Proprietaryware all around us

In a guest post at Boycott Boycott Novell I’ve written about my frustration with so-called “Free Software Fundamentalists”. My main problem with them is that they keep insisting in not using proprietaryware, at all, rather than improving Free Software till it actually becomes the norm.

Now, one thing that might be difficult to understand is that, no matter how hard you try, it’s near impossible to not use any kind of proprietary software nowadays. And while I’m one who fights with all his force to make sure that we have Free Software alternatives in such a state that it can be used in as many things as possible, I don’t try to fight the presence of the other kind of software. I might argue which one between their and my methods is the one that can reach the goal better, but that’s not what I wanted to write about right now.

For now I just wanted to note how impossible it is to not rely at least in part in proprietary, closed-source software (this also ties with an older post of mine about updates):

  • do you have a cellphone? unless you’re running stuff like OpenMoko, I doubt you have it pure free software, since even Nokia’s N900 has quite a few proprietary components;
  • okay so cellphones are evil, but do you have a standard phone? remember: if it has an address book it has a firmware on it (and even if it doesn’t it might have a firmware to manage some functions);
  • do you have a VCR? a DVD player? a DivX player? Is any of that running on a free software firmware?
  • cable or satellite TV? Sky (UK and Italy) definitely have firmware in their decoders (there is also some documentation about GPL violations in satellite decoders);
  • not even that, a simple TV? You know, not only they have firmware now, but they also come with an upgradable firmware (at least, my Sony Bravia does); some TVs also have free software on them (Sharp I happen to remember), although I highly doubt they have no proprietary bits in them; heck, remote controls have firmware as well, at least the programmable ones;
  • any game console? none that I know run on pure free software;
  • computers usually have proprietary BIOS, but coreboot is working to replace that; and at the same time we know of many projects working on replacing firmware for wifi cards (although I still can’t understand; why replacing a wifi card’s firmware, but not the SATA controller firmware?); laptops, on the other hand have a lot of components with firmware on them; for instance I remember Lenovo laptops having firmware to control the fans and similar subsystems; and I’m pretty sure “smart batteries” have firmware as well; UPSes have firmware; external drive enclosures have firmware (and there, replacing the firmware with some free software would definitely be useful, given how many bugs the Genesys Logic firmware has!); even keyboards have firmware, at least Apple’s and probably Logitech’s as well; bluetooth dongles have firmware; harddrives and SSDs have firmware;
  • so okay, you use no external hard drive, a motherboard supported by coreboot and so on, your computer is fine; what about the monitor connected to it?
  • and finally, if you’re not using computers (so what are you doing advocating free software?); are you using a modern microwave oven, dishwasher or washing machine? While there are still lots of those appliances that use no computer-like parts, and thus no firmware, quite a lot of the new ones use firmware which is proprietary; I actually find those quite obnoxious because, for instance, you cannot self-repair your washing machine if the mainboard fries up; the firmware (proprietary) has to be flashed in; and to make it even more impossible, they have to flash it with a special dongle, and a special phone, with UMTS connection;

So really, are you using any proprietaryware at all? If so, stop harassing my freedom of choice for a supposedly higher freedom.