS. Even volunteers need to eat. Still, the choice is up to you.

The GPL is also about putting control back in the hands of the computer user. No one is being forced to use a particular OS. When you decide to try Linux, you do so on your terms. You decide which OS version you will try. If for some reason you are not satisfied, simply try something else! The beauty is that you now have options. No one but you knows exactly which software packages you will need. The neat part is that each and every piece of software can be replaced with something new as soon as you decide it is time to try something different. Simply find a free alternative and load it up! There is no waiting an undetermined number of years for the next version of your proprietary OS to surface. Even if you do decide to wait, you still may not get exactly what you want! So, by keeping things free, hegemony and expense are kept at a minimum while your choices remain limitless.

Most importantly, the GPL encourages a widespread, almost interpersonal, relationship with everyone in the Linux community. General users, programmers, corporate executives and complete newcomers to computing can share and exchange information on a wide variety of topics. The potentials are limitless. Now, programmers can get direct feedback from users, users can make recommendations to programmers, executives can hire their own corporate programmers and newcomers can draw off a wealth of support while learning about computers in general!. What better support group could you have than thousands of users and programmers who partake in Linux simply because they love working with computers and helping fellow users? For once there is a vicious cycle that benefits every one involved! This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination. What you do with Linux under the GPL is only as limited as your willingness to share and partake in truly interconnected and mutually rewarding computing world.

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