Thoughts from years of using Free Software in the wild
Vow of Software Freedom
I have taken a vow around September 1999, and it is sometimes hard to explain to people, so I’ll write it down here. I said to myself, "From this day on, I shall not use non-free software or secret file formats in my work, ever again." As you might notice, I’m still alive, which means that it’s possible to make a living without those two things. But it’s obviously not so simple, so here are:
Vow of (Software) Freedom: The Details
I will not use:
- Software for which the source code is unavailable.
- File formats for which the full specifications are not available.
When will I not use these?
- When I produce a work product for myself, my employer or other humans.
- When I share a file with my fellow human being.
Why will I not use these?
- Because software for which you do not have the source is inherently suspicious.
- Because software without the source often comes with very restrictive licenses, so I may not exercise freedom 2 and help my neighbor. I want to help my neighbor. I want to give away and improve software. I can’t do that with non-free software, so I see no reason to use it.
- Because proprietary formats destroy information, stifle competition, are considered harmful, are impossible to implement and are just generally a bad idea, especially in today’s age of information sharing. Giving away files in secret formats only serves to strengthen these formats, so it isn’t wise.
How come this is doable?
Because of the efforts of millions of Free Software developers and yes, even those who call it Open Source. Because of the work of engineers that have their head screwed on properly and strive to publish specifications of their file formats.
Today, and since many years, you can have an entire PC operating system compile itself out of raw source code right in front of your eyes. In fact, several different systems are capable of this. You should be content with nothing less.
It’s your machine the stuff is running on, it’s your right to know what your machine is running and to decide about the formats you save your important information in. Don’t give this right away. It’s probably not a good bargain.