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Open Source Enshrines the Wrong Privilege

Filed under
GNU

The story of Free Software starts with an individual (later revealed as abusive), who was frustrated at not being able to access software on a printer so that he could alter it’s behaviour. This has been extended to the idea that Free Software “grants people control over their own lives and software”.

This however, is not correct.

What Free Software licenses protect is that individuals with time, resources, specialised technical knowledge and social standing have the possibility to alter that software’s behaviour.

When we consider that the majority of the world are not developers or software engineers, what is it that our Free Software is doing to protect and support these individuals? Should we truly expect individuals who are linguists, authors, scientists, retail staff, or social workers to be able to “alter the software to fix their own problems”?

Even as technical experts, we are frustrated when someone closes an issue with “PR’s welcome”. Imagine how these other people feel when they can’t even express or report the problem in the first place or get told they aren’t good enough, or that “they can fix it themselves if they want”.

This attitude also discounts the subject matter knowledge required to alter or contribute to any piece of software however. I may be a Senior Software Engineer, but I lack the knowledge and time to contribute to Gnome for example. Even with these “freedoms” I lack the ability to “control” the software on my own system.

[...]

As individual communities we can advance the state of software and how we act socially so that future projects and users are in a better place. No software exists in a vacuum, all software exists to support people. We need to always keep in mind the effects our software has on others.

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