Proprietary software is created with the evil intention of colonising the digital world, Richard Matthew Stallman, software freedom activist, said here on Thursday.

Delivering a talk on “Free software and your freedom” at the St. Joseph's College of Engineering and Technology, Mr. Stallman said proprietorship of software programmes was part of many ulterior motives to dictate the freedom of computer users.

“By withholding the source code of software, the user remains aloof from how the programme works. This system is unethical and stands in the way of complete freedom for users,” he said.

Mr. Stallman advocated the propagation of four freedoms that the use of software should ensure. “These freedoms — to be able to run a programme for any purpose; to be able to study and modify source codes to improve the programme; to be able to help others by distributing copies of a programme; and to be able to contribute to the society by distributing modified copies of a programme — will protect the democratic values of society,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of introducing free software in every school. “Besides being ethical and free, the use of such programmes will ensure that future generations do not fall prey to the system of proprietorship. They gain knowledge on the wide range of possibilities that free software could offer as opposed to a paid one. Moreover, using these programmes would expose future programmers to a wide range of source codes of software, thus providing a means of education,” Mr. Stallman said.

He recalled the limitations on opportunities during the days of his academic career. “My career as a software hacker at the Artificial Intelligence laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proved instrumental in gaining knowledge about the technical aspects of software. However, the times have changed. With introduction of free software in schools, students would be provided with this opportunity at a young age,” he said.

Mr. Stallman inaugurated “Swathanthra,” a free software users' group of the college. His talk was followed by an interactive session with students from various colleges.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt gave the welcome address.