The Digital Commons

by John McDonnell


The Digital Commons is part of an economic model where information resources are free for all to use and modify. Advocates of this system argue that such sharing benefits everyone and increases innovation and economic activity. Such free resources are usually broken down into (1) free open source software, (2) media (images, audio and video) and (3) free information (eg. wikis like widipedia). What does that mean for you? Well whatever you need to do as regards the Internet you should be able to find a free option.


Most commercial software applications have several free open source alternatives. Instead of Microsoft Office you can use LibreOffice which also contains a word processer, spreadsheet and presentation application, all of which can export in office compatible formats. If you need a photo editor like Photoshop then consider the fabulous GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). For web browsing there’s Firefox, and for mail Thunderbird. These are just some of the better known free open source applications, but there are thousands more. There are even free Operating Systems like Linux which can replace Microsoft Windows on PCs and laptops. If you have very old machines maybe still running the no longer supported XP OS then installing Linux can be an option to breathe some extra life into it. If you have your own website you likely already use open source software. The majority of web servers on the Internet are running Linux and software like WordPress is often used to create and edit websites.wordpress

For free media there are many sources. Possibly the largest is Flickr, which has many historical images as well as those recently contributed by people. Penn State University has an excellent site allowing searches through multiple free media resources including Flickr.

For free information, Wikipedia is the best known, but any site allowing free use of its content is part of the digital commons. Some writers have released some of their works under a Creative Commons license allowing free non-commercial distribution. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow was a pioneer in this area and you can download several of his novels here including the acclaimed ‘Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom’.


John McDonnell has worked in I.T. for over 20 years.  He lives in Cork in the Republic of Ireland.



This article is part of the Creative Commons and is free to publish under a CC licence.