Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Free World?

Blog Post #10

Friday 11 AM Section

In “The GNU Manifesto,” Richard Stallman raises an interesting point when discussing how people would rather pay for software than use an open-source version. I realized I made a similar decision after purchasing my MacBook. Needing a program that would allow me to type up documents, I paid $150 for the software bundle of Microsoft Office even though my friend stressed that I didn’t need to spend any money if I used Open Office, which he recommended. Despite his vote of confidence for the program, I could not get myself to buy it.

The two issues I felt in this situation were touched upon in the manifesto:

1. I didn't believe a free program could be up to par with software that required a purchase.

2. I didn't feel comfortable using a free program in the first place; it felt like stealing.

Thus, regarding the second point, it shocked me when Stallman writes: “Extracting money from users of a program by restricting their use of it is destructive because the restrictions reduce the amount and the ways that the program can be used. This reduces the amount of wealth that humanity derives from the program. When there is a deliberate choice to restrict, the harmful consequences are deliberate destruction.” Stallman’s belief in sharing for the common good is admirable, but I would like to know how exactly programmers would supplement their income. In fields such as athletics, the answer is easy. We pay the price of a ticket to watch these athletes display their talent. In other creative fields, such as music (is music considered intellectual property?), it is possible to follow the example of open source software (something they really should do). Imagine how much easier it would be if all artists’ songs were available for free. Don't despair too much for the musician, he/she can still earn a living by charging for concerts, etc. It is this scenario that Stallman proposes for programmers – create a product, and then do something related that people will pay you for. Truly, I’m curious: Is it feasible to envision a society where the majority of people use open source software?

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