#1: Keeping it FREE

#1: Keeping it FREE.

This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.

We have to work together to keep free software freely available. It will be a failure if the world moves from paying for shrink-wrapped Windows to paying for shrink-wrapped Linux.

As free software becomes more successful and more pervasive there will be an increasing desire on the part of companies to make it more proprietary. We’ve already seen that with Red Hat and Novell, which essentially offer free software on proprietary terms – their “really free” editions are not certified, carry no support and receive no systematic security patching. In other words – they’re beta or test versions. If you want the best that free software can deliver, a rock solid, widely certified, secure platform, from either of those companies then you have to pay, and you pay the same price whether you are Goldman Sachs or a startup in Rio de Janeiro.

That’s not the vision we all share of what free software can achieve.

With Ubuntu, our vision is to make the very best of free software freely available, globally. To the extent we make short-term compromises, for drivers or firmware along the way, we see those as bugs, and ones that will be closed over time.

The dream for me is to be able to keep free software free of charge for the people who want it on those terms. To have people sharing the same high quality base and innovating on top of it – from Beijing to Buenos Aires – will create something that we’ve never had before, which is a completely level software playing field for every young aspiring IT practitioner, and every aspiring entrepreneur. I believe that’s how we will really change the world, and how we will deliver the full benefit of the movement started more than two decades ago by Richard Stallman.

This is a personal challenge – I benefited hugely from the existence of Linux in 1996, it was what made it possible (together with SSLeay, now OpenSSL) to get into the crypto game and ultimately found Thawte. Now my goal is to make Ubuntu sustainable so that it can continue to grow while at the same time making all of that opportunity, all of those tools, freely available to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I’m glad to say our commercial support operation in Montreal is growing and that users are turning into customers, so the ball is rolling. As Ubuntu moves into the enterprise, with some of the world’s largest companies deploying it, I think we’re starting to show that it really is possible to have a platform that is both free and self-sustaining. We’ve come a long, long way from that first meeting in April 2004.

If this is a dream that inspires you too then get involved and contribute! We’ll take whatever time and input you can give – from documentation and advocacy to local training and support. Art, energy, code… it takes all sorts to build something as complete as Ubuntu can be.  
[Mark Shuttleworth]

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