Linux: Does price matter more than freedom?

Also in today’s open source roundup: The best office apps for Android, and 5 awesome Android tips and tricks

Linux: Does price matter more than freedom?
Credit: Thinkstock

Linux: Price versus freedom

One of the best things about Linux is that each user is free to use or modify any open source software. But one redditor recently raised the issue of the price of open source software as a big attraction for some users. 

Does price matter more than freedom when it comes to open source software?

Bobthecimmerian started the thread with this post:

When we the free software community speak of Linux and GNU, we focus on freedom to tinker, audit, modify, use, and redistribute. I'm leaving aside privacy and security for this post.

But all of the rights except privacy and security only matter because of cost, right? The billionaire that can't read his Apple iTunes ebooks on his Amazon Kindle can just buy a second copy from Amazon. Windows X install trashed? Buy a new computer. Can't use your Windows copy of Battlefield 1 on the Playstation? Buy another copy. Can't use your old printer with the new version of Windows? Buy another printer. Can't get security updates for your three month old Android phone because the vendor doesn't distribute any and the boot loader is locked? Buy another phone.

Free software matters because every single person can never have an infinite budget. Billions of people have no computing access or an inferior computing access because of proprietary software licensing costs, or because they have access to hardware without any proprietary software support and also without free software operating systems and drivers.

As part of this, I think Linux and free software enthusiasts content for us to be a 1% or 2% niche of the computing world are short-sighted. The poor kid down the block or the poor villager across the globe will never be of interest to Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Google, or Samsung. But we can help them reach Wikipedia, Tor, Khan Academy, etc... etc... when the companies don't care.

More at Reddit

His fellow redditors responded with their thoughts in the Linux subreddit:

Uptotwentycharacters: “It's not just about cost. A free as in freedom program or operating system allows the user to modify it and do whatever they want with it, however a non-free, closed-source program cannot be modified by the end user, no matter how wealthy they are. If you buy a copy of Windows, and think it would be improved by the addition of a new feature, there really isn't anything you can do about it, unless you literally buy out Microsoft. With sufficient wealth, you could hire people to create a Windows clone with your desired features added, but that's still inefficient - because of Windows' proprietary license, you can't reuse any actual Windows code, so you have no choice but to wastefully reinvent the wheel.

Freedom as in price may be what matters most to many end users, but non-free software does not become free to those who have sufficient wealth. In terms of price, there is real difference between proprietary freeware and free software (free software CAN be sold commercially, but due to its license the price will tend towards zero, simply because users have the freedom to make and distribute copies with no minimum sale price). The defining characteristic of free software is that it gives the end user freedom to use, modify, and distribute - freedoms which generally do not exist in proprietary software, no matter how much you can afford to pay. One with sufficient wealth may not consider themselves to need freedom as much, for reasons such as you mentioned, but that doesn't mean they have freedom.”

Sierra1bravo: “The four freedoms are what makes Free Software ethically and intellectually appealing to many people, as collectively these provide a framework for creation, distribution, use, long-term maintenance and 'ownership' of software.

However, from a Developing Country perspective, cost is also an important consideration...so much that many practitioners consider that Cost is the Fifth Freedom.

For instance, most Developing Country governments would not promote the use of FOSS without the cost advantage.”

Miserable_nerd: “I see what you're saying, and understand that this has been true for a long time. But let me offer this perspective. If you notice the trends, you could easily imagine a future where nobody pays for software. Companies like Google and Microsoft now do not rely heavily on revenue that comes from software. You only pay for hardware. Big tech companies can afford to do that, by monetizing the data they collect or selling services to other corporations and governments. In this scenario FOSS is losing, where not only the alternative is free, but well featured, powered by machine learning libraries on massive consumer data sets(resources which foss doesn't have).

I can also pitch in some personal experience here. Being from India, it is incredibly hard to get people here to see beyond convenience in favor of free software. "Freedom" is very rarely something people here associate with software or technology. And I disagree with the statement that big companies will not care about that "Poor kid/villager". The next billion users on the internet will be from developing nations, and (relatively) poor. Everybody knows this. Google has installed more than 100 free Wifi hotspots across train stations in India. Android One is another of their initiative, which ropes in those poor kids, head first into the Google ecosystem. Frankly, I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. But in the long run it will be harder to convince people to move away from these not-free ecosystems.”

Bobthecimmerian: “Great points.

On the hardware side, I think there's still room for free software to help people. Microsoft is trying to make Windows cheaply available with things like Windows for the Raspberry Pi, and Google is involved with very cheap Android devices. But there will always be cheaper used hardware than even low end retail Windows and Chrome OS and Android devices. Even if you can get a new Android gadget for $3, if $3 is a big deal to you then an old phone running a FOSS operating system for $2 is still a win for you (and for FOSS).

On the services side, though, I think you're right that Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc... are serious long term threats to FOSS. I'm running my own email server and my own sandstorm.io server (a FOSS personal cloud service) and it's a combined cost of less than $30 per month and two or three days of set up time. But until it's minutes of setup time and pennies per month, it will never compete with proprietary cloud services.

