Wonderful world of Free Software

Did I ever tell you that I love Free Software? I do. I love the fact that, in a meeting today about spam and the prevention of it, there was talk of appliances. The NT admins pointed out that these appliances use the same software we are using, but just put it inside a locked box and give you an Web-based interface. But, since the software is freely available, we already use it. And we’ve already adapted it to our needs in ways that the appliance couldn’t be used. But, that’s just part of the story. Did I ever tell you that I love Emacs? I do. I love the way I can run the same operating enviornment on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. I love the way I can adapt Emacs to my every need. For example, at work I have to sort through mail and look for spam or phrases within spam that can be blocked. I wrote up a nifty bit of ELisp so that whenever I hit a spam, it grabs the most easily blockable parts (URLs, email addresses) and helps me find other pieces. It has made my job that much easier. And, since Emacs is free software, it has grown and evolved with the input and contributions of all its users. Emacs is about 20 years old, but it is one of the most powerful enviornments that you can use for day-to-day computing. I use it to read email, edit code, take notes, prepare documentation … I’m using it right now to type this entry. Better, with Emacs and Free Software in general, if I run into a problem with the software I can fix it. Sure, I’ll send email to the author, but sometimes he’s busy. I can fix it. That’s what I’ve done with the RSS reader in Emacs. I’ve run into problems with the XML parsing code with RSS, but I was able to fix it. And, get this, since Emacs is free software, I was able to contribute my code back, safe in the knowledge that other’s wouldn’t have the same problem. But it’s not just Emacs. Its a whole slew of software. I use Mail::Audit::List for sorting my mailing lists into separate folders. Today, I found a bug in it, fixed it, and submitted the patch. This power, the ability to fix your own problems, or, lacking the skill to fix them, appeal to the community of fellow user for a fix, is awesome. Proprietary software doesn’t give you that power. At the most, you can appeal to your fellow users for a work-around. Rarely will you find a fix. You’re gonna have to wait for the vendor to come out with a band-aid. And then, there is a chance that they won’t understand the problem (and so won’t give a complete fix) or they’ll fail to fix the problem at all. Does Free Software have its problems? Sure. But you can fix them.

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