Richard Stallman's new article: Overcoming Social Inertia

Matthias Kirschner mk at
Mon Nov 5 10:43:08 UTC 2007

A new article is in the GNU philosophy website. For those of you, who
are reading your mails offline I have included the text. I hope that
also helps lowering the work to comment it ;)

Overcoming Social Inertia

by Richard Stallman

 15 years have passed since the combination of GNU and Linux first made it
possible to use a PC in freedom. During that time, we have come a long way. You
can even buy a laptop with GNU/Linux preinstalled from more than one hardware
vendor, although the systems they ship are not entirely free software. So what
holds us back from total success?

 The main obstacle to the triumph of software freedom is social inertia. You
have surely seen its many forms. Many commercial web sites are only accessible
with Windows. The BBC's iPlayer handcuffware runs only on Windows. If you value
short-term convenience instead of freedom, you might consider these reasons to
use Windows. Most companies currently use Windows, so students who think
short-term want to learn Windows, and ask schools to teach Windows, which they
do, thus leading many other students to use Windows. Microsoft actively
nurtures this inertia: it encourages schools to inculcate dependency on
Windows, and contracts to set up web sites, which then turn out to work only
with Internet Explorer.

 A few years ago, Microsoft ads argued that Windows was cheaper to run than
GNU/Linux. Their comparisons were debunked, but it is worth noting the deeper
flaw that their arguments reduce to social inertia: “Currently, more technical
people know Windows than GNU/Linux.” People that value their freedom would not
give it up to save money, but many business executives believe ideologically
that everything they possess, even their freedom, should be for sale.

 Social inertia consists of people giving in to social inertia. When you give
in to social inertia, you become part of it; when you resist it, you reduce it.
We conquer inertia by identifying it, and resolving not to be part of it.

 Here is where the philosophical weakness of most of our community holds us
back. Most GNU/Linux users have never even heard the ideas of freedom that
motivated the development of GNU, so they still judge matters based on
short-term convenience rather than on their freedom. This makes them vulnerable
to being led by the nose, through social inertia.

 To change this, we need to talk about free software and freedom — not merely
practical benefits such as cited by open source. Thus we can build our
community's strength and resolve to overcome social inertia.

Copyright © 2007 Richard Stallman 

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted
worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) []         ( 
Join the Fellowship of FSFE!         [][][]       (
Your donation powers our work!         []   (

More information about the Discussion mailing list