THE WORLD OF FREE SOFTWARE
History
Present
Future

Topics on this page - (quick links)
Introduction
Questions for the Audience
What is free software?

Topics on other pages - (quick links)
Ripped Off?

INTRODUCTION

Most dentists working in this country, especially in connection with the NHS GDS will be familiar with some computerization. They may have managed to connect their practices to the DPB via the EDI link, or they may just use a computer for games, practice accounts or surfing the internet. Some have networked their whole practice and now have databases that allow virtually all aspects of their practice to be controlled via their computer system. This can include appointment systems, digital radiographs, digital photos and medical/dental records. Everybody expects this process to continue and become more or less accepted practice over the next few years. It should lead to increased efficiency and more detailed recording of patient data that can be useful for analysis purposes.

Questions for Audience
How many of you have surfed the internet?
How many have used Internet Explorer browser?
How many have used Netscape Navigator?
Any other browsers used?
How many have their own website?
How many have made their own website?
How many have cut the number of their support staff through the use of computers?

What is Free Software?
"I can be truly free only when all others around me are also truly free." --Mikhail Bakunin
Free software has nothing to do with price, but everything to do with freedom. A program is free software for you if:-
*You have the freedom to run the program for any purpose.
*You have the freedom to modify the program to suit your needs. (To make this freedom effective in practice, you must have access to the source code, since making changes without access to the source code is exceedingly difficult).
*You have the freedom to redistribute copies, either gratis or for a fee.
*You have the freedom to distribute modified versions of the program, so that the community can benefit from your improvements.

On this basis there is not much in the way of free software available to help the average NHS based GDP in the UK run their dental surgeries at the moment. At the present time all the dental software that is provided to enable all the above benefits of computerization to ensue is so called "closed source" or proprietary based. This means the end user is "locked in" to a particular companies software and is at a significant disadvantage when it comes to upgrading or altering the software that they are using. (Ref Douglas Carnell BMJ Oct 2000 plus Discussion). It also means that they will be forced to pay premium prices for training and support.

Information has always had a great value and even before computers were invented it has laid the foundations to great wealth. Examples of this include the Rothschilds who developed an efficient and secret communications network across Europe, and Andrew Carnegie who learnt to decipher Morse code by ear in the early days of the telegraph system.
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