Computers today have become standard equipment in government, businesses, schools and even non-government organizations.
In the past, when one bought a computer, it came with the operating system and applications software at no extra cost. Today, commercial software — Windows and MS-Office of Microsoft, for instance — cost several thousand pesos for a single copy. If you have 10 computers, you also need 10 copies of the software, and must now pay for each copy. If you don’t, you run the risk of being sued or, worse, raided by the software giant.
This makes using computers very expensive indeed.
There is an alternative. It is called free software, because you are free to copy it and to share it with others. You are even free to modify it, if you have the inclination and skills to modify software. Best of all, it gives you freedom from fear of harassment, suit or a raid by the local software police.
Free software is also called open software. The most well- known is Linux/GNU, which replaces Microsoft Windows. It is as good, and in many cases, better than Windows. To replace MS- Office, there is OpenOffice which often comes on the same CD as Linux/GNU. For every major type of commercial software, there is usually a free software counterpart.
Where do you get these free/open software? Computer shops might sell them. Shops that sell software often sell Linux CDs too. There is even a Philippine Linux Users Group. Look for it on the Web.
It is not difficult to learn how to install and use these programs. As former President Francisco Nemenzo Jr. of the University of the Philippines said, when he explained why the U.P. System was shifting to free software: we managed to shift from Wordstar to WordPerfect, and then from WordPerfect to MS-Word; we should be able to shift from MS-Office to the compatible OpenOffice will less problems.
Companies like IBM, PAL, Jollibee, Globe and Smart are already using Linux and other free software. If it is good enough for them, it should be good enough for the rest of us.