everything wrong with free software

 "free as in speech"

### the-end-of-the-free-software-era---chapter-15---understanding-users-and-3-kinds-of-computers---new-slow-and-broken *originally posted:* sep 2022 theres no accurate generalisation for every computer user. some are savvy, many others arent. most are conditioned by marketing. getting past that conditioning is not usually possible with mere debate or logic. conditioning is emotional and experiential, and if you disagree youre just missing the point. at least, thats how it goes trying to explain things. understanding the user is the first step towards a practical response to misconceptions. many of us know that the difference between a "new" and "broken" machine, is that something needs to be fixed (and that thing is often just the software installation or configuration). the difference between a new machine and a slow one, is often also a matter of software installation or configuration. the user has plenty of reasons to be paranoid-- instead of being granted access to their computer, they have companies like microsoft and apple as intermediaries. the big name tech brands are like the church in the dark ages, obscuring their teachings in latin and offering a proprietary (priest-driven) service to make things accessible to the congregation-- and this was hundreds of years before drm. when people begin to learn how to do things for themselves, everything familiar is moved around and the cycle begins again. when youre being led, but you dont know how or why, a paranoid feeling is bound to result. proprietary software is a system of collective punishment-- people are taught not to mess with anything, because then it will "break" and have to be "repaired". messing with things is generally alright-- its your computer-- but since youre conditioned not to concern yourself with any of that as long as its "working", tampering with the sacred relics will bring down wrath and harsh consequence. dont install anything, or else (no, they dont follow this one but they still fear it)-- dont remove anything, or else-- its like it isnt your computer, it belongs to the software vendors. if it were yours, advice would centre around means of practical management, not "leaving it alone" so it wont "break". of course, there are steps torwards self-sufficiency where you want to encourage people not to mess with most of the settings they dont understand (at least not YET), the important thing is to do this in a way that doesnt condition people to leave their setup unexplored and left in the hands of some priesthood. there are two reasons that it matters to not break anything-- one is time. you shouldnt fiddle with production machines, thats true for any platform. but the other reason, is that proprietary software (and software that takes too many pages from proprietary design books) limits what can be fixed. and the constant dragging of people from one set of features to the next limits the effectiveness of education and familiarity. users are the hostages of developers, and they panic like hostages and experience signs of stockholm syndrome like hostages: "dont touch that! you dont know what itll do!" "but it just--" "no! please! last time someone did that it never worked right again." "okay, okay. im closing the run window, its alright." "its probably too late, just dont touch it, okay?" if schools were actually teaching technology instead of having corporations spoon-feed it to them, users would not be this hysterical over the use of standard features. there is a serious lack of computer literacy, even among college graduates of working age and accomplished careers. but until we solve the computer literacy problem (and i still recommend we try, because computer illiteracy is taught in order to sell things) it is still a good thing to get people to use free software (if you can find any). thats the only way they will become familiar with it. lots of people have their own ideas about what friendly is. ive never required anything fancier or simpler than lxde-- i mean required for other people. this is not an endorsement of lxde, so much as a reality check for people that think you must have something that is more or less elaborate for the "average user." lxde isnt the nicest desktop you can possibly find, nor is it the lightest or the simplest. what it is, is just fine. its average. ive found it to be pretty reliable-- but its just an example. (note: at this point however, i would probably recommend icewm or xfce over lxde-- i no longer use any of these because most window managers are controlled by microsoft now). in homeless shelters, homes of people who are retired or on disability, on computers given to nieces and used in education, debian wheezy worked very well indeed. the secret to getting people to use it (in my experience) isnt about what you do after the computer is given to someone-- though i did offer free support-- its about the psychological conditions under which the computer is donated. your experience may differ, and id like to hear from you about that. but i spent years looking for ideal ways to share free software, and this is my experience: there are three kinds of computers-- new, slow and broken. with notable exceptions, if someone has a slow computer and you put gnu/linux (or openbsd) on it, its now broken. it doesnt matter if you changed a single option-- breaking a computer is like dropping a teacup. you can glue it back together, but it will never be the same. if you pick something up off the kitchen table and move it somewhere else in the room, youve now broken it-- (the kitchen!) and it will have to be replaced or repaired. but who trusts a repair? time to get a new house... this is how well the marketing people teach users. yes, we know better. yes, we can explain. it doesnt matter-- once you break it, the user themselves know for certain the computer will never be the same again. its not bad enough to replace it with a new computer, but even if its just an option you put right back afterwards-- now its irreparably changed in some annoying way. thank you, and get out. and this is also what people expect because theyre projecting their own frustrating experiences onto the reality of any changes made (no matter who makes them). most people dont want an operating system installed on their computer. and to some of us this is obvious. but even if you take a slow computer someone doesnt use anymore and doesnt care about, "sure kid, have fun-- but if you break it, dont bother me with it. ive got no use for a broken computer. just leave it there, thank you, and get out-- darned kids, no respect for the work that goes into buying these things, they just want to break things and get new stuff." of course there are exceptions. i found an office machine that seemed to be on its last legs, showed them what it would be like after "fixing it" with a live cd, and walked them through the things it wouldnt be able to do after being "fixed." it had a wired network