GPLv3 author: Business needs free software

GPLv3 author: Business needs free software

Unfettered innovation, sounder security just two benefits of using free software programs, says FSF leader

Free Software Foundation (FSF) leader Richard Stallman said at the launch of the group's new version 3 of the General Public License (GPLv3) that businesses are "foolish" not to adopt nonproprietary technologies as he contends that the continued use of paid products limits companies' innovation and weakens security of their IT operations.

Surrounded by supporters from the software programming and academic fields on June 29 at the GPLv3 launch at FSF's Boston headquarters, Stallman detailed his opinions on why businesses, large and small, would be better suited to pursue the use of free software programs.

By turning to alternatives like his GNU operating system rather than the proprietary technologies, such as Microsoft's Windows OS, that dominate corporate IT shops today, Stallman said, businesses would become less dependent on technology vendors to help solve many of the issues around applications development and security that currently prove troublesome.

As the free software guru waved off the champagne being circulated among his advocates to mark GPLv3's arrival with an admission that he doesn't much like the pricey beverage's taste, it was clear that the legendary hacker and grassroots technology advocate remained more eager to convince IT users that they should move away from proprietary software than to begin celebrating.

Catering directly to businesses isn't what FSF is about, said Stallman, who reiterated that he considers the group's mission more of a human rights campaign than a technological debate.

However, the expert said that businesses could help loosen the current stranglehold on the market maintained by proprietary products like Windows if they were more open to the use of free software.

"Business users should have the same freedom over the control of their software as everyone else, and for businesses to use software they don't have control over is foolish," Stallman said. "Today, many businesses look at free software in terms of convenience and say that it is impossible to make a shift, but there is already free software available for doing a lot of the jobs businesses want to do."

As a stack of empty boxes wearing the logo for Microsoft's newest Windows Vista OS stood in a nearby room awaiting their use in some sort of protest against the software giant, Stallman cited multiple "dangers" he sees in the use of such products.

For example, he said that Microsoft's process of removing support for various computing devices and applications in its products forces businesses into a never-ending cycle of "forced upgrades," a system he said should be made illegal.

In another sense, onboard functions like Vista's remote software upgrade feature allow Microsoft to essentially take control and manipulate end-users' computers whenever they feel like it.

Another hotspot for FSF's advocacy efforts is its continued opposition to DRM (digital rights management) technologies, such as those built into both Microsoft and Apple products.

"Businesses have to give up their current approach and suffer some of the inconvenience of moving to free software to get back control, but that is a long-term process, and businesses are typically focused on the short term," Stallman said. "Like all areas of computing, business users must insist on the same level of freedom as everyone else; it's not just an alternative to proprietary software, it's the only way to ethically defend the rights of users."

As with its predecessors, GPLv3 is a licensing model for use by providers of free software programs that allows products covered by the certification to be altered by their users as they so choose, without fear of subsequent copyright infringement charges.

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