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Q: What is the Singapore GNU Group?

A: The Singapore GNU Group, founded in 2006, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify and redistribute computer software. The group promotes the development and use of free software, especially the GNU/Linux system, and free documentation for free software. The group also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issuses of freedom in the use of computer software.

Q: Is this group the same as other open source groups in Singapore?

A: No. This group is not an open source group. The Singapore GNU Group is a free software group, we do not belong to the open source movement. However, the open source groups are not our enemies. The free software movement and the open source movement are just two different camps within the same community. The enemy is non-free software.

Q: But why create another group when so many open source groups already exist in Singapore?

A: Open source groups do not focus on the ethical relationship between computer software and its users. Instead, they focus on the practical benefits of computer software -- like how much does it cost, how long is the uptime and how wonderful is its graphical transparency. Thus, they condone non-free software for use on computers, which we find unacceptable.

Q: Why do I have to pay money to get free software, if it is free in the first place?

A: Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand this concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not free as in free ice cream.

Q: What will be the difference between someone from the free software movement and the open source movement?

A: The main difference will be their views on computer software. If you show the two persons a powerful, convenient, crash-proof, cheap but a non-free software, their differing attitude can be seen immediately.

The person from the open source movement would say: "I am surprised such a powerful software can exists without letting its users study the source code and find the bugs. But this seems to be a powerful software." And he will probably use it. Where as the person from the free software movement would say: "I do not care how powerful and convenient it is if it takes away my freedom. I would not pay such a high price for that convenience."

One person would give up his freedom whenever you can offer him convenience in its return while the other would fight for his freedom. If enough of us fight for freedom, freedom may just prevail. So join the Singapore GNU Group today!

Q: Does joining the free software movement means using only GNU (ie. no additional software)?

A: No. Being part of the movement does not mean that you have to use, and only use, GNU from the FSF, without using any non-FSF audio/video players, printers/WiFi drivers and no Flash platforms. The goal of the free software movement is to not to have any non-free software on the system. There are now plenty of free and powerful non-FSF software that can replace almost all proprietary software. In fact, when you are using a GNU distribution, you are most likely to be using Linux as your kernel, a software which is not from the FSF.

Q: Is the Singapore GNU Group about GNU only?

A: No. To stand up for digital freedom is our manifesto. We would be expressing our ideas and goals in all those areas affecting our freedom. GNU is a solution to take back our software freedom but we need to do more than just using free software. We are now living in a time when more and more parts of our lives becomes digitalized and we would be in trouble if we do not care enough about freedom.

Q: What is the difference between free software and open source software?

A: Free software and open source software describes almost the same set of software. One notable example of licenses which are considered as open source but not free is:

NASA Open Source Agreement

Since they are not free licenses, we would not recommend you to use them. Use the GNU GPL instead.

Q: I am running Microsoft Windows, but all other software on my computer are free software. Am I free?

A: Running free software on top of a non-free operating system like Microsoft Windows is a good way to introduce to someone the ideals of free software. This is a good first step to have freedom. But this is only good if the user decides to carry on and takes the remaining steps to freedom. If the user does not move beyond the first step, then it is as good as having no freedom.

Q: I am using Linux as my operating system, not something called GNU!

A: This is a common confusion and because of it, people often thought that Linus Torvalds started the creation of the operating system. The GNU Project started in 1983 to create a free operating system GNU and by 1990, all parts of GNU were finished except for the kernel. Linus added the kernel (called Linux) in 1992. Thus, the system is basically running GNU with Linux as its kernel and we named it GNU/Linux to express the combination.

It is interesting to note that in a typical GNU distribution, GNU software makes up 28% of the total source code while the kernel Linux itself has only 3%.

Q: What sort of software do you endorse at the Singapore GNU Group?

A: We endorse all operating systems as long as they are not just 95% or 99.5% free but 100% free software. Thus, we would advocate the use of GNU distributions like gNewSense and Ututo. We also endorse common free software like Openoffice.org and VLC player.

Q: I want to have fun with my computer. Are there any games that are free?

A: There are numerous free and high quality games built for the GNU system. Examples are GNU Chess and the Battle For Wesnoth.

Q: Do you recommend user friendly distributions like Linspire for use?

A: Most user friendly GNU/Linux distributions contain a substantial amount of non-free software and for Linspire, nothing describes it more clearly than this, "Linspire is in a class of itself. Large and important parts of this system are non-free. No other GNU/Linux distros has backslided so far away from freedom. Switching from Windows to Linspire does not bring you to freedom, it just gets you a different master."

