Comment on "Nine Attitude Problems in Free and Open Source Software"

Michel Roche listes.pichel at
Mon Oct 27 22:45:26 UTC 2008

I followed this very instructive debate with attention and interest,  
and I'm happy to see that it hasn't gone to flame wars and people  
really try to be constructive.

What we should engrave in our minds however is that there are two ways  
of considering the problem that are not concealable at this time :
- the philosophical/ethical point of view that will strive for Free- 
only Software, and that I personally follow as a goal.
- the practical/pragmatic way of doing things in the real world that  
*often* lead to compromises if you wanna make something usable *now*.

It seems that around the table, everyone will easily agree that they'd  
love to use an absolutely free computer, from free BIOS to free  
software, device drivers, and so on.
Around the same table, if we audit precisely the computers, we'll find  
at least some pieces of non-free software such as BIOSses and device- 
drivers. This remark only to sate that owning a totally free system is  
still quite difficult nowadays, despite the incredible progress made  
those last years. There, we'll start to have different attitudes in  
front of this : some will change their distro, as Stallman did, even  
if compelled to trash his wireless card, some other would change their  
computer to be able to, and some others will accept the compromise,  
more or less easily... stating for example that changing their  
computer doesn't make really sense because the next owner of this  
computer will be locked-in the same way he was before.

But if we go further than our nice table, we'll face even more  
hardware, and more users, and more users wishes. When you want to give  
them freedom, or at least more freedom, it's easy in more and more  
cases : want to type text ? Get open-office, want to listen music, use  
rythmbox, want to watch movies, use VLC, etc. etc. But there's always  
a point where you'll face a demand which you won't be able to solve  
with Free Software : ah, your daughter want to chat with her friends  
via MSN ? There you are with two alternatives :
A- Ahem, she shouldn't do that, because MSN is *really* bad, she  
should use Jabber and teach her friends to do so
B- Well, simply fire gAim, and open a new account specifying MSN as  
protocol, and she'll be done.
Do you believe I would scratch as many Vista installs as I do if my  
only alternative was A ?

If I only had gNewSense in my bag, I simply couldn't isntall so many  
computers with Free Software, with Debian or Ubuntu I really can  
compete with people expectations of what a computer should be able to  
do. And if I don't give them a totally free system, at least can I  
give the the most free system they are able to use, considering they  
aren't all ready to trash their television and stop watching at those  
stupid ads (and folllow their prescriptions ;-)).

Flash is bad. And I show them a totally free system without it : as a  
result they aren't able to watch utube. So I install it telling that  
this is not free software, that alternatives exist (gnash) but are'nt  
ready for them by now... but will be in the future.

So my conclusion is that there is a place for the two approaches in  
developping free software and distros. One is to make the best  
possible totally free system, and this will hopefully give us the next  
century OS.
The second is to make systems that are as free as we can, but not  
afraid in integrating non-free software where no feature equivalent  
alternative exist. This in the aim to have full featured computers  
that can compete with their proprietary equivalents. This is also very  
important for Free Software because it offers to non-technical users  
an approach to Free Software and help them learn about that concept,  
and make them used to it, and it's desktop. And in years, maybe  
they'll choose their computer in a different manner, maybe asking the  
seller : I'd rather be presented with a Gnome (or KDE/XFCE/ICEWM...)  
interface please, I feel a little lost in your so-called Aero/Aqua  
interface !

The really bad thing in all that, is that proprietary vendors will  
allways tend to invent new closed commodities with software/protocols  
so that Free Software are behind. Except if one day the Free users  
base becomes so important that they won't be able to do without it...  
but I'm totally dreaming here, I know :-(

Michel (from France)

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