Logic Continued: The Second Argument

Motive

After my previous article about the logic of the Free Software theory, I realized that there were two components to the argument.

  1. That freedom is better than not-freedom, and
  2. That freedom is more important than other criteria.

I dealt with that in the previous article by disregarding other criteria–I am here now to instead dispel their importance.

The Criteria

I can’t examine every criterion for choosing software. I can, however, demonstrate a theory in the context of several of the more prevalent cases. Here is my attempt at a comprehensive list of the most common reasons for choosing software:

  1. Compatibility with others’ software
  2. Level of available commercial support
  3. Visual appeal
  4. Ease of use

Compatibility

This being the most oft-cited reason, it also happens to be the least facially relevant factor in the decision.

Incompatibility in software is largely a myth, these days. Very few people are actually incapable of opening a particular sort of file that one person sends. The only time something like that would actually happen would be if someone chose to use nonfree software that saved data in formats that were patent-encumbered, or had restrictions built in. This is why people are forced to use Adobe Flash–most Flash videos are not compatible with the GNU replacement, Gnash, because Adobe puts a lot of effort towards changing the format. The community-supported Gnash project can hardly keep up, especially when most free software developers have no use for it because they use more standard solutions like HTML5, or just write desktop apps.

So, interestingly, the compatibility argument only occurs *because* people incorrectly choose nonfree software.

Even if you take the incompatibility of some formats into account, most people would never see those effects. Only graphic designers working with others’ files (e.g. a Photoshop file would likely not open in the GIMP), Flash programmers (who wouldn’t share with anyone who didn’t have Flash anyway), and possibly some commercial software users would ever have any issues. Docuent formats are well-supported in all word processors, as are spreadsheets, as are contact files, as are music and videos and slideshows. There are no restrictions on the format you use when free software is your choice–the compatibility issue is completely incoherent.

Commercial Support

This argument is most often cited by enterprise users, but individuals are sometimes concerned as well. They think that the company that makes the software needs to have a motive to fix it if it breaks–and certainly the free software world doesn’t have that?

Wrong. In fact, because free software companies are unable to, unwilling to, or uninterested in collecting profit on actually selling the software, they are often more motivated to support it, since that is their main source of income.

Even if the software is not made by a company, the user that finds a fault in it might be interested in using the money they saved on the actual product to encourage development of the software (see my article, Freedom and Order) by donating some money to the developer’s continued efforts–of course, you can condition that donation on completion of a task.

Some might argue that said developer(s) might not be available–well, the same situation might occur with nonfree software. In that case, one is far better off with free software, because the original developer does not need to be the one who works on it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller software shops spread across the country–across the world, even–who would be happy to work for you. You can bet that my currentpast employer would step up to help, given the chance. This argument is as ridiculous as the last.

Visual Appeal

If you actually expect me to defend the Free Software movement against so frivolous an argument as “X nonfree software looks prettier,” you should enjoy your life of imprisonment, and good riddance to you. While you’re at it, consider committing yourself on the condition that you get nice-looking wallpaper in your cell.

Ease of Use

This must be the single most useless argument of them all, but I hear it fairly often. People are concerned that they won’t be able to use free software, because they don’t have the skills. This, too, is not as important as freedom.

The general use-case for nonfree software is as follows: The user turns on the computer. The user opens a web browser. The user browses the web, not using any components of their own software. Eventually, the user opens an email client, which similarly uses very few of the local computer’s resources. The user might decide to write a letter, essay, or story in a document file of some sort, which is then saved in an internationally-standardized and universally-understood format. The user might also do other things which take more time and effort to set up, but since they preclude themselves from even installing software, I’m not sure they’re capable of that.

If the average user is capable of using one sort of computer program, they’re likely capable of using a broad spectrum thereof. The only thing holding that person back is the willingness to try.

Even if that person has no capacity for understanding programming languages, that doesn’t stop them from using normal point-and-click menus. It certainly doesn’t stop them from dragging and dropping. The only things someone would need to learn would be small changes in vocabulary–which is something everyone should do anyway, quoth the FSF.

Conclusion

Hopefully I’ve shown you, by now, that the above reasons are not compelling enough to remove freedoms from yourself or others. Do consider that what you do affects your own freedoms and those of others, even if you don’t recognize it. Thank you.

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