That’s right. I love free software! It’s open to inspection, modification, improvement. We’re free to collaborate on it, interact with the principal architects and suggest improvements. If we don’t like the way a project is going, we’re free to fork it and start making our own changes to go in a direction we’d prefer.
Yes, the software is “free” as in beer. It’s also free (or libre) as in speech. It’s not suppressible as it’s an expression of an idea. That means that much as some would like, you can’t stop it from being disseminated. It can be used how the user wishes it to be used, not some distant corporate overlord.
Free software doesn’t just give me those benefits, it also allows me to interoperate between disparate platforms and systems. It does this through the embrace (or creation) of open standards and formats. It provides the user the ability to ensure that the data that they are creating or consuming is going to be readable and transferable into new mediums and formats not yet thought up. It allows the user to move between systems with relative ease, not having to worry if they have the right version of Emacs to open that text file, or if mpv can play that mkv file.
Free software benefits everyone. Even those who choose not to use a free platform. Open protocols and formats like GZip/ZLib are important components of every browser. The very tools people access webpages are overwhelmingly through open protocols and served up by free software applications like Apache, Nginx and Lighttpd. Open source tools find their way into closed sourced systems because its cheap and easier to implement than starting from scratch on a solved problem.
Free software powers the encryption methodology that secure bank transactions and other important information through technologies like TLS and PGP. Security experts balk at the very idea of an encryption method that is not fully open because so much rides on the very smallest of details in implementation. An off-by-one error could mean disaster.
While free software and open source tools are not always the best in the market, they come with the knowledge that you aren’t being used as a potential data pool for mining. You’re not being sold to advertising agencies for a quick buck. The people behind these tools are, often, as disgusted with these practices as you are. They value your privacy because they value their own privacy.
Free software isn’t communism or any of these politically loaded terms being thrown around today. Free software is human. People want to share, to build, to improve and delight. While it’s not always possible to financially support yourself by making free software, it is a labor of love. By giving donations to tools you love and use, you help those people make it better.
I urge anyone who read this big love letter to free software and open source this Valentine’s Day to give your thanks (and if you can, some small cash donations) to the people who work to give you tools that you can trust and platforms that enable it all.