A toast to software freedom

11 October 2005

Getting your hands on free – and legal – software is now as easy as toast.

Thanks to the Shuttleworth Foundation, free software is available at centres throughout South Africa via a remarkable device known as the Freedom Toaster. An innovative self-contained “bring ‘n burn” facility, the Toaster allows people to bring their own blank CDs and DVDs to make copies of the software they want.

Freedom Toaster The programmes available on the Toaster are all open source – software that has been built by a global community of volunteers who make the source code freely available. This is in contrast to proprietary software, which is owned by a single company and requires users to pay license fees.

Through most of the history of computing, software was developed and freely passed around as source code – open source. But the last two decades have seen the rise of closed source software, which is owned and sold like a commodity, and cannot be altered by the user.

This has been compared to welding the bonnets of cars shut so people can’t perform their own car maintenance.

Open source software can perform any imaginable computing task and is widely available on the internet, mostly free of any cost. And with open source, piracy is not a problem. In fact, people are encouraged to share and spread the software as much as they like.

The open source licence states that you may copy and redistribute the software even after modifying it. This gives users a freedom they can’t get from proprietary software, and allows businesses and entrepreneurs around the world – particularly those in developing countries – to take advantage of the digital revolution.

Freedom Toaster Enter the Toaster
The Freedom Toaster project began as a means of overcoming the difficulty in obtaining Linux and open source software in South Africa, where the easy downloading of large pieces of software is just not possible.

It’s also designed to make open source less scary and more accessible to all. Before, people were nervous to use the software because it seemed too complicated, obscure and confusing. It was also notoriously difficult to get reliable and complete distributions that were easy to install and upgrade.

The Freedom Toaster does away with all these problems.

And it’s easy to use. Using a touch screen, users choose what software they want from the Toaster. The screen displays more information on the specific programme, including how many CDs will be needed to copy it. The Freedom Toaster also provides a host of on-screen information to teach people a little more about the world of free and open software.

The software
Software available on the Freedom Toaster includes numerous Linux and FreeBSD operating systems for Intel-based computers, which include large selections of open source programmes.

For those with a Windows operating system there are three great CDs: Open Office version 1.1.4, an alternative to MS Office; the Open CD, which has a number of Windows programmes; and the Fire Monger CD, with the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client.

Freedom Toasters can be found in Grahamstown, East London and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape; Bloemfontein in the Free State; Johannesburg, Kempton Park, Diepkloof and Pretoria in Gauteng; Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal; Potchefstroom in North West; Knysna, Cape Town and Stellenbosch in the Western Cape; as well as in Namibia.

For more information, visit the Freedom Toaster website.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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