Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

I Don't Understand Free Software


Speaking of the FSF... I don't understand why these people think all software should be free. Nothing else in life is. So if ALL software is free... how are software developers supposed to be paid? The US Department of Labor says that nearly 3 million people in the US are employed in tech-related industries, and those employees are collectively paid 180 billion dollars annually. How are all those people supposed to feed their families if the fruits of their labor are not sold to the people who need it?

I'm going to use something unrelated to tech that my girlfriend put me through I just dealt with at home as an example. Say you're a company called Coach, and you make high-quality purses. Now does the fact that you make them entitle anyone else to duplicate them and redistribute them to unsuspecting customers? Well, I lost $120 because my girlfriend bought what she thought was an authentic Coach purse on eBay from a counterfeiter in China who listed the item from a UK address. But apparently, because computer programmers are smarter than everyone else, and you can make digital copies, anyone should be able to do whatever the hell they want with it, even if that means copy it and give sell it to others. Yeah, that makes sense.

There was a movement that made big gains a number of years ago (and still popular in some places), with the idea that everything for everyone should be free. Wasn't it called communism?



  • Joe said:

    Read "free" as in "freedom", not as in "free of charge"... The original idea is that the Operating System should be free (as in "freedom", or as in "not controlled by one company") because everyone else relies on it. No one ever said "all software should be free of charge", this misconception was born because more and more people started open source projects, giving away their functionality for free as long as whatever you build on top of that open source project remains open source as well... this acts like a snowball (making everything that relies on open source to be open source). Linux (the OS) does not follow that rule. You can make closed or open source projects on Linux.

    The Operating System should be indeed "free" (as in freedom again),  or as in "public" (just like the highways you use). The OS being "free" does not mean "free of charge" (just like the highways... we pay for them through taxes).

    Imagine a world where one overlord owned all the roads that you take everyday...

    Saying that "free software" is "free of charge" is a gross error (only proves that you do not grasp the concept), and amounts to spreading FUD on the notion. The GNU initiative has little to do with what "free software" originally is.

    December 19, 2006 3:21 AM
  • Rosyna said:

    They make money on support. Make free software that's unusable, then charge to support it. Perfect business plan.

    December 19, 2006 3:48 AM
  • futurix said:

    GNU Manifesto is very informative in that regard:

    I especially like the part about getting paid less. That, and the "software tax".

    They are just loons. Dangerous loons.

    December 19, 2006 4:57 AM
  • - said:

    Lol, I though there wasn't any microsoifties that though that open source = communism

    Apparently those people don't understand either how a service-oriented economy can work.

    What will be next, say that free TV is communism because it's free, unlike paid TV, where you pay people? *Duh*

    December 19, 2006 8:15 AM
  • edge said:

    Have you anytime made a gift to unknown people? Why not? Do you know the meaning of Donation?.  Do you know about people who perhaps cannot pay for software? Why denegate them the goodnes of learn and even play?. Do you know about liberty?. Perhaps some people just prefers to be loons than egoists... Yes this people who gives their time to others also need to eat, but there are other ways to get money even through liberty.

    December 19, 2006 8:58 AM
  • Bob Jones said:

    Free software can be great ... but so can paid software, if the developers of Open Office want to make their work free - then great, I might donate but don't count on it.

    Its clear, the extremists of the FSF will declare anything for-profit as a useless horrible piece of software, just like an extremist advocate of paid-software would respond to OpenOffice - who cares what either of them says? In the end most users will accept paid software if it is good enough, use free software when its as good or better than the paid counterpart.

    All in all - who gives a fig?

    December 19, 2006 9:10 AM
  • Tyler said:

    You may not understand it.  But you've probably benefited from it more than once.

    December 19, 2006 9:34 AM
  • vern said:

    <em>There was a movement that made big gains a number of years ago (and still popular in some places), with the idea that everything for everyone should be free. Wasn't it called communism?</em>

    Sorry, but that's a patently false assertion.

    Firstly, communism isn't everything is free for everyone so much as everyone contributes equally and shares equally. In that society, no one would be concerned with needing to profit to feed their family so that premise is faulty.

    Secondly, your position that the FSF thinks all software should be free is incorrect. Contrarily, they hold that computer users should "<em>have rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free software, particularly the GNU operating system, used widely in its GNU/Linux variant.</em>"

    That's not the same as "all software should be free."

