What's new at the igloo?

"Just enough of my freedom, and way too much of yours."

Date/Time Permalink: 04/19/06 12:09:51 pm
Category: General

There's this nagging ethical question that's been bugging me for some years, on and off. This recent story, about Microsoft using some of Eric S Raymond's code, brought it to mind again.

Take two kinds of people. One is moral and compassionate and is content to serve a humble lot in life and merely make the world a better place. And one who will simply kill millions if that's what it takes, as long as they get as much power for themselves as they can. Which one deserves to be in charge? And which one always ends up being in charge?

We have hundreds of free software coders all over the world. We just want free computing for everybody. And then somebody takes that free code and locks it up and denies others the rights that the free coders gave them. And the world just *happens* this way, and what are the rest of us going to do? Abandon computers altogether? No, stupid us, we'll just go one row and back again like always.

Rest assured, this is *always* the way it works. Ever since Bill Gates ripped off BASIC (of all languages) that everybody else was giving and getting for free (which was about $1.00 more than it was worth) and then bewildered his fellow computer lab users with the famous 1975 "Open Letter to Hobbyists" which effectively told those hobbyists that as soon as they had the bugs out of the beta version of the program, it became Billy's private property and they couldn't touch it without forking over 600 bucks. To this day, Microsoft "programmers" still cling to BASIC in it's modern-day Visual form. Wait, that last sentence had a punctuation error: that should be """"""""""programmers"""""""""".

So the moral conundrum be: Do we keep giving it away, when we know we're just feeding the enemies of freedom? It's been asked many times before. Take Windows' ports of GNU software, for instance. Great, we spend half our lives dodging the giant trying to stomp us to death, and the other half we're giving it our labors so it will stay powerful. And then you have programs like Gimp, which, when ported to Windows, actually causes *more* trouble for the Linux community than if we'd never released it. The old saying goes: "No good deed goes unpunished."

And here I am posting wallpaper and throwing code over my shoulder as I go, saying "Anybody can do with this whatever they want to." It's natural to do that, because when you're the goose that lays those eggs, you know where *you* can get more. In my case, none of my work is that important, anyway. But in the case of real products out there, the question must be asked: "Is it the destiny of all technology to start out free and become proprietary?" Is this how we create value in a capitalist society, by producing nothing new but simply patenting oxygen and charging everybody $1.00 to breathe?

Yet on we go. This is what fuels all that political fighting you hear between the FOSS camps. But in the end...well, I guess you might be able to say that the scourge of society is neither the dictator who decrees the slavery, nor the slaves who willingly wear the chains, but the ironmongers down in engineering...making more chains without thinking where they're being used.

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