Free, open or proprietary?

Free, open or proprietary?


Software is a tool, a compilation of code that directs computer hardware, a program that empowers people to work more productively. Before Richard Stallman founded the GNU Project, many outside of hacker communities would have reasonably asked: why on earth is the ethics of software distribution philosophically interesting? But by formalising hacker conventions, Stallman kickstarted a revolution in the industry that now raises profound questions about areas of philosophical interest, most notably property. However, the precise differences between Stallman’s conception of “free software”, the term “open source” and the alternative: “proprietary” are often confused. This article seeks to disentangle the issues and present a clear analysis of each approach to software licensing.

Before I jump in, I ought to make clear a few ground rules. First, by “philosophy” I mean more than “thinking about something”. By my use of the word, it would be nonsense to talk of “a philosophy of software engineering” when you really mean “an approach to software engineering”. I want to go beyond the general beliefs and attitudes of each approach, beyond their techniques. It is true that, in terms of their techniques, free software and open source mean the same thing, and so identical philosophical issues will arise from their techniques. But the development methodologies (open sharing of code, many eyeballs finding and fixing bugs, etc.) were never an important part of Stallman’s free software philosophy. So instead of looking at their techniques, I will analyse their orientation (or goal), their logic (why they adopt their particular orientation and techniques) and the limits of the space in which they apply.

**Free and open source approaches to software development may be identical, but their philosophies are radically different**

Proprietary software

The orientation of proprietary software is to create good software. It’s that simple. Its techniques, from a philosophical point of view, are similarly banal, involving various development methodologies and the application of copyright to both protect the software from outside interference and to protect the financial interests of the authors.

The logic behind this technique is, its proponents tell us, in the spirit of copyright: to reward the authors, and to promote future creativity. However, since propietary software may be released for free (freeware), the reward isn’t necessary. Given that both the free and open source approaches also allow for rewards, we have to discount this as being philosophically distinct to the proprietary approach (though it is an open question for economists). Rather, the distinctive quality of proprietary software is that the source code is closed, making creation and modification the exclusive preserve of those to whom the owner gives access.

“data_cloud”, by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license “data_cloud”, by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license

This is closely related to the logic of copyright, which isn’t so clear. Traditionally property—including physical property—is defended in one of two ways: by reference to the inalienable right of the owner, or by reference to the benefits to society. In both cases, the crux of the argument is the justification of exclusion, such that the owner can exclude the public from using the property as he or she chooses.

For example, the English philosopher John Locke suggested that we have an inalienable right to own that which we have worked on. His argument was “not that the existence of private property serves the public good, but rather that rights of private property are among the rights that men bring with them into political society and for whose protection political society is set-up” (Waldon, 1998: 137). Locke went on to explain how we can come to own physical objects such as land that were previously in the commons. By mixing our labour with that which nobody owns, we come to own that part of commons (Locke, 2003). In the context of software, by mixing my work with ideas that I discover, I come to own the result; the commons can be thought of as containing undiscovered ideas, and ideas that are given by their creators to the commons, such as programming languages and techniques.

**Locke suggested that we owned ourselves, and so we could own those objects that we mix our labour (ourselves) with**

Of course in this context, Locke’s argument faces a problem: in mixing my own ideas with those of others’, I am not taking their ideas away in the same way that I might remove land from the commons by cultivating it and consequently claiming it as my own. This is because ideas aren’t rivalrous or scarce, meaning that an infinite number of people could use the idea without reducing its utility. So there is no need for me to extend ownership over an idea if I can gain the same utility from it in the commons. Furthermore, because software builds upon the commons and upon ideas from other software, it is difficult to say in what sense you created a piece of software. If I write a classic “hello world” script in Python, should I be able to own that nugget of information held on my hard drive and exclude others from it? Should I be able to own the idea itself, excluding others from writing “hello world” scripts in Python? With large programs like OpenOffice.org it is slightly more clear that there is a significant amount of innovation and labour in the code, but the problem remains.

