So there was this article written a few months ago on "the fundamentalist FOSS mentality" published on Medium, where the author basically complained that people believing in free software don't want to buy his proprietary software, (go figure...) and how they're quite dogmatic about it, (we need more of them :-).
Anyway, because I don't visit Medium unless I am directed to it from elsewhere, but my response, (https://email@example.com/hi-david-ea7b99539925), actually generated quite a few positive reactions...
(cont) "Software is mostly designed to do a job. Software can make you more productive, efficient and creative. Sometimes, the best choice is open source, and sometimes it is not. If you exclude software because of ideology, you are potentially limiting your abilities."
He presents the argument as in the software does the job it was designed to do and the user of the software uses it in order to perform that job, while failing to realize that today's software rarely does just one job.
(cont) The core of the argument from free software advocates lies in fact in the fact that most software today does job on behalf of at least two parties: the user - that's the side of the software that is advertised and featured in marketing materials and the reason the user indeed installed the program in the first place.
But then the software also works on behalf of the software creator. This is the telemetry, the tracking, the (often malicious), ads, personal information mining etc.
(cont) That side of the software, the one working for its creator, is not often highlighted on retail boxes.
Take the example of #Windows 10 for example, to the user it is unquestionably useful as an operating system with a familiar user interface and a large set of applications available. And that's the side of the software you'll find in Microsoft's marketing, obviously.
The other side, the telemetry, the ads, the tracking, the upselling, the lockin etc. these are in the EULA nobody reads.
(cont) He goes on to say that:
"Or worse, if you are choosing software for others, you are potentially limiting their ability to do their best work. This does not seem ethical to me. Surely, as a ‘techie’ who is probably involved in software selection, you have an ethical duty to provide people with the best tool for the job?"
As much as I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt, this is quite a sleazy tactic of trying to turn my own position against me and appealing to emotions.
(cont) Since I am a humanist, I tend to take the view that protecting human beings from violations by predatory software vendors is the ethical stance to take.
He seems to be trying to argue that if there's a more capable, proprietary alternative out there, it is unethical to suggest the use of the free software one.
I do believe in transparency, so when somebody asks me, I always mention the proprietary alternatives as well, trying to make a strong argument for FLOSS. It often works well.
(cont) because, am assuming, when someone wants me to recommend them software, they're already trusting my judgment to balance the various factors and make what I believe to be the best solution.
And I don't think 'Brave New World', or 'ends justify the means' are particularly strong arguments for why proprietary software should be used.
(cont) He further says that:
"To what extent do you personally believe in FOSS? Let’s look at the concepts. For example, what does ‘free’ mean? Generally people mean free as in free speech — that code should be free for everyone to re-use. But even free speech has its limits. It could be argued that some software (like speech) is unethical and should not be shared freely. Plans for 3D printed guns being the prototypical example."
Here he shows his fundamental misunderstanding of free software.
Free software philoshophy precisely does not limit 'immoral usage' of free software, because you start running into moral ambiguous and other issues really quickly.
Therefore 'don't be evil' licenses, like JSON used to have are explicitly not considered free software. #Linux would run on a lot fewer devices if that was the case.
Perhaps the author should familiarize themselves a bit more with the movement he so passionately labels 'fundamentalist'.
(cont) He states:
"On a personal level, I believe we produce ethical software. We are open and honest about what we track and what information we hold. We give users the option to turn tracking off"
It's not surprising at all that a proponent of proprietary software would think it is ethical to have tracking, (working for the creator, not the user), be opt out, instead of opt in, but that is precisely why I won't use their software.
> "We trust certain brands because they share our values. Why is software such an exception?"
When it comes to physical goods, there aren't in fact many brands that I'd say "share my values". In fact most of them are produced in conditions that absolutely do not align with values, but yes, I should probably do a much better job of avoiding them, even if identifying such products in the physical space is enormously difficult.
However I don't think we should deny that fundamentally the nature of software is different and requires a different approach. Chairs and kitchen knives usually don't have access to my realtime location, can't record me at any time, know where I live, how many siblings do I have and my political preference.
The same cannot be said about software, therefore we simply cannot afford to treat software the same as simple physical goods.
He rounds off his response by saying:
"The purpose of my article is to convince you that embracing proprietary software will actually help you further your goal. In particular, the widespread adoption of Linux. If you embraced proprietary software the Linux ecosystem would grow. And more people would be exposed to FOSS software. More people would use FOSS software. More people would adopt FOSS software."
That is a point I can technically agree with and software like #Steam certainly helps.
(cont) However, even vendors in the Linux space who do not have a problem reaching out to proprietary vendors, do not seem to have much success to bring Adobe etc. on board and I believe they won't do so unless Linux provides them with the same DRM, sandboxing & restriction mechanism as #Windows & #macOS do and at that point, what's even is the point of having an 'alternative', if it all behaves the same?
(cont) Instead, I think we've shown that Linux as a platform and a community can host free software on par with the proprietary alternatives, Krita, Blender, GCC, GNOME/KDE, GNU, even the Linux kernel itself all show that it is possible.
And while it may be a longer read, it is a worthy one if the alternative is a Windows clone by another name.
Just one thing to add; there are vendors that are sort of in the middle, I'd not consider #JetBrains to be particularly unethical, since they do publish their 'crown jewel', (IDEA), as FLOSS and basically just use the documented plugin architecture to sell proprietary plugins. They also develop #kotlinlang completely in the open & sponsor many FLOSS IntelliJ plugins, like the one for #rustlang
In addition they sponsor * organize FLOSS conferences & even offer all SW for free to FLOSS devs.
@MatejLach I almost wrote the same things but on medium as an article
@MatejLach that was kind of long one ^_^
After reading all this thread from starting article right to this point, I see that people still miss one single small thing. General software users do not care about anything. They do not read the license. They do not want to change software one they are using now works well. And they won't, how much effort we'd put to create hype around FOSS, we will loose always.
Because proprietary software gives money into FOSS, this or that way. So it wins at the end...
@MatejLach Hmmm, I think we free software people really need to create an app analytics service to show what consider ethical there. There's good computer science for this.
And hopefully benefit from it ourselves.
@MatejLach oof, interjecting to say - “a poor carpenter blames their tools” 😬
@MatejLach I'd have to add that generally I find most software and hardware does more than I need it to. Leaving the deal breakers to be the price and whether it's libre software.
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