The same lack of perspective is seen in other short-term reasons for using GNU/Linux. Anyone with a sense of fair play has to look at Microsoft or any other software monopoly with askance. Yet while hating or regulating monopolies can lead to short term successes, in the long term, such attitudes or efforts make very little difference. Dethrone one monopoly, and another rushes in to fill the vacuum. Even more importantly, no matter which company has the monopoly, it is still likely to be proprietary.
"The trouble with talking about monopolies," Peter Brown, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation told me a couple of years ago, "Is that it suggests that, if it wasn't a monopoly, if there was competition among proprietary companies, that would be okay with us. But, no, it wouldn't make it okay from our viewpoint."
Brown continues, "We never want to advocate for a short term victory, because that makes people focus on the wrong issues. We've always got to focus on the bigger issue, so if people are going to choose free software, they're going to choose it for the right reasons."
Or, as Richard Stallman explained to me in 2007, "The goal of the free software movement is to put you in control of the software you use. Then, if you want to make it more powerful, you can work at making it more powerful."
Threats (Subversive and Otherwise) to GNU/Linux Growth
GNU/Linux Desktop: The Case Against Running Windows Apps
How the GNU/Linux Community Ranks Distros
Interview with Richard Stallman: Four Essential Freedoms
Forget those priorities, and you might as well not bother setting up a GNU/Linux workstation or laptop. You've lost sight of what's important and different.
As Peter Brown said on behalf of the Free Software Foundation, "At the end of the day, we are not trying to be the most popular organization in the world. A lot of organizations look at a situation and say, 'What's the best way to get ahead? How do we have to compromise our beliefs to achieve something, to become more popular and successful?' But when you have a leader like Richard Stallman, those considerations are just never there. There's none of this short term stuff. Our job is to raise free software as an ethical issue. And we can go forward from there."
Seeing GNU/Linux shift from the fringe to the mainstream is exciting, no question. Being part of that shift is even more so. Yet in the rebellious glee of watching the paradigms shifting, we need to consider that acceptance can sometimes come at too high a cost. True, insisting that the ethics that built the operating system share in its success may delay or even halt that same success. Yet if those ethics don't survive, then the success will not be worth having.