Free on free > proprietary on free > free on proprietary > proprietary on proprietary

Okay so I think we can all agree that proprietary software shouldn't be promoted by the FOSS community. It also seems to be acceptable to promote the use of free software applications on proprietary OSes. So why is there a problem with promoting the use of proprietary applications on free OSes?

Let's break it down. There are four combinations of apps and OSes:

  1. all proprietary applications on a proprietary OS (PoP)
  2. (at least some) free applications on a proprietary OS (FoP)
  3. (at least some) proprietary applications on a free OS (PoF)
  4. all free applications on a free OS (FoF)

I think the order here is important as it indicates the typical migration process from all proprietary to all free. A person typically starts using Windows with all proprietary apps. They learn of some great free alternatives and start using them. They then try out GNU/Linux but still want a few proprietary apps or codecs. And, sometimes, they eventually move to an all free system.

As a community we obviously advocate for FoF and against PoP. That goes without saying. But today I'm interested in how we deal with the in between stages FoP and PoF.

It seems to me that the FOSS community does a lot of advocacy for FoP. We promote the use of Firefox and, for example, even if it is being used on Windows. The implication being that even if a machine is running Windows it can at least be running some free applications. But, for some reason, the community seems to have a problem with PoF situation. Once a person has moved to a free OS there seems to be an expectation that they will, or at least should, run only free software.

While it's fair to not promote the proprietary software itself, shouldn't we promote its use on free OSes (PoF) over the alternative of using those proprietary apps on a proprietary OS (PoP)?

I know you can't be "sort of" pregnant. But you can be more free or less free. It seems to me that FoF > PoF > FoP > PoP in terms of freedom. You are also far more likely to move from PoF to FoF than you are to move from FoP to FoF. Yet the community seems more opposed to PoF than FoP. Why is that?

Here on FSDaily we often see stories voted down because they are about the use of PoF. But stories about running FoP don't get the same treatment.

Shouldn't we help people run PoF if the alternative for them is to go back to running PoP? If proprietary applications can either run natively on a free OS or can run via emulators or through virtualization, shouldn't we as a community advocate the use of those apps on free OSes over the alternative of running them on proprietary OSes?

Understandably, it would be better for everyone to be using only free software. But, if a person has a proprietary application that is required (or just desired) for work or because no (acceptable) free alternative is available, should we really close our doors on them?

If you are helping them they are far more likely to accept your advice on what free alternatives they can try. And, if we don't help these people use proprietary applications on free OSes, aren't they more likely to go back to using them on proprietary OSes? Isn't it better to help them have some freedom rather than leaving them with no freedom?

I hope to generate some discussion here. Please let me know what you think?

lozz's picture


9 years 51 weeks 5 days 3 hours ago


I agree!

I generally agree with all you have said, although I can't comment on virtualisation because of my very poor understanding of the concept.

I certainly agree that some people who are forced into using proprietary software programs don't deserve to be closed out.

The friends who introduced me to Free Software, years ago, all had to use M$ as part of their day jobs, and still do.

Currently, I have another friend I set up with a dual boot, XP/Kubuntu 8.04, installation. She has to run M$ because her college honours course mandates the use of the highly expensive, proprietary Bibleworks program that only runs on M$, and possibly Mac.

If I understood virtualisation better I could probably migrate her off M$ and run her Bibleworks on some sort of virtual-M$ within Kubuntu. She already uses Open Office instead of Word, most of the time, and many other KDE applications.

We should encourage people to migrate off proprietary software; it is bad for their security and bad for their finances.

magice's picture


9 years 51 weeks 5 days 13 min ago


Dependence on the attitude

I think this is a quite touchy trouble, mainly because it all depends on the attitude of how you advocate the free platform. Of course, as you say, a few pieces of proprietary programs on a mostly free platform is much much more desirable than a few FOSS on a proprietary platform; however, that does not justify for the act of actively advocating for proprietary software on free platform.

