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.comment: Freedom's Just Another Word for Do It My Way - page 2

So What Is Free, Anyway?

  • February 12, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

One really needs to approach the word "free" as a kind of clearing of the throat, and inspect instead the details. That's because practically every system, political or otherwise, has marketed itself as "free." This is a necessity -- "hopeless enslavement" would get few supporters.

To Microsoft, "free" is Microsoft's freedom to do whatever it damn well pleases, with the power of monopoly behind it. This is great for Microsoft, but not so hot for anyone else unless Microsoft chooses to exercise its freedom benevolently, which it so far hasn't. The fact that Microsoft has a web site in which it hopes to drum up support for its position, and that it employs the word "freedom" as part of the pitch, should surprise no one. Nor should the fact that there are people dimwitted enough to sign on, including developers whose ability to produce and sell their products depends on Microsoft's permission and who therefore must pay homage to their feudal master.

The "Free" Software -- capital letters -- notion of things is that software "wants to be free." Well, software doesn't want anything. Software is a series of 0s and 1s. It does not care if it's under lock and key, being used as a coaster, fdisked into oblivion, or running the systems that launch a nuclear attack. Software is dead. It does not have the emotions of a goldfish. And even if it did have dreams and desires -- so what? There's no moral value in a mere want, and some desires are simply ridiculous, as anyone who has been around a two-year-old can tell you. A goldfish might want to depart its bowl and move to the stream outside, but the wisdom of the relocation will fall short at its first encounter with a bass. I want one of the nifty little Sony Vaio Picturebooks, and moreover I want Sony to put a real modem in the thing. Does that mean I'm entitled to it? Should I set up websites and form foundations to create an angry crowd to bring this about?

And what, exactly, is the "free" that we are incorrectly told that software wants to be? According to the Free Software Foundation it's a matter of "free speech," but this, too, is nonsense. Here are the other requirements:

"-- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

"-- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

"-- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

"-- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this."

Now. It's sure as hell not free speech if my speech can be modified by someone else to change its meaning entirely. It's not free speech if it's not even recognized as my speech, "my" in this case being ownership and rights to it, rather than who came up with it before somebody else twisted it to have a different meaning, to do something I had not intended.

Alas, the Free Software Foundation's definition of "free" is as corrupt as is Microsoft's.

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