everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
- Thomas Grzybowski
*originally posted:* aug 2021
In the software industry today, huge corporations define and control the nature of the products they market - imposing boundaries upon people's activities, and dictating people's actions using "their" products. The Free Software Movement has been an effective, practical reaction to this corporate disempowerment of software users.
"Free Software" is the direct empowerment of people's use of computers - and in this way, Free Software is necessarily an activist undertaking. As people use Free Software, or work to create and/or modify Free Software, distributing it again and again, these cumulative creative acts provide the roots for the growth of software freedom and software empowerment.
The use of Free Software is the act of enjoying Freedom: and this is a practical matter. Free Software facilitates doing what one wants to do with software - and only what one wants to do with it, free from side effects. The initiating point for the Free Software Movement was the founding of the GNU Project by Richard Stallman in 1984 and then the Free Software Foundation in 1985. Since that time this movement has grown worldwide to become massively influential.
One of the favorite slogans of the GNU Project has been "Free as in Free Speech (Not Free Beer)": it should be recognized that it is neither the software itself nor the media holding the software which is "free" - rather it is the process of using, developing, and sharing the software which is free. Free Software is directly akin to Free Speech - or is rather a modern development upon Free Speech.
As Free Speech, Free Software manifests all of the natural rights of Speech, such that the only legitimate constraints can come from lack of participation. Since computer programs are a form of speech, then programming and usage are artistic activities. We all have a Right to express ourselves in this way, and to share these expressions with others. Software must be recognized as a mode of human expression, as part of our culture and not simply units of private property. Perhaps most significantly, as more people become engaged in Free Software, the more Freedom it provides to all. Reciprocity and “sharing” are promoted, if not required in order to institute the widest availability and limit corporate appropriation.
This realization that the central nature of Free Software resides in the engagement of the community must impact upon the design and character of the coding itself. To encourage community participation, to encourage more freedom, code should be made as simple to understand as possible - as transparent to study and modification as practical. When code is simple to understand, it is simple to test, to modify, extend, document - and to trust. This direction enables and encourages more people to participate in a Free Software, empowering all.
Such an approach recommends decentralization of Free Software repositories and interested communities. Single points of control lend themselves to single points of user-information collection, usage behavior manipulation, and censorship. Decentralized development structures are much more robust, with support for the software much less apt to be abandon. Given the corrupt current state of the internet, in no case should anyone contributing-to or using Free Software be required to supply personal information on-line. There may be weaknesses to decentralized models for software development and distribution, but these weaknesses are far outweighed by the benefits.
Here we see how the Free Software Movement is consonant with several core Green Party Values:
1. Free Software is Grassroots Democracy:
All people are allowed and encouraged to participate in all aspects of the software which they use to achieve their goals. No one should be subject to the will of corporations which adheres to "their product". Free Software works to create new types of software and interested communities that expand the participatory process.
2. Free Software should be Decentralized:
Free Software seeks a structuring away from systems controlled-by and mostly benefiting the powerful few towards essentially democratic systems. Sharing of the software encourages participation across the globe, with any number of centers of development and support.
3. Community-Based Economics
Free Software encourages a redesign of work structures as it requires community participation while "ownership" of the software is dissolved.
The key thing to understand about Free Software is that software is a powerful tool, and the processes underlying the use and development of these tools can be freed from corporate control - and have been! The success of this model, as well as it's trials should be of interest to the Green Party, and the products are indeed of interest to all of our communities - as is participation itself!