Comment of the Week: Free Is Great, But People Need to Eat

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project, recently spoke out against Valve’s plans to bring Linux to Steam, going so far as to claim the digital distribution platform to be “unethical.” Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up; he actually said:

“Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users.”

Our comment of the week comes from Peggle20, who offers a sobering reality to this idealist:

“I’m sure all passionate developers would love to provide their games for free if there wasn’t this tiresome need to buy food and pay rent that exists in today’s society. For those of us not mooching off of parents’ largesse, charging for creative work is an unfortunate necessity.

“You know what else constrains “freedom” in the sense the guy seems to be using it in? Having to pay for computer parts to run Linux on. Or having to pay for electricity to run your computer once you’ve scavenged enough parts out of the trash. If you extend his argument, it conjures the image of hardcore ethical Linux users being feral hobos running jalopy systems off of bicycle generators. Like everything involved in participating in the computerin’ subculture, even the Linux sect, paying for software discriminates against the poor.”

Well said, Peggle20. That image of a jury-rigged computer cracked me up.

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7 Comments on Comment of the Week: Free Is Great, But People Need to Eat

Michael

On August 4, 2012 at 5:18 am

Peggle20 and CJ Miozzi misrepresent what Free Software means as used by RMS. Free software is free as in free speech not free as in free beer. The FSF website should help clear up that misconception. Peggle20′s post is therefore mostly a strawman or a display of ignorance.

Peggle20 also derides Linux as a cult which is a strange notion seeing how the digital economy including the Internet is completely dominated by Linux and other free software systems. This very server which Peggle20 and CJ Miozzi use to expose their ignorance to the readers runs on nginx, a free software package.

Also Peggle20 regurgitates old slogans about the economic viability of free software that were en vogue back in the 90s. The reality is that investing into free software development is extremely profitable, as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and countless other large IT businesses can attest to.

Adam

On August 4, 2012 at 8:22 am

According to the FSF website Free software means you are free to redistribute software, even charge money for it, even if you are not the creator. Freedom #3. And from what i can make out if software is free then i should be able to sell a copy of any free software i have.
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

JawaEsteban

On August 4, 2012 at 9:27 am

And as expected, the Linux fanboys can’t take a joke. Guys/gals, you do realize that the overreaction is simply reinforcing the stereotype monkey you’ve been trying to get off your backs for a long time, right?

In short….lighten up, Francis.

I will say that if Mr. Stallman wants to have any chance of the ‘free software’ movement going somewhere instead of simply being the kid in the corner with the funny hat the majority of us are laughing at, then he should choose his words more carefully.

Alexmonty

On August 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Quote from original article:
“Stallman makes the case that ‘nonfree’, meaning for-sale games are, like other for-sale software, unethical “because they deny freedom to their users.” If you’re interested in freedom, then you’re not helping the cause, he says, by installing nonfree software.”

Maybe he should stop using the word “free” when he actually means “open” because it only creates confusion even if now apparently he is going to start to referring to “free” as ethical and “for-sale” as unethical, oh wait!, now if I charge money for free software makes me unethical? (Freedom #3), now I’m really confused!

I was thinking he needs a PR agent but then realize it costs money. sigh*

Barry Skinner

On August 5, 2012 at 7:07 am

the guy is using the word “free” as in “freedom”. There are ots of coders who make money working on linux and linux-like systems, and there is lots of paid code on linux. The thing with steam is that the code can be locked away from the user.

It’s a sad commentary on our society that when a person uses the word “free”, the first definition we reach for is an economic one.

Brandon J. Clark

On August 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Valve has plans to bring Linux to Steam? Or are they really planning on bringing Steam to Linux?

lolz

Nem

On August 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Miozzi writes all this with a heavy dose of scorn – but the issues raised aren’t particularly amusing.

UEFI, the bios replacement, will require that the operating system you install be signed by a central authority. And Microsoft has dictated that you won’t be able to disable that on ARM architecture. It’s looking increasingly likely that the end game of the copyright wars is going to be the implementation of trusted platform modules and signed programs. Much as is done for Bluray.

There are two makers of CPUs in the world, essentially, and if they move onto UEFI everyone who’s interested in using their computers as they like is ed. Everything will have to go through a government authorised system.

So yes, ‘Ha ha! Everyone will have to make their own computers! Lulz!’ Very funny. But there are actually serious issues here about whether we’re actually going to have a future in which you’re allowed to do general purpose computing, and if so on what terms.

Mr Stallman’s point, that proprietary software limits freedom, because it sets up a steep power gradient between companies and consumers who have inherently conflicting interests, is not one that can be dealt with in any constructive manner just by going, “AH HE DOESN’T WANT TO PAY FOR ANYTHING LULZ!”