Why Free Software matters

No, I haven't turned into Richard M. Stallman.

I'm not in the habit of linking to trade press articles; most are trite. This one, however, summarizes my whole take on proprietary vs. free. Proprietary licenses give rise to abuses of power more often than not. That is why, as a general principle and if possible, they should be avoided. I don't care how much of the economy rests on them; a lot of the economy used to rest on strip mines, and those are still seen as harmful and as needing very strong regulation.

Now, in the bitkeeper case, it's a bit more complex, because one could argue that there was no good substitute at the time. And I can understand Linus' position of wanting to use the best tool. However, what I find unfortunate is how Linus and Larry reassured everyone that exactly what happened would not happen. Whose fault it is, doesn't matter. The fact remains: a proprietary program gives all the power to the author, and none to the customer. If you're going to use a proprietary program, make damn sure you freeze the license at least for the version you're using, so that conditions don't get changed retroactively. Better yet, if you have a free software alternative that fits the bill with minimum customization, just bite the bullet or hire someone to do it for you. It may cost more up front, but in the long run, it may actually be a safer proposition.

I know it's cliché, but would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?

(Interestingly enough, while there is a move for software to become more transparent, cars are actually becoming more opaque, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms...)

This said, take the time to read RMS's writings, instead of just putting him in the "communist" box. What he says is very similar to this. Some claim his arguments are "moral" rather than "practical" (and some discuss the morality of what he says). I contend that there is no difference; what is morality for, if it's not meant to help figure out praticalities?

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