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Free Software - Why it is not going away 
Wednesday, July 16, 2003, 3:00 AM - Open Source, Software
I was first introduced to the world of Free Software (source code freely available to anyone) in the spring of 1999. No coincidence, this was the same time in which I discovered ZDTV (formerly TechTV, now G4TV), a part time channel on our cable television service. I quickly learned that we did not actually live a Microsoft Windows/DOS/Mac OS world. The internet actually ran mostly using a thing called UNIX from the 1960s. I had a difficult time fathoming running a PC, IBM compatible computer on anything but a Microsoft platform. My high school had only Windows 95/NT computers, even for the internet connection. They also explained that there was another operating system gaining ground, something called Linux that was available for free! Anyone could get it and give it away to friends, without breaking any copyright law. It could also be changed, customized, and modified in any way that you wanted, because you also get the source code for it. After learning ALL of the ins and outs of Windows 95/98, it sounded like the perfect thing for me.

Today, GNU/Linux (the politically correct term, promoted by the Free Software Foundation) is becoming a serious competitor in both the desktop and server markets. What began as a group of people that wanted a system completely composed of free software evolved into an industry consisting of thousands of applications and millions of programmers. Because of this vast effort, Free Software is now a serious competitor with commercial products. IBM now offers its WebSphere software for GNU/Linux. SuSe (a European GNU/Linux distributer) recently beat out Microsoft for a contract with the city of Munich, Germany. AOL donated 2 million (USD) to found the Mozilla Foundation. And this is all only in the past week.

The future of Free Software is now very clear to me.

The traditional benefits of no cost, security, and fixing bugs on your own apply, but these alone will not bring success. These have already been around for years and are nothing new. Modern benefits are very different, and very compelling.

1. Cross Platform (particularly MS Windows) - Applications such as Mozilla and OpenOffice show users exactly what Free Software is capable of. This also makes the transition between operating systems less painful.

2. Fast Pace - With so many developers, Free Software can advance at an incredible pace. Everyone has the potential to be a developer. There is no waiting for a patch from the software vendor, which might never be released.

3. Market Saturation - Virtually every commercial application has a Free Software equivalent (or one in progress). This is ironically a similar strategy that Microsoft has used to gain such a prodominant market share.

Ultimately, when Free Software becomes the prodominant share of the market, there will be no more signifcant bugs and no licenses to worry about. This will drastically reduce the costs for corporations as well as be cheaper for individual users.

* UNIX is a trademark of someone. It changes too much for me to keep track. At the time of writing it is probably SCO.
* Microsoft Windows is a trademark of who else? Yup, Microsoft Corporation.
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