(This is an article presented to the online Congress – Observatory for Cybersociety 2006, by Wouter Tebbens)
Societies have been able to advance in great part due to the sharing of knowledge. While in current times the internet and the use of computers have enabled new ways of communication and sharing of information, legal and technical obstacles impose serious threats. Since the beginning of the 1980s Free Software has evolved as a counter movement to these restrictive tendencies. Free Software is not only a software program that guarantees the freedom to use, study, adapt, copy and distribute. It provides as well the legal framework for sharing and creating knowledge in the digital age.
From this starting point, this article argues the importance of Free Software in science, culture, economy and society in general. In more concrete terms, this article shows how the use of Free Software and its principles are fundamental in all these domains. In science Free Software enables the verification and falsification of scientific theories. In culture the use of copyleft facilitates the sharing and collaborative creation of cultural works. In economy Free Software represents a real alternative to the current software monopolies and hence its adoption would stimulate innovation and create equal opportunities in the software market. Finally, Free Software is essential for transparency, social inclusion and democratisation of information.
If Free Software is so important, how come that still so few people are aware of it? As it will be argued, there are multiple reasons. In order to address these, it is fundamental to introduce Free Software in education. That is what the SELF project is about. By providing a worldwide platform for the collaborative production and sharing of freely available education and training materials about Free Software and Open Standards, the SELF platform aims to contribute to the adoption of Free Software. This can only be achieved by the active participation of all parties involved, that is, from educational and governmental institutes to ICT and training companies, publishers, NGOs and Free Software communities.
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