Beer, Software, and Hypocrisy
I love free software. I love it when it’s free as in speech, and I really love it when it’s free as in beer. The development environment I currently work in lives on an open source infrastructure, and most of the best developers I’ve talked to have contributed in some way to the open source world.
I’ve also spoken to many developers who use Stallman’s notion of free software as nothing more than an excuse to pirate licensed software. The argument, as I understand it, is that society has a moral obligation to make software free, and since they don’t, we’re perfectly justified in using cracked versions of their products. Apparently (the reasons aren’t clear to me), the argument extends to music, movies, and TV shows as well.
I’ll remain mute on the moral argument, and I admit to having used “borrowed” software in my younger and rasher days. What I find absurd, though, is the hypocrisy of using the moral argument of free software to justify pirating software just because you don’t want to pay for it. Most developers, and this certainly includes the ones I’ve spoken with about pirated software, simply aren’t competent enough to deal with the consequences of free software.
Richard Stallman sagely noted that, were software made free (as in speech), there would still be money to be made, but it would not be made by the average developer of today. To be a developer in Stallman’s utopia would require both a passion and competence found only in the upper echelon of today’s developers. Richard Stallman has the skills to back it up. So do many developers. But not most. And for the rest of us, saying that software should be “free as in speech” has too often become a cop-out, when really all we want is a free drink.