Richard Stallman's new article: Overcoming Social Inertia

Sam Liddicott sam at
Tue Nov 6 09:57:06 UTC 2007

* Alex Hudson wrote, On 05/11/07 21:30:
> On Mon, 2007-11-05 at 20:04 +0100, Matthias-Christian Ott wrote:
>> We should really teach everyone about the philosophical aspects of free
>> software. As Stallman mentions this is the only way of making clear what
>> free software is about, why it was invented and why it should be used.
>> We should all keep in mind that GNU was not created because of technical
>> reasons. It was invented to have a free operating system. And we should
>> impart this to everyone.
> I don't think that is any kind of universal truth. 
> Where I would disagree with Stallman's article is the statement, "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". That might be
> factually correct - I don't know that anyone has actually done the work
> to figure it out - but it seems to exclude the middle, that there are
> users who have heard of freedom but still don't care for it.
> Out of the people I know on my local user groups, I would say the number
> of people who would never use proprietary software is a handful. There
> are more who seek to reduce their use as much as possible, in the tens
> maybe. Many more are those who will use either but prefer free software,
> and then even more who will use either.
> It's not few of those in those groups have heard of free software; the
> vast majority have in some way. Large numbers of them know the arguments
> very well, they just don't accept it.
> If you believe the idea that it's simply that people haven't heard the
> message, or that they didn't understand the message, then you completely
> miss the point about why people might not support free software.
As an example, I am saddened because I use non-free software when there
is no free alternative available - rather than use no software at all.

I have an HTC TytnII mobile phone with Windows Mobile 7, TomTom and
Mobi-pocket reader.
(I am required to have a mobile phone with ssh access, and there are as
yet no stable open devices that can do this).

I used winXP under vmware so I could install the UK maps using TomTom
Home proprietary installer. Bah!

On the other hand I spoke with contacts at HTC and France Telecom to try
and aid linux porting to these HTC devices but without much prospect,
also learning that some of the devs were better placed than I to gain
whatever manufacturer support for porting that was available.

I'm also buying an HTC universal handset to run OpenMoko - thanks to the
XDA devs for their work. (I'd buy the Neo1973 but I want a keyboard).

I could write the software that I need in free form and so carry out a
social duty, but I don't have more than an hour a week; I consider that
I am fulfilling my social duty without writing much software, by raising
a family, being a school governor, sitting on multiple community
committees and publishing a community newsletter - all things which ALSO
need doing. So I offer bounties to encourage others to write the code
and keep using some non-free software until then.

I also promote free software using the ideals of freedom (which are not
relevant to most of my "prospects"), and also other ideals which are
more relevant.

So here we have a mixed bag of behaviour, some sort of pragmatism that
nods to the ideals but reflects my personal situation which resembles
that of my peers.

Respecting the idea of social inertia, and after examining myself, I
would suggest at least two aspects of conversion to free software which
react which each-other, these are:
increasing recognition of the ideals and their relevance, and ones
dependance on non-free software
the time taken to boot-strap ones-self away from free software

I think it is important to recognize that because RMS and other purists
(purists is not an insult) have managed to bootstrap themselves away
from non-free software and created an environment which (if it had
existed earlier) would have prevented them from ever having depended on
non-free software, doesn't mean that others have reached this situation
for themselves.

Free Software was not created for technical reasons but provision of a
free GNU operating system only a technical solution, and can only be a
partial solution.

Teaching people the philosophical aspects is necessary but most will not
be able to learn beyond its immediate relevance to themselves, and this
is true of most principles, including the more general aspects of
liberty, health, and good-finance, as we see these days.

I think wider conversion will be achieved by increasing the relevance
(not prominence) of free software to the lives of individuals and
organisations. Non-free users need to taste freedom before they can
appreciate it and begin conversion.

I think it must be accepted that most people (in their current state)
will not (cannot) make a "pure" philosophical conversion. If we insist
on instant pure conversions only, we reduce the scope of those who can
be converted, if we help people convert themselves as they understand
and are capable we increase the scope.

I'm converted to the idea, but if I'm to bring my family with me I
cannot much increase my pace; but, as to where I am now, I am still able
to promote the cause and reduce my dependancy on non-free software.

(My community newsletter is produced using only free software. Other
contributors were not able to help because of their fears of using the
free software on their non-free operating system).


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