Why “open source” misses the point of software freedom

Tristan Rhodes describes the pitch and allure of the open source movement perfectly and simultaneously (perhaps inadvertently) describes why that pitch has so little allure to those who frame the issue in terms of price:

What is the main benefit of open source?

The short answer is that open source reduces the cost of software. It is widely accepted that software is a necessary cost of doing business in today’s environment. Therefore, it is beneficial for companies to find ways to acquire software that minimizes that cost.

If price is chiefly important, there’s no reason to favor “open source” software over an illicit copy of a proprietary program that performs better. Some proprietors exploit this weakness and offer their software at low or no cost. There’s no way to teach people to favor fundamentally important issues such as building and defending community. It’s a great example of knowing the cost of something and not its value.

The philosophy of the younger open source movement is an inadequate response to the older free software movement; the ethics the open source movement never discuss keep coming up (any discussion of digital management restrictions (DRM), the recent update Microsoft pushed on Windows users without the the user’s consent are recent examples). An ethical approach to computing is critically important in the short and long run. As a result of not stressing free software freedoms for their own sake, one learns how to lose those freedoms. This issue is explored more deeply in the essay “Why “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software” (an updated version of the older essay “Why “Free Software” is better than “Open Source”“):

The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program which is powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users’ freedom. How will free software activists and open source enthusiasts react to that?

A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that take away our freedom, leading to its loss.

The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but not at the price of my freedom. So I have to do without it. Instead I will support a project to develop a free replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and defend it.