The impracticality of this technique suggests the necessity for a different logic, that of copyright as a bargain for the public good. According to this argument, the public benefits from the creation of software, but authors can develop software better if they can control access to the source code, whether for financial reasons or some other, and they can dictate the terms upon which the software is used and distributed.

The latter point, however, doesn’t apply to freeware, where the author employs the techniques of proprietary software without seeking financial reward and without restricting the public’s rights of redistribution. To explain this, one must explore one other aspect of the logic of proprietary software, that of producer and consumer.

The user passively consumes the software, and though it may well enable creativity, the software itself is an unchangeable commodity. This isn’t true of any other kind of property; all physical objects are only limited in their mutability by the technical expertise of the owner. Therefore, uniquely the relationship between producer and consumer in this context allows no opportunities for productive community, be it hobbyist’s clubs or businesses that will modify the software, except where the author steps outside of the proprietary norm and gives special access to the source code to particular individuals or groups.

Open source software

The orientation of open source software is described by the Open Source Initiative as producing good software. The definition of open source software is given in relation to proprietary software, comparing the techniques in terms of development methodologies and copyright licensing terms. It is the techniques that set the two approaches apart, not least because open source software rejects the main premise of proprietary software licensing—that it is better to restrict access to the source code. The logic for this difference, according to the OSI, is that “when programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.” (OSI, 2004a)

**Open source shares the philosophical orientation of the proprietary approach, but rejects its techniques**

This is achieved by subverting the traditional licensing of copyrighted works, specifically granting the right to use, modify and distribute the software to all who would take the opportunity. The logic behind this subversion is that it should result in better software. The open source approach therefore subscribes to the same philosophical justification of property in the software context as the proprietary approach, namely that being able to own the software serves the public good. If this seems paradoxical—that society’s ability to modify the software depends upon the author(s) owning the software—it is because an author could release software into the public domain without the source code, and be under no compulsion to do so upon request, in effect releasing proprietary software. The technique of open source is subversive because it abuses the technique of proprietary software to renounce its logic.

Open source advocates rely on “economic self-interest arguments” without recourse to “moral crusades” and “ideological tub-thumping” (OSI, 2004d). In other words, open source as an approach explicitly avoids making itself philosophically distinct from proprietary software and any other intellectual property regime. Eric Raymond, a leading open source advocate, even tries to fit open source into Locke’s approach to property. Locke suggested that property rights, based upon mixing one’s labour with some part of the commons, only hold if the object of ownership is plentiful and promotes the public good. So Raymond says that, if we open the source code and forbid restrictions upon use, modification and distribution, we will increase the yield of useful work produced, and thus further the public good better than if we followed the proprietary approach. Restricting access to the program and its source code unreasonably abridges our access to a potentially infinite resource.

data_cloud_002, by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution licensedata_cloud_002, by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license

On these limited terms there can be no philosophical difference between the two approaches; both are based upon a particular application of copyright being the best way to produce good software. Even in the Open Source Definition, logic such as “no discrimination against persons or groups”, which seems at odds with the logic and orientation of proprietary software, are explained in relation to their capacity to “to get the maximum benefit from the process”, where a benefit is defined as the production of more good software (OSI, 2004b).

On community verses the producer-consumer model, open source advocates are a little more confusing. On the one hand, they claim that they are “promoting the Open Source Definition for the good of the community” (OSI, 2004a) and on the other hand they claim to promote the definition on “pragmatic, business-case grounds” (OSI, 2004c). As with the open source approach to property, this is because the community is recognised as the basis of the approach’s pragmatic advantage over the proprietary approach. This has the interesting consequence that communities are only important if they contribute to the software, meaning that end-users who provide no input (whether it be code, documentation, money, etc.) are unimportant.

The Open Source Initiative maintains three central advocacy documents: one for hackers, one for customers, and one for businesses (both those producing and consuming software) (OSI 2004e; OSI 2004f; OSI 2004g). Their approach maintains the producer-consumer relationship, because the limits of its space encompass only those that can contribute to the development process. Non-paying customers aren’t stopped from moving into the “producer space” in the same way that proprietary licenses do, and they’re not restricted in their use of the product, but neither are they afforded any more importance than customers of proprietary software.

