I love free software, I owe a lot to the free software communities and I care deeply about them. However, I am a realist and a pragmatist, so I’d like to ask a question that’s been bothering me.
Free Software has proven itself technologically, and proven itself in terms of creating an efficient working environment for developers, however, people never seem to mention the end game.
As far as I can see, free software has proven itself as “useful” from a developer’s point of view, “fun” from a power users, and “morally good” from a free software advocate’s point of view, but for general users, the benefits are less distinct – why would a user, pick free software, over non-free software?
Not why “should” – I’m very capable of explaining of benefits that most developers see (they won’t be tied in, they can fix stuff, pay other people to fix stuff, etc) but I’m actually trying to understand it from a non-technical user’s point of view, what they would actually get out of free software that they’d prefer, and trigger the mass adoption of free software?
As far as I can see it, users is motivated by:
- What is best for them.
- What is easiest.
- What works.
(with various socio-economic decisions involving price, based on the situation.)
Do people envisage that in the future, users will see “free software” as the “ethical choice” – in the same manner people buy fair trade food stuffs, or why some people make lifestyle choices and go vegetarian or vegan?
If you were to imagine a sci-fi future where, free software was “standard” in the general populace, why would that be? Why would they have come to that point? Would they have all understood technology to the point required to understand source code, or would they choose free software for some kind of abstract reason?
I’d suggest that we’ll never see more than about 10% of users really ever choosing to use free software for ‘ethical reasons’ – fair trade branded items are far from being the most popular, and other “ethically” motivated product lives, in this country at least, have also not succeeded in dominating a market.
But “winning” is hardly defined as having 10% of everyone, and whilst ostentatiously, popularity is not the free software movements main goal, and hasn’t been for many years, RMS has recently been focusing more on this area.
I’d be very interested in your thoughts – do leave a comment if you have ideas.
If you can explain a rational and pragmatic scenario, in which free software becomes *preferable* to End Users, I promise, next time we meet, to buy you a beverage of your choice (under £4).