A Field Guide to Free Software Supporters: Page 2

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4) Softcore Advocates

Softcore Advocates are those who express a preference for free software, but are not willing to face much inconvenience to use it. While they will seriously consider using free software, they will only do so if it is as good as or, preferably, better than proprietary equivalents. If the proprietary equivalent is superior, they will happily use it instead.

This attitude is common in business, because software purchasers in commercial ventures generally have to justify their decisions in economic and practical terms -- and rarely in philosophical ones. Yet it is just as likely to be found in users of stand-alone home systems who insist on nothing but the best. Either way, they represent one of the two largest FOSS camps -- which are also the two camps most likely to be reviled for inconsistency and undermining the community.

5) Mainstream Advocates

The second of the two major FOSS camps is the Mainstream Advocates. Members of this group take the attitude of the Softcore one step further: They will use proprietary software, but only if no equivalent exists. As soon as an equivalent nears usability -- say, when it is in advanced beta -- they will happily stop using the proprietary software in favor of the free equivalent. Some will even adopt free software when it is still buggy or poorer in features that its proprietary counterpart.

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Supporters of this position argue that they are simply trying to find a balance between their beliefs and everyday demands. And, for those who are not in business for themselves, perhaps it is a reasonable position to take, since they are unlikely to have control over what software or file formats they are required to use. However, Hardcore Advocates sometimes denounce them as hypocrites, or at best lukewarm supporters. Their own uneasiness over their position suggests that, deep down, members of this group often accuse themselves of the same failings.

6) Hardcore Advocates

The Hardcore Advocates are the purists. Unlike the Softcore or the Moderates, they strongly oppose the use of proprietary software under any circumstances whatsoever. They are equally opposed to using software that, while free in itself, requires proprietary software to run, such as Java projects before the Java code was released in November 2006. At times, this stance means doing without support for such software as the latest version of Flash, or limping along with low level optical character recognition of the type supported by Kooka or Tesseract.

The Hardcore are willing to put up with such inconveniences because they believe that, in the Internet Age, the availability of free software is a corollary of free speech. After all, if access to computerized information systems requires the purchase of software, then free speech can only be enjoyed by those who can afford to purchase it.

The traditional bastion of the Hardcore has always been the Free Software Foundation. However, it is far from the only one. Some Hardcore groups have been known to adopt an even more radical position than the Free Software Foundation. Debian, for instance, considers some uses of the GNU Free Documentation License non-free, while the Free Software Foundation considers these same uses perfectly free.

The Hardcore position is getting easier to maintain with every passing month, as more and more functionality becomes available under free software. All the same, it can be hard to follow Hardcore principles unless you are a student or a freelancer, or an undemanding user.

Despite this difficulty (or perhaps because of it, since the difficulties of avoiding proprietary software may not be appreciated until you receive pressure to use it), the Hardcore often denounces other types of advocates for not adhering to strict free software principles. They are also the ones most likely to insist on certain language, such as the use of "GNU/Linux" rather than "Linux." In return, they are often called unrealistic and rigid.

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