Open source and ‘freeware’

The other day, while on a 4 hour train trek across the country. I managed to get through an issue of a broadsheet and a consumer magazine; it was the latter that really made me think. I bought one of those laptop guides. When it comes to computers, I know that I’m not really a knowledgeable person, but I know what makes things ‘go’ at times. I was surprised to see, when they were addressing some of the relevant factors for selecting software, that I came across a certain kind of ‘moot’ opinion of Openoffice.

The magazine editors were doing a piece comparing non-MS office packages; and openoffice was one of them (and the only one that had no cost!). Openoffice had two flaws apparently:

1. Openoffice does not have some of the functions of MS office 2007, or compatibility with the latest windows office file types. This is certainly true, but this is more a flaw on Microsoft’s part! If any of you have the later versions of MS Word, you might notice that the file type (.docx) is entirely new compared to the .doc. So, if you are emailing a document, you might put yourself, and the other person on the spot, if they can’t read that document they have sent! Putting things in compatibility mode, whether openoffice, or the new word, is a must. In some professions, PDF is the standard for documents anyway, which isn’t allied to a specific or single software package. Openness and compatibility are key these days.

2. Openoffice is blamed, ‘due to being freeware’, of having a few things ‘less’ than other packages. This just sounds like an obvious insult. Consumer magazines strive in a sense to both be unbiases to the personal prejudices of the editorial staff, as well as give deference to the companies that sponsor their publication viz adverdvertising.

This made me think. What exactly is ‘freeware’?

By another event, I was interested in computer games that have either expired copyright or were free. Basically, I found that there were certain kinds of games which do not have copyright or piracy kinds of issues, basically, free games:

1. Ad-supported retail games – these tend to be older games and this is a recent development
2. (A subsection of 1.) Games supported by the US military – this is odd, but this has some strange appeal to me, as if I were to be better in combat situations.
3. Commercial games declared as freeware: this is for various reasons; promoting a sequel, or the latest game in a series, expiration, or sometimes, microsoft have made games under a weird ‘shared license’ notion.
4. Games developed basically by the developer independently. I noticed a figure named Derek Smart, for instance, who seems to be a candidate for this kind of thing: I’m not quite sure how to appraise this type of game release

I consider these species of freeware to be distinct from the software that is released under the GNU license. There are lots of different motivations for releasing freeware, and the open source movement is so distinct, that it almost seems derogatory to deem it ‘freeware’. A better taxonomy should be made anyhow.

Michael

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