Why free software matters and why you should care about it

a year ago   •   5 min read

By aquasp
Table of contents


"Open source/Free Software" are really common terms used nowadays, but does it actually matters or that is just a passing fad that the "cool kids" are forcing? Well, let's figure out.

Free Software vs Open Source

Before we actually dig on why Free Software Matters, it's important to explain a difference between "Open Source" and "Free Software"

Maybe you didn't know that, but open source and free software are not exactly the same thing. In practical terms, they are almost the same, but there are some differences. In Richard Stallman words:

The two terms describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, essential respect for the users' freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that nonfree software is an inferior solution to the practical problem at hand. Most discussion of “open source” pays no attention to right and wrong, only to popularity and success; here's a typical example. - Richard Stallman

With that cleared up, let's get started.

1 - Freedom is not important, until it absolutely is

Let's be straight: Most people don't care about the software that they use. They don't care if that is open source, closed source, it if respects privacy or if it spies you. People just want the software to actually work.

While I can understand why people act like that (most don't even know the license of the software that they are using), that may turn into a problem. On China, most people use WeChat to chat with each other. The problem? The app is spying people and can report them to the government if they have severe criticism or want to do something that is morally right, but illegal there.

If this was free software app that could be self hosted, the chances to be spied would be 0 or close to it. With free software, anyone can check the code, modify it and distribute as they want.

The truth is that we live in a world that contains people who are trustworthy and people who are absolutely garbage. Sometimes it's really hard to notice the difference, so we must take precautions. When you ignore the importance of freedom, you are closer to be controlled by someone that may be absolutely evil.

2 - You actually own your software

In my opinion, freedom what matters the most, but surely there are some practical reasons too.

One of them is to own your software. I've seen people using "Page builders" to build their websites. These non-open source page builders works great, until the day the company decides not to offer the service anymore and cuts your site. They usually won't offer the source code neither the files of your site and there is nothing you can do about it because in those cases, you probably agreed in TOS to something like this:

X Company reserves the right to cease offering or providing any of the Services at any time, for any or no reason, and without prior notice.

Doesn't matters if you think that this is absurd. That is the price of not owning your software. With free software, the code is yours and you can run it for as long as you want.

Maybe you will need to hire a developer or study things by yourself, but you definitely have options. When you use closed software, you don't have options.

3 - You can save a lot of money

When you use something that isn't open source, you are usually locked with the price of the software seller. It may be cheap or may be expensive. It may change and you can't do nothing but complain about it.

With free software you can host things by yourself and use it at your computer. Even if there is a license with the software, you can just edit the code and bypass it.

Yup, that may seem wrong, but no. If the author released his software under GPL( a free software license), you can actually edit the code and distribute in the way that you want to. So for example if there is a premium WordPress plugin that costs 100$/year per site, you can buy one copy, edit the code to remove the license requirement and distribute this plugin to your friends for example.

It's not wrong to put a license but it's not wrong to remove it either when we are talking about Free Software, and in my opinion this is wonderful.

4 - Free Software rarely dies

Let's use a software company as a example. If the company is going bankrupt, all the hard work created by the employees it's gone unless the company wants to release the code. If the code was Open Source, someone would probably continue the project keeping the code updated.

In the WordPress world isn't uncommon to see that. Sometimes a plugin that you are using is just an older plugin that someone recreated and that is totally ok.

So is it wrong to use closed source software?

Absolutely no, you are free to do whatever you want to do and sometimes using closed source software is necessary/not bad. There are some great open source video editors, but you sometimes may need a feature that only exists at Sony Vegas for example.

Windows is a really bad (it most likely spies you a lot, it's slow, bloated and have a bunch of features that no asked for), but sometimes you may want to play a game that only runs on Windows.

There is also some cases where Free Software doesn't matters that much. For example, I'm using canva.com for my images on this site, and that is ok. I'do love to use gimp(open source image editor), but canva is just easier to use and the license of the images are really ok. If canva ever disappears I'm fine because all the images are posted on my site already and I won't lose them.

Should everyone make their software "free software" right now?

There are also companies that fears to release their software under a open source licence and that is understandable. Some companies live by selling licenses, so if that isn't necessary anymore, they might die if they don't have a good plan.

I admit that this is a problem. There is no absolute answer on this, but by checking the companies that makes success selling open source software, I think the secret is selling support.

Sure, you can buy a premium WordPress plugin for 5.99$ instead of 100$, but do you know how to use it? What if you have a problem or a suggestion? You have no support, unless you have the product from the original author and it seems to work.

"GPL clubs" (sites that sells WP plugins and themes for 1/10 of the price) are live and some of them are really 100% legal, but people still buy from the original author. Why? Well, it's quite simple. People want support, updates and a guarantee that no one added malware to that software. The easiest way to ensure that is paying the original author.


Free Software matters. Ideally, everything should be free software, but I understand that are some challenges in the way. I think the best thing you can do right now is to support free software as much as you can (because that will benefit and protect not only you, but everyone).

It's ok to use some closed source software too if you trust the company/have no other option. After all, life is short and the world isn't ideal.

If you enjoyed this article, you can share it your friends or subscribe to The Self Hosting Art to keep us motivated. Thank you for reading :)

You can also help with Monero, Litecoin, Bitcoin or Nano: Monero:837X2SppmrrPkBbpsy9HQU1RFxKhsBcn6GdQv2wR5wGoiw8ctfh6Rt36xaszveZHysYA5KSDBr51y5YuQ3YCV23sJS9nhqW BTC:bc1qrvgz7dzzlfllulakw87vzvtf7s2u8t0sxpjehr Litecoin:ltc1qycz6ssg6xjxttuld6l6ulzqdr3y70rm8wv2g9p Nano:nano_1jmd6dg4dbem7f3wrojr7g45ioe6eb5et3iq11f8urfxe8qausxipup8bhua

Spread the word