connection, it was mostly used for online tasks, it wasnt used for writing documents or printing. all they cared about was that it "worked" again. i installed debian wheezy and after using it they ran out and hugged me-- "its so much faster!" so that wont usually happen, though it does sometimes. things arent just broken when you mess with them. the rule applies to machines that were already broken when you found them. if you mess with a computer that is already broken, "youll only make it worse." messing with a computer is how it breaks, broken computers and broken teacups are never the same again, if you mess with it further then youll only make it worse-- why bother? just "leave it alone" and buy a new one when you can. thats the way you fix things: by getting a new one. the summary of this mindset is that doing almost anything with a computer will break it-- and fixing it will break it more. this is the mindset of a hostage, not an owner, and it is the result of years of conditioning that is unmitigated by a proper computer education (as most people dont receive one). teachers have problems like these; they are prime candidates for service contracts, insurance plans and extended warranties, and thats basically the idea. and the teachers who feel helpless teach students to feel the same-- which is why any plan to improve education that starts with students, without tending to the computer literacy (and computer-related fears) of teachers is flawed. in the psychology of the average computer user, even if they are really a lot smarter than this-- this mindset is as much about emotional manipulation as the intelligence of the average user. quite a few average users are really a lot smarter than this, and they deserve credit where credit is due. but a reasonable conclusion is that you cant do much of anything to get past the mentality of the user. not with their own computers, that is. the way i found to make "slow" and "broken" computers into new ones, simply involves a machine that is "new" (or like new) to the person receiving it. go to the person with a "slow" or "broken" computer, and find out if they have already replaced it with a new one. if they have, they are still trying to figure out what to do with it. after all, it will never be the same, so let it sit there. but its too expensive to throw away! you wont change their mind about whether its fixable, but just for the sake of honesty, tell them that you fix slow and broken computers, and that you give them away to people who need one. fighting e-waste is good for the environment as well as people in conflict-mineral-related regions like the congo-- so if they seem like the kind of person who cares about that, be sure to mention that this is likely to keep more toxins out of landfills for longer. either way, youre helping people. some will have concerns about data-- you should learn how to securely wipe a drive so that you can tell them not to worry. in other situations, be ready to remove the drive on-site so that you can offer to leave that part with them "just to be sure." you will find other drives, and the computer you get without one might have nicer specs than the other one you take a drive from. there are absolutely times that just taking the drive out and handing it to them is the easiest way to get the rest of the computer out the door. other people are content for you to wipe it. when you take the computer, tell them "theres a good chance i can fix this-- if i do, do you want it back?" if they say yes, and you make it clear what youre going to do-- you can give it back to them with gnu and/or openbsd installed. more often, they prefer to get rid of it and never get it back. its always going to be broken, they already have a new one, etc. now with your new computer (by no means is anyone suggesting you say its newer than it is– it is now refurbished and offered as a "like new", but used machine) wait until you meet a person who has a slow or broken computer. offer to loan them your "like new" machine. "i have a perfectly good laptop/desktop, would you like to borrow or own it free of charge?" "what?" "i can loan it to you, and if you like it you can keep it." "why?" "thats something i do-- i refurbish computers that i get for free, and give them away to people who need one. but you can just borrow it, if you want to try it. you can keep it if you like it." some of them will get a free, like new computer. if they dont like it, you get it back and can refurbish it again. having tried the other ways, this is what ive found to be the most reliable way to spread gnu/linux to everyday people. im not the first person to do it, but i tried sharing cds and dvds and usbs and offered to install, run live, dual boot, all of those. the best media for distributing a free operating system is the computer itself. thats how people expect to get computers-- and anything else is "broken" and will never be the same-- too often, anyway. be sure that if you do this, you are able to provide a reasonable (for them, for you) level of support to the people you give machines to. (this is one reason i wont give away machines with systemd-- i refuse to support, or promote it, and i stopped giving away debian machines when they switched to it). if they take it into an office store, theyre probably just going to tell them "it needs windows installed. its old, you probably want to buy a new one." people who only sell computers (and can barely fix or make much use of them) outrank you in terms of what people trust, and there isnt much you can do about that either-- unless they have grown sceptical of computer sales people already. but some people feel helpless or at best, uninformed about computers, and this makes many trust salespeople more than they would in other contexts. one option is to tell them that if they have serious problems with it, youll let them know when a new one is available. then they can "trade" it for another "like new" one. for this to work, youll need to continue collecting used machines. though in my experience it hasnt come up that often. license: 0-clause bsd ``` # 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 # # Permission to use, copy, modify, and/or distribute this software for any # purpose with or without fee is hereby granted. # # THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS" AND THE AUTHOR DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES # WITH REGARD TO THIS SOFTWARE INCLUDING ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF # MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHOR BE LIABLE FOR # ANY SPECIAL, DIRECT, INDIRECT, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES OR ANY DAMAGES # WHATSOEVER RESULTING FROM LOSS OF USE, DATA OR PROFITS, WHETHER IN AN # ACTION OF CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE OR OTHER TORTIOUS ACTION, ARISING OUT OF # OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OR PERFORMANCE OF THIS SOFTWARE. ``` => https://wrongwithfreesw.neocities.org