Last week I was deciding what to do for my Dad for Father's Day. I was looking at sending down some high quality beer(where he lives is in a "dry" county). The shipping was so expensive, though, that the idea came into my head that I could just go take something down to him myself, and pay him a visit over the weekend. And so I did. On Friday I stopped at the Walnut Street Tea Company and got him a variety of loose teas. Then I drove down to Glasgow, KY in about 6 hours and surprised my Dad with myself and the tea.
In case you didn't know, my Dad runs a one-man farming and wildlife preservation operation. He calls the place where he lives Wandafar. He's planted about 2500 trees in a huge field on the property to lend a hand to the banks of a creek running through. His focus in his agricultural production is to provide all the food he needs for himself, using as little unnaturally-provided resources as possible. That is to say, he wants to be completely self-sufficient. I admire his work and to visit him and see what he's doing is truly an impressive experience, one that you won't have almost anywhere else these days.
I'm slowly migrating my system over to Ubuntu Linux 6.06 presently. Linux is a major alternative to Windows, and is completely free and open. It is not owned by a particular company, and anyone can use and modify it, but some companies like Red Hat have built their own proprietary version of Linux that you can buy in most electronics stores these days. Even then, though, the Linux core remains open. Ubuntu is a version or "distribution"(aka distro) of Linux that is said to be the most userfriendly these days. It is a free and open source distribution, as are the many programs it is packaged with. I seem to like it well enough, once I got past the initial learning curve and difficulties with certain aspects of it.
Linux for years was designed primarily with the most tech savvy in mind, since the masses were assumed to be locked into Windows. So most Linux distributions are unfit for general use. Only in the past couple years with the rise of the free and open source Mozilla Foundation's Firefox as an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer(boooo!) has there been a push to make Linux suitable for anyone to use. In my opinion Ubuntu is still not ready for anyone to use, but with some improvement it could be.
Why is it important for programs to be free and open source? Because it allows for a community to be created around a piece of software in which anyone can improve it and fit it to the community's needs. It also promotes an adherence to universal standards in software, which means you can use, for instance, any web browser that adheres to these standards to view web pages. Thus web pages can be created with just these standards in mind, and not two different standards, as is done now, between Microsoft, and everything else.