Begging the Software Gods

Kneel before your (Greek) God
Image by Dave Smith via Flickr

There is a frustrating phenomenon that I notice amongst many technology enthusiasts and general users, the conditioning to pathetically expect new progress from the software companies. All too often I see someone claiming to be a fan, asking, pleading, begging, wishing, warning or even threatening any software company so that they would implement a feature that they wish for.

This is the mentality of a slave. It shows that one is happy simply wait for the enlightened elite to provide them with what they believe they need. The only difference exists in how much that elite listen to their “peasants'” voices. You have many web2.0 companies which are very open to their community and you have others which are so absolutely haughty and elite that what they give you, they expect you to like.

But why do people willingly put themselves in this situation? I guess it is it they do not wish to trouble themselves too much. All that a software company requires of them is their continuous supply of money (or presence & support, in the case of web2.0 ones) and they promise to take care of everything you ever wished for. You just rest your little heads..

One wonders, would these same people willingly put themselves under “socialist” dictatorship? If not, why? Doesn’t that work in the same way as any of those software companies? Wouldn’t these dictators work with your own best interests in mind, if only you gave them your money? Wouldn’t it be possible to even modify their actions if you begged, pleased, warned or threatened enough?

‘Aha’ you will say ‘But I can at any point switch software with ease. I can vote with my wallet I can! If those companies don’t listen to my wishes I can just choose another piece of software instead. I don’t need them, they need me!’

So tell me, are you truly free, when all you have is a freedom to choose between masters? Won’t any other company be like this as well? Perhaps a bit more “consoling” to your betrayed soul, but ultimately the same? Would you be any more free if you could at any point leave your “socialist” dictatorship if there were only more of them to select from?

And what if there isn’t anywhere to go to? What if your continued support all these years has made that dictatorship so big that it has swallowed all others and now it’s either that, go live alone or start your own little commune and have only the bare basics compared to what you had before?

And what if they won’t even let you leave? What if the borders are closed and your property simply licensed to you? What if the only way to leave an oppressive dictatorship like that is to simply discard all your earthly belongings and simply leave with just the clothes on your back?

But this is what a propriertary software will try to do. Either it will be so unique that you simply cannot chose something else and you must continue paying like a good little worker or They will not let you take anything with you because of closed formats and the like.

  • Until Open Office came around, what alternative was there if one wished to move away from MS Office, say because it lacked a certain feature and MS refused to implement it or because it was simply too expensive?
  • When you leave facebook, can you take anything with you?
  • Can’t Google cancel your account at any point, without having to give you any excuse or letting you take anything back?
  • Isn’t Photoshop basically your only option as a professional graphic designer?

It is especially worrying to see people not only gladly place their own shackles but to excitedly support some of the most oppressive companies ever. Apple and its fanboys are the one that perplex me the most. There is truly here a cult of personality the kind of which any fascism regime would be proud off. The supporters will blindly trust in the wisdom of Jobs and Apple and buy and swallow any junk they throw their way, as if it were nectar. The fact that their shackles are the strongest and most numerous of them all does not matter, simply because they are also the most shiny.

But what are the alternatives? Well, like any dictatorship has its antonym in free democracy, so does proprietary software has it’s antonym in Free/Libre Software.
Do you remember my example of that little group of people who wished to escape from the dictatorship they lived under? They did. They did leave everything behind and went on to create their own little community. But they were wise, for they knew that it was only a matter of time until their society ended up like the one they fled from.
Thus, they created a constitution, a manifesto, call it what you like, which prevented them and their successors from doing just that.

That manifesto was the GNU General Public License and while they started only with their hands and the clothes on their back, their little community grew and prospered and started to draw freedom-loving people who fled from proprietary dictatorships all over the world.

Whereas a software company decides what you will have with varying degrees of input from you, the GPL community does not decide at all. Any member can have what he wants, provided that they work to get it. It is simply not possible to stop anyone from making the software do what he wants if he really wants it, unlike a proprietary software which you cannot change unless allowed to (through begging, asking, pleading etc).

Is this a harder road? Most definitely. But it is the only road that preserves your freedom. And nobody ever said that freedom is easy. Quite the contrary, freedom has always required hard work and struggle to sustain from the people comprising. From the bottom-up. But the fruits of it are always much sweeter.

