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Towards a complete Free Software market

Let's break this thick glass once and for all. Patching free operating systems like GNU/Linux with proprietary pieces is not mandatory for world prevalence. And it sure is not mandatory for basic functioning of the system anymore either, so you can't exactly use the "RMS used proprietary UNIX to build GNU" argument anymore. We have the complete Free OS. We have three of them. Now we have to go further and build a market around them, on our own or with help of others. We have to do it either way.

1. Mixing oil with water: the prevalence of a mixed operating environment

Apparently, certain open source guys have been suggesting that the only way to increase the market share of GNU/Linux is to patch it with proprietary software where needed to achieve perfect convenience for the end user, because according to them, that is the only way to win them over. However, these same people aren't spending so much time advocating GNU/Linux pre-installs as much as they are advocating this view of compromising with proprietary software for convenience.

They do however mention GNU/Linux pre-installs, but the way they see it is the opposite to the way I believe it should really be. This is the process they see, and according to them proprietary software is absolutely necessary in this plan:

  1. Make the OS completely user friendly, no inconveniences. It has to work with any hardware, play all media and do all jobs, no matter how much of proprietary software we need to use for that.
  2. Put this OS on computers of major computer vendors like Dell.
  3. Offer easy access to any additional software buyers of these computers need, proprietary or not (read

There is not much doubt in my mind that this strategy, if all three steps are satisfied, will work. It will work in establishing GNU/Linux as a huge contender and eventually prevalent OS in the market. However it will also inevitably work at establishing a mixed environment between proprietary software and Free Software, where the two would be used interchangably on *most* computer systems, while hardware manufacturers like Nvidia and ATI wont feel so much pressure to release free drivers and specifications since so much of the community was so willing to simply adapt and use existing proprietary drivers.

Sure sure, some among them (Mark Shuttleworth?) will tell you they're willing to pressure companies to release free drivers once this good position has been achieved, but where are the actions to back this pressure up? Will Mark tell AMD "look dudes, we are a huge OS now, and we will stop using your proprietary drivers if you don't release free ones, do we have a deal"? Gosh I'm resisting to burst into laughter right now. And I'm sure AMD guys would too. First he was so willing to accept proprietary drivers and now he's actually expecting them to feel the heat from this kind of request? As if he's really going to pull the proprietary drivers off at that point?

Really, who are these guys kidding? This is not the way that pressure works. If you want to put pressure on them then you can't make compromises with them at all. You wont accept their way. You will go your way and you will fight your way upwards to a point where you will, instead, be able to come to ATI and say:


Dudes, as you have seen we have been rejecting your proprietary drivers so far, all the while growing to a point where you can't ignore us anymore. We will continue growing, and the only way for you to start earning some karma and sales within this growing Free Software market is to free your specifications and drivers.

Now this is the real deal. He never compromised. They know it. They know, quite clearly at this point, that he is right. The only way to bite this increasingly tasty cake is to play along. They will free their stuff or not take the cake.

So as you can see, temporary compromise tactics doesn't work here. You compromise once and that's it, you can't be taken seriously when you start threatening to "uncompromise" again. It's a one way trip.

So these three steps that some in the FOSS community are proposing do not lead to the goal of Free Software prevalence. The operating platform that will "rule" if these three steps follow through is not the entirely Free Software platform. It is an environment in which we would still have to fight against the problems of inherent incompatibility between proprietary blobs and the rest of the freely flowing code. It's like trying to mix oil with water. It's a struggle that will never end.

Do we want that? Do we want a domination of a yet another operating system with a yet another struggle? How much of a progress would that really present?

There is apparently a huge distinction between these two goals then. The first goal is the one to which the above three steps lead to: possible world prevalence of a mixed operating platform; oil and water; proprietary and free; constant struggle and continued existance of leverage to those who want to remain proprietary and continue abusing this position.

