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Part 2 — Do we need Free Software? — How did we get here?

20130310 (2013 March 10 Sunday)


How did we get here?

In the beginning all software was free. People wrote and shared software, they did not think about this freedom much if at all. At this time most organizations built there own hardware.

As computers got cheaper and more numerous companies started providing hardware, but people needed software and did not always want to or know how to write it. So the hardware manufacturers and other started producing software for them. To protect there time investment in producing this software they put copyrights on it and told people they must not run it without a license or copy, study, redistribute or improve the software. No one questioned this for a long time, as it all makes perfect sense.

This all continued, and one day a man said: This might make sense, but it is not good. Software should be free. We should be willing to pay for this freedom, so he started writing free replacement for all the software he used. He encouraged others to join him, slowly the snowball grew until we get to today.

unexamined assumptions

At least we have all this cool technology, we would not have it if it where not for the software companies.

Not true: I 1965 Gordon Moor noted that integrated circuits doubled in complexity, doubled in speed and half in cost every 18 months (for the first time ever the 2010 update predicts this to slow down in 2013 to every 3 years). So these improvements where in a sense inevitable, it just needed a industry to do it, but not the software “Industry”. It was the hardware industry that has provided all the advances.

The technology we use is the best that can be made.

Not true: In the late 1980s most computer systems where 32bit, multitasking, windowing systems, with long file names. In 1990 Microsoft does there first passable windowing system. In 1993 they finally produce a decent system with the help of Dave Cutler from Digital Equipment Corporation. It 1995, 1998 and 2000 they release a inferior systems (but they did look better, well as good as its competitors). Finally in 2001 we got the usable Windows XP.

Didn’t they give us the Internet

Not true: It started in 1950s and 1960s. The current protocols where standardised in 1982, the same year that Bill Gates said “What’s a network” to Acorn’s Herman Hauser, while trying to sell him MS-Dos; Herman had a better operating system and was not interested. In 1989, while working at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. The final restrictions on carrying commercial traffic on the internet ended on April 30, 1995 (CERN needed commercial inverters to upgrade it, so scientists could study huge data sets from there home country). And all internet protocols are Free.

Software is unimportant, we don’t need software

I can’t argue with that (and I am a software engineer), unless you are using it.

This Free Software thing sounds like a good idea. However if it is free no one will write it, and the quality will be poor

That is what they said about Wikipedia, but today it is huge and of better quality than proprietary encyclopaedias.
Wikipedia was inspired by Free Software; The Gnu project is at least 25 years old, it has been shown to be of better quality than proprietary Unix, and Unix to be of higher quality than MS-Windows. There is a lot of Free Software, Debian do a 6 DVD box set, of some of it.

See a list of all my blog posts on Free Software

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