Now we see it: freedom is a practical matter. Freedom is the ability to do what one wants. For instance, if your printer breaks, then you are not free to use it to print your document. If your printer is free for you to use, that means you can use it as you wish. Obviously, freedom is relative to what is possible – for instance, you may want to use your printer as a flying machine, but you are neither able, nor free to do that. If someone says that we are losing a freedom, usually it is relative to an ability to do something that we were able to do previously. If we were able to do something in the past, it is fair to say that it was possible, and by extension, should still be possible, if not for some intervening change.
Richard Stallman's new printer, in one important area, was not as useful as the original printer - RMS could no longer modify the driving program source code – and so he and the other computer users had lost a major element of control over the functioning of the printer. They were no longer “free” to do what they used to do, no longer free to do what they wanted to do, to do what was required. This practical experience lay at the root of RMS's developing belief that people should, or MUST be able to freely use, modify, and distribute ALL software that they desire to use.
Like many revolutionary ideas, this one got off to somewhat of a slow start. Stallman launched the “GNU” Project in September 1983 to create a computer operating system composed entirely of “Free Software”. And with this effort, he launched the Free Software Movement. Little was heard of these developments for a while. Perhaps this was because of the the advent of the next revolution, the PC revolution, where things changed radically. With usage of the PC, no longer was “community” emphasized – a PC is used by a single individual. And the source code of the operating system software that ran the PC, and the source code of the PC applications was no longer available to the owners of the PCs. Now the code was considered “proprietary”, and was “owned” by the manufacturer of the software. So, when people bought their PC, in an important sense they no longer owned the software. Sure, they could use it, - but they could not modify it, they no longer controlled it. Control over the functional dimensions of the software remained with the manufacturer.
You may complain that this view is rather elitist, too abstract - that non-technical owners of PC's, and users of PC software, really and truly only want to USE software, not control its functional dimensions or potential. But, as we shall see, Microsoft now forces the issue of ownership. Upon the installation of Windows 10, Microsoft, for all practical purposes takes control of your PC - and control is the essence of ownership.
Perhaps the most important and threatening attribute of Windows 10 is that Microsoft can update the operating system software any time they want, and for any reason they see fit. Windows 10 updates are mandatory for the home user - you cannot choose to prevent them. If control is ownership, Microsoft has indeed taken ownership of your “Personal Computer”. With the ability to install and update new versions of their operating system software, Microsoft will do anything with “your” computer that they wish – including changing it's expected operations and user-configuration. And along with taking control of your computer, Microsoft will use it to collect information on your web-browsing activities, the applications you have installed and when and how you use them. And Who they “share” this information with is not limited. The benefits that accrue to Microsoft are also not limited.
So, beyond taking control of your PC, Microsoft now uses “your” PC to obtain an incredible array of information about your behavior on the PC. Note that the Windows 10 Users' License, the EULA, includes these troubling terms:
Microsoft collects and uses various types of data, such as your device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device
Microsoft regularly collects basic information about your Windows device including usage data, app compatibility data, and network and connectivity information. This data is transmitted to Microsoft and stored with one or more unique identifiers that can help us recognize an individual user on an individual device and understand the device's service issues and use patterns. The data we collect includes:
Configuration data, including the manufacturer of your device, model, number of processors, display size and resolution, date, region and language settings, and other data about the capabilities of the device.
The software (including drivers and firmware supplied by device manufacturers), installed on the device.
Performance and reliability data, such as how quickly programs respond to input, how many problems you experience with an app or device, or how quickly information is sent or received over a network connection.
App use data for apps that run on Windows (including Microsoft and third party apps), such as how frequently and for how long you use apps, which app features you use most often, how often you use Windows Help and Support, which services you use to sign into apps, and how many folders you typically create on your desktop.
Network and connection data, such as the device's IP address, number of network connections in use, and data about the networks you connect to, such as mobile networks, Bluetooth, and identifiers (BSSID and SSID), connection requirements and speed of Wi-Fi networks you connect to.
Other hardware devices connected to the device.
We share your personal data with your consent or as necessary to complete any transaction or provide any service you have requested or authorized. We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; to maintain the security of our services; and to protect the rights or property of Microsoft.
There really is no telling how Microsoft will use all this information. They will “share” it. They will probably make money off of it. Some may be delivered to government agencies. It is especially noteworthy that “your” information, from “your” computer can be used to “protect the rights or property of Microsoft.” Getting back to the main track of our piece – by using the Personal Computer as an example, and the way Microsoft exploits its customers through taking control of their PCs, we can see by analogy how other major corporations may choose to deal with their customers . If the example of Microsoft is indicative of common corporate customer experience, that is truly frightening.
But we can be Free from Microsoft! As we saw above, there is a powerful – and now popular movement afoot to make alternative software available. The Free Software Foundation, and the GNU Project, both founded by Richard Stallman, provide Free software to users with licenses that guarantee users rights: the rights to view, modify, and distribute the software source code. With GNU-licensed software, such as Linux, the user is in complete control over the software they employ. And as people contribute to modify Free Software source code, and are required to share those modifications again, the aggregate creative acts give rise to the availability of many more, much more useful results. Value is created beyond what anyone thought possible, and our freedom multiplies.