The Evils of All Software

Stuart Jansen sjansen at
Mon Jan 21 17:52:35 MST 2008

I've tried to stay out of the discussion, but...

Here's my take on the whole Free vs. proprietary debate:

Software is about relationships and a software license is a tool to
manage that relationship. In every healthy relationship there has to be
some give and take.

Hopefully we can all agree that not only is it morally wrong for any one
member of a relationship to behave in an extremely selfish manner, it is
often harmful to society as a whole. Hopefully, we can also agree that
the suffering party is sometimes (but not always!) equally responsible
for enabling selfish and destructive behavior in the relationship.

I choose to avoid proprietary software because I do not want to be
abused. I've been burned by proprietary software too many times.

Instead of software, lets talk about employees. Would you keep an
abusive employee because "replacing him would be too expensive"? Would
you excuse an employee that only "only hits others once in awhile"?
Would you allow an employee to force you to redesign your entire work
flow around him instead of integrating himself into your infrastructure?
Would you allow an employee to hold your data hostage because "he was
the lowest bidder"?

Of course not!

How is purchased software any different? You're the one paying.

Is it unreasonable for an employee to demand fair compensation for work?
Of course! The problem is, too many proprietary software vendors act
like they're in charge of the show, instead of acting like the
contracted service providers they are.

If a person does not respect me, I will limit my contact with that
person. If a vendor does not respect me, I will avoid doing business
with that vendor.

Of course, it cuts both ways. I have no right to demand that anyone do
anything for me for free. I have no right to demand that anyone be
prevented from writing proprietary software. I only have a right to
decide who I will do business with.

As Free Software defenders we must be certain that we're willing to put
our money where our mouths are. Too often, we demand Free Software, not
because we feel it is fairer but because we're cheapskates. If you're
not writing code, providing support, or paying license fees, you're
being a freeloader. If you're not contributing to a project's creation
and maintenance, you have no right to make any demands.

Which isn't to say you're not welcome. It's only natural that one must
free load until learning the skills necessary to contribute. Even
something as simple a bug reports and feature requests can be a form of
contribution. But they never convey a right to make demands!

All software sucks. (Well, except for SSH.) The way I see it, if I'm
using Free Software and I have a problem, I can roll up my sleeves and
get my hands dirty fixing the problem. Or hire someone else to fix the
problem. Or I can live with it. Contrast that to proprietary software.
I'm tired of paying for the right to be treated like an idiot by
under-payed toadies reading from a script when I try to report a
problem. I'm tired of wondering if my bug report is being ignored. I'm
tired of feeling helpless when a business critical problem isn't being
addressed even though I could probably resolve it quickly if I had
access to the code.

Some software sucks more than other software. Can there be a healthy
relationship between proprietary software vendors and customers? Of
course. Do I condemn such relationships? Of course not! But that doesn't
change my preference to simply avoid such relationships.

Does the fact that I've grown tired of abusive proprietary software
licenses make me religious? If so, so be it. I'm religious, and my
religion gives me control of my own future.

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