Why nonfree software is bad
Marko Mirceski, 2021-06-19
Nonfree Software is everywhere. And it really shows. At this point in time, I'd argue that there is more nonfree software in the wild than there is free software. And it begs some important questions. First of all, why all the fuss about it? Shouldn't we just let it exist? And secondly, why advocate for free software, when the most popular products based on proprietary licenses make up the bulk of the so-called "industry standards"? In this article, we will go through the pitfalls of nonfree software, and why it is bad for you, the end user.
What is nonfree software?
Well, there are many different definitions of what you could consider nonfree software. But for simplicitys sake we'll go by the definition that Richard Stallman set for nonfree software. A piece of software is to be considered nonfree when it doesn't respect all 4 fundamental freedoms, meaning that if at least one freedom is disregarded, the software cannot be called free. These 4 freedoms are:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study the program (source code) and how it works, and change it, so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1)
- The freedom to share copies of the software to help others (freedom 2)
- The freedom to distribute altered copies of the software, so everyone can benefit from your changes (freedom 3)
This proprietary software is, in all cases, closed source, so the user can't look at the source code, and only receives a pre-compiled binary, with the code itself only being visible to people who are considered to be "authorized".
Why it is harmful
This in turn brings along many concepts that harm users and developers alike. Stuff like "security through obscurity", forced updates, a backdoor that gives anyone with the tools and knowledge covert access to your system, pre-installed bloatware and spyware that collects your data, among many. These ideas not only promote disinterest in the inner workings of your system, but also blatant ignorance of what these companies are doing in the background. At this point, thanks to very creative marketing schemes, people unironically use the word "magic" in direct conjunction with technology. This kind of language disregards all the hard work that has been invested into bringing computing to the level at which it is today. Also, nonfree software harms its users by not respecting their freedoms, therefore taking ownership over the users computers, in the case of operating systems, and of the users data when we include desktop and web programs.
As it stands right now, we're at a delicate place. Where nonfree software providers and free software activists stand face to face, about to fight the battle of a lifetime. This battle will not be fought with weapons, and it won't consist of violence in its traditional sense. But it will be important. And it will decide the future of computing as we know it.