Tech Pundits Surrender: The Retreat from Free Software and Open Standards: Page 2

Tech pundits galore are claiming that proprietary software choices are all that users will ever need. Really?
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What is important is the communal pooling of modifications that free software and open standards allow -- something that you automatically give up when you buy proprietary.

There is something, too, that is so outdated as to be naive in Perlow's wish to be a "consumer," or Kingsley-Hughes' idea that manufacturers know best. If manufacturers could be trusted to have our best interests at heart, then free software and open standards would never have gotten started in the first place. A great deal of what motivates the free and open communities is the frustration of being in a passive relationship with manufacturers -- of being expected to accept whatever is offered.

As anyone can easily learn, hardware and software manufacturers --like the music and movie industry -- are working hard to make their merchandise an exception to the usual expectations of ownership in our society. Their user-agreements make clear that you borrow, rather than own the software you install, and that they can make modifications and invade your privacy without bothering to tell you.

Their Digital Rights Management prevents you from exercising common rights of ownership, such as loaning to a friend. When you start thinking in those terms, then the supposed convenience of using proprietary tools can quickly become, in the long-term, massively inconvenient.

For another thing, as the life work of Eric von Hippel has shown, innovation in industry tends to come from end-users rather than manufacturers. Free software and open standards enable that innovation, and are better positioned than a proprietary vendor to take advantage of it. For that reason, while Fratto's comment about taking advantage of a vendor's improvements might seem sensible in an individual case, in general practice, it is not especially likely to occur -- and if it does occur, you can be sure that you will pay for it. If innovation is what you want, then it is far more likely to occur under free software and open standards.

Under these circumstances, why relinquish your control, especially since free and open tools are so close to providing complete alternatives? To say the least, the choice seems short-sighted.

Kill This Meme

All this may seem like a simple transfer of old arguments to new territory. Yet refuting these arguments seems worthwhile because their main effect could be to delay free software and open standards from delivering on their promise.

Even a temporary use of proprietary solutions can cause delays, as witness by the lack of development of full-featured free video drivers or a free Flash replacement. People get used to the compromise, and what was supposed to be temporary has the nasty habit of becoming just the way things are -- and of stopping all progress as a result.

Presumably, those advocating proprietary solutions no longer care (if they ever did). But, at least in theory, their arguments could have the same effect.

No doubt they would say that they are being sensible and considering all possibilities, but their position has several major flaws. It implies invalid assumptions, and returns control to manufacturers when end-users are barely starting to gain some rights.

Even more importantly, what seems sensible in the short term can easily reveal long-term disadvantages. This is one meme that, for everybody's sake, shouldn't be allowed to spread.

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Tags: open source, Linux, free software

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