Along with health, wealth and happiness, freedom seems to be the most cherished human commodity, yet there are still corners of the software world that insist on denying it their customers.
Despite open-source technology outshining the proprietary world of Microsoft for more than a decade, it seems that some customers still like to be controlled by their suppliers.
Maybe it’s a sadomasochistic thing, or the warm glow of reassurance that monolithic suppliers like Microsoft know what’s best for us, allowing us to relinquish control for an easy life.
There is still a perception problem that open source technology is simply a free alternative to buying commercial software.
The word ‘free’ seems to be the biggest stumbling block businesses have with embracing open source technology, and a fear that 'free' means 'unsupported'.
But of course open source technology is not really free, you pay a supplier to install, configure and support it. The upside is they are easily replaced, while you retain sovereignty over your own IT.
Bill Gates once called the open source community a bunch of communists, thinking the open source ideal was against anyone owning the fruits of their programming labours.
But he has missed the real point of choosing open source.
It about not being held to ransom and having the freedom to switch suppliers with impunity. Freedom to modify, extend and supplement your technology as you see fit.
Fidel Castro knows this. Cuba is trying to shake off the yoke off the Microsoft capitalist oppressors by moving its governmental IT to open source, or so it says.
However, a conspiracy theory is never far below the surface where US/Cuban relations are concerned, and Cuba regards using open source as a matter of national security.
As the name suggests, with open source you get the source code and can see what the software actually does.
This transparency is not possible in the proprietary software world and Cuba suspects that the CIA might have asked Microsoft to install secret backdoors for them to use in Cuban copies of Windows.
Brazil, China, Norway and Venezuela have all recently changed to open source too, but mostly because of cost saving, not espionage.
You may not be all that fussed if the CIA can log in into your computer system and don’t really mind paying for something that never really works properly. But how many of us would buy a car with a bonnet only the dealer could open and worked only on roads he had stipulated we could use?
There would be additional charges for carrying extra passengers, and you certainly couldn’t lend it to your friend at the weekend.
The truth is you don’t really own proprietary software, you just rent it. You can actually buy open source solutions, and they are yours to do with as you wish.
* Chris Tomlinson is managing director of Internet consultancy WAA WebXpress. E-mail email@example.com