It is totally outrageous that Linspire advertise their GNU/Linux distribution as licensed per seat, giving its user as much freedom as Microsoft Windows!

Q: What about the various popular GNU distributions like Ubuntu and software like Firefox?

A: Ubuntu and Firefox (Binaries from Mozilla) are not 100% free. We strongly recommend the use of free web browsers like GNU IceWeasel and Konqueror.

Q: Hey, this group seems to be more of a political group than a software group!

A: The free software movement is a political movement. This article explains why it is so. We believe that, in the words of the FSF, "social groups taking on policies about free software can act as a huge lever within schools, trade unions, local governments, and churches."

Reading this article might help: 2006 - The Year The FSF Reached Out To The Community.

Q: I want to know what non-free software are installed. How do I check it?

A: For Debian based distributions, ie. Ubuntu, you can use Virtual Richard M. Stallman to check. Note: It is our stand that it is better to have no software than to have non-free software in the world.

Q: Without the non-free Adobe Flash player, does that mean I would be unable to view Youtube videos?

A: Yes. History tells us that people had died fighting for their freedom. Fortunately, we do not need to take such a huge sacrifice in the free software movement. We believe that being unable to view Youtube videos is a small sacrifice to pay for freedom. As members of the free software movement, if we use non-free software on our computers, that is as good as telling everyone that non-free software are acceptable as long as they are useful. How are we going to bring people into our community then? If the GNU Project had taken that attitude towards Unix in 1983, where would we be today? Nowhere. If it had accepted using Unix, instead of replacing it, nothing like the GNU system would even exist.

On the other hand, open source groups would often recommend installing and using the non-free Adobe Flash player because their philosophy say nothing about the ethical values or freedom that are associated with free software. What they say is that as long as the software is low cost and is able to do the job as well as, if not better than, its nearest competitor, use it. Thus, their views on computer software are more or less the same as Microsoft.

Updates: The GNU Flash player, Gnash, can now play Youtube videos.

Q: What if Microsoft decides to place Windows under the GPL? Would the group recommend it for use?

A: Definitely. We endorse all software so long as they are free software.

Q: What sort of hardware do you recommend to use? The iPod looks cool!

A: We would use all hardware running software that respects the freedom of its users. TiVo is a negative example since it does not allow you to modify and run the installed GNU system. Apple products are to be avoided generally due to the DRM in them, even though the problem could be solved easily by using only free software on them. Products from Apple will always be second best in the world, not because other products are more creative or advanced, but because the best product is the one Apple produced before it was crippled on purpose to stop its users from doing things that Apple does not want to happen. As such, it would be a complete waste of money to buy something that is so useless.

Q: Campaigns like DefectiveByDesign require so much coordination. Can the group do it in Singapore?

A: Yes. This is because our sophistication in global coordination of massive social movements is increasingly getting better and better. Note that the Singapore GNU Group is organized for community, not hierarchical top-down management. Thus, our action campaigns can be set up much quicker as compared to other organizations.

Q: I think companies like Microsoft, who has invested enormous amount of money and time on software engineering, deserve to be rewarded financially for their contribution to society.

A: Our stand is that parties who contribute to society deserve reward, while parties who damage and attack societies deserve punishment. Free software is a contribution to our social progress but non-free software is not -- the latter being an attack on society. To use non-free software would require users to surrender their freedom. Thus, free software developers deserve a reward while non-free software developers deserve a punishment for what they do.

Q: Microsoft said free software is communism, or at least, it feels Marxism to me!

A: Free software is neither communism nor Marxism. Free software just means respect for its users freedom. The free software movement respects private property. When you have a copy of a free program, that copy is your property, and you can use it in all the ways that respect others' freedom. By contrast, most non-free software companies do not respect property rights. They say that you cannot own a copy of the program, because all copies are their property.

One common misunderstanding with free software is having no private modification right -- the user is supposed to give everyone a copy of what he or she had modified. The truth of the matter is that free software means the exact opposite -- you can have private copies too! In fact, having a "no private copy" rule would turn it into a non-free software.

Microsoft had stated that the GPL is communist in nature. Hence, they embarked on their campaign to persuade our community to abandon the GPL, which has protected our freedom -- the license that forbids them for saying: "What's yours is mine and what's mine is also mine." They want the community to let them take whatever they want, without giving anything back. In other word, they want us to throw away our defenses against them!