Windows vs Linux: Free or Freedom?

Dennis Faas's picture

Linux and "Open Source" software are "free."

This means their license is a "free license," and the most common is the GPL (General Public License, otherwise known as the CopyLeft License). This license states that anyone is allowed to copy the software, review the source code, modify it, and redistribute it as long as it remains licensed with the GPL. Also, being free doesn't just mean free of charge, but also free as in Free Range (chickens?) and Land Of The Free! ;-)

So why would you care about freedom when it comes to your operating system?

Imagine that Microsoft disappears tomorrow (not likely -- but who knows what will happen in 5 to 10 years time). Now, imagine Microsoft suddenly boosts the price for a Windows or Office license. If you're tied to Windows, there's nothing you can do about it. You -- or your business -- rely on Microsoft, its software, and you can't possibly make things work without it.

Now, what good is a computer without a functional operating system?

It's a serious problem! You're depending on a single company and entrusting it wholeheartedly to let something so important nowadays as your computer, work the way they should. If Microsoft decides to charge $1000 for the next version of Windows, there's nothing you can do about it... unless, of course, you switched to Linux.

With Linux and it's Open Source community, if a particular project or support company dies, all the code remains open and people can keep improving upon it. If a particular bug in a program is troublesome for you, you can submit a report about it, speak 1 on 1 with developers, and you can even fix it yourself (if you know how to program) or hire someone to do it for you. Once that gets done, you can send the changes back to the upstream developers so that everyone gets the improvement as well. You're free to do just about whatever you want with the software. If you aren't a developer, you can't do much, of course, but as a user you have a lot of clout. And that's a big difference in terms of Freedom.

That brings up the subject of Updates. In Windows, you get a large block of 'Critical' updates and a few 'Not-so-Critical' ones that are supposed to fix discovered flaws in the various components that make up Windows. You have very little control over what gets updated and, if an update breaks the functionality of another program (as it has often done in the past), you're stuck until a new "fix" comes your way. In the past, many "fixes" have created one or more additional flaws which inevitably require another update.

In Linux distros, updates are a regular thing, too. The difference is the update does far more than just installing a set of patches. The Linux update process also keeps your system up to date with new versions of installed applications. If a developer improves an application by adding a few new features, the update process is the method used to update all the installed copies of the application. Don't want the new stuff? No problem. You just select the updates you want and let the rest slide by.

With Linux, it's all about having the freedom to maintain and take control over your computer.

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