Richard Stallman's new article: Overcoming Social Inertia

Alex Hudson home at
Thu Nov 8 11:50:54 UTC 2007

On Thu, 2007-11-08 at 11:55 +0100, Marcus Rejås wrote:
> On 11/06 13:45, Alex Hudson wrote:
> > On the other hand, trying to convince them on the basis of things they
> > don't care about (like the ability to modify source, which is a common
> > one) isn't going to work: that's like trying to sell someone a car on
> > the basis that you can replace the drive train when the customer isn't a
> > mechanic.
> I agree with you totally. But I see using the price argument as a last
> resort. We can use our freedom arguments more than I see are done by
> tailor them to fit the audience.
> The ability to modify the source is a very useful argument even though
> the customer do not know how to do that. That is what stops the
> customer to being locked in by the software vendor.

I half agree and half disagree with this.

First, I think that argument is actually basically a price argument :)
The ability to see the source, let alone modify it, definitely does help
reduce the possibility of lock-in. But that's essentially saying, "it's
quite cheap to switch away from a free software application" - looking
at the TCO of an application, that might be a significant saving, and
one which is often unavailable with proprietary software.

But in a way, that's sort of begging the question: if the benefits of
free software accrue to the person using it, it's usually possible to
reduce it to price. The ability to make changes easily to software might
mean you can make it more reliable / more featureful / etc., but the
*reason* you want to do that in a commercial context is a business
reason: you want to provide better support, be able to run your
warehouse more efficiently, etc., and get more customers / make savings.
Virtually every important business decision is based on money, like it
or not. Even when you say things like, "You can share this software with
your customers" - well, you don't gain directly, but offering customers
extra value might mean you get more customers which means more revenue.

But I basically agree that primarily, free software enables a range of
choices which aren't usually available with proprietary software, and
sometimes that's not just saying "doing it with free software is
cheaper" but also "with free software it is possible". And making those
arguments is often more convincing than just saying "it might be

I also don't believe that free software is always cheaper; I can point
to many examples where it is more expensive. That doesn't mean that in a
commercial context it would be the wrong choice: it's partly about cost,
but also about value. If your basic arguments revolve around the cost
being lower, it becomes difficult to argue in favour of free software
when it isn't the cheapest.

So, I do agree with you that arguing that it's cheap/free generally
isn't an amazingly good tactic. But I also wouldn't put it "last" in
terms of arguments: I think the cost is an important factor, since there
is a lot of added value in terms of choice and freedom.



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