Free Availability of Sources

Francois-Rene Rideau
Thu, 1 Jul 1999 20:16:00 +0200

>: Kirk Wylie

> What about the case where Free
> Software has failed to provide a tool that non-programmers want, or where
> the Free Software alternative isn't as preferred as the closed-source
> alternative?
I know no such case. Where has a free software effort _failed_?
I know lots of cases where free software hasn't been there yet,
where some free software effort was stopped
by lack of funding or documentation or standardization.
If consumers become aware of Free Software, and demand free software,
these barriers will fall down.

> Consider the tools that have been the largest successes in Free Software
> (note that they are not the ONLY successes, but rather the ones which have
> been the most accepted by the public and most exceeded the quality of their
> closed counterparts): many (though most certainly not all) of them have
> been developed by developers, for developers.
Sure; that's call direct funding of free software projects in nature.

> There are cases today, and
> will be cases in the future, where there is no Free Software to solve a
> particular problem that users have, and exhorting them to write it
> themselves is useless if they are one of the 99% of humanity who have no
> idea how to read source code, much less write it. And users should neither
> be expected nor required to understand or write any piece of software they
> use.
That's what I call an _opportunity_ for a market of free software development.
In a free market, difficulties are opportunities.
In a "protected" market, difficulties are the hell of consumers.
Remove governmental enforcement of proprietary licenses,
you'll have a free market.

> Or the situations where a non-Free application is superior to a Free
> application in the minds of the users of that software
Is _currently_ superior. So what? Supporting free software will always
be a better choice in the long run. If you plan to die or otherwise
cease all activities within three years, indeed, you may not gain much
at supporting free software. Else, you're only mistaken (and/or crooked)
at choosing proprietary software.

> [...] you have to be
> willing to accept that there will be situations where people choose to use
> closed-source applications, regardless of the reasons, even if they know
> that on a conceptual and engineering level that solution will not be as
> good, in the long term, as a Free solution.
There exist such things as security regulations:
you may not drive on the wrong side of a public road;
you may not drive when drunk when on a public road;
you may not sell a car on the consumer market lest it have standard equipment;
you may not sell chickens fed with dioxine on the consumer market;
you may not sell food whose ingredients are not listed and approved
	on the consumer market;
you may not sell baby toys that do not satisfy stringent conditions
	on the consumer market;
you may not sell weapons or alcohol to people under eighteen;
you may not dump toxic wastes on public locations;
etc, etc.

Well, let me add as a _possible_ additional law:
you may not make sell hardware or software
on the consumer market lest its source is freely available.
Access to the source is not a universal right,
like freedom to use, copy and modify information;
but it _might_ possibly be a valid regulatory condition
concerning open sale of software on the consumer market.
Note that a side effect is that is increases the value of programmers
as opposed to resellers, since resellers must convince (with money)
the programmer to release source
before they can get the dough by distributing the software.

As for the extremist libertarian point of view according to which such rule
would be out of the acceptable attributions of state, let me disagree.
If you re-read classical liberal texts (US people: "classical" means
before the word "liberal" was stolen in the US by socialists),
you'll see that what classical liberalism opposes
is governmental _management_, not governmental _regulation_.
On the contrary, the very role of the government is to enforce the rules
necessary so there be as free and unbiased a market as possible,
in ways such that the fundamental rights of citizens are guaranteed.
It is unacceptable that the government tell me to use any given software;
it is acceptable that it demand guarantees as to what software I may use
in a variety of purposes that also concern other people.
For instance, games and other end-user software isn't used during public
transactions, and it is not necessary to demand source, whereas accounting
and otherwise business management software is critical and publication
of its source might be demanded by governmental regulations, to ensure
that the fundamental rights and personal security of employees and consumers
be respected.

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