For example, let's look at how Fedora bunch deal this, and how, says, Ubuntu bunch talk about this.

From Fedora's point of view, all non-free software is undesirable, so all of them are not included in the main repository by default, an act to deny the endorsement of these programs. However, it is possible for you to install these programs quite easily. People on the forum would gladly help you install any missing drivers (although FOSS drivers mature quite fast), and codecs can be easily obtain through known source. Furthermore, there are outside repositories with proprietary software. The thing is, you must install them yourself, so you will be aware that you are using thing undesirable, with the evidence that they do not generally play nice with other programs. Does the community help you when you need proprietary software? It sure does, but generally this is seen as last resort.

On the other hand, Ubuntu's bunch are quite opposite. After all, who scream "support those who support [hic] us"? Ubuntu people also fond to include anything seems to make their life a bit easier at risk of patents and other stuffs (eg. Mono). Is Mono a bad thing? No, Mono is NOT BAD; but is it worth the risk? Again, no. Should Ubuntu have invested in, or endorsed, something else? They sure can. Why did they not? I mean, why make dangerous and risky choices your default choices? Why, when someone ask you a software, you give them proprietary as first choice? Why include these programs on your main repository? Why advocate for them? They are undesirable, so we should avoid them as much as possible. Not totally devoid their use, nor to pretend they do not exist, but that does not mean to embrace them, eh?

The argument for Ubuntu's approach is the call for greater market share, which is not correct. Market share is important, but taking it by proprietary program is not necessary. It's like producing a green products, then add in polluting components to drive the price down. Frankly, there are more way to attract new users. For example, we can first attract technical savvy users, then caring users, then computer-literate users. These ones will spend time learning, and by separating FOSS from proprietary, we raise their awareness. If we can grab these people, I am confident that we can have like 10% of the market; better yet, this 10% is the influential segment, whose support means much more than 10% of ignorant users. Sadly, these users are leaving Windows for Apple, not FOSS.

I think green products provide good food for thought: they are not cheap, and, for a long time, they are usually not as good. However, they sell. Weird? Well, most buyers do not buy the low-price, but the good effects: green products help the environment, and (in the US, to some extend) protect local businesses. IN OTHER WORDS, USERS DO NOT MIND USE HIGH-COST, IMMATURE PRODUCTS, BUT THEY NEED A REASON TO.

Compare to green products, FOSS also has a very compelling philosophy call: freedom and power to users. Plus, FOSS has two distinct things green products can never dream of: low price and good quality. Yet, we, FOSS advocates, let proprietary software vendors control the philosophy battle: proprietary software is perceived by many as "fair" and "endorse innovation" and "good for the economy." Thus, people don't use FOSS. The users pay proprietary software, NOT BECAUSE OF ITS QUALITY, BUT BECAUSE IT IS "FAIR", "FOSTER INNOVATION", AND "GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY". Sadly, many FOSS advocates still push for the low-cost factor, and forget the philosophy factor. Why should a person, with conscience and sincerity, use products that are unfair, impede innovation, and destroy the economy?

Back to proprietary on FOSS: once we embrace proprietary tools, well, we defile our philosophy cause; no longer does our offer empower and free our users. That's, I think, all the whole debate about. It's attitude.

hutchiep190's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 20 hours ago


Promoting Proprietary Software is Wrong

Promoting free software on a proprietary operating system is promoting free software.

Promoting proprietary software on a free operating system is promoting proprietary software.

Even if we try to make the distinction and say that it's better to be running on a free operating system, what makes the system free?

Really, an operating system can only be free if the software on it is free. If you have proprietary software on the system, then it is less free, or even just plain non-free.

Promoting non-free software on a free operating system is the problem with Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and all the major GNU/Linux distributions, because they make exceptions, and don't really promote free software that way. I'm not trying to sound like a little bit of non-free software is the worst thing in the world, but I don't need non-free software for most of what I do and I would rather free software got better and covered more of people's needs than to suggest that they should just stick with proprietary software, but on a more free OS.

knowing-card's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago


I think you are too focused on the apps...

