Is proprietary software a valid option?

Lutz Horn lh at
Sat Jul 28 17:47:07 UTC 2001

Hash: SHA1

Dear folks at LWN,

Thanks for publishing my letter regarding your coverage of the Caldera
licensing scheme. To this you added the honour of quoting it as an
example for an opinion 'common among certain types of free software
advocates' in your july, 26th Main Page. Since you take some trouble of
argueing against something you claim can be found in my statement, let me
respond to your editorial.

There are some points in your article that need to be addressed.

1) You start of by asking 'Is it immoral to use proprietary software?'.
Of course, I never asked this question in my original letter. You, too,
are aware of this, since only three paragraphes later you rephrase the
question to 'Is it truly "no valid option"', using my words. Let me
point out that I'm not talking about morals. I restricted myself in
talking about valid or invalid options which is a completely different

Since, as far as I can see, inside the Free Software community there is
no generally agreed idea about what is morally right or wrong in
everyday live, said community focuses on one goal: Free Software and
ways to further it, increase it's use, etc. Everything that is said and
done about Free Software has to be judged under consideration of this
goal. If something does or doesn't further this goal, it's not moral or
immoral but a valid or invalid option.

2) Regarding the use of proprietary software, you ask 'What, exactly, is
the harm in doing so'. The infliction of actual harm is only one thing
why using proprietary software is no valid option. It is no valid option
since proprietary software keeps people from helping each other, from
learning while using software, and generally keeps them in a state of
dependence. There may be no actual harm done from this but it sure is
against the spirit of Free Software.

3) After restricting yourself to the actual harm done by the use of
proprietary software you cosider the 'biggest fear' which you detect in
proprietary software 'block[ing] the development of a free package'. Of
course this is a major problem but the arguments you present to calm the
fear down are worth considering. I agree with you that there is no need
to discuss this issue.

There are, of course, different problems in the use of proprietary
software which do actual harm to Free Software even though no developer
is discouraged from developing Free Software. If there is no Free
alternative to some proprietary tool the use of this tool does
strengthen it. By increasing the user base of proprietary software users
make it more difficult for late coming Free Software to get a food in
the door. We all know that switching tools is an undertaking not readliy
done. Or is there some other reaseon why people are still using the
proprietary Netscape browsers even though Mozilla is Free and ready to

4) You appease the users of proprietary software by saying that they
need not 'feel an outsider just because the programs they need to get
their work done now are not available under a free license.' In this you
assume that they are being thrown out of the community by the 'Church of
the FSF'. I don't think this is the case. Being a member of the Free
Software community is not a question of conforming to some church rules.
But of course if somebody considers himself a member of the Free
Software community he has to ask himself where his priorities lie. Do
they lie in getting 'their work done' or in working for Free Software.
If they lie in the first, the use of proprietary software may be a valid
option.  If they lie in the second, it is not.

Lutz Horn
- -- 
Lutz Horn <lh at>
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