How to use Free Software
12th February 2017
Software is software that gives it's users the rights to
study, modify and redistribute. It is important for society so
that we can audit and maintain the software we use, and be in
control of our computers.
Step 1: Engage with the Free Software community
You need a community to be part of. Here are some examples:
There may be a local Free Software community in your country
or city. Here in the UK we have a
Software UK (which I founded – not many use it yet).
Sometimes Free Software operating systems have a community
forum or mailing list, such
as Trisquel's. So
if you have an idea what operating system you want to
use, try them.
For instant messaging you can use IRC. Try the #fsf or #fsfe
on FreeNode. These
are the channels of the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and
FSFE (FSF Europe), and they should be able to help you with
simple practical/philosophical questions.
I also recommend you read some of
essays on the GNU website, as this gives you a basic
education in Free Software.
And check out LWN
and Tux Machines for
a glimpse of how the Free Software community works.
Step 2: Get compatible hardware
Hardware vendors are usually apathetic towards Free Software,
and some hardware supports Free Software better than
others. It's wise to take advice from someone when buying a
computer for Free Software, but here I give a few tips to get
Avoid anything Apple. Apple deliberately handicaps
their devices to only run Apple software (which is
H-node is helpful.
Though not comprehensive, H-node lists some hardware that is
known to work well with Free Software.
As a supplement to H-node, I made a platform to publish Free
Software success stories! Hopefully you can learn from
reading about other people's successful
Wireless is often problematic with laptops, desktops.
A lot of laptops & desktops on the market work fine with
Free Software except for the wireless, so be careful of
this. You can get compatible wireless cards and dongles from
For phones, tablets, plan to
Although there are various initiatives to run 100% Free
Software on phones, most are impractical, so I recommend the
mostly-Free LineageOS. Find
a phone that LineageOS supports, by looking
at the downloads
There are shops for Free Software friendly hardware.
If you don't want to make the effort to choose hardware
Freedom. Their stuff is very free since it has a
Free Software BIOS.
I've not bought a computer from them but they seem good.
I think they're in Germany, looks good to me.
Local Shops. There may be a local seller in your
country. (If you know of any shops in your country,
please tell me so I can list them here).
page on the GNU website for more options.
Step 3: Install a Free Software operating system
The Free Software foundation provides
of Free Software operating systems. My
favourite, Debian, is
not listed there due to some political squabbling.
I hesitate to provide a recommendation but I can comment on some that I know:
Debian. My personal favourite, read the article I wrote about it.
easy to install so some recommend it for beginners. I
personally am not a fan of the UI (user-interface).
if you really want to learn the intimate inner workings of a
OS. This is not an easy option but you will learn a lot!
You will need to use the instructions provided by the
Operating System you've chosen. Once it's installed, expect a
big learning curve, because getting used to a new operating
system takes time.
Step 4: Get Free Apps
You need to get out of the Windows mindset of downloading
programs from random websites. You will get most of your
software from vetted repositories of Free Software.
For example Debian provides
a repository of
43000 software packages. This repository is part of the
Debian project and the OS has built-in functionality to
download, install and update these packages. Furthermore Debian
promises to maintain them if the original author neglects to
For phones you will
use F-Droid, as an
alternative to the Google Play store.
If you want to download software from anywhere other than a
repository, you can check it's Free Software by seeing if it's
licensed under one of
list of approved licences, or looking at
the Free Software
Step 5: Pay for your Free Software
If you have the money, donate to any Free Software projects
that are important to you. For example I donate
to Mozilla and
You also might consider membership of
I subscribe to LWN too.
Use Free Software and have fun!