On Choosing Freedom
Ultimately software freedom is a matter of personal liberty, however it is framed. Whether you describe it as “open source” or “free software”, the goal is for each individual user of software to be self-sovereign in their software and data. Where the privilege of choice is available, this is a matter of consciously choosing liberty, and it is strictly a matter for each individual to make a set of choices — which will necessarily be inter-related.
In an ideal world, we would all be entirely self-sovereign in our software and the data it uses. But there is a limit to the extent that is possible, largely because of choices others have made before us. No matter how committed to our own software freedom or to preserving that of others, we ultimately need to compromise and in some areas choose or use solutions that abridge our freedoms. Sometimes we may even need to make choices that lead to others having their freedoms abridged. We all have a point-of-compromise, and we all choose a different one. The most important aspect of software freedom is to be aware of it so that choice is a conscious one.
The choices we make are relevant to others only to the extent that they abridge the choices of other software users. It is never OK to bully someone over their software freedom point-of-compromise.
- For choices which only affect the individual, it is polite and appropriate to start with the assumption the individual has mindfully considered their choices and to leave unspoken the differences one observes between those and one's own choices or a Utopian ideal. We can only truly know our own selfhood.
- For choices made by another person which affect oneself, it may be appropriate to politely ask why those choices are being made in such a way as to impose a loss of choice on oneself if they truly do. But in most cases where the abridgment is minor or avoidable, it is better to lead by example. It is rarely appropriate to hector and never OK to bully.
- For choices made by an organisation, it can be more appropriate to ask the organisation to justify their choices when they impose a loss of liberty on others. Even so, one should start out assuming they have considered the issue and reached a balanced compromise according to their mission and means.
- For organisations that choose to enjoy the benefits of software freedom themselves and then choose to withhold those freedoms from their customers, it is much more appropriate to question their decision and perhaps weight that decision heavily against any purchasing choices. If they pretend they are somehow open source while using licenses not generally accepted as delivering software freedom to all, public criticism is likely to be warranted – that's an abridgment too far.
What else is “an abridgment too far”? When I can only choose systems that leave me with no practical software freedoms, and when the person or organisation forcing that choice either has not considered the issue or in doing so has needlessly ignored software freedom as a key factor. In just these cases it may be reasonable to politely inquire why and then to go further if the response is unreasonable.
Tags, Notes and Mentions
- #OpenSource #FreeSoftware #SoftwareFreedom #FOSS #FLOSS #Terminology #Definition
- The image is my own, of a gull slipstreaming the air around the Manly Fast Ferry in Sydney harbour