Free Software an Introduction by kmb15358


									Free Software
    an Introduction

                                                                        By Steve Riddett
                                                                  using Scribus
                                                                        and Ubuntu 8.10

 Famous Free Software...................................................... 2
 The Difference.................................................................. 3
 Stallman and Torvalds.......................................................4
 The Meaning of Distro......................................................5
 Linux and the Holy Grail.................................................. 6
 Frequently Asked Questions............................................. 7
 Where to find out more..................................................... 8
     2                                        Free Software - an Introduction

                  Famous Free Software
         Firefox is a web browser similar to Microsoft's Internet Explorer but
         made the Free software way. The project started in 2003 from the
         source code of the Netscape browser which had been released when
Netscape went bust. In April 2009, Firefox recorded 29% use worldwide
(34% in Europe). Firefox is standards compliant and has a system of add-ons
which allow innovative new features to be added by the community.
           is an office suite similar to Microsoft
                    Office. It started life as Star Office. Sun Microsystems
                    realised it was cheaper to buy out Star Office than to pay
Microsoft for licence fees for MS Office. Sun then released the source code
for Star Office under the name is mostly
compatible with MS Office file formats, which allows users to open .docs and
.xls files in Open Office. Microsoft is working on a plug-in for MS Office that
allows it to open .odf files. ODF (Open Document Format) is Open Office's
default file format. Once this plug-in is complete there will 100%
compatiblity between the two office suites.

         VLC is the VideoLAN Client. It was originally designed to allow you
         to watch video over the network. Today, it is used to play back all
         kind of video and audio media. VideoLAN was started in 1993 in
Ecole Centrale, Paris. In 2001 the code was released as open source. VLC
supports a huge number of formats. If you are having trouble playing back a
video file, try VLC.

         There are many open source operating systems but Linux is the most
         famous, and the most complete of them. Linux will run instead of, or
         along side Windows on a PC. Like the other projects listed here, it
         will also run on a huge number of other types of hardware. Linux is
currently the operating system of choice for webservers (over 50%),
supercomputers (87%) and desktops and servers in animation companies
(90%). On the home desktop, Microsoft estimates Linux use to be roughly the
same as Mac use (about 10% each).
     Free Software - an Introduction                                           3

                        The Difference
Proprietary software is made with an emphasis on secrecy and
accountability. Within Microsoft for example, a Word developer who spotted
a bug in Excel would not be able to submit a patch (a small amount of code) to
the Excel team to fix the bug. Each team works on their own area of the code,
and only their own area. That way, when things go wrong, the management
know which "neck to choke". The source code to the programs is considered a
trade secret that gives MS it's advantage over the competition.
        Proprietary applications compete with each other on features. In order
to out- do the opposition a given company must re-create an entire application
in order to add the extra features they have innovated. This leads to large
applications, which have unique features. If a consumer requires all of the
features available she must buy all of the competing software packages.
        Proprietary software companies charge money for their products.
 Combatting piracy is therefore a high priority for them as they tend to view
each pirated copy as a lost sale.

Free software is made in the spirit of scientific enquiry. Code is published
early and often and participation by otherwise complete strangers is
encouraged. Where faults or bugs in the software are found, the contribution
of patches are warmly received. Ideas are freely transferred from one
application to another allowing for the (eventual) conglomoration of the most
needed ideas into one application. Free software applications are sometimes
made up of many small programs linked together, following the UNIX
philosophy of “do one thing, and do it well”. Copying and distribution by
users is encouraged.
        Generally speaking Free Software is made by individual programmers
who may or may not be employed to work on the code. Intel employ
programmers to work full time on the Linux kernel in order to ensure that it
runs optimally on their latest processors. Google sponsered the WINE project
to allow Adobe Photoshop to run on Linux. A dentist has started a Free
Software project (called Open Molar) to replace the proprietary software he is
currently using in his practice.
     4                                        Free Software - an Introduction

                 Stallman and Torvalds
                      In 1980, Richard Stallman was working as a
                      programmer in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
                      Artificial Intelligence lab. He took delivery of a new
                      laser printer. Unlike most software of the day, the new
                      printer did not come with the source code, so Stallman
                      and his colleagues were not able to alter it to make it
                      function as they needed it to. This one event convinced
                      Stallman of the idea that users should be able to modify
the software they run.
         In 1983, Stallman started the GNU project to build a free UNIX-like
operating system. In doing so, he started the Free Software movement, and in
1985 he set up the Free Software Foundation. Stallman pioneered the concept
of Copyleft (where copyright laws are used to guarantee freedom, rather than
restrict it) and is the main authour of the General Public Licence (GPL) which
is the licence under which most Free Software is released.
         By 1991, the GNU system was coming along nicely, there was a
compiler, a debugger and most of the tools required to build a full system. The
one thing that was lacking was a kernel. This is the program that glues
everything else together. Then, a Swedish speaking
Finn by the name of Linus Torvalds made the
following post to the Minix mailing list:
"Hello everybody out there using minix - I'm doing a
(free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big
and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones."
Linus wanted to call his new kernel "Freax" but his
friend Ari Lemmke thought that was a bad name and put
it in a folder called "Linux". The name stuck and Linus accepted it. Together,
GNU + Linux made the first complete Free Operating System.
         Torvalds and Stallman are very different people. Stallman is an
idealistic crusader whereas Torvalds is a pragmatist who programs primarily
because it is fun. That these two can combine their efforts to such effect
without necessarily liking each other is testimony to the forced cooperation
that Free Software licences impose.
     Free Software - an Introduction                                   5

