Closed source isn't immoral if…


I’ve been thinking lately that the way we approach the difficult wall between idealism and practicalism. Mostly I’m concerned with software in the Free and Open source communities and how we can navigate the issues. Let me explain.

Because of the way Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation conducts himself, he can be considered either as a leading light of self sacrifice. Being the first into cutting off his own functionality in order for the world to match his ideals of free speech software. This can lead to beating a path of necessity which can lead to positive creation of free replacements or it can reduce attractiveness and economics of the whole platform. As time goes on many wish to marginalise Richard’s voice because he wants everyone to painfully sacrifice just as he does.

On the other hand you have practicalists who see no problems with using closed source anything. It’s all fair game and the only good aspects of FOSS is that it’s free as in cost. If you can add a closed source library, module, plugin or driver. Then it’s your duty to do so or look stupid in the eyes of these practicalists. But then being practical about the situation your in can lead you to being able to utilise features and expand the user base without forcing people to confront painful sacrifices.

What I want to do is avoid both painful sacrifice and the complacency of practicalism. And the balances that the Ubuntu community have tried to strike are a good starting point in my mind. “Free where possible, Closed where absolutely required”. But I think I can do better.

It’s not wrong to use Closed Source (non-free) software, if…

  1. You understand the consequences and nature of closed software AND
  2. You make a reasonable attempt to find a free speech alternative AND
  3. You fund or put time into a free project, whilst using the closed version OR
  4. You put money into a bounty to start a replacement project whilst using the closed version.

It’s not so much a problem that people use closed nvidia drivers or flash-nonfree. It’s a problem that people do not understand closed nature limitations and do not have the will or method to support the creation or further development of the free alternatives. We may not be able to have the free alternative right now, but that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for it, but at the same time it doesn’t mean we should stop using the closed solution.

I’d be interested in hearing about your thoughts, because this is a codification of my thoughts I will try and follow. As such I’ll be happy to do my duty and put some money into Gnash, SVG tools, Nouvou and other replacements to closed tools I use.