Free Software conviction is akin to vegetarianism

Picture a job interview that goes like this:

“And I have a final question. Strictly formal, haha. Will you have a problem eating meat at this company?” – “Hell yeah, I would. I’m a vegetarian.” – “Oh. Well. Yes, nice to meet you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Discriminating against a vegetarian would get this company into trouble. Yet picture the same interview with the interviewee being asked whether they would be OK with using proprietary software at that job. Of course no company asks you this, since most companies are still blind to the fact that proprietary software is a problem. But let’s stay with the hypothesis for a while.

Choosing not to use proprietary software can be a similar decision to becoming a vegetarian, a vegan or not owning a car. No one can argue that a vegetarian lifestyle has a net positive effect on society and the planet. Less CO2, less calories wasted, no animals harmed, more humans can be fed. With vegetarianism, it’s easy to see that forcing the guy to eat a nice steak would be a crude form of torture and mindrape.

I feel the same way about proprietary software. With the NSA and PRISM scandals, people are slowly waking up to the fact that not using free communication and encryption tools is a really shitty idea. That’s good and nice. If we can take this one step further, perhaps people will also recognize the negative effects of proprietary software on society a bit more, and then it won’t seem too out of place to reject a job that requires you to use proprietary software. And that might drive change into corporations.

Like the vegetarian above, a person refusing proprietary software today has less chance of finding a job in most industry sectors. Even if that person offers to manage their own system (in case the company doesn’t have the knowledge or infrastructure), I’d wager that most bosses won’t want to risk such a hire. I’m grateful I work in a place with more common sense, but not everyone has this luxury.

Using Free Software is or can be an ethical choice for an individual, and forcing the individual to act against their ethical or moral framework is atrocious. I hope choosing freedom will one day not be punished anymore.

Update: I seem to have confused some people, so I need to clarify what I mean with a few points. Here’s some of the criticism I’ve heard:

“Your analogy is flawed, a vegetarian would never go work in the meat industry”.

Yes, this is true, but this counterpoint is not valid either, since there are many industries other than the meat industry where you can work. The meat industry here is Oracle, Microsoft, Apple and other heavily proprietary companies. But they are not 100% of the market, so there should be ample work opportunities for people refusing non-free software in other sectors.

 “Companies would need to change too much to accomodate users of Free Software, and since companies are only driven by greed and not morals or ethics, they will not do this”.

This is partially true today, but it’s  is a short-sighted view: 20 years ago, no company canteen out would accomodate vegetarians. Today, all canteens offer a vegetarian option — as a canteen manager, you’d lose your job if you didn’t.

What has changed? Have companies recognized that the vegetarian world-view is valid and worth supporting? Probably not, since corporations are driven only by greed. But the number of vegetarians in society has reached a critical mass and forced corporations to include them.I hope the same will be true of IT managers in 10 or 20 years: Failure to accomodate Free Software users should cost you your job.

Also, the counterpoint assumes that all corporations today operate entirely on non-free systems, which isn’t true. Some systems and organizations don’t need to change at all to accomodate Free Software users.

“You are trying to force a company to change to your world-view.”

This is not about my views: A company whose infrastructure can accomodate Free Software users is automatically a better, more interoperable, more agile company. It is better for them, not just for me or other people with the same values. A company that bases its systems on IMAP, SMTP and CalDAV instead of Microsoft’s MAPI is automatically more agile, more flexbile, can change their systems more easily, even when they stay within proprietary software’s cage.

A company that uses KVM or OpenVZ instead of VMware saves money due to the more efficient, more easily automated systems and can switch to others, even including VMware, more easily. Using or accomodating Free Software usually means that you also adopt interoperability, and that gives you as an IT manager much more choice and flexibility.

If, for example, the company making your proprietary email client goes out of business and their software is lost forever because it was not Free, you can easily switch to any other email client that supports those open standards. So you can’t switch from Outlook to anything else, but you can switch from Thunderbird to Claws to Evolution to KMail to Kontact to mutt and to Alpine.

These are only some of the purely practical, purely rational ways in which Free Software makes you a better company. I’m not touching on the social, moral and ethical advantages because the GNU philosophy page linked above explains those in enough detail already.

If you choose to go down a proprietary route, it will sooner or later cost you effort and money to get away from it. I see this every year and hear the same stories from people in my industry — see Microsoft’s price hikes in the last 3 years, for example. The solution, implementing open standards, published protocols and ideally Free Software, would cost you some effort in the immediate future, but think in time slices of 5 years and you will see the payoff.

Unfortunately, corporations driven purely by greed don’t usually think far enough into the future, so they cannot see the point, but I can always dream that they’ll someday realize how much potential they’re wasting and reconsider.

One thought on “Free Software conviction is akin to vegetarianism”

  1. I stumbled upon your blog due to the fact that 23,599,886 bytes went somewhere through your gate. Anyway, nice article, I share your opinion. Proprietary software is not a good choice and probably never will be.


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