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12:30 pm, 30 Sep 05

why i write free software

I got a few good but disagreeing responses to that previous post, so let me attempt to address them all at once.

Free software is fundamentally a communist operation, in the literal sense of the word: it works as a community and only survives as the community survives. I'm motivated to make free software in part because it's cool to see people use the software I write, but a much larger part of it is that I want to give something back to the people who have given me so much. I guess GtkSpell was my most successful piece of software -- well, I only wrote it because I used enough GTK apps that I wanted to improve them.

We know that, in the larger sense, communism doesn't work. It's to each person's advantage to take and to give nothing in return. I think this is part of why the free software landscape on OS X and Windows is so poor: one person sticks a nag in their app and starts making some money, and then the next person sees it and thinks, "Well if they're gonna do it, I'll do it too!"

This is perfectly fine with me. If you want to charge for your software, go ahead and do it. I make my living writing commercial software as well. But for my own space, I prefer to exist within a culture where that is frowned upon. This is why Debian is so important to me. Sure, they're zealots, but they're zealots who are fighting for something important.

So when I see X-Chat selling binaries, I think of it sorta like a communal tribe selling food: if you, outsider, want something that is from us, you have to give me something in return. It's a really tricky balance, though -- I'd never want to legislate an exchange, as giving forced is not giving at all. I want to live where people decide to be truthful, not one where telling the truth is against the law. One comes from within and the other is imposed.

Someone even came by that previous post and left a comment that's a perfect representative of the culture I don't want: "someone did do a build without the crap ... trick is to p2p a copy without the nag". The immediate reaction to a potentially-commercial piece of software is to think of ways to steal it. (The fact that they thought p2p was necessary indicates they don't understand what is really going on here -- in fact, the concept of stealing doesn't even apply.)

I find the X-Chat compromise to be quite reasonable. By "filter out" in that previous post I meant, uh, "target": that page only serves the sort of person who looks at X-Chat because they don't want to pay for mIRC. Sure, there are other ways to get free X-Chat binaries -- it's fundamental to the way free software operates, as mendel pointed out. (He even provided a binary of his own.) But if some poor X-Chat developer is gonna go through the trouble to provide a download and they want to sell it, more power to 'em: it's not a violation of my culture and it's acceptable within the culture they're interacting with.