Is it only promoting free software when you promote FoP? I don't think so. I think you are promoting both. Even if your focus is on the app and not the OS, by promoting the use of FoP you are really enabling people to remain on a proprietary OS. That doesn't seem to me like you are purely promoting free software.

And, vice-versa, when you promote PoF even if you are focusing on the app, I think that you are still promoting free software? By promoting the use of PoF (as opposed to PoP) you are really enabling people to move to a free OS. That doesn't seem to me like you are purely promoting proprietary software.

Again, I feel that neither of these situations are ideal. However, first, I see a bit of a contradiction in the community's positivity toward FoP and its negativity toward PoF. And, second, advocating FoP seems worse to me than advocating PoF because PoF is a big step closer to complete freedom.

So it's not that I think we should advocate PoF as such. I just think that the attitude toward it should be more positive that that of the attitude toward FoP.

lozz's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 2 hours ago



This, of course, is the outcome that M$ has stated that it would consider as the most acceptable end result from Free Software - our top-grade software running on top of their their daggy lump of an OS.

In other words, they still get all the money they ever did and we get to work for them for free.

Nice plan, Ballmer.

mbutron's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 19 hours ago


I agree!

I am sure that it is a logical path to change. As a tech, I don't believe that, just because I use it and tell everybody about the benefits of free software, anybody that listens will switch immediately 100% of their apps.

So, if I can help them plot a step-by-step path and help them follow it, eventually they might complete the switch. But if they just do it in a partial way, they will still be a LOT better than before.

And let's not forget that we are talking about freedom. This means that everybody is free to choose whatever app they want or need, regardless of it being a propietary or free program!

schwoggel's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 12 hours ago


It's the message that counts

I did vote PoF articles down, but I never saw an FoP article to vote for. Can you provide some examples?

I think that people vote for or against articles for various reasons. Here is my approach:

Your category system was new to me and I find it quite useful. Nevertheless, my voting was rather focused on the message in favor to software freedom.

The reason I did vote some PoF submissions down was that they did not mention the freedoms we pursue at all. They praised that particular proprietary program and explained how to get it to work "even on Linux" and that was it.

I don't blame anybody using PoF, but the articles I voted down didn't show any sense for software freedom. That's not what I want to see published on fsdaily, thus I voted them down.

knowing-card's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 10 hours ago



Sorry, I had no intention of making you defensive about your voting habits on FSDaily. You are completely entitled to your vote.

Examples of FoP articles would be anything that talks about installing FoP or porting free software to Windows.

The Mad Hatter's picture

The Mad Hatter

9 years 51 weeks 4 days 8 hours ago


Proprietary on Free

I don't think that Proprietary solutions have a place here. This is Free Software Daily. If it was Proprietary Software Daily, that would be a different issue.

I will vote down any articles I see here about proprietary solutions.

lozz's picture


9 years 51 weeks 4 days 1 hour ago


Me too

Yeah, I don't vote UP Proprietary solution articles. Even if an article is mostly about Free Software then recommends adding something like Flash, then I won't vote it UP.

motters's picture


9 years 50 weeks 3 days 15 hours ago


I also agree

Getting people to use free software on a proprietary operating system can be a useful stepping stone towards getting them to use a free operating system also. Most users don't actually care about the operating system anyway - all they really care about is their applications.

I'm less keen on running proprietary applications on a free OS, since I think this can open up a whole new can of worms. Potentially Ubuntu Software Center could bring some very murky business practices onto the GNU/Linux platform. By this I mean things like spyware, adware, disableware, nag screens, crapware, license serial numbers and all the software detritus which can commonly be found clogging up Windows systems. In general I thing people should be discouraged from using proprietary applications on free operating systems, with the possible exception of games - which can be viewed as an art form rather than a tool.

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