'Ethical' Software

Across most of society today there are ethical alternatives to consumer products, or at least the ability to boycott particular brands in the hope that by resorting to a smaller alternative based on ethical grounds it may affect change. Whether it be Fair Trade, local sourcing or more niche productions, it seems there is an opportunity to be responsible , to a degree, for almost everything you consume. Yet when it comes to computer software, something we use everyday, there seems to be a resignation that what we say is all there is, whether it be Microsoft's near monopoly on computer software, especially in workplaces, or Apple Macs narrow minded approach to software, computers seem to be a 'black hole' in 'ethical' consumerism.

However, there are alternatives, as such, many people appear to be aware of them but do not implement them for a variety of reasons .Common 'myths' about alternative software are that it is too technical, too time consuming to locate and install or not as good as the 'big brands'. With the development of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS), all of the above are simply not true. Take Mozilla Firefox for example, an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, it can be downloaded and installed in a few minutes, it is very simple to use (almost identical to IE 7 but with more customisation options) and as it is peer maintained, it is updated regularly and as such keeps ahead of the bigger company. FOSS, works by the code for a program being open for modification by anybody, as such the software can move through a wide range of developers adding particular expertise and ultimately adding their knowledge to a finished product that is free and accessible to all. As such FOSS is a 'viable, non-commercial alternative to Microsoft domination of the software market' (Coleman:2004). Unfortunately less than 10% of computer users have free software installed. (Bryfield:2006).

Yet, with the advent of FOSS being easier to use, it is now possible for anybody to get involved, see the end of the article for a list of the alternatives. The real 'ethical' boost to FOSS comes in when we consider the spread of technology in the developing world. It is very difficult for developing countries to afford the cost of Licenses for Microsoft products, and as such with MS software being widespread and easy to use they are able to exercise a lucrative monopoly, as such profit over people. FOSS however allows anyone to run an entire Operating System with all the necessary software for free, and be in the knowledge that that software will remain 'cutting edge' on account of the development nature of FOSS. However difficulties have arisen, for example NGOs can have trouble if there is no-one with technological expertise available, and outside of the general use Open Source software available, particular needs for NGOs are sometimes not met by FOSS. However this situation is improving, organisations such as Tactical Technology are moving civil society forward in technological terms.

There is every reason to make your PC 'ethical', by replacing or obtaining software with FOSS, whether it be on the philosophical and activist grounds or the simple fact it wont cost you anything! Moreover, the more people using FOSS, the more society will feel its benefits, and as such an increase in technical support for FOSS etc will significantly boost development.

Below is a list 'traditional' software that you may expect to find on a typical computer and their ethical alternatives;

Word Processor (ie MS Office)

Open Office - http://www.openoffice.org/

Image editor (ie Photoshop or Paint)

GIMP - http://www.gimp.org/

Web Browser (ie MS Explorer)

Firefox - http://www.mozilla-europe.org/en/products/firefox/

Email manager (ie MS Outlook)

Thunderbird - http://www.mozilla-europe.org/en/products/thunderbird/

Operating System (ie Windows)

Linux - http://www.linux.org/

Web design (ie Dreamweaver)

Drupal - http://drupal.org/

These are just a few quick ways that you can get the basic software up and running for a PC. Admittedly, Linux does require some computer know-how and so Windows or the basic Apple Mac operating system is likely unavoidable, however you can have an alternative web browser, word processing package and Image editor within minutes!

These are just a few examples of what you can do, try the Free Software Foundation website http://www.fsf.org/ or the Source Forge website http://sourceforge.net/ for more FOSS software.

'Free software should be an obvious civil society issue. It should be as obvious as recycling cans. It should be something that every parent should be asking when they go into a parent-teacher meeting: is the school using free software? Is my child being taught to use free software? Having control over your computer and knowing that your devises aren't spying on you, that you have an ethical computer – these are all issues for civil society'.

Ethical Hardware?

Is it possible that even hardware can be ethical and aid development? The One Laptop Per Child project is an ambitious scheme that aims to provide 2 simply to sue and manufacture laptops to the buyer, one goes to themselves and the other to a child in the developing world. Each laptop intends to cost $100 . See the website for more information – www.laptop.org



Bryfield, B (2006) Free Software! New Internationalist No. 395. Oxford, Independent News Collective

Coleman, G (2004) The Politics of Open Source Adoption, NGO's in the Developing World. University of Chicago

Tactical Technology Collective (2007) http://www.tacticaltech.org/




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