Give Me Free Software Or Give Me Death

July 16, 2007

Would you rather have some software capitalist decide what you can do with your computer, how you do it, and when you do it? Is the idea of software emancipation so terrifying that you would rather suffer the ordeal of having your hands tied behind your back, and your eyes blindfolded, not knowing what capabilities your sofware vendor would bestow upon your software applications or operating system, and wait miserably for that time when it develops the functions you need, if it ever does at all?

When you purchase and use proprietary software such as MS Office, you are giving the software vendor a certain degree of control over your computer. Proprietary software is closed source, thus you really do not know what lies beneath it. Proprietary file format specifications tend to restrict data longevity and data interchange with software developed by other vendors. When the software vendors that own these file formats are gone and decide to take their file format specifications to their grave, so is your data – every single bit of it. Data unrecovered is as final as death itself. Remember those documents you saved in WordStar in the 1980’s? Can you still open them today?

I am not saying that proprietary software is not a worthy investment. When free software is not available to meet my needs, I still patronize proprietary software myself. It’s just a matter of distinguishing which ones are worth your hard-earned money and which ones are merely out to rip you off.

As a student, I was a heavy user of proprietary software. MS-DOS , WordStar, Lotus 123, Win 95, Win 98, Windows XP, MS Office – I used many of them. I had not encountered much problems except for the occassional crashing and the inability to edit documents using previous versions of the same application.

The world changed drastically a decade hence. The most significant change was that unlike then, I now have to start paying for stuff. Free home cooked meals, free electricity, free clothes – all a thing of the past.

I had become a teacher at UP Diliman. Being on a very low salary scale, I found it incredibly ridiculous to pay at least P8,000 for a copy of MS Office…a CD containing a few lines of code doesn’t even cost half that price to mass produce! Nonetheless, I wasn’t the least interested in buying pirated software either. No self-respecting teacher would be caught dead with pirated software on her hands! Thus, I bid that P8,000 adieu.

Free software came to me like rain on an unbelievably hot summer day. It was free in terms of costs, yet it was incredibly useful . The refreshing fact is that Open was the product of collaboration between people who contributed their time, experience, and money to develop a product that they can share to the world. It includes the same applications as its major proprietary software counterparts, but is perceived to be superior in terms of performance. Because of Open, I did not need to empty my miserable pockets to purchase software licenses or yearly upgrades that fall short of its promise anyway.

Open was free in many more ways. It was free from viruses, free from those ridiculous “bells and whistles” found in proprietary software that no one really needs, but are placed there anyway. It is also free from payments to tech support, who more often than not, offer that single ultimate solution: “reinstall windows”, or “reformat your hard drive” .

An important aspect of Open is its file format . Open 2.0 and later versions use the OASIS Open Document XML format as the default file format. The OASIS Open Document format is a vendor and implementation independent file format. Proprietary software such as MS Office use a proprietary document file format (e.g. .doc, .ppt, .xls , etc) that restrict data flow to software from other vendors. Open document formats , however, are easily interchangeable. An important yet often disregarded aspect of proprietary file formats is that documents saved under proprietary file formats are at risk of becoming unusable once the software that uses it is no longer supported by any vendor. Open standard format specifications , however, are public and guarantees freedom and independence.

Open 2.2 is compatible with MS Office. Open Writer could open .doc files that I saved in MS Word. Files could be saved with the same .doc format or using open document text (.odt) format, used by Open Its spreadsheet application, Calc, and presentation program, Impress , can also read and write to .xls files , used with MS Excel and .ppt files, used with MS Powerpoint, respectively.

The greatest freedom that open source software like Open offers is personal in nature. It offers me the freedom as a computer junkie to do with my computer , what I want , when I want it, and how I want it. I am able to manage my own computer – not let a software corporation manage it for me.

I have used Open on Windows and Linux operating systems . I have used it to teach a course called Introduction to Information Technology at UP. Currently , I am typing this article using Open 2.2 on a Macintosh computer. I use the same application to develop course modules and write lengthy textbooks. Not once did it crash , catch a virus, or stop me from opening documents saved on other file formats. The current version, 2.2, is a huge improvement over previous versions. If I decide to use it on other platforms such as Solaris and Free BSD, it’s supposed to work there , too. Based on my experience, is indeed a product worth downloading and installing onto your computer .

It is not difficult to migrate from MS Office to Open The user interface is similar. There are many common functions. Thus, learning it is simply intuitive. 2.2 will run on Microsoft Windows versions 98 and above , Linux kernel version 2.2.13 or higher, glibc2 version 2.2.0 or higher, Power Mac G3 400Mhz or higher, Mac OS X 10.3.x (10.3.5 recommended), Mac OS X 10.4.x. It requires at least 128 Mbytes RAM on all operating systems, (except for MacOS, which requires 256 Mbytes RAM) and a resolution of 800 x 600 or higher with at least 256 colours . The available disk space required is 800 Mbytes for a default install on Windows, 200 Mbytes on Linux, and 400Mbytes on a Macintosh.

The best way to get Open is to download it via Download Central at:
You can also download it via Peer to Peer networks, which require that you have a bit torrent client .

It is a good idea to use a download manager to protect your download from unreliable connections . A download manager lets you resume the download when such an interruption occurs.

For more installation information , download the SetUp Guide (.pdf format) from:

Since discovering , I have explored a variety of free , open source sofware to help me develop course modules. There’s Edubuntu, Gcompris, the KDE Edutainment Suite, Tux4Kids, and many others. You might find some of these useful too.

There could possibly be a number of reasons why some of you would choose not migrate to 2.2 right away:
Learning a new application that looks very similar to the one you are using right now is just too difficult.
Your boss had been using MS Office for a very long time and would hate to know that you know something he/she doesn’t.
You hate your money and like giving it away to large corporations like Microsoft.
You’d rather be dead than get free software.
For more information about Open, visit