Today is February 14. Some think of it as flower grocer appreciation day, but most (and for better reasons) celebrate it as the international I ♥ Free Software day. I spend a lot of my time on various Free Software activities, like KDE, FSFE, OIN and netzpolitik.org. I even research it and teach about it. These contributions have become something I regularily do. Every minute I spend as a contributor is thoroughly rewarding. Here is why.
I was thinking to begin with how I selflessly work for the common good and all, but the first and foremost reason why I love Free Software is because I am a tinkerer. Not only do I love to code, but I have an urge to understand how things really work. Free Software allows me to to do just that. At the age of 12, I was into electronics. I built power amplifiers. At 14, disco light shows to impress the ladies (it failed to induce the desired effect). Then, Z80 based chess computers. This triggered my interest in software, since the actual chess program used was a binary CMOS image and I had no idea how it worked, and was practically unable to figure it out. Then came a C64, on which I learned programming in 8 bit assembly (the assembler came on a cartridge and did not even support labels for jumps). Later at university I asked the teachers if it would be possible to, instead of handing in throw-away programming assignments, do course work on a Free Software project. Luckily they accepted (quite far-sighted, in 1997), and that is what got me into KDE. I have been there ever since.
So Free Software gives me the opportunity, the freedom to tinker and explore, to really understand how the computers I use work. What makes that infinite times better is that I can share my findings, be it code, or a theory. At the latest since the industrial revolution, we grew accustomed to the idea that to create complex and costly products, companies or governments are needed. These come with a certain level of rigidity and subordination of individual interest. While this is acceptable since it pays the bills and is sometimes necessary to get things done, it requires following some other parties priorities and goals. It distracts from pursuing those challenges that we really care most about. Those would likely be the ones each of us excels most at. We do not invent, create and improve to our full potential when working for others. We do, in Free Software communities (and other collaborative communities of similar kind) – they enable us to flock together on similar interests, and create something – like a Free Software desktop – we are truly and genuinely passionate about. Because of that I enjoy working on KDE, a community that treats all contributors as equals, and is open for everybody to join.
The benefits of Free Software go beyond the individual contributors and the communities they form. The four freedoms laid out as the foundations of Free Software are a fanfare to the ability to exercise one’s free will, to freely collaborate by helping your neighbors, to achieve independence from directions other people have thought up for us. The effects can be seen all around us – when teaching material for schools is developed collaboratively and freely shared, when government data is opened up to improve the transparency of the political process, when the technical foundations of the internet and the operating systems running modern technology become a common good, and in many other places. People start to expect similar freedoms they learned to get used to in software when engaging in society. And more participation is always better.
This is why I love Free Software. It makes the world a better place. If you love Free Software too, follow this simple advice to show your appreciation to those who contribute to it.