Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Free" software?

I've been an avid linux fan from my first year in Engineering. I've installed & worked with over 50 different linux distributions. In short, I love linux. I bought my PC in 2000. It came pre-loaded with windows.

I didn't have much knowledge about PCs or operating systems then. I remember, one of my friends (Srini) had told me that I should get a bootable windows CD along with the PC. When I asked the guy who assembled my PC, he said "what CD? We don't give any CD". He gave me a bootable floppy instead! I realized that I got a pirated version of windows atleast a few months later.

When I started using Linux later, I realized it's much better than Windows in almost every possible way. Slowly, I was so much awed by Linux, that I've been working mostly on Linux only (at home) ever since.. But I still had windows for a few reasons.
One, I had a win-modem which came with the assembled system, which meant I wasn't able to get it working in Linux for a long time.
Two, I had some data in windows partition. Three, I used to play a lot of games. And if you wanted any good 3d games, there were very few available for Linux.
Also, my dad sometimes used to use the PC, mostly to browse the internet. And he wanted only windows.

My hard disk crashed a few months ago. After some of my futile attempts at getting it fixed, I bought a new one. I installed linux on my system & things were going well.. A new 80 GB hard disk meant that I could have one or two permanent linux partition (with any of my favourite distros installed in them) & also I would still have disk space to install & try out new (or new versions of existing) distros.

After about a couple of weeks of getting the new hard disk, my dad asked me if I had "repaired" the PC. I had then installed Vector Linux & PCBSD. I told him that I had created an account for him in PCBSD & he could start browsing internet in that. The following conversation (or you can say a heated argument) ensued:

Dad: "What? Have you not installed windows? You always keep installing this linux & other stuff.."
Me: "No.. As I have told you many times, you can do everything that you do on windows in Linux (or FreeBSD). Just try it.. If you find **any** problem at all in using Linux/FreeBSD, let me know. I assure you you won't have any problems"
Dad (angrily): "I don't want to learn something new.. Windows is what I know & what I work with in office too.. Why should I learn linux? I can't learn new things at my age.. I don't want to learn.."
Me: "But dad, you don't have to learn anything at all.. Just boot up the PC, log on to Linux (FreeBSD actually) using your name only (no password required too, I had disabled password for his account). Then you can just start using it right away.. You'll have a start menu similar to windows. Select web browser & start browsing.. It's just like the way you do it on windows. You don't have to learn any new thing"
(I had configured his user account with password-less login on PCBSD. The default desktop was KDE"
Dad (angrily & not wanting to listen to anything I say): "I just don't want to do it.. You always keep installing Linux.. What is your problem in installing windows?"
Me: "Well, you'll have to pay about Rs.3000 or so for Windows XP. You know, windows is not free"
Dad (even more angrily): "Does everybody else pay? Don't they get it installed when they get the PC? Can you not get the CD from one of your friends & install windows? (If not just call the computer shop guy & he'll install it for you if you don't want to do it yourself)"
Me: "But dad, that's pirated versions of windows. You know, piracy is illegal. You are not supposed to install software from pirated copies. It's wrong"
Dad (much more angrier now): "Everybody does it.. What's your problem. If everybody else can use pirated versions why can't you?"
Me: "Because it's illegal. I can get arrested for installing pirated copy of softwares, even windows"
Dad: "How many people have been arrested so far? Doesn't **everybody else** do it? What is your problem in installing windows.. I know, it's just that you do not want me to use the computer. That's why you install linux & other things. That's why you don't want to install windows. I won't touch your computer from today. You do whatever you want"

Anything I said after that, was useless. My dad didn't want to listen to me. I even challenged him to use it once & show me **any** problems in using Linux to browse the internet. But he didn't want to listen.

As you can see in the above situation, the problem is not windows or linux or even the reluctance to learn/adapt new things. The problem is piracy. Call it ignorance towards piracy or call it the lack of knowledge/information about piracy. The truth is that piracy has infiltrated our lives much deeper than anyone can think of. (And mind you, software piracy is just one small part of it). If there were no piracy, maybe my dad would have known that it costs a bomb for windows, office, etc. Maybe then he would try out other low cost alternatives. The problem is, as he says, since everybody is embracing piracy, why not us? This reflects the general thinking of the majority of the population. In a way, piracy is like corruption. We all know corruption is bad & must be eliminated. But when it comes to getting your work done, you are ready to pay a small (or some) amount of bribe to get it done faster & smoother. Piracy works similarly.. If you can get something that costs a lot for dirt cheap, would you not buy it? Even if it's illegal? Especially if everyone's doing it & nobody is being penalised legally or facing any problems? Would you not do it?
Atleast, I wouldn't do it. Simply because it's illegal.

Let's have a look at software piracy. Most new PCs are shipped with windows. Branded ones ensure they provide only licensed copy. But more than 90% of home PC users buy assembled PCs (because of the mere price difference b/w assembled & branded ones). And I'm sure 99% of the computer shops that assemble PCs have pirated copies of most popular software (& not just windows.. To name a few - ms office, visual studio, macromedia flash, adobe photoshop, acrobat, antivirus softwares, etc). Many people assume that all these softwares come for free along with the PC.. Just ask the computer shop guy to install what ever software you want & he'll do it for free. The irony is that a few computer shop vendors themselves are not educated about piracy. Others who are well aware of piracy, convenietly don't mention about that to customers. Many customers may also not be aware of piracy. But even a majority of people who are aware, do nothing to stop it. I mean I'm not saying you need to take pro-active actions. You can atleast not buy/use pirated things.

Piracy is not limited to softwares.. It's much more rampant in the music industry, movie industry & even the computer games industry. Recently, I saw a person in Domlur who was selling lots of pirated CD on the roadside. He had CDs - both audio & video of most recent movies in most languages! Go to National Market on any day & every shop there has pirated stuff. The innumerable no. of raids there seems to be futile.

So, who benefits from piracy? People who create software/music/movies, are the ones that have lot to lose.. They put their hard work & money to create something. But piracy robs them of the money they are supposed to get for their hard work. At first it might seem that the end users stand to gain from it. You get costly commodities for cheap prices, right? But you'll soon realise that this is not the case. If all popular products (non-tangible products like software/music/movies that can be pirated) do get pirated, then most people would buy pirated ones instead of costly original ones. This means the people who create these products lose money & they may not create products in the future. The quality of products in that industry goes on decreasing and the end-users stand to lose. For eg. if piracy becomes very rampant in the music industry, prople producing music will soon realise that they are losing money because of piracy. So, they stop producing music (atleast the quality of music produced will go down as there will be no proper ROI). So, in the long run, people will not get good music.

Let us all atleast try to stop piracy. Let's not buy/use any pirated stuff, be it software, music, movies or anything else. Unless we, the end users don't do something about it, we can't bring down this evil.

3 comments:

Srinivas said...

Neat write up man! Very good. Keep your blog alive with these...

Vinay said...

Yes Srini. I plan to write regularly from now on.. Maybe once in a week or so.

NaReN said...

Hmm.. first stop using tht pirated Ferrari cap of urs ;) and give credit to me as I always buy branded Items :D :D