Software Philosophy – Free or Not Free?

 

I find myself somewhere in between these extreme ends of software philosophies. Free (as in freedom) software on one end and the non-free (proprietary) software on the other. More than a year ago, I found myself giving up all proprietary software usage in my life, be it work or personal usage. Influenced by RMS (Richard M Stallman), the pioneer of the free software movement, I chose consciously to give up non-free software from all spheres of my life. I had to forgo many job opportunities which relied extensively of proprietary software usage. Also, I found myself creating free software on my own. Building integrations which are completely free. The source code of the program being open to copying, modification and redistribution. As an author, I ensured that the code I wrote was available under the GNU Public license 3.0 or later. That ensured copyleft. A legally binding rule under which my programs can never be made proprietary by anyone. How does software freedom help? The reasonable explanation I can think of is this that the code published under free license can be audited by many people freely (as there is no restriction to download or modify the source code) and suggest changes, fix bugs and collaborate in an open and free way, towards building secure, ethical, and freedom respecting software. The portmanteu of free software is the freedom to develop, modify and distribute programs. Whether the program controls the user or the user controls the program? The latter being a more natural expectation of people at large. The user of a program should have every right to inspect the source code, tweak it, remove, alter and redistribute with modifications or otherwise, without having to face any patent infringements or copyright violations. Any user should be free to use, modify and distribute copies of a program.

 

Despite my constant efforts to adopt free software as part of my life, I find myself with more hurdles and roadblocks. I am forced to use a proprietary messaging tool such as Whatsapp by family and friends (because of the network effect). I am forced by the banks, government institutions and others to use proprietary software for financial transactions, availing services, paying bills and so on, through apps and websites that run proprietary programs.

The constant pressure of shop owners, businesses and online shops to use digital payment methods such as e-wallets is a threat to my freedom as they rely on usage of proprietary software payment gateways. If I were to lead a reasonable life in the modern society, I am compelled to use proprietary software at some stage or the other. The lack of awareness among people and their inability to think for themselves, puts me at a huge disadvantage. I still feel payment through cash is more freer than anything else out there. Yet, online shops, supermarkets and many businesses (offline too) denounce cash and ask me to make payments via digital modes. They would insist on using their e-wallets for making payments by linking my bank account with their payment gateway and use a proprietary software to complete a transaction. As I have no idea, what the source code of this proprietary software is, I cannot trust it with my information as there is a huge risk to data privacy and security involved. How can I trust a payment gateway provider without knowing how it actually works? There is no way to find for the general public (like me) whether the proprietary software is malicious or not. What I would have to do is blindly trust and believe that the proprietary software is benevolent and ethical, which is more often than not - False. The providers of these payment gateways act from a position of power. Power over user’s information, privacy and personal lives (eventually). Nobody want’s to give up such a command over what they have gained unless there is a complete boycott of proprietary software. If people at large choose to not use non-free (or proprietary) software then, there will be a revolution. A revolution for the betterment of society at large.