Explaining the value of software freedom

Shane M. Coughlan shane at shaneland.co.uk
Sat Sep 30 15:10:16 UTC 2006

Hash: SHA256

Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> "Shane M. Coughlan" <shane at shaneland.co.uk> writes:
>> It does affect every phone, computer, car and television on the planet.
> When using this argument, we have to be ready when the person responds: "but
> my phone works fine, so does my TV, car, and often my computer".
> We need to highlight the differences in software developed by a community
> and software developed by a company.  I think.  But we also have to be
> careful not to fall into open source style arguments about collaborative
> development making better software.
> Free software is sometimes limited, but the limits are not there because
> they have to be there to support a company's business model or contracts or
> business relationships.  Any limitations in our software are due to an
> honest lack of resources and those limitations can be fixed as soon as the
> resources are available.

You made an excellent point here, though I do think that there is a
great deal of overlap between the open source route of 'better' software
and the assertion that Free Software allows limitations to be fixed.

Perhaps the key thing here might be the idea of software flexibility;
Free Software - as you rightly pointed out - can have it's limitations
reduced or removed by either the original author or any subsequent
author.  Closed-source software leaves a reliance for advance on the
original author and thus is less flexible in this regard.

Moving away from technical arguments I guess one thing that could also
be pointed out is that Free Software is social software; the technology
is truly available to the entire user community.  That's an idea the
market as a whole is not yet used to.  However, there is serious room
for it.

For instance, my Nokia phone says it plays (non-DRM) ACC.  It's refusing
to do so.  Must be a bug in the code.  Likewise, when I go to standby on
the phone the screen goes dark and then 30 seconds later lights up for
no reason.  That's annoying when I look at the phone in the middle of
the night and go back to bed.  It illuminates my room.

If the Nokia was running Free Software these bugs could be removed.
Heck, even a code idiot like me could fix that 'light up again' issue.

Society is used to tolerating technology with flaws.  Free Software
gives society a wonderful chance to really be able to engage with the
technology it uses; flaws are no longer necessary, nor is dependence on
any particular supplier.  Free Software allows a society to take full
advantage of the technology that the society possesses as a whole.

> (My digital camera won't let me record audio without also recording video,
>  so my gigabyte of memory can only record 47 minutes of audio.  This causes
>  frustration, which could be fixed if users of that camera were free to
>  modify the software.  The next technology purchase I made was a digital
>  music player.  I made sure it could run the Rockbox GPL'd firmware.)

You were showing me this in Berlin.  I was seriously impressed with Rockbox.

Shane :)
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