We are living in a world which encourages proprietary software culture. Most of us are used to using only proprietary software on our computers. Students are being taught to use it and they are partially or completely unaware of free software and benefits it provides. However, what does the proprietary software actually provide? It adds malicious features on our computers such as spying on the users, restricting the users, imposed upgrades, and more.
I am not forgetting the fact that sometimes proprietary software will be powerful and reliable. But it does not respect the users’ freedom. Software can be said to serve its users only if it respects their freedom.
Birth of Proprietary Software
Before starting the golden era of Information Technology, computer manufacturers aimed only for hardware innovation and didn’t consider software as a business asset. Since most of the users of computers were scientists and technicians who could modify the software themselves, hardware was distributed with software installed in it. It is funny to commemorate the words of Thomas J. Watson here:
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”
Yes, this machine was supposed to be handled only by scientists and technicians at that time. Because there was no big standardization of hardware, computers architecture was different from each other. So, software for one machine would not be compatible with another one. Today programmers expertise in a programming language or group of languages but at that time programmers used to expertise in an architecture or family of architectures.
Later high level programming languages were introduced which were compatible for almost every kind of computers. So even less efficient hardware design could work better. This led to a decline in profit margin for the hardware manufacturers who brought innovations in design and who considered hardware as their only business assets. They treated selling software as an essential part of hardware sales which made manufacturers enforce a strict copyright on the software.
Richard Stallman once said:
“The rule made by the owners of proprietary software was, “If you share with your neighbor, you are a pirate. If you want any changes, beg us to make them.”
There starts the era of proprietary software.
Why you should uninstall Proprietary Software: a Case Study
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
In 1996, Microsoft released two versions of its operating system: Windows NT Workstation and Windows NT Server. Windows NT Server cost $800 more than that of Workstation. According to Microsoft, those Server and Workstation versions were “two very different products intended for two very different functions.”
The NT Workstation restricts users to use a maximum of 10 simultaneous TCP/IP connections, whereas the Server version allowed for unlimited connections. Since both versions seemed very similar, O’Reilly studied and analyzed the difference between them. He found that the kernel and every binary file included in both versions were identical, except that the Workstation was added with anti-features. An anti-feature is a function that disables certain functions in a program. In this case, anti-features restricted it to 10 connections if it was a Workstation and provided unlimited access if it was a Server. Truly, it is really harder to add an anti-feature to limit and restrict functionality rather than to leave them unrestricted.
This is not an individual and a one-off case. When closed-source software vendors release new versions and claim that they made improvements in the programs and security, users are forced to believe it, since the source code is not provided. Think about that… you are paying more money for the same program that you’ve already installed in your computers!
This is just one reason to stop the usage of proprietary software. It also provides plenty of other threats to our computers and the whole society.
Let’s put our hand together and let’s take a pledge for a better world. Support free software movement by taking small steps. Uninstall proprietary software and start to use free software. Spread the idea of freedom.
=== About the author ===
Shahzad Saeed is an open source enthusiast and has written a complete guide for those who are interested in switching from proprietary software to free software. He is also the author of the upcoming ebook Google Summer of Code guide which guides student for participating in the open source program, GSoC.