2. Only clean water: a prevalent entirely Free Software based market:

The second goal is the goal we should really work towards. It is the prevalence of Free Software, a completely Free Software operating platform and a Free Software-based market, regardless of the operating system. Players in this new market can be GNU/Linux, BSD, OpenSolaris, Haiku OS and anyone else who wishes to enter. At first, of course, GNU/Linux would be at the forefront as currently the most popular Free OS, but it wouldn't matter if its popularity would be displaced by the popularity of BSD or the new child being born these days: Haiku.

If you agree that this should be the true goal, then consider the alternative three steps towards success:

  1. Make a Free OS as friendly and convenient as possible with only Free Software. (We are already in the "good enough" stage here actually, especially considering the requirements for step 2 below).
  2. Build PCs with only the hardware supported by Free Software and reject the rest as incompatible and unsupported. (This fosters the growth of pressure on hardware manufacturers of these "unsupported" components. The bigger we get, the harder this pressure will be.)
  3. Offer easy access to additional Free Software only, through various (potentially competing) Free Software portals or repositories. If people want proprietary components they would have to search for it themselves. (As we grow, this puts a growing pressure on the providers of these proprietary components (like flash and some applications) to release them as Free Software in order to gain better acceptance by the Free Software market).

You probably doubt that this will ever work in getting a significant enough number of people to buy such 100% Free Software-powered PCs for it to grow into a respectable market. The reason for this doubt is something I could almost call a collective self-indoctrination, a notion that the end user needs perfect convenience in order to consider switching to something else, and apparently being able to buy a fully Free Software powered PC that "just works" out of the box is not perfect enough simply because it doesn't have flash or that user would have to check for support if they want to buy additional third party hardware to go with this PC.

And this is where I draw the line. This is going too far. This is probably almost insulting to people we're talking about here. Do you really think it is that hard for these people to look up the hardware database (which would be, as I'll describe in another article, very conveniently accessible) to see whether their system will support the piece of hardware they consider buying?

The point being missed here is that these people have already gone through quite a good deal of inconvenience with Microsoft Windows, an inconvenience which actually very likely outweighs the inconvenience that is anticipated with a Free Software box. What is this inconvenience? Do we really need a list? Aren't the price of additional applications they have to buy or dig around for *after* they bought the computer, the DRM restrictions dictating how they use their computer, the instability and insecurity caused by the proprietary hidden architecture of the system, enough??

Please, if you think a fully Free Software PC is doomed to failure, reread above and reconsider. Proprietary plugging is not always the answer.

In the next article I will present you with what may be considered a blueprint of a Free Software PC company, working towards the fully Free Software prevalent market goal.

Thank you

NOTE: I had no intention of offending anyone with this article nor make my word on this final. This article is one of the most direct and suggestive writings I have done so far, because it presents conclusions that I have come to after considering various points of view, including the idea of a temporary compromise. You can read about the process that led to these conclusions in my previous articles on this subject.

The followup to this will be more constructive. It will be a description of a new business idea that can work towards what I see as a complete Free Software market. Thank you for reading and please do post comments, no matter if you agree or disagree. Smiling


I like the rebel brand idea

I like the rebel brand idea very much as well. What you describe is something I would call a pragmatic strategy that doesn't compromise ideals, and that's what we need. As long as the end result is more people caring about the issue, it's very good.

The iPod generation may be captured by the combination of the Apple-like style and the rebel spirit. Who says we can't make attractive looking PCs and devices? Smiling

Anyway, we should note these ideas somewhere. I will probably include them in my next article (which is to describe a fully Free Software computer business I imagine).

Hello I totally agree with



I totally agree with your theory and give us that information.
That way we can help?
What could be our contribution for this to begin to do?
I am at your disposal



Romeo y Julieta

Not sure if it would be

Not sure if it would be suitable for this particular kind of campaign, but something that's being pushed lately is a "Freedomware" brand. Computers with 100% Freedomware could have stickers with various slogans like "Freedomware Inside" or "100% Freedomware" or maybe "Powered by Freedomware". Logo would have to be very attractive and "cool". Smiling

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