The myth of choice.

I’ve been told that Mozilla is an important web browser because it gives the user choice in browsing. I’ve been told that the open source movement is important because open source gives users choice. I argue that neither of those things are true. I also argue that choice is a mythical advantage.

Before Mozilla came along, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Opera existed and were in use. None of these browsers give the user software freedom but choice was satisfied. We see a similar problem with the two major American political parties: neither champion universal single-payer health care, equal rights for homosexuals, getting out of the war in Iraq, challenging the unconstitutional power the US President has to make war without Congressional approval, reducing corporate power over your life, funding political campaigns with public money, participating in real debates with other presidential candidates, and a number of other things. But choice is satisfied.

Mozilla is an important browser because it delivers the freedom to share and modify the program. Mozilla gives users software freedom. But the open source movement doesn’t champion that aspect of programs. I think this movement makes a big mistake in not championing software freedom but I can understand why they did it: this movement wants to speak to businesses and they believe that businesses are scared off by freedom talk. I don’t think of the open source movement as an enemy, I think of it as espousing a philosophy that focuses on the outcome of software freedom rather than its roots.

Focusing on choice is a big mistake. Choice can be used to marginalize opposition and railroad you into something you don’t really want. Choice is insufficient, we need the power to participate as equals and improve our community through mutual cooperation, and competition on the merits of our participation. We can get mere choice by focusing on more important ideals.