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Myths of Linux - People don't care about licensing
17 September 2008 @ 17:39 BST
by Paul

I care about the licensing of the software I use, not because of some philosophical principle, but because I got sick and tired of having the thumbscrews put on me by proprietary software companies.

The latest row over at Ubuntu about licensing shows that plenty of other people feel the same way. End users aren't licence agnostic; they know that the licensing of the products they use is important.

Concerns over licensing are not the preserve of a few whacko freetards, but of ordinary users. Ubuntu is, after all, one of the most popular and least techie Linux distributions.

Many years ago, I switched from Apple to Suse Linux after having been shafted by Steve Jobs. I was also not sure whether Apple would survive as a company and therefore not sure whether I'd soon have access to my data if I switched platforms. I felt then that Linux would offer me protection as even if SuSE went bust, free software would mean I wouldn't be trapped.

I found that, at the time, SuSE had an upgrade cycle worse than Microsoft's. I quickly got sick of this and researched other distributions. I moved to Debian for a number of reasons, but the clincher was the social contract, which I regarded then and still regard now as a guarantee of freedom - freedom to access my data and freedom to do what I want with my computer. I have never regretted the move to Debian.

Other reasons to like Debian are:

  • Debian releases upgrades when they're ready not because they need a new revenue stream
  • The Debian project takes freedom (that means my freedom ) seriously. This means I can rely on having access to my data
  • Debian is safe and secure and offers different distributions depending on your expertise level and your needs

I understand how some people can get frustrated when Debian refuses to include useful proprietary software. I think, however, that this modus operandi is right. It means that I, the computer user, decide when I want to cross the line from free to non-free. It means that I decide when I want to risk having my data tied up in a closed proprietary format, because I know when I've installed non-free software.

This knowledge is important. The current argument over the Firefox EULA shows that it's important to others too. Incidentally, Debian has already solved this by rebranding Firefox as Iceweasel.

I don't think enough people understand the importance of licensing. I think a lot of ordinary people are frustrated with proprietary software and closed licenses, but they can't articulate why and they don't understand the alternatives.

For instance, I hear a lot of people (like my mother) griping about having to upgrade MS Office to read the files people send them, only to find out they have to upgrade Windows as well which means upgrading they computer. That's frustrating. I try to explain that this is what Free software and Open source is all about.

I think somehow FOSS advocates need to find a good, succinct way to bring the argument down to this level.

Posted by Alan on 2008-09-18 17:47:56.

Who cares. . . freedom includes using the program that works best for you--regardless of the license or what other people think! --BL

Posted by BudLite on 2008-09-19 08:57:51.

When I wrote the social contract referred to in this article, I'd been burned by any number of proprietary software companies. Although I was able to get "programs that worked best for me", the companies that made them tended to not keep them working for very long unless I paid for the same program over and over again. Often the programs I bought were never updated, bugs weren't fixed, and they stopped being useful as new hardware and new OS releases that they couldn't operate with came out.

Of course I use Debian too, for more than 10 years now. And everything works better with each release.


Posted by Bruce Perens on 2008-10-04 18:31:49.
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