Aerodynamic Elephants and Free Software Without Freedom: Page 3

Posted November 10, 2010

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 3 of 3)

After all, if technology is the only concern, why not work on tools for Windows or OS X? Why go through the laborious process of catching up with proprietary software (and now, as often as not, surpassing it) if all you want is a more efficient text editor or new features on a web browser?

As a platform for technical innovation, a proprietary operating system would do as well. Perhaps it might even be better, since a proprietary operating system's shortcomings could provide greater opportunity for clever hacks. In the case of Windows, it would certainly provide a larger audience for developers attempting to establish their reputations.

If pursuit of excellence is your motivation, the pursuit can take place on any operating system. But if you ideals about user empowerment, the only place you have any hope of living them or carrying them out in any meaningful way is free software.

You might even say that free software developed into a politically-minded movement precisely because proprietary software did not. In the earliest days of the personal computer, decisions might have seen only technical. But as computers and the Internet became commonplace, the relation of those technical decisions to issues such as freedom of expression and community participation became more obvious -- and, since proprietary companies were slow to show any leadership on such issues, the free software community arose to fill the gap.

For such reasons, decrying the political nature of free software misses the fact that you cannot separate the politics from the movement. Without the idealism that would-be pundits routinely decry, free software loses its entire reason for existence, and ceases to be free software.

Observe, Then Change

None of this is to say that free software is unchangeable, or does not sometimes need rethinking. In particular, sometimes, the politics often get out of hand, which is why various projects have created codes of conduct for their members -- or why Canonical's Jono Bacon created OpenRespect.org to encourage a similar code between different parts of the community.

What I am suggesting, though, is that declarations about what free software should be are irrelevant unless they recognize where the movement began and what it has evolved into today.

Undoubtedly, the movement could be more efficient, faster acting, and more centralized in its decision-making. Yet to suggest that it change its essence is futile.

Free software has changed greatly in the twelve years that I have been observing and participating in it. But, at the end of those changes, it remains geek-centered, anarchic, and idealistic, and most of its participants wouldn't have things any other way.

If you want to change free software, you gain nothing by demanding that it change its nature. But maybe if you observe clearly what it is, then you can mitigate or reform it where necessary.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Linux desktop, Linux downloads, free software

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