To summarise, the open source “philosophy” is philosophically similar to the proprietary approach, because they both emphasise techniques that produce more high quality software. Their logic is subtlely different, their techniques radically so, and the limits of the space in which the open source approach operates are slightly wider. But their orientations, and therefore their overall approach to questions of property and community, are identical.

Free software

The orientation of free software is to create good software that provides certain socially useful freedoms. It is defined in terms of “liberty not price”, a frame of reference entirely absent from both the proprietary and open source approaches. And crucially it is defined as an ethical orientation, not a pragmatic orientation (Stallman, 1992, 1994). According to the Free Software Foundation, the orientation is related to four kinds of freedom (FSF, 2004a):

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

**Free software advocates reject the orientation and logic of both proprietary and open source approaches**

The free software approach achieves this with exactly the same techniques as the open source approach: a range of software development methodologies based upon the free redistribution of the source code, made possible by the subversion of copyright through licensing. As Eric Raymond says, “the software, the technology, the developers, and even the licenses are essentially the same. The only thing that differs is the attitude” (Engel, 2004).

But the logic that connects these techniques to the “freedom orientation” is quite different to the open source approach. To begin with, the free software approach renounces the concept of software ownership. Software ownership is unethical, the leading figure of the free software movement Richard Stallman often declares. In contrast to Raymond’s omission of natural property rights in his attempt to lend a Lockean justification to property, Stallman explicitly rejects this notion, though without reference to Locke or any other natural right theorists. Rather, in typical American style, he uses the position of the US constitution, which describes the copyright bargain, as precedent for his position. Property rights, he asserts, require a social justification and in the case of software there can be no such justification, therefore ownership of property is unethical (Stallman, 1992).

Though, as with open source, this logic concerns itself with socially justified property rights, Stallman judges the social justification upon grounds of the impact on the freedom of society rather than on the quality or quantity of software produced. He proceeds on a basis of comparative harm, asking if the harms resulting from the restrictions advocated by the proprietary approach outweigh the harms resulting from the freedoms advocated by the free software approach (Stallman, 1992), and advocates a kind of rule utilitarianism—a philosophical doctrine that creates ethical rules based upon maximising utility—that says: the (social) utility of always sharing software under a free license outweighs any harms, thus it is an ethical duty to always do so.

This ethical bias is also present in the free approach to the producer-consumer conflict. Stallman says that you “deserve to be able to cooperate openly and freely with other people who use software”, and he encourages “the spirit of voluntary cooperation” (Stallman, 1994). One can apply these and other related ideas to any information-based work, where the hacker mantra that “information should be free” can overcome unethical restrictions. Quite how far this goes is unclear. One could advocate a limited form of the free approach and say that the limits of the space in which it holds only extend to the community of producers, as with the open source approach. Or one could extend the “spirit of cooperation” to empower consumers to engage with the producers in a way that can’t be characterised as consuming.

Communities who customise or localise their software like KDE-Farsi and GNOME-Bengali are good examples of how this might take place, as are communities and cooperatives that are set-up to manage the spread of free software, such as in Venezuela and Brazil (Chance, 2004). Users, who with proprietary software would have simply consumed the software, are able to use it in a community context, and in so doing develop new communties and strengthen existing ones not based around software development, nor even necessarily software use (it may be an ancillary concern for the community). These activities are distinctive from the normal productive cycle that the open source approach endorses because they may often only benefit communities that are seperate from the wider "open source community"; to put it crudely, the free software approach advocates universal empowerment and liberation, whilst the open source approach endorses the good of the community in terms of software production.

“fields_and_fields” by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license “fields_and_fields” by Campbell Orme. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution license

In conclusion then, the free software approach is philosophically distinctive because, in contrast to both the proprietary and open source approaches, it is based on an ethical claim about the absolute importance of social utility, and about the relative social utility of different legal and development techniques. The approach rejects both natural rights and social bargain arguments for property in the software context, and subverts copyright law to create a global commons of software. Notions of community and cooperation are also central to the approach, both within the development community, amongst users, and between the two.

The two faces of the same animal?

