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Re: referencing non-free software

From: Ilya Shlyakhter
Subject: Re: referencing non-free software
Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2018 17:50:59 -0500

The only reason I see stated is "Proprietary software is a social and
ethical problem, and our aim is to put an end to that problem."  What
I don't see explained is why hiding proprietary software from users is
the right way to end it.   I would think that the right way is
out-compete proprietary software on the merits (both technical and
philosophical), so that users, having had a full opportunity to
evaluate the merits (technical and philosophical) of the free and
non-free programs for their task, choose the free ones.  What is the
harm, exactly, of referencing non-free software, if the reference is
accompanied links to the FSF's arguments against using it?  If the
arguments are as ironclad as the FSF thinks, users will heed them; but
why not have the users decide whether the arguments are good?

My question grows out of the discussion here:

By protectionism, I mean artificially protecting free software from
competition by restricting knowledge of the alternatives, the way
countries protect domestic industries by restricting imports.  This
can be good policy to help fledgling domestic industry get off the
ground, but if done long-term, reduces incentives for the domestic
industry to make high-quality goods.

"Look at any kind of website. How often do they discuss alternatives
to whatever their site is about." -- philosophy sites certainly do
discuss alternatives.  I've seen some scientific software tools point
to alternate tools for the same problem: "I think my tool is best, but
here are the others, check for yourself".  These authors are so sure
of the technical merit of their tool, that they're sure the users will
voluntarily choose it over competitors.  Shouldn't the FSF be
similarly sure of the philosophical merit of their software?  Or
maybe, these authors are altruistically concerned about the users, and
what users to use the best tool, even if the authors' own; and also
respect users' judgement enough to trust them to make the best choice
for themselves.  Shouldn't the FSF be similarly altruistically
concerned about the users, and respectful of their judgement?

On Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 5:10 PM, Ian Kelling <> wrote:
> Ilya Shlyakhter <> writes:
>> FSF guidelines discourage referencing non-free software:
>> I see some problems with this, and think it'd be better if the
>> standards addressed these questions head-on.
>> To me, this prohibition looks like simple protectionism.  It's one
>> thing to promote free software by creating a free program superior to
>> a non-free one, pointing users to both, explaining the advantages of
>> the free program (including the freedom part), and then letting the
>> users decide.  It's quite another thing to simply hide the non-free
>> program from users.  I have seen software authors who are confident in
>> their work point to competing software right from their websites; for
>> me as a user, this promotes confidence in the author's own work.   Is
>> the assumption here that users are unable to see their own best
>> interests, even when presented with all the arguments?  If yes, that
>> seems disrespectful and paternalistic towards users.  If no, why not
>> point users to both free and non-free alternatives and trust them to
>> decide?
> The article mentions reasons and you haven't addressed them. Look at any
> kind of website. How often do they discuss alternatives to whatever
> their site is about. Rarely, any gnu is no different. Are they being
> disrespectful? I don't know what you mean by protectionism. Afaik, that
> is an economic policy.
> - Ian

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