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Re: referencing non-free software

From: J.B. Nicholson
Subject: Re: referencing non-free software
Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2018 20:37:47 -0600
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Ilya Shlyakhter wrote:
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 don't think that not "recommend[ing], promot[ing], or grant[ing] legitimacy to the use of any non-free program" is hiding proprietary software. Proprietary programs don't go away because GNU programs don't legitimize their use. Your point also strikes me as remarkably one-sided and likely to benefit the proprietary programs the GNU Project encourages people to supplant with free software.

I would think that the right way is to 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.
Which merits one picks helps determine the outcome of the comparison. The GNU Project was founded to favor software freedom and has long argued that even buggy and less featureful free software is a better choice than powerful and reliable nonfree software because software freedom is more important. On a practical level, it's hard to argue against that perspective because software freedom allows one to make free programs less buggy, more