Both the open source and free software approaches share the same techniques. Raymond was quite right when he said that the difference lay in their attitudes. The fact that most projects share contributors who hold either the free software or open source “philosophy” lends weight to the idea that the two approaches are just different faces on the same beast.

**From the perspective of an open source or free software advocate, the two approaches may seem identical. But philosophically speaking, they’re quite different**

Whether or not you accept that conclusion depends on where your interests lie. Looking at it from the framework of either approach, it would seem that the important thing is to develop more software and, if you’re a freedom person, to do so in a way that doesn’t abridge our freedoms. From either perspective, their shared techniques achieve the goal admirably; the installation of GNU/Linux I’m using to write this article demonstrates as much. However, both approaches have attracted the attention of many a thinker from philosophy to economics, politics and law. For Marxists, the free software approach represents a critical challenge to property regimes; for some economists both approaches represent an experiment in gift economies; for many a political theorist they both present opportunities for democracy, freedom, you name it.

It’s safe to say that because the term “open source” was coined to capitalise on free software’s techniques in the business world, any thinker that leans upon the open source approach will be fairly content with less radical changes within the space they study. Management theorists, for example, can be content with applying the open development methodologies to their own previously heirarchical theories. Despite differences in orientation, many free software advocates are just as reformist. But some advance more radical critiques of contemporary approaches to property, community and the producer-consumer relationship, bouyed by the ethical basis of Stallman’s position.

At the start of this article I admonished people for talking about their “software philosophy” when they actually meant their non-philosophical thinking about software. It should now be clear what the difference is, and why people confuse the two when looking at software production and licensing. Both approaches want to differentiate themselves from the proprietary approach; open source advocates refer to the set of techniques they advocate as the open source “philosophy” and free software advocates refer to the ethical orientation and logic they advocate as their “philosophy”. The word “philosophy” is being used in a different sense each time, masking their actual philosophical similarities and differences. This is harmless semantics, a quibble from a philosopher, but underlying it are a range of questions that have been the bread and butter of philosophy for millennia. Long may they continue to plague our minds.

Bibliography

T. Chance (2004). In defense of free software, community, and cooperation

Creative Commons (Date unknown). Frequently Asked Questions

A. Engel (2004). Free as in Freedom - Part Two: New Linux, Press Action Web Site

FSF (2004a). The Free Software Definition

J. Locke (2003). “Second Treatise of Government, in Locke: Two Treatise of Government”, ed. P. Laslett

OSI (2004a). Open Source Initiative, Web Site

OSI (2004b). The Open Source Definition

OSI (2004c). History of the OSI

OSI (2004d). Frequently Asked Questions

OSI (2004e). Open Source Case for Business

OSI (2004f). The Open Source Case for Customers

OSI (2004g). The Open Source Case for Hackers

E. Raymond (1999). “The Cathedral & The Bazaar: Musings On Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary”

R. Stallman (2001). Free software: Freedom and Cooperation

R. Stallman (1992). Why Software Should Be Free

R. Stallman (1994). Why Software Should Not Have Owners

J. Waldon (1988). “The Right to Private Property”

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From: Eduardo Cruz
Url:
Date: 2005-12-22
Subject: Free software.....what next?

What next? Many already feel that patents should be done away with (even though they are a very small group). Like in a previous article was mentioned, Patent Kills!

But in reality, who will actually then develop new medicines, new science, ect. Clearly, we have to agree, what have free software created? Linux? no. It is a derivative of Unix, which started as proprietary, Apache? it's just another Unix server. GIMP ? Please!.. and on, and on. The fact is that 99% of all free software is just another copy of a proprietary system. Open office is another copy of MS office. Whether MS office is not original is besides the point. XEN? c'mon.. there are dozens of VR systems out there. Come up with something new!

Richard Stallman can arguee all he wants about free software from his good paying job at a great university, but real people need real jobs! Or like Pablo Picasso once said, "It is very easy to be a communist when you live in Paris instead of Moscow!". (And no, I am not saying that Stallman is a communist, etc. It's just that the Picasso quote makes a lot of sense for many of Stallman off based points.)

