When Free Software Isn't (Practically) Superior. Hill, B. M.
When Free Software Isn't (Practically) Superior [link]Paper  abstract   bibtex   
[Excerpt] The Open Source Initiative's mission statement reads, ” Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.” [] For more than a decade now, the Free Software Foundation has argued against this ” open source” characterization of the free software movement. Free software advocates have primarily argued against this framing because ” open source” is an explicit effort to deemphasize our core message of freedom and obscure our movement's role in the success of the software we have built. We have argued that ” open source” is bad, fundamentally, because it attempts to keep people from talking about software freedom. But there is another reason we should be wary of the open source framing. The fundamental open source argument, as quoted in the mission statement above, is often incorrect. [] [...] [] For open source, poor-quality software is a problem to be explained away or a reason to eschew the software altogether. For free software, it is a problem to be worked through. For free software advocates, glitches and missing features are never a source of shame. Any piece of free software that respects users' freedom has a strong inherent advantage over a proprietary competitor that does not. Even if it has other issues, free software always has freedom. [] Of course, every piece of free software must start somewhere. A brand-new piece of software, for example, is unlikely to be more featureful than an established proprietary tool. Projects begin with many bugs and improve over time. While open source advocates might argue that a project will grow into usefulness over time and with luck, free software projects represent important contributions on day one to a free software advocate. Every piece of software that gives users control over their technology is a step forward. Improved quality as a project matures is the icing on the cake. [] [...] [] Open source advocates must defend their thesis that freely developed software should, or will with time, be better than proprietary software. Free software supporters can instead ask, ” How can we make free software better?” In a free software framing, high quality software exists as a means to an end rather than an end itself. Free software developers should strive to create functional, flexible software that serves its users well. But doing so is not the only way to make steps toward solving what is both an easier and a much more profoundly important goal: respecting and protecting their freedom. [] Of course, we do not need to reject arguments that collaboration can play an important role in creating high-quality software. In many of the most successful free software projects, it clearly has done exactly that. The benefits of collaboration become something to understand, support, and work towards, rather than something to take for granted in the face of evidence that refuses to conform to ideology. [] [...]
@article{hillWhenFreeSoftware2011,
  title = {When Free Software Isn't (Practically) Superior},
  author = {Hill, Benjamin M.},
  date = {2011},
  journaltitle = {GNU Operating System},
  url = {http://mfkp.org/INRMM/article/14240552},
  abstract = {[Excerpt] The Open Source Initiative's mission statement reads, ” Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.”

[] For more than a decade now, the Free Software Foundation has argued against this ” open source” characterization of the free software movement. Free software advocates have primarily argued against this framing because ” open source” is an explicit effort to deemphasize our core message of freedom and obscure our movement's role in the success of the software we have built. We have argued that ” open source” is bad, fundamentally, because it attempts to keep people from talking about software freedom. But there is another reason we should be wary of the open source framing. The fundamental open source argument, as quoted in the mission statement above, is often incorrect.

[] [...]

[] For open source, poor-quality software is a problem to be explained away or a reason to eschew the software altogether. For free software, it is a problem to be worked through. For free software advocates, glitches and missing features are never a source of shame. Any piece of free software that respects users' freedom has a strong inherent advantage over a proprietary competitor that does not. Even if it has other issues, free software always has freedom.

[] Of course, every piece of free software must start somewhere. A brand-new piece of software, for example, is unlikely to be more featureful than an established proprietary tool. Projects begin with many bugs and improve over time. While open source advocates might argue that a project will grow into usefulness over time and with luck, free software projects represent important contributions on day one to a free software advocate. Every piece of software that gives users control over their technology is a step forward. Improved quality as a project matures is the icing on the cake.

[] [...]

[] Open source advocates must defend their thesis that freely developed software should, or will with time, be better than proprietary software. Free software supporters can instead ask, ” How can we make free software better?” In a free software framing, high quality software exists as a means to an end rather than an end itself. Free software developers should strive to create functional, flexible software that serves its users well. But doing so is not the only way to make steps toward solving what is both an easier and a much more profoundly important goal: respecting and protecting their freedom.

[] Of course, we do not need to reject arguments that collaboration can play an important role in creating high-quality software. In many of the most successful free software projects, it clearly has done exactly that. The benefits of collaboration become something to understand, support, and work towards, rather than something to take for granted in the face of evidence that refuses to conform to ideology.

[] [...]},
  keywords = {*imported-from-citeulike-INRMM,~INRMM-MiD:c-14240552,collaborative-design,cooperation,epistemology,ethics,free-science-metrics,free-scientific-software,free-software,freedom,knowledge-freedom,open-source,research-metrics,science-ethics,scientific-knowledge-sharing,software-evolvability,software-quality,software-uncertainty}
}
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