Can Anyone Live in Full Software Freedom Today? - Bradley M. Kuhn [FOSDEM 2019]

Karen and Bradley try to use free software everywhere they can. Bradley started his carreer using mostly proprietary software. He got frustrated with how this held him back as a developer. Around 2005, it was a golden time for free software. If you wanted to do a job with software, you could find free software to do it.

However, because of our love of technology, we get drawn into older hardware because that is fully supported by free software.

Karen got drawn into free software when she had to get a defibrillator implant. This meant she had to rely on something she had no insight in to save her life. Her defibrillator gave her unnecessary shocks when she was pregnant, and there was nothing she could do about it. For the manufacturers, it’s not such an important case because she could take drugs to avoid it, and because there are so few pregnant women with a defibrillator.

Just after 2005, handheld computers (i.e. smartphones) came into the market. The first one (G1) was only a small step in the wrong direction. It had a lot of proprietary apps, but it still had a browser if you remove all of that.

Of course, even if it runs in a browser, it can still be proprietary software. Firefox is the largest proprietary software delivery vehicle in the world.

Sometimes Karen and Bradley relied on others to use proprietary software for something they needed, e.g. they follow others to a restaurant when they are in an unknown city, so they don’t need to use Google Maps. From an ethical point of view, this is not great because it encourages others to use proprietary software. So SFC changed the rule that if there is the choice between asking others to use proprietary software or doing it yourself, it’s better to do it yourself.

Today there is more free software around and in use than ever in history. However, it is also more and more impossible to live without proprietary software. How is this possible? Because there are areas where virtually nobody is trying to write free software. There is probably again more proprietary software in use now than free software, or at least the balance has moved compared to 2005.

It is important to make mindful choices about the technology you’re using. If we all step out a little bit out of our comfort zone, this can make a huge difference. Also spend time explaining why using proprietary software is a problem.

A non-confrontational way of raising the issue in companies is to ask the question. Even if there is some company policy, ask the question “is this really the best choice”.