When Free Software Isn’t Better

I have an essay in the latest Free Software Foundation’s bulletin which FSF members should be receiving this week. I’ve also republished the article on my website as When Free Software Isn’t Better. The article confronts the fact that free software is sometimes not as high quality or featureful as proprietary alternatives and that most free software projects aren’t particularly collaborative. It reflects on what these facts mean for free software and for open source.

The Bulletin goes out to all FSF associate members. You should join to get a copy mailed to you in the future — but mostly you should join because doing so supports the work of the foundation.

5 Replies to “When Free Software Isn’t Better”

  1. In our company we have found out one particular way where FLOSS is not good compared to proprietary alternative. We migrated all of the authentication systems in proprietary programs to LDAP without a problem. Then we integrated FLOSS program into LDAP also without technical problems. But as we have found out later one of our admins has modified authentication of FLOSS program in such a was that after user has authenticated into LDAP he logged userids/passwords into text file.

    He was not able to change the authentication for proprietary program, because source code was not available, but he could change FLOSS authentication system because with FLOSS source code is available.

  2. When you’re counting number of contributors on projects on Sourceforge, how are you counting?  I looked at a random project to which I had contributed a patch, and did not see my name listed as a developer on the sourceforge project members page.  So I think you may be slightly undercounting.

  3. If there’s an issue with an open source project, enterprising interested parties might look at the code, and send a fix or enhancement to the author.

    Just because the author is the only committer or maintainer does not mean the comments are not full of thanks to others for various contributions, suggestions, documentation, testing.

  4. Free software isn’t only buggy in the begining. It routisely cycles between bugginess and improvement, every time someone decides to massively rewrite some code section or to migrate their application’s backend to some new programming library that “will prove better over time, even though it doesn’t currently support all the features of the library used so far” and this is doing a serious disservice to the potential for widespread adoption that Free Software could enjoy. Ditto for Open Source. Granting greater importance to technical correctedness over usability is a liability there.

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