[Linux4christians] The Moral Foundation of Free Software
THORPB at uk.ibm.com
Tue Jan 4 04:12:10 EST 2005
Some of my thoughts on this topic:
1. We seem to have fallen in to the trap of equating "free" software with
"free as in beer" rather than "free as in freedom". There is nothing in
FOSS licensing to say that you cannot charge money for your program, only
that you must distribute the code. You may think the distinction is
unimportant, because people we just use your source code, and it will then
become free as in beer. However, this is not necessarily the case - people
always talk about RedHat being the 'Microsoft' of the Linux world, but all
their code is released as open source, but they release _only_ the code -
you pay for have ISOs and binaries, and the ease of installation.
2. In "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" Eric Raymond says that he believes
that a vast majority of software written is not sold, because it is written
internally. It is written to fill a need, and the worth of the software is
not from it's sale as a commodity, but rather from having the software in
the first place. He states that he believes that this software could easily
be open sourced. Selling software for cash is actually a surprisingly small
market, albeit a very vocal one.
3. Somewhere in the region of 75% of code written in the world is _never
used_ (at least, according to my Computing Lecturer at uni).
4. The vast majority of programmers are not employed by software vendors.
In Scotland the largest employer of programmers is JP Morgan, an investment
banker. Open Source is not depriving programmers of jobs.
5. On a corporate scale, software purchases are much more to do with
support and aftersales than they are to do with the worth of the actual
code. This is why a number of the successful Open Source companies work by
selling additional support and services - MySQL and SmoothWall are 2 such
6. I think that the use of 'helping thy neighbour' is perhaps confusing the
original intentions and beliefs behind FOSS. RMSs emphasis was not on what
EULAs did to his relationship to other people, but rather on his
relationship to code. Equally, the GPL includes nothing about how you
should respond to other people, but rather how you should use the code. It
may be a useful term to use as one of the side benefits of FOSS, but I
think it is misleading to suggest that it is integral to the philosophy.
7. Whether we believe it to be a moral issue or not, the software world is
already beginning to change significantly because of open source.
8. I think that there are probably other issues that are more clearcut than
the moral argument - are there ethical concerns over any of the proprietary
software vendors? Can we, as churches/Christians, advocate the purchase of
software if there are free alternatives? etc.
Anyway - I realise I have not made a conclusion either way, but I think
these are points worth mentioning.
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