Since all the follower will want an example, here it is... Tell a programmer in Brazil or India that his labor should go free for the benefit of society (when his labor is all he has). He will laugh you out of town! You see, those programmers in third world countries do not have the option that Stallman does, of a good job so he can spout his mouth with rediculous ideas. The problem is that most people in the develop world do not understand this concept. They believe, as Stallman does, that people can eat thoughts, instead of real food, provided by real jobs, which developing good for profit software can be one of many.

I once lived in Utopia too. But I finally came down to my senses and changed my address!

From: Tony Mobily (SUBSCRIBER!)
Url: http://www.mobily.com
Date: 2005-12-23
Subject: Re: Free software.....what next?

Hi Eduardo,

Unfortunately, I don't really have time to spend responding to your comment fully. However, I am concerned that those new to free software may read your comments and believe them to be based on fact, rather than on misguided, unresearched nonsense. So to prevent people from being misled...
Let's do it:

-----------------------------------
"What next? Many already feel that patents should be done away with (even though they are a very small group). Like in a previous article was mentioned, Patent Kills!"
--

"They" are not a very small group. In fact, we are part of a _huge_ group of people (including many major companies) who are against patents.

-----------------------------------
"But in reality, who will actually then develop new medicines, new science, ect."
--
Do you know much about how research works?
Do you know that most of the scientific research happens in
universities, which are often funded with *your* money?
Do you know who's made the most important discoveries in the last
centuries?
The problem is I can tell that you don't. Please, go and do some
research.

-----------------------------------
"Clearly, we have to agree, what have free software created? Linux? no."
--
The idea that free software "creates" something is flawed. Free software is *created* by *people*.
Linus Torvalds happens to have created Linux.

-----------------------------------
"It is a derivative of Unix, which started as proprietary,..."
--
I have to be frank: your ignorance in this matter is grating.
Unix was originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T Bell Labs employees, including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Douglas McIlroy.
Unix's source code was released pretty much from day one, and students were allowed and encouraged to improve it. And, THEY DID.
Your sentence may mislead people into believing that Unix started like Microsoft Windows, and then it got copied.
This is INCORRECT.

-----------------------------------
"Apache? it's just another Unix server."
--
Just another Unix server that only has *70%* of the market. Again: grating.

-----------------------------------
"GIMP ? Please!..."
--
GIMP is free and it's great. If you don't like it, don't use it. Many do like it and use it.

-----------------------------------
"...and on, and on. The fact is that 99% of all free software is just another copy of a proprietary system."
--
What on earth are you on about...? I can only respond by saying that 63.56% of statistics are made up on the spot :-P. Now can anybody guess which side of the line your one falls on.

-----------------------------------
"Open office is another copy of MS office. Whether MS office is not original is besides the point."
--
It IS NOT beside the point.
This is how technology and science works. People build upon other people's ideas.

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." --Isaac Newton

Everything is a copy of something else (sometimes) with improvements. The fact that "MS office is not original" IS THE point isn't it.
-----------------------------------
"XEN? c'mon.. there are dozens of VR systems out there. Come up with something new!"
--
This is the beauty of free software. Why don't YOU come up with something new?

-----------------------------------
"Richard Stallman can arguee all he wants about free software from his good paying job at a great university,..."
--
I'm sorry, this is news to me: what great university is Richard Stallman working for?
Again: please, please, please, find out *facts* before spreading your misinformation.
You can start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

-----------------------------------
"...but real people need real jobs! Or like Pablo Picasso once said, "It is very easy to be a communist when you live in Paris instead of Moscow!". (And no, I am not saying that Stallman is a communist, etc. It's just that the Picasso quote makes a lot of sense for many of Stallman off based points.)"
--
Free Software has created a lot of jobs. It's just a different business model. I am not sure if you are aware how it works. You can start by reading our articles! I think it's a great business model. You don't have to. But maybe you should get educated before you pass judgement.

