Sorry Stallman.


<>< Josh Rule : : 2008 MCPP Intern

Richard Stallman has an op-ed today on BBC news about Open Source software and the Free Software Foundation, an organization he founded over 20 years ago.  Unfortunately, Stallman tries to introduce a bit too much in such a short time and ends up bouncing from topic to topic in the article’s body without adequately supporting his claims.  The piece is worth reading, however, simply for the introduction and conclusion, particularly the conclusion.  There, Stallman does two things.  First, he claims that writing proprietary software is wrong, and second, he proposes that Open Source software is written in the defense of freedom.

On his first claim, I will have to respectfully disagree.  Stallman has done a tremendous amount of work to provide Open Source software to the world, including some of the most powerful and commonly used tools on Unix-based operating systems.  His opinions on freedom as it relates to software are well-considered.  Yet, writing proprietary software is not wrong.  It is not unethical to do so, to sell it, or to restrict people’s ability to manipulate the code.  Indeed, if people are willing to pay to have certain freedoms taken away from them, they have the right to do so.  The right to use proprietary software like that provided by Microsoft or Apple usually only happens after a person provides their consent to an express agreement called an End User License Agreement, or a EULA.  People are willingly giving up these rights, and with deference to their freedom and ability to make rational decisions, they should be allowed to give up those rights.

On the second claim, however, Stallman is right.  Open Source software is written to provide people with as much freedom as possible.  Not only do users of Open Source software have the ability to use the program in absolutely any way they choose, but they can also redistribute the source code or change it in any way they choose.  Users truly own the Open Source software that they buy.  In contrast, again, users of proprietary software only license the software and can be severely restricted in their ability to use the program, much less share or manipulate the code.  Authors of Open Source software release their code freely because they believe that it leads to better products, and often because they believe that freedom is important, even in the programs that run the computers we access everyday.  So, go ahead and read Stallman’s article, and please post your opinion below.

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