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Science & Technology

by Fred Gargaud (with the help of Alain Coulais)

Open Source Computer Programs: "A New Communism" Claims Bill Gates!

Translated Monday 11 September 2006, by Hervé Fuyet

It is now possible to use, perfectly legally, computer programs that are generally free of charge and more efficient than Microsoft programs. And in addition, it is for the common good!

There is a universe of proprietary programs dominated by Microsoft, and there is the universe of open source programs. To better understand the difference between the two universes, imagine that a computer program is like... a prepared dish! If that dish is prepared the proprietary way, you can eat it, but you cannot share it with others, nor can you find out what recipe was used (called source code in computer language). Not much conviviality there! On the other hand, in the world of the open source programs, you can share the dish with whomever you want, and you have in addition access to the recipe used, you can also improve it and distribute it as you like it. See the Wikipedia article on this subject.

But what is the use of adding the "recipe" to the computer program you give? Quite simply, it enables many people to work on improving it. As a result, many open source programs are today at least as good, and often better than the other programs, and they are more and more frequently used. Already more than 20% of the French internauts use Firefox rather than Internet Explorer to surf on the Web. More than 80,000 computers of the French Gendarmerie and an equal number of computers at the French Treasury are equipped with OpenOffice rather than with Microsoft Office.

One reason for such popularity is that open source software is free. Some companies offer a modest-cost version with "help" documentation and an assistance contact, but most Open Source software is proposed for free on Internet. This tends to decrease the "computer technology gap" since it facilitates access to computer technology by populations that do not have the means to buy often costly proprietary computer programs. It is difficult for progressives not to agree with such an approach.

Another advantage to the generalized use of "open formats" is that one does not have to depend on a particular program to read files or to ensure the durability of their data. These open source programs are also often more secure than the proprietary ones. The most widely used programs benefit the most from the programmers’ community and are regularly updated.

Finally open source software is not more difficult to use. It is necessary however to change some habits, and that is not always easy. But we will have to adjust, if only to share (!) the view of Bill Gates, president of Microsoft, who stated in an interview at News.com that the OpenSource community constitutes a dangerous "new source of communism".

Fred Gargaud (with the help of Alain Coulais). Published in the weekly Humanité Dimanche, which is not on the web in French.


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