    Lastly, I'm not sure where you came up with the notion of "<em>computer programmers are smarter than everyone else, and you can make digital copies, anyone should be able to do whatever the hell they want with it, even if that means copy it and give sell it to others," but I find nothing on FSF's website which promotes the right to "do whatever the hell they want.</em>"

    Furthermore, your loss of money for a counterfeit purse serves to highlight the problem you are railing against; people choosing to buy counterfeit (known counterfeit, I might add in your case) goods instead of the real thing. Moreover, had your girl actually acquired the purse and been (likely) unsatisfied with the purchase it would have been a great lesson in "you get what you pay for," which is the single best reason for people to use original or genuine articles, including software.

    I'll admit that I have used pirated software; I used a pirated copy of Windows 98. I had problems with it and was never able to call for support. That was a big learning lesson for me.

    I have also used free- and open-source software as well as shareware and freeware. And those things taught me lessons as well.

    There are a few select programs that I still use that are freeware. I use no shareware. Everything else I use is bought and paid for. Because my livelihood and sanity depend on it.

    But every single day/week/month, whatever, I search around for the newest free and shareware to try out because I like to have new software and I like to support "up and comers" and I like to support free software.

    And if I, and others like me, never did that, there would not be much in the way of innovation outside the large software houses.

    And let's be honest here; Microsoft is not doing all its own innovation, is it. Who'd there be left to buy?

    I support the right to make money doing what you like. But I also support the right to get something for free if you choose to do so.

    What I don't support is the right of people who get paid to make something taking away the right of others to make similar products and release them for free. That's totalitarianist. And if you think communism is bad, try totalitarianism on for size.

    December 19, 2006 11:38 AM
  • William said:

    The last to posters seem to be talking about charity, which is a noble cause, and something most of us give to.  But charity can not be forced.  Doing so is just wrong, on so many levels.  That's what the FSF is attempting to do, force their political ideology on everyone else.  They can shove it.  I'll provide my charitable contributions to the community (i.e. open source projects) voluntarily, and never through the GPL or other FSF associated means.

    December 19, 2006 12:05 PM
  • Dave said:

    Free Software isn't about price it is about freedom to use in anyway you see fit including modifying.

    December 19, 2006 2:11 PM
  • List244 said:

    Well, I don't know about MOST people, but I would not be a programmer if it were not for software costing money. First of all, the money from software is what has given us our so commonly used languages and tools for programming. Second, I began programming  because it was showed to me by a student whom wouldn't have been taking the class if it were a dead-end. Everyone deserves to make money, that is how we live, and how we get by. Computers are quickly becoming the largest media and most-used appliance around the world. How could we deny our economy grasp at this? More importantly, if this media were freely available, where would it be today? My guess is it would pretty far back from where it is now.

    December 19, 2006 2:37 PM
  • William said:

    List244, I think you misunderstood me.  Of course we should be able to profit from our work.  I'm a professional developer as well.

    But I also see nothing wrong with, and in fact think it's a very good thing, when developers contribute (charity) to the community through open source endeavors.  But NO ONE should tell me I can only develop for either distribution model.

    What I was saying was that the FSF and other such movements that want to force me to "give to the community" are perpetrating an "evil" that happens to be hypocritically close to precisely what they claim to be the reasoning behind their agenda.

    December 19, 2006 3:06 PM
  • vern said:

    I'm just curious why my comment wasn't approved. There was no obscene language and no personal attacks.

    What gives?

    December 19, 2006 4:25 PM
  • Officer Down said:

    I too have submitted a long comment several times, and it hasn't been posted...

    December 19, 2006 5:12 PM
  • Officer Down said:

    To clarify matters a little, 'free' as in 'free software' doesn't necessarily have to mean 'free of charge' (see [url][/url]). Rather, the FSF mean 'free' as in 'freedom to run, distribute and modify' software (see [url][/url]). The question you may want to ask then is 'can free software/open source software ever offer a valid business model'? Clearly, some companies believe it can (eg Red Hat). Microsoft has historically argued that it can't. There are certainly lengthy and convincing arguments for both 'ideologies' (open and closed source), and a whole lot of fanboys willing to 'heatedly debate' (flame each other...!) the issue. For some food for thought, have a look at [url][/url]. I found it to be a very interesting read myself (especially the argument for why 'virtual' property (digital information) cannot or should not be treated like physical property), even if you don't agree with some or any of the points made in it. I don't see myself as particularly supporting either 'side' (I am looking forward to buying Vista and Office 2007, but will continue to browse with Firefox), rather I like to keep an open mind about the issue - as a consumer, there are benefits to be had from both methods of software development.

