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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