about free software

Ben Finney ben at benfinney.id.au
Mon Aug 22 06:08:30 UTC 2005

On 22-Aug-2005, Markus wrote:
> i hope i don't bore you, but i have some additional questions to my
> previous topic "why free".
> [...]
> And i have some problem to explain it to normal people.

That's one of the important reasons for this movement. Most people are
so accustomed to the proprietary software world and its rules that
they find it difficult to imagine something else. Which,
unfortunately, puts you at the big disadvantage of trying to teach new
concepts to people who aren't necessarily in the mood to learn
something new.

> Here the three main arguments were i have problems to find the right
> answere:
> 1. "Why does i need this freedoms? I have used software for many
> years and had never the need or idea to modify the software, the
> software just does the job and thats ok."

To people who obviously never want to modify software for themselves,
I find it sufficient to talk in terms of getting the software
customised, or repaired, or maintained. People are quite accustomed to
the idea that they can call anyone who will offer what they want for
servicing their vehicle, or house appliances, or clothes.

If you ask your interlocutor why they don't demand the same from their
software -- i.e. to be able to have any skilled third party offer
those services at a competitive rate -- that will at least get them to
see why the freedom is valuable to them. It's valuable to them that
the freedom to modify and redistribute software, without original
vendor involvement, be available *to everyone*, not just to them in

> If i point him to the freedom to share the software with their
> friend than i just get the answere that he just do it whether the
> license allows it or not. So he just don't care if it's legal or
> not.

You can also point out that the proprietary software he shares will
normally have some increasingly restrictive hoops to jump through
(registration codes, USB dongles, phone-home registration services, et
cetera) which are only necessary because the vendor desperately
depends on casual copying to be awkward, and are only legal because of
the software license "agreement" that makes them legal. Free software
*encourages* sharing, so those kinds of annoyances don't survive.

> 2. "What is if there is no Free Software who does the job i have to
> do? Sould i don't do the job with my PC just because the licence of
> a program is non-free?" I think that's the typical argument of a
> pragmatist.

If you're trying to encourage people to eschew software that works for
them, you're going to have a lot of disappointing conversations that
change nonbody's mind. The free software movement attempts to preserve
and expand freedoms, and create lots of free software.

It does not attempt to forcibly prevent others from choosing software
they want to use. On the other hand since software is generally
designed for interacting with other people at some stage, it *does*
attempt to ensure others will use software that allows us to choose
free software in interacting with them. This is a long way from
demanding that others stop using software only because it's not free.

> 3. This is the economy argument. That there is some kind of software
> who just no one write in the spare time.

This is not an argument, it's a non sequitur.

Free software is written, and sold, and customised and supported and
maintained, for money all day every day. The idea that free software
can only be written in "spare time" is ludicrous, and easily defeated
by showing the dozens of companies that provide free software and
charge handsomely for the privilege.

> Either because there is not much personal need for it

This is a strange point to raise. If it's not much needed, why are we
mourning its loss? Conversely, if it *is* important, why would we not
pay for it to be developed -- just as now?

> or because if you don't work in this special area you don't know
> what exactly is needed.

Again, nothing about free software prevents someone paying for it to
be written and distributed and maintained.

> The argument is that for this kind of software you need a company
> who write it and it's cheaper for the particular customer if the
> company uses a non-free license and distribute the costs on all
> costumers than one customer have to order a "special-development"
> and have to pay the whole development costs.

That's a problem for software companies to solve. The fact that they
*are* doing exactly what apparently can't be done, seems to put the
burden of explanation the other way around.

 \        "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though |
  `\      nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is."  -- |
_o__)                                                  Albert Einstein |
Ben Finney <ben at benfinney.id.au>
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