RMS interview

Frank Heckenbach frank at g-n-u.de
Tue Jun 25 22:57:10 UTC 2002

Alfred M. Szmidt wrote:

> * Rainer Trusch writes:
> > OfB: What are some of the advantages of Free Software for businesses?
> > RMS: Free software means you control what your computer
> > does.  Non-free software means someone else controls that, and to
> > some extent controls you. Non-free software keeps users divided and
> > individually helpless; free software empowers the users. All these
> > reasons apply just as well to business users as to individuals.
> > [...]
> > I read this argument quite often and think it's pretty useless in
> > a broader few. The vast majority of users can't programm and is still
> > depending on someone else. On a business level you are more likely to
> > have someone being capable to give you this control or you can hire
> > someone. On a private level that doesn't work and you are one or
> > another way "controlled" by someone else.
> The vast majority of users can learn to program, it is just like
> learning a new language.  If the program is proprietary, then the user
> will never get the chance to ever see (so that s/he can learn) or
> modify (also to learn) the source code, which are two of the four
> freedoms.  If I can't read or write in a particular language, then I
> can ask a friend (or a company) to do it, if I can read/write, then I
> can do it my self.

I also think that the difficulty of basic (not BASIC ;-) programming
is geneally overestimated. Some might remember the times when Dos
(without Windows) was popular. Most people had a few self-written
batch files on their disks. Of course, the batch language was
terribly limited, but they could have done the same things in bash
(without needing the more complicated bash features, though some
might have progressed to them, just like some invented quite
involved tricks with batch files, most of which would have been much
easier to do with all the useful tools of the GNU system).

Now I'm wondering whether it's part of the propaganda of non-free
software companies to make programming appear very difficult and
only for the "elite". I don't know if it's intentional, but the
effect seems to be so. It's kind of as if car makers would claim
that riding bicycles is a professional sport and therefore everyone
who's not an athlete should not try it and always drive a car
instead. Telling people that that's not so is already a step to give
some amount of control/choice back to them.

Another point is about choice. How many users of a non-free OS do
actually still know that there is more than one word processor, web
browser, or whatever (leave alone, operating system)? The use of
open standards and interoperability (which is possible with non-free
software, too, but is implicit with free software since every
interface in it is automatically open) generally fosters the
development of alternative programs, so every user, whether or not
they can or want to program, can choose the one they prefer.

More importantly, they really own their data (see
http://www.troubleshooters.com/tpromag/200104/200104.htm), and are
not at the mercy of a company to let them access their own data in a
few years. That's certainly an important form of power for anyone
who uses their computer for more than writing greeting cards and
other very short-lived kinds of data.


Frank Heckenbach, frank at g-n-u.de
GnuPG and PGP keys: http://fjf.gnu.de/plan (7977168E)

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