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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.

Comments 9
  1. In my opinion, the competition between proprietary software and open-source has made both better! Linux would never have been as user-friendly if it did not have to compete with windoze. And Windows security would have been even worse if Linux had not set a higher standard.Use whatever suits you best! In the long run, that will often be FOSS 🙂

  2. As you say, it is nearly impossible to push proprietary software /completely/ out of anyone’s personal universe.However, it seems from your guest column that you have something of a misunderstanding of the “Fundamentalist” position. You state:’Lately, I’m getting more and more irked by the “Free Software Fundamentalists” that preach that no proprietary software has the right to exist any longer.’Then you go on to bash RMS and attack the motivations of the fundamentalists.The problem here is that the FOSS fundamentalists, at least as I know them, do not believe that proprietary software should be banished because all existing FOSS software is better. Instead, they believe that proprietary software (or rather, proprietary licensing) should be banished because proprietary licensing and intellectual copyright is inheritently a bad thing.RMS has always “preached” that restricting the intellectual rights of human beings to copy, modify, and distribute source code is an inheritly wrong.As a self-proclaimed “FOSS Fundamentalist” I don’t think I would ever criticize anyone for making some concessions to proprietary software when he didn’t have a reasonable alternative. But I would criticize someone who evidently isn’t on board with fundamental FOSS ideology, and who is trying find a balance between FOSS and proprietary software, rather than trying to move toward exclusive FOSS usage.

  3. Do not give momentum or support on proprietary software or open source bloats (those useless to drive the hardware). That is not actively figthing proprietary software, since the best thing would be to make a virus which auto-installs GNU/Linux…software prisons (proprietary OSes) are massively improving thanks to FOSS, their money is actually FOSS money.

  4. Ok fine, firmware is in everything. I would take this argument a whole step further, in that most industry specific softwares will never have a satisfactory free counterpart. Have you ever tried to make 3D solid models and part drawings on a Gentoo machine? How about finite element analysis? Even really advanced replacements like the GIMP are scorned by their professional target users. I love freedom, and I love free software, but at some point, we all have to settle sometimes.

  5. i heard the term ‘foss evangelist’ 🙂 how is it related to what you call ‘fundamentalist’?whatever: i have a more pragmatic approach to free software. i use it and improve it because it works for me. i can not live with windows, because i feel not at brother recently bought a macbook and it was his first non-windows expirience.. he liked it. many people don’t have linux readily available to them. but if it comes preinstalled _AND_ they have someone they can turn to in case of trouble (like: “i clicked on the internet, but then there was a question and my computer did something i didn’t told him to do.”) they are happy.they are not knowledgeable of computers and just want to use it. for them there is no free or proprietary. it is “i paid for it, so it has to work. that is the only thing i can rely on, because i don’t know computers.”many people even are not aware of the concept of ‘programs’. for them, word, windows, browser, picture-viewer, whatever is all the same. it’s whats on the other side of the screen. and why should they know such a thing? they don’t wanna know. they wanna do, while it is necesseray to spread free software for a better world, most people don’t realize that. and they shouldn’t have to. everything should just work. at the moment, for most people windows is the better alternative, because their peer’s use it and they can discuss over their problems face to face. maybe, while society’s focus shifts more and more towards email and internet this problem will vanish.also, this will change, as free software matures. it takes more time for free software to mature, because it’s development is not so focused like if one entity (microsoft) is behind it, but it is more diverse. which is a good thing. and it dosn’t have the same scalability problems like proprietary systems.the ideological reason, why i think free software is “the right thing(tm)”:software is just a pattern of 0’s and 1’s on one’s harddisk. if you install it, that prevents noone in the world to have the same pattern on his is more of ‘an idea’, then ‘a product’. everybody can (in theory) recreate it without knowing about it and without destroying. the oldschool model’s of “i make it, you buy it, you have it” dosn’t work anymore with software. it is unefficient.we are now able to work together on the ideas. we can make them long as companies are able to make money with free software, free software will prevail. as long as it adds value. as long as it is useful.this is the goal. make everybody’s life better by providing good free software. in the long term.the only time free software advances is, if an individual see’s a value for himself in using and improving it and does that. you can not force it.

  6. Yes yes yes! You hit the nail on the head. It’s supposed to be about freedom first, software second. Thank you!

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