Free software and open source philosophies differ sometimes with radically different outcomes

Paul Boddie paul at
Fri Nov 17 12:54:21 UTC 2017

On Friday 17. November 2017 03.30.40 Mirko Boehm wrote:
> > On 17. Nov 2017, at 09:13, J.B. Nicholson <jbn at> wrote:
> > 
> > That is self-contradictory but begins to get into why the open source
> > development methodology and philosophy exists. In short, open source is
> > (as Stallman has pointed out) a right-wing reactionary counter to the
> > free software movement. The free software social movement existed for
> > over a decade before open source came along. Open source enthusiasts
> > continue to try to talk about the practical benefits of free software to
> > business without talking about the software freedom or the ethical
> > underpinnings of the social movement.


> Open source is not right wing, and free software is not left wing.

Nobody is saying that the software is one thing or the other. But I would 
argue that people with a neoliberal perspective are unlikely to talk about 
"Free Software": they will instead talk about "open source" because, as others 
have said, it focuses on the properties of the product instead of any ethical 
motivations for giving the product those properties. And such ethical 
motivations do not sit well with exploitative corporate practices that deny 
users control over the software.

Meanwhile, the supposedly pragmatic motivations given for "open source" are 
largely concerned with making software development cheaper or better in some 
way. Those motivations can be spun in all sorts of ways to make "open source" 
sound like it is better for business and the consumer, which is the kind of 
uncontroversial thing that people are comfortable talking about in public 
without being labelled as having "an agenda".

Of course, those pragmatic motivations are also convenient to get Free 
Software developers to work for less or for free while proprietary software 
businesses can maximise their margins, particularly if the Free Software 
developers have been persuaded to use permissive licences. And they are 
convenient for withholding control from the users by telling them that the 
"development methodology" has given them better, cheaper software. Not that 
"open source" is actually a methodology in any real sense.


> Even the classic that the free software movement existed before open source
> is just smoke and mirrors,

I don't think so. Although it is said that software played a secondary role to 
hardware in terms of revenue generation around the products involved in the 
beginnings of the Free Software movement - organisations paid for the 
mainframe or other hardware and the software was bundled - the cost of 
producing software was high and needed to be funded by such high-margin 

At that time, people writing software might have been doing so "for fun" as 
well as in their job, but these will have been well-paid people, and I doubt 
that there would have been enough of them to be played off against each other 
in an attempt to drive the cost of software towards zero, which is what you 
see today with "open source" advocacy. I read somewhere recently that coding 
is the next "blue collar" profession, but the economic factors probably 
indicate that it is already there, at least for the software that nobody wants 
to fund properly and yet include in their own products.

So in that earlier era, with software development being a more confined, more 
expensive activity, before the age of packaged, proprietary software being 
sold at retail in any volume, one might have expected that ethical 
considerations around the sharing of software would have been a more relevant 
topic for consideration. And the progression to proprietary software business 
models only made the case for software freedom more acute.


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