I have written recently about my standing on anti-corporate feelings and I have written a longer time ago speaking against ‘pirate’ software but today I feel like ranting a bit about the way the FLOSS people who still call proprietary software “illegitimate” are hurting the whole cause.
It so happens that a situation like the one I’m going to describe happened to me with more than a couple prospective clients. With one variation or another, but the basic situation is more or less the same.
I get called up by the prospective customer, that is looking for some kind of software solution, or mixed software-hardware solutions, they present me their need, and after a bit of thinking about it, I find there are two solutions: use Free Software, but usually requires fiddling with set-up, tweaking, and maintenance, or use a proprietary solution, with a high license cost but a smaller requirement for set-up or maintenance.
I usually present the pricing together with a pros/cons fact sheet, pointing out that whatever proprietary solution will rely solely and exclusively on the original vendor, and thus the first time that vendor does something that goes against your wishes or necessities, you’re left with paying for something you can’t make good use of. While this is usually something that is not easily forgotten, they are scared by the price.
I do my best to provide with options that are cheaper than the license of the proprietary software, so that there is a better chance for the Free alternative to be picked up. It’s not difficult given most of the problems I’ve been shown are solved by proprietary software that is very expensive. Also, it is in my personal interest to have them choose the Free Software solution: I get the money and I usually can release at least the fixes (or even better, the customisation) as Free Software, thanks to licenses such as GPL.
But here, most of the hopes get shattered: “You call it Free but we have to pay quite a bit of money for it… we can get the other cheaper, just use eMule”. At least here in Italy, honesty is a rare virtue, too rare a virtue for it to be “exploited” by Free Software. But why do I say that it’s a mistake of FLOSS developers of this is the case? Isn’t it just the doing of a business holder who cares not about legality and using unauthorized copies? Well, yes of course.
On the other hand, talking about illegitimacy and immorality of proprietary software, defending “piracy” (or unauthorized copies if you wish to call them that way), does not really help the cause, it actually gives them arguments such as “well, but even the guys developing that stuff defend using cracked copies of software, why should I pay you to create something anew when there is the program already?”.
As I said before, make sure the people around you understand why they should use Free Software, and that is not by telling them how bad copy-protection is, DRM is, and the “sins” of Windows. It’s by showing them that they have a price to pay to use that software both in direct monetary terms and in flexibility. And maybe more money would flow into the pockets of the Free Software developers that can make it not suck in the areas it currently sucks.