                  The Meaning of Distro
A distro (short for dis-                  In the Repository
tribution) is a complete
Free Software stack,               Applications and Programs
all the way up from the
kernel to the applica-         VLC, DeVeDe, Thunderbird, hpodder,
tions. A distro comes          Songbird, AcidRip, Scribus, Inkscape
as a disk with the best
software on it, and a
repo (repository)
                                           The Internet
which is a place on the
                                        Installed On Your PC
internet which con-
tains the rest of the
software. If you want
to download and in-
                              Open Office, Firefox, Totem, Evolution
stall an application
from the repo, you just                        Desktop
open Add/Remove
programs, tick the box                   Gnome / KDE / XFCE
next to the program
you want, and click                    Window Manager
'Apply'. It's very easy,       Metacity (2D) / Compiz (3D) / KWin
but very different from
Windows.                                 Graphical Subsystem
Distros are put togeth-               
er for many pruposes,
                                       Command Line Programs
some are tiny (Tiny
                                       GNU coreutils, gcc, bash,
Core Linux is 10MB),
                                        Apache, MySQL, PHP
others are huge (Debi-
an Lenny comes on a                       Libraries
25GB Blu-ray disk).             GNU C Library and other libraries
 The best one to start
with is Ubuntu which                         Kernel
comes on a CD.                      Linux / BSD / Open Solaris
     6                                        Free Software - an Introduction

                Linux and the Holy Grail
Someday, Linux or some other Free run at home. Normal users know that
Software operating system will be any program they need is just a few
used on most of the computers in the clicks or a simple command away.
world. It is hard to say when this Programs can accumulate features in-
will happen. Some people expected stead of features accumulating pro-
it to have already happened by now, grams. That means we need to learn
others think it will never happen.         fewer programs as end users. The
        Yet, it seems inevitable. Here life span of the programs we use is
are some of the reasons: Free Soft- dictated by the level of interest in
ware uses the internet for collabora- them rather than by the financial
tion, distribution and support. These needs of software companies to make
things all cost money for the propriet- you upgrade to their latest product.
ary software company.                                    Proprietary Software
Free Software thrives       The eventual dominance of
on and encourages              Free Software seems
copying and sharing;                inevitable.
something that is a
huge problem for proprietary soft- puts barriers
ware companies. Free Software can between
be designed by the people who are us- people          by
ing the software. Proprietary soft- disallowing
ware is handed down from on high.          them to copy, modify and share their
        The ramifications of all this software. If people share anyway,
are hard to digest so here are some ex- they become pirates and have to hide
amples of what it all means. Original their activities from the software
Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), maker. Free Software encourages co-
governments, research facilities, can                              operation
customise the software for their for                               amongst
their needs. They can collaborate                                  users and co-
with other similar bodies to produce                               operation
software that solves common needs.                                 with the pro-
Schools can give copies of the pro- ject. This communitises the com-
grams being taught for the students to munity and benefits everyone.
     Free Software - an Introduction                                            7

If anyone can see the source              just want the software to exist to help
code, doesn't that make it less           them to run their businesses. Govern-
secure?                                   ments are also starting to sponsor
Oddly, no. When we install software Free Software, it makes sense that
on Windows, the only person who your governement should not require
knows for sure what that software you to make purchases in order to
will do is the person that wrote it. By view the documents that they are
installing the software, we are trust- sending to you.
ing the people that wrote it. On If it's free it must be worse that
Linux, the usual way to install soft- something that's paid for, no?
ware is through the repository. Soft- Some Free Software is clearly better
ware in the repository has already than the proprietary alternatives. For
been vetted by the                                       example,        Firefox,
people that put togeth-      Free Software generally     VLC and Audacity are
er the distribution (eg.      progresses faster than     often used by people
Ubuntu). Because the          proprietary software.      who have no particular
programs are open                                        love of Free Software.
source, any unwanted behaviour can Some Free Software is about the
be removed by the distro team.            same (which is to say that some
If it's free, how do people get people prefer one, some the other)
paid?                                     such as Linux (as compared to Win-
Some Free Software is written by vo- dows or Mac) or Inkscape (as com-
lunteers. Writing free software is fun pared to Illustrator).       Some Free
and makes you part of a community. Software is slightly behind the altern-
It is thrilling when millions of people atives such as Open Office (com-
are using your software and you are pared to MS Office, although it is
directly competing with the richest clearly better than Works, Microsoft's
company on the earth (Microsoft). no-cost office suite), the GIMP (as
Some Free Software is sponsored by compared to Photoshop) or Scribus
companies, these could be hardware (as compared to Quark). However,
companies who want to make sure unless you are a pro, these applica-
the software supports their hardware tions will probably still cover your
correctly, or other companies who needs.
     8                                       Free Software - an Introduction

                Where to find out more
                     Free Software in General        After the Software Wars PDF.         A very good overview.           The home of the Free Software Foundation.                 All about the GNU operating system.
                          Free Software Projects              The famous web browser.               VLC plays any multimedia.      The famous Free Software encyclopedia.        Amazingly good vector graphics editor.      Awesome office suite with Free file formats.         Very good (but badly named) image editor.      Media player, web browser combined. Run Windows and other OSes within Linux.

                                News Sites All the latest news about Linux distros releases.                A hub of Linux related activity.                           News of all things geeky.   IT related news site, trashy but entertaining.
                         Free Operating Systems         Ubuntu is the easiest Linux distro to start with.       Free UNIX based OS by Sun Microsystems.     Free unix-like OS based directly off AT&T UNIX.    Aiming for 100% compatibility with Windows.             Based on Amiga Workbench 3.1.         Nice looking mulitmedia OS based on BeOS.      Tiny Free OS written entirely in assembler.
                                 Podcasts            A cool podcast by two Linux users.       The grandaddy of Linux podcasts, 2hrs per week. Highly polished podcast about all of Free Software.

To top