12 May 2003
Hard times for free software users
COMPUTER USERS rarely conjure an image of unrest let alone protest. But an exasperated group of the PC world have joined forces to stand up for their rights.
They're officially known as The Association for Free Software (AFFS) and they're ganging together at Aston University for their first annual conference (Saturday 17 May) to fight against the Big Boys.
What most irks the AFFS is not so much the fact that big software companies' products are expensive to buy in the first place but that those companies don't allow users to modify their purchases to better serve their own uses. It's the equivalent of buying a suit from a shop and then being told by the shop that you're not allowed to tailor it to fit, according to the association.
'We just want the freedom to share and modify software,' explains Dr Marc Eberhard, a lecturer in electronic engineering at Aston University who chairs the AFFS.
Eberhard's association also hope to win the right to study how software programs actually work. Currently users do not have access to the software's source code so this is not possible. In other words they are restricted to the way software companies predict the way their packages should be used.
Having made improvements, the AFFS wants the freedom to redistribute copies of the resulting software to help other users so that the whole community benefits.
A key issue at the one day conference will focus on the UK and European patent offices moves to take advantage of ineffective opposition to software patents. AFFS believes the introduction of software patents reduce innovation and are bad for all software users and developers, whether free or proprietary.
Dr Eberhard said: 'The possible introduction of software patents threatens for the first time in history the very existence of SMEs in the software field as well as free software developers. The effects would be devastating on a wide scale and would fuel the build up of even stronger monopolies in this market segment which are already bad enough.'
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Notes for editors:
1. For more information about AFFS see http://www.affs.org.uk/
2. For more information on Aston University see http://www.aston.ac.uk/
3. Phone contact: MJ Ray at Turo Technology LLP (Hon Treasurer AFFS) +44 (0)870 4321 9 10