The only thing you get easy, from people who make all the choices for you, is simply the illusion of freedom. And this is exactly what you get with proprietary software. And even that goes away eventually.

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6 thoughts on “Begging the Software Gods

  1. You should check out the science and math textbooks used in schools nowadays…Microsoft this, Excel that…filled with references to Microsoft software.

  2. Well, what about the hundreds of millions of people who have enslaved themselves to the Intel microprocessor? Oh, sure, there is AMD and Via, but they are only acceptable because they will run the opcodes that have be decreed by the EVIL, GREEDY chip maker Intel. Why have people allowed themselves to become so enslaved by such a company.

    And then there’s the problem of clothes. People just buy whatever the EVIL, GREEDY clothes companies decide. Why can’t people free themselves and learn to make their own clothes which will look and fit just like they want. True freedom. But, people foolishly choose slavery.

    And people who enjoy reading have to wait for EVIL, GREEDY publishers to print out something they want to read. Why, oh Why can’t there be a free and open source for new novels. If people would just wake up and break this yoke of enslavement from book publishers then we could all write novels and share them freely over the Internet.

    And let’s not forget about food. The most basic of our very survival, yet most people just buy whatever EVIL, GREEDY food producers and sellers decide. Why can’t people wise up and quit being enslaved like this. Everyone should grow and process their own food and be truly FREE of this bondage.

    In other words, what’s so special about “software”?

  3. Nothing is "special about software" and nobody said that you deserve certain freedoms for software but not freedoms for your food, clothing, and other things.

    There are other groups of people working on other freedoms: seed activists like Vandana Shiva who works with people in India to maintain libraries of non-genetically-modified seeds that anyone can grow (including in environments far too inhospitable for GMO seeds!). Prof. Shiva works with people worldwide to fight patents, notably taking down the patents which read on basmati rice and neem—natural food and trees (respectively) which predate any patenting system. See the documentaries "Bullshit!", "The World According to Monsanto", or read any of Prof. Shiva's books for more information about her work.

    Wikibooks, Project Gutenberg, and others are working on building libraries of freely available literature. The Internet Archive has bookmobiles which travel around the world showing….

    Amazing work is done by children to help free other children from slave worker conditions manufacturing clothes (the last time I read about them was when pre-teens protested and successfully challenged The Gap to allow minders to inspect their clothing facilities to prevent sweatshop labor). The excellent documentary "The Corporation" shows Charles Kernaghan, an anti-sweatshop labor activist and Executive Director of the National Labor Committee, giving a tour of his offices. In this highly underrated documentary Kernaghan explains how the goods we take for granted were made by laborers paid pennies an hour, even after the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal broke (which alerted the American public to sweatshop labor plight) in the US. Kernaghan does interviews on Democracy Now!. Particularly embarassing for corporate manufacturing was when Kernaghan revealed that crucifixes being sold by ….

    I'm sure that in time we'll see work on free software CPUs if they're not already working on such things. People have been working on making a free softwar… and there is increased pressure on integrators and manufacturers to use no proprietary software in their firmware (or use no firmware at all like some wireless cards do). This work has all been remarkably successful and I hope you'll seek out all of these people and help them. Work like this tends to put the lie to the explanation that we can't have free software-driven hardware because the secret software is necessary to justify continued development of the hardware. This was the excuse raised to justify work on ethernet cards until some enterprising group of hackers figured out how to talk to the majority of ethernet hardware out there.

    Richard Stallman has long contended that the fight for software freedom is but a part of a larger global movement for increased social solidarity and ethical treatment of others. There's nothing wrong with the convenience of getting one's goods and services supplied by someone else. There is something wrong when exploitation is a part of the mix, be it poor working conditions, sub-living wage pay, or restrictions that keep us from organizing to express our social solidarity.

    1. "I'm sure that in time we'll see work on free software CPUs if they're not already working on such things."

      They're already here. Check out http://www.opencores.org . Not only do they have free Verilog and VHDL (source code for hardware) implementations of proprietary processors whose patents have expired (including Intel's 286), they've also made their own original processor core, the OpenRISC. It's even been implemented on actual chips in products for sale today.

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