-----------------------------------
"Since all the follower will want an example, here it is... Tell a programmer in Brazil or India that his labor should go free for the benefit of society (when his labor is all he has)"
--
You are starting from the more forgivable conception that people don't pay for free software. Again, this is wrong. Consultants get good money to write, develop and implement free software in India, America, Europe and everywhere else.

-----------------------------------
"He will laugh you out of town! You see, those programmers in third world countries do not have the option that Stallman does, of a good job so he can spout his mouth with rediculous ideas."
--
I can't comment on this apart from to say that you obviously have no idea who Richard Stallman is. Fortunately, your sentence speaks for itself.

-----------------------------------
"The problem is that most people in the develop world do not understand this concept. They believe, as Stallman does, that people can eat thoughts, instead of real food, provided by real jobs, which developing good for profit software can be one of many."
--
You really do firmly believe that free software cannot be for profit, don't you? Try telling this to Apple, IBM, RedHat, Canonical, and the _many_ companies and consultants out there who make lots of money thanks to free software.

-----------------------------------
"I once lived in Utopia too. But I finally came down to my senses and changed my address!"
--
Well, maybe you should do some research, find out some facts, and write sensible comments OR find another address to post your flawed comments to.
In the future, I will pass your comments onto the web site only if they don't contain extremely flawed information. We are busy making a magazine, and straightening comments like this out is very time consuming. I would hate to think that someone might read your comments and think you are basing them on facts.

From: Eduardo Cruz
Url:
Date: 2005-12-25
Subject: Free, open...

Tony, you are right. Most research is done at University level. But you have to live on the moon not to know that most of it is also pay by private money that will own the patents of any new products or ideas. They do this not for altruistic reasons as you well know. For profit! Goverment does lots of basic research, but percentage wise, the big money is private.

With the concept of free software (explain it to me if i am wrong), if I am a programmer in a third world country, and come up with a new idea or software, you would expect me to put my idea into the open/free software license. This in turn will prevent me from reaping the fruits of my labor and my talents.

You see Tony, in my part of the world, we are not all consultants, or magazine editors, etc.

If I were to design an accounting system that works for my country ( like my brother-in-law has done, and sells his program to supermarkets and hotels), free software would want it in the free software license, right? Then how would my brother-in-law would make a living? Working for Red Hat? Working for you? Will you send him a hand out for being a member of the free software society? Will you help his kids? Pay his rent? That is why I am oppose to that. If I design or create anything, I would want to use for my benefit. You do not really see how this affects people outside your little world.

But it is so typical. Just like when developed countries tell the Brazilians not to cut the amazon forest (which in fact they shouldn't), but developed countries do not come up with a plan to supply the poor brazilians with an alternative, money!

Free software says, create, but put it out for all to see and copy. I do not care if you starve, we just want our little concept to exist, or go work for one of our great corporations, if we can get you a job. Again, it is easy to see the world only thru your own eyes. You guys do not see that the poor has to eat, real food.

Go back and re-read my Picasso quote. I think just makes too much sense for you to understand.

From: Tony Mobily (SUBSCRIBER!)
Url: http://www.mobily.com
Date: 2005-12-26
Subject: Here we go again...

Eduardo,
You say things like "But you have to live on the moon not to know that
most of it is also pay [sic] by private money that will own the patents
of any new products or ideas". Do you honestly believe that? I am asking
you because I happen to have a degree in Computer Science (as well as
English). I haven't done my PhD, for a number of reasons, but I was
definitely aware of how our university worked. Through the years, I was
also under the impression that the university I attended, Murdoch
University, wasn't an isolated case.

So, I guess my questions are: have you studied/worked in a university?
Can you back your claims with statistics, examples, numbers?

You go on to say "with the concept of open source [...] you would expect
me to put my idea into the open/free software license". No, I don't
actually. Nobody does. I expect people to have the freedom to do so, so
that they can exploit the business model based on free software -- the
same model I mentioned above (see Red Hat, Apple, etc.).

Then you write things like "free software would want it [an accounting
software] in the free software license". I am not sure what you think
"free software" is at this point. You seem to think of it as an
authoritarian figure that wants all software to be free. This is a
distortion of reality.

