Biscuits, Songs and Free Software’s Philosophy Explained

G0SUB has forwarded an interesting mail regarding Ubuntu, giving it Free and how about making money with it. As the guy who posted the original query did not have any idea of philosophies associated to Free/Open Source Software, I decided to write a enlightening reply to him. A couple of years of performing GNU/Linux advocacy, especially to the student community, has made me a really good story teller which will be evident from my reply to the OP. Here is the query and the reply of mine.

OP’s Question..

> Hello, i am shailendra patidar doing engineering in the mechanical
> stream (in 2nd yr) from indore (m.p.).and recently i got a PC eddition
> cd for linux from my friend. and i want to know about what is ubuntu ,
> and the main thing is that is there any thing in the world which is free
> of cost or they give us for his publicity. or they are using us and can
> they do something for you or me. i can make a lot of users which will
> use the linux.Because i know that it is easy for me and the other reason
> is that the i know very people who want some changes in their computer
> operating system and the linux can make this.but is their any financial
> help to me from ubuntu because nothing is free today. so i am waiting
> for some useful tips or some help from you .and if u can forward this
> request ,then this is too good for me.i am waiting for your response .

And here comes my l00ng reply 😀

First, there are some things in this world which is available as *free as
in free of cost* as well as something which should be rendered so. One
such thing is *humanity*, i.e. helping another fellow human without
expecting something in return. For example, when an old woman tries
getting into or out of the bus, you go and help her but you do not
charge her for doing so? Your neighbor’s kid is not able to solve a math
problem, (considering that you can solve the problem) you help the kid
with solving the problem as a gesture of humanity or friendship. But,
you do not go to his/her mother and get money for the help (This is not
about taking tution classes to the kid!).

Second, consider you and me. You have a biscuit and I have a pappad in
our hands. You give me half of the biscuit and I give you half of the
pappad, we both get some biscuit and pappad but only half of them. Similarly, consider that you know a Hindi song and I know an English song. I teach you to sing the English song and you teach me the Hindi song. Now we both know both of the songs but we did not lose our original knowledge (as in biscuit, we did not end up knowing half the Hindi song and half the English song!).

The reason for the latter comparison leading to gain of something from
other, without losing something which we have, is possible only when the
thing being shared is *knowledge* and not in any other cases.

Now, coming to another reality which is very close to our subject of
actual discussion is, we have been seeing Software as a product. I should
rather say you see it wholly as a product, but we the FOSS community
see the Software as Knowledge. Taking the essence of the above
comparison, since Software is considered as Knowledge, it should be
*freely* sharable. The problem is people have been used to charging for
any service did to the society as well as considering Software as a mere
product which is sold in the market, similar to biscuits, electronic
gadgets and what not.

Software is an idea of getting a job done. Software has this capability
that you can create 100s of copies of it without incurring much cost.
For example, for making 100 monitors and distributing them you incur
heavy monetary cost, you make a voluminous investment and hence, you
charge the customer for each monitor (which is completely justified).

But software is not so. You create a software and for giving it to
100 people you just need to burn them in CDs. The cost you incur is for
creating of the software first time (which is very small compared to
come out with a monitor model) and then cost of 100 CDs.

Another point to remember is “Software is knowledge”. If you can convert
and idea into a software, I have equal chance of converting the same or
similar idea into a software. Also, for your idea to become better and
your software to grow into a high quality one, what you need is
feedbacks from the users, additional ideas from people, encouragement
for you to continue with the software and make it better. This is what
we call it as collaborative development and community participation.

This is how Linux kernel grew into what it is now, from what it was as a
college project. Its all because Linux Torvalds went ahead of just making
money; he shared the kernel code he created, he welcomed people to send
in feedbacks, criticisms, bug reports; he allowed people to participate
with him; he allowed people to contribute in bits and pieces as well as
large features; and important of all, he gave equal respect and
importance to every individual who was ready and tried to help
him, as well as considered every contributing individual as a
co-developer. He never charged any one for using his code and he never
gave money to any one sending bug reports, patches, new codes etc. As a result, more people (in thousands?) took participation, contributed
as much as they can and you now see its result as a Linux Kernel having been wholly
evolved out. This is how things work in FOSS world.

Our philosophy is “share the knowledge you have, you will experience that
you gain many times more than what you gave”. This philosophy, adding to
the humanity concept I told in the beginning, is what Ubuntu follows. We
have a Linux Kernel or rather a GNU/Linux OS around. We have the
ability to use GNU/Linux, add freely available packages around to it and
make a bundle of it called as *Linux distribution*, naming it as Ubuntu
to remind our actual philosophy behind all these is *humanity* and we
finally share it with Humans. This is why we have a tag line “Linux for
Human Beings”.

We are giving it free of cost because we ourselves have been getting
these things free of cost. So, we are ready to share it free, we are
ready to put in a bit more effort and making GNU/Linux suitable for
being used by ordinary household desktop users. We think we are doing a
service to our own society in the way we know. Though we are software
people, we are proving the humanity within us by sharing our capability
to create down-to-earth GNU/Linux distribution and share it with our own
fellow Humans.

And before closing this mail (which is already too big), that what we
mean as *Free* generally is *Free as in freedom*, freedom to share
things with others without anybody preventing or prohibiting us to do
so. We give it *Free as in Free food* as well because, we got it for
*free cost* and we do not want to do injustice.

Tired of reading ? Have some *Free* biscuits 😉

(Thanks to Barkha for helping me with a suitable title for this weblog post 🙂 )

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2 thoughts on “Biscuits, Songs and Free Software’s Philosophy Explained

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