I have some hope that distributed encrypted end-user-owned cloud services will eventually supplant proprietary centralized services. e.g. Ethereum, MaidSafe/SafeCoin, Synereo, Storj.io etc... but that's a separate discussion.”

Miserable_nerd: “Yes you are correct. There will be free and cheaper alternatives. But then it is a point of privilege to be able to run and configure your own mail server. And there will be people doing that; but a very low number and only those privileged enough to know, and willing enough to get into the nitty-gritty details. People(other than computer scientists) don't like to micromanage their technology(configuring and solving bugs). They will choose convenience and reliability over freedom, most of the time.

I hope some decentralized alternatives, like ipfs and ethereum succeed, that can leverage a massive network of computers, in favor of usability, availability and reducing the cost.”

SirLightfoot: “The first non-Windows OS I used was FreeBSD. As a kid without a great deal of money to spend on software, the fact that it didn't cost me a penny was the main attraction. Given that installing a different operating system was a whole new experience for me, I didn't want to put down a load of money on something that I wasn't even sure I would want to use much. I was just bored and wanted to tinker. So the lack of cost was a huge deal.

It was only once I was using it that I started to appreciate all the advanteges of open source software and the strength of Unix-like systems in general. But it was the fact that I could get all this great stuff for free, with no strings attached (Unlike the "free" Windows software I that I used) that won me over in the first place.”

Saboay: “Cost has nothing to do with freedom. Actually, I would argue that, in some cases, the free (as in beer) alternatives are more expensive than the paid ones, simply because it takes you more time to use them.

I'm an avid Linux user, and I would like to get into a state where open-source software is as good as the paid alternativas, but the fact is: A lof of them aren't, and this is undeniable. We should strive to revert this scenario, but once you start talking about cost, there's a lot more to consider.”

TheLinuxZealot: “Say what? I don't use Linux because it doesn't cost me anything, I use Linux because I find it to be superior, especially for gaming (yes that's right, Linux is superior for gaming). I'd gladly (and have done previously) pay for Linux - even $500 if I had to.”

Bobthecimmerian: “I'm glad it works for you. It works for me too, and I too am fortunate to have plenty of budget space.

But again, I think the people that stand to benefit the most from the four freedoms of free software are people that can't afford a new Windows PC every five years and a new Samsung Galaxy S-something or new iPhone every two or three. There are schools that can't afford twenty or thirty entry level laptops or iPads that could have a fine computer lab with twenty or thirty used computers and Lubuntu or Xubuntu. etc... etc...

And I think this is one of the things that makes free software most important. We the comparatively wealthy tend to overlook it. I'm no millionaire, but I have a car, a house, and $3,500 in computing-related equipment in my house.”

More at Reddit

The best office apps for Android

Android users have been blessed with a wide range of office apps over the years. But which ones are the best? A writer at InfoWorld has a great roundup of the best office applications for Android.

JR Raphael reports for InfoWorld:

It's 2017. You shouldn't have to worry about whether that old budget spreadsheet will open on your tablet or whether the document in your inbox will look right on your phone. In this day and age, having office apps that work seamlessly and consistently across devices should be a given. Everything should, as the cool kids say, "just work."

Yet here we are, in an era where mobile devices are as critical to productivity as desktop computers -- and our virtual office tools are still anything but universal. Features that function smoothly on one product or platform don't always work the same on another. For business users in particular, that can be a serious problem.

I set out to determine which mobile office apps would ease the pain and make it as simple as possible for those of us who use Android devices -- an increasingly significant segment of the business world, according to recent measurements by IDC. I tested a variety of Android office apps on both a Nexus 6P smartphone and a Nexus 9 tablet, both running the latest (7.1.1 Nougat) version of the Android operating system.

After an extensive period of real-world use, three contenders rose above the rest: Google's suite of mobile productivity programs (Docs, Sheets, and Slides); Microsoft's collection of Office-branded apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint); and MobiSystems' all-in-one OfficeSuite application (specifically the free-to-download OfficeSuite + PDF Editor app with an upgraded "premium" subscription).

More at InfoWorld

5 awesome Android tips and tricks

Android users have an enormous amount of power at their fingertips, but sometimes that can make it easy to miss some of the cool tips and tricks that are possible on Android devices. A writer at USA Today has a list of 5 awesome Android tips and tricks that you might find useful.

Marc Salesman reports for USA Today:

If you use a smartphone, chances are it’s an Android.

Not only are there multiple phone makers that embrace the operating system – including the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, Moto, Sony, and so on – but it’s by far the world’s no. 1 mobile platform with a whopping 88 percent market share, according to Strategy Analytics.

As with most of your gadgets, however, you’re probably only scratching the surface of what your ‘droid can do. And so we’ve compiled a list of five useful tips and tricks to help you get more out of your device.

Note: Most of these will work with all makes and models -- running the newest version, Nougat, or previous versions like Marshmallow, Lollipop, or KitKat -- but some of the following step-by-step instructions may vary a bit depending on which smartphone you own.

More at USA Today

Did you miss a roundup? Check the Eye On Open home page to get caught up with the latest news about open source and Linux.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?