Free software doesn't /want/ anything. Free software exists. It is
created. The free software community stresses the importance of a free
operating system (that was the main point raised by Richard Stallman in
the very beginning), as well as the importance of free development
tools.

What does your brother-in-law use to compile his programs? Well, if he
wants to, he can use GCC, or Ruby, or Perl, or Python. What does he use
as a database server? Well, he can use Postgres. Or Mysql.

The free software community is not going to kick and scream if somebody
in Brazil is releasing a specific accounting program that is specific
for the Brazilian market. That's his choice -- in fact, it could be a
_good_ choice.

However, he could for example join the GNUCash developers, and
contribute to GNUCash so that it handles Brazilian rules and laws. He
would be able to implement what his customers want, and put these
patches in the mainstream GNUCash tree. This would mean that: (1) his
customers will KNOW that their software will outlive your
brother-in-law's computer career; (2) he will be able to give his
customers a better accounting program; (3) he would be the best person
in Brazil to contact for support in the use of GNUCash. He could
obviously charge for support.

This is just a possibility. In fact, your brother-in-law can also
develop a proprietary accounting program, and sell it to his customers.
Thanks to free software, he can develop it without spending hideous
amounts of money for development tools, and he can even give his
customers a free operating system with it.

As you can see, there is no need for me to "help his kids", or "pay his
rent".

You do make grating statements like "If I design or create anything, I
would want to use for my benefit. You do not really see how this affects
people outside your little world." I don't feel I need to comment on
this. Fortunately, I think it speaks volumes all on its own.

I completely agree with you about the Amazon forest. It's absolutely
disgusting. Fortunately, free software has nothing to do with this.

In fact, without free software, Brazilians would be forced to pay a
_lot_ of money in licensing fees to Microsoft, with NO alternatives.

In the next sentence, you seem to equate free software to "our little
concept". Of course I only see the world through my eyes. However, I see
a world where Venezuela is benefiting _immensely_ thanks to free
software. The same applies to India and many other Asian nations. And
again the same applies to the US, Australia, and Europe.

Free software isn't benefiting just corporations: it's benefiting
individuals, consultants, and private companies.

Remember that you *can* charge for free software. That is indeed the
beauty of it.

From: Robert Schaper
Url:
Date: 2005-12-23
Subject: Open Source

The author makes the same mistake as Stallman in his Open Source essay. OSS doesn't have a 'philosophy', it's philosophy-neutral and therefore compatible with lots of philosophies (although I guess that in itself is a philosophy too). The idea being to make the movement as large as possible and to not exclude people unnecessarily. It doesn't matter why people are using and creating OSS, be it out of self-interest, altruism or a religious or political motive as long as they do it and do it in numbers. Tying an explicit philosophy to the license is bad strategy.

The beauty of the thing is that whatever their motives, even if they are completely selfish, they still contribute to the greater good as OSS by its very nature empowers users.

From: Tom Chance
Url: http://tom.acrewoods.net
Date: 2005-12-27
Subject: Everything is related to some philosophy

Hi Robert,

I think you misunderstood the point of the article, perhaps by labouring under a narrow use of the word 'philosophy'. You've really just restated one of my conclusions.

As I discuss at the end of the article, Open Source advocates don't explicitly state any genuinely philosophical 'Open Source philosophy', focusing on development methodologies instead. They don't get into stating positions on ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of technology or any other branch of the subject. But the Open Source approach to software development and licensing, like anything else, is potentially interesting to philosophers. It raises or coincides with philosophical questions.

So in my article one of the things I show is that, in terms of various philosophical questions surrounding software licensing, Open Source is more philosophically similar to proprietary software than many might think. That's not necessarily a bad thing, for as you say it allows for a broader church of people to promote the other aspects of the approach (technical, business, managerial, etc) without making people feel like they're also having to swallow some ethical or otherwise-philosophical position.

Open Source doesn't _have_ a philosophy, you're right, but it does embed all sorts of philosophical assumptions in its approach.

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Tom Chance is a philosophy student, free software advocate and writer. He is the Project Lead of Remix Reading, the UK’s first localised Creative Commons project. You can contact him via his web site.