Mast Kalandar

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Fri, 26 Sep 2008

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Why people write Free Software


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Some people troll free software lists with remarks like:

Linux will never be able to displace MacOS/Windows since the latter are much more pretty/user-friendly. You will lose.

Such people assume that hackers write free software because they "hate Microsoft" or "hate capitalism" or have some other pet hates.

However, it should be obvious that such a large creative effort cannot be sustained if it is based on such negative emotions.1 There are a number of positive reasons why one works on free software.

The software that I like to work on is software2 that I use or want to use. This has some consequences which are worth underlining:

Giving others the "four freedoms" results in wider critical examination of these aspects. Bugs must be acknowledged and fixed --- or elevated to features! Moreover, there are parts of the task that are "obvious" to me but I would have to ask others for advice on other parts. So I gain a lot by being part of a larger community.

There are other reasons to write free software. For example, someone may pay you to do it. However, this is just deferring the same question to your employer. In most cases, your employer already has a use in mind for the software. The employer has the same concerns as I outlined above except that the job of writing the code is being out-sourced. The usability, portability and long-term maintainability are probably even bigger concerns for your employer.

"Last but not the least" (as we always wrote in our school-day essays) free software is fun! You share ideas with people from across the globe and to show them your own clever little tricks. Good code and good themes resonate with people who may not even speak the same language as you do. What could be nicer than that!


  1. One should not ignore the strength of negative emotions. Enormous war machines are built on negative emotions.

  2. I use the term "software" here for computer programs. Most of what is written applies equally well to books, articles and documentation --- which are "software for the brain".

comment bubble Aanjhan, Fri Sep 26 23:32:35 2008 permanent link

Similar article I had written here but not as detailed as this interesting one. http://www.tuxmaniac.com/blog/2008/09/06/why-i-write-free-software/

comment bubble Ben Finney, Sat Sep 27 11:35:11 2008 permanent link

> I use the term "software" here for computer programs.

Then why not use the term "computer programs" (or just "programs"), which doesn't need this abuse of the term "software"?

> Most of what is written applies equally well to books, articles and documentation --- which are "software for the brain".

Indeed, users of any software — whether music, books, images, programs, or whatever — deserve freedom, and all the arguments in your article apply.

comment bubble A note, Sun Sep 28 01:31:48 2008 permanent link

When US soldiers are asked why they want to re-enlist, they mention not a hate for the enemy or people, but pride and brotherhood with their unit. At least as far as state built war machines go, they too are based on affirmative emotions.

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