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Free Software and Sustainable Development

by Richard Stallman

First published on insnet.org in 2005.

Many organizations that aim to promote development by spreading the use of computers make a fundamental mistake: they promote the use of proprietary (nonfree) software. Using proprietary software is not development; it makes society dependent, not strong.

Proprietary software such as MS Windows and the Macintosh system is distributed in a scheme to keep the users divided and helpless. The users are divided because each user is forbidden to share the program with anyone else; they are helpless because the “plans” of the software, the source code, are secret. Users can't feasibly change the program, or even verify that it does what the developer says (and not anything else that the developer didn't say).

The way to avoid being divided and helpless is to use free software. Free software respects users' freedom. Specifically, free softare means users have four essential freedoms: they are free to run the software, free to study its source code and change it to do what they want, free to redistribute copies, and free to publish modified versions. Free software is part of human knowledge.

Increasing the use of free software makes society more capable. Free software can be freely used, understood, maintained and adapted by local people anywhere in the world. This is true development.

By contrast, increasing use of proprietary software means deepening society's dependency on a few corporations in rich countries. Proprietary software is secret technology, which local people are forbidden to understand, forbidden to maintain, forbidden to adapt, and forbidden to extend. It can be used only under the direct control of a single corporation, or else illegally. Dependence on proprietary software is not development, it is electronic colonization.

For more information on free software and the popular GNU/Linux operating system, see www.gnu.org.

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