I will never again talk about the benefits of Free Software


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Sep 17, 2014 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I have been talking about using “Free Software” for the past twenty years, and the equivalent of “Open Source” even longer. Many times I have had people ask me, “Why do you use Free Software?”

So I patiently tell them all the reasons why I use Free Software. The ability to see exactly what the code does and how it works. The ability to apply patches right away and not have to wait for “Patch Tuesday”, or “Critical Fix Wednesday” or any of the other “days” that some closed-source company has decided to put out all their bug fixes.

I (for the 10 thousandth time) explain how I do not have to abandon perfectly good hardware because some vendor has decided not to support it any more, or that their bloated software no longer runs acceptably on my older, smaller system.

I tell them I got tired of having to remove advertising from the software that I put on my disks, and (if I was in a country other than the United States) having to explain to people who pirate closed-source software how they were taking money out of the hands of the programmer.

I can not tell you the number of times I have given my talks about using Free Software in Education (allowing the students to learn three times), or how many times I have explained to people how you could make money with free software (“The same ways you make money with proprietary software if your name is not Gates, Ellison or Jobs”).

I have been to over 100 countries, most of them more than one time and some of them many times (some countries have immigration officers that wave to me). Often I convince major leaders of these countries why Free Software is better, just to have them slip back into the closed-source trap.

Sometimes I really get discouraged.

Therefore I am never again going to tell people why they should be using Free Software.

Instead I am going to ask them why they insist on using closed source software.

Is it because they love paying lots of money for software that does little more (if anything) than suitable Free Software?

Do they use closed-source software because they love waiting weeks and months for patches that they might have gotten much sooner in the Free Software community?

Perhaps they love getting new versions of the software thrown out at them every so often, instead of being able to directly interact with the developers through forums and mailing lists.

I will wait for these people to tell me that they use closed-source software because of the software warranty (laugh) or the support they get (bigger laugh).

What I really expect is that when I ask the question, I will get a sort of puzzled look and they will say:

I do not really know why I use closed source software”

and I will be most of the way to converting them.

Then it occurred to me to write this up for the blog, so other Free Software people can start doing this too. I suppose we should continue to talk about the benefits of using Free Software, but we should also be sure to ask people why they insist on using closed source....and be ready to laugh.

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