April 24, 2019

.comment: Freedom's Just Another Word for Do It My Way - page 3

So What Is Free, Anyway?

  • February 12, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Now, let's look at the poor character who is stuck in the middle: the developer of software. He or she is tied by the Gordian knot: Suck up to Microsoft and survive by remaining small enough that Microsoft doesn't engulf you or shut you out, or cast your code to the winds, to be changed in any way that anybody on God's green Earth sees fit, lest the mindless crowd of "free" software sycophants descend upon you.

Some freedom, huh.

Imagine, if you will, being the proprietor and chef at a restaurant in a big city. You already face the problems that arise when some Mob-run concern insists that you purchase your ingredients from it, and are in constant fear of being taken over outright by the Mob.

Now along comes somebody who says that he is entitled to your recipes and, moreover, that everybody is. And a substantial number of people, eager to achieve instant gratification and with no thought to the longer term, chime in in agreement.

It won't be very long before you decide -- or the decision is made for you -- to give up and let the Mob and the mob fight it out. Neither side will much care that now no one, least of all you, gets fed.

That is exactly the situation that developers who value such luxuries as eating and living indoors face. "You're a software developer? Well, then, here's the list of stuff you owe us." The quote comes just as easily from Microsoft as from the followers of the "Free" Software movement.

Reasonable people understand that this is an untenable position for software developers, and that without real freedom -- the ability to do pretty much what you please with that which you produce, with the marketplace itself as a steering mechanism -- any platform is doomed. (Microsoft seeks to confound the marketplace through monopoly, while the "Free" Software movement seeks to remove the marketplace from the equation entirely.)

Witness Jon "Maddog" Hall in a recent interview:

"Linux evangelism means going out and promoting the Linux operating system. This is different from promoting open source or even free software. While I am a fan of both of those myself, I do not agree that all applications have to be open source, nor do I agree that all applications have to be freely available." He gets it. Freedom involves cooking up your own business plan, not having it dictated to you.

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