    (As an aside, I think it is rather unfair to call open source software developers/evangelists 'dangerous loons' - sure, BadVista is absolutely ridiculous IMO, but the open source ideology itself has resulted in some pretty useful pieces of software (Firefox, Apache webserver etc.). )

    December 19, 2006 5:57 PM
  • Vern: She didn't intentionally buy the fake purse. She thought she was buying a real purse second-hand. Also, your post didn't get posted because it was flagged as spam. I have our spam filter set to a low threshold, and you

    OfficerDown: Your comment failed the spam filter because it had 3 hyperlinks (2 is the max), and after that your other attempts failed because they were duplicates.

    Sorry to you both, the comments are now live.

    December 19, 2006 7:05 PM
  • vern said:

    Not too long after, but obviously not soon enough, I posted that snide remark about my comment not getting posted it occured to me there might something like that going on.

    Apologies for getting uppity...

    December 19, 2006 9:41 PM
  • L.orgor said:

    I posted my comment on this here:

    December 20, 2006 4:28 AM
  • Officer Down said:

    Ahh, I didn't realise there was a hyperlinks limit... Thanks for the heads up.

    December 20, 2006 5:27 AM
  • WebmasterX said:

    Programmers almost always lack any business sense and many have that "for the better good" dream.  This save the world mentality that powers open source would be the same one that made progress grind to a halt if it caught on.  It's a stupid concept and everyone will know this soon enough.  

    In short, giving away billions of dollars in product so that you can get a few million dollars in support contracts is absurd.  

    December 20, 2006 6:10 AM
  • Stu Smith said:

    Bear in mind when reading this that I'm trying to run a software business myself....

    There are some things in society that are "free" to the general public without disrupting the economy: one example would be scientific research. Much research is either too expensive for a single company, or has no immediate payoff, so that it really needs an enlightened government to accept the costs, and spread them amongst everyone via taxes, since everyone ultimately benefits.

    Where the government doesn't get involved in big projects, the end result is usually that they either don't get done at all (for example vaccines for third-world diseases), or they get done, but then locked away from everyone (Windows, cancer drugs, etc).

    As many of the commenters have mentioned, the issue isn't about free costs; the issue is that if left to corporations, the end result is the same as if the government (or society, or FSF, or whatever) had done the work, but with the side-effect that what is produced is no longer available to the public. You pay both ways, but in only one way do you end up with a share in what you paid for.

    For all their many faults, I'd say the FSF is trying to act where the government has failed to, rather like a charity does.

    December 20, 2006 6:32 AM
  • L.S. said:

    yes, you are really an american windows user jerk....

    December 20, 2006 7:04 AM
  • Vista is reavy, memory-starved. It try to be as Mac OSx is. Vista is not flexible and untill now have found many bugs as anyother OS were not found. It costs too much for a system that is a bad copy of itself. Ther is not support and anytime you try to get it you get crazy. Running other OS, like Linux or BSD, is difficult for those that have not familiarity to working with software, but is much more gratifying when you build your own system.

    December 20, 2006 9:24 AM
  • Graham Fluet said:

    What's the difference between hardware and software?

    You can see hardware like your monitor, rescources such as glass go ito them.

    Can you see software without using software? what makes up software?

    Hardware is made up of real things, software is made up of data, which is, in its simplist explanation, a pattern. a pattern that the hardware needs to be usable.

    January 10, 2007 3:27 PM
  • Many sources you discover {will not have all you are looking for.

    December 8, 2007 10:13 AM
  • There is no easy way around the fact that, if you are a graduate who has maxed out your credit cards while you were in school, the next year will be one of the hardest of your life so far. Money management is impossible if you don’ t have money to manage,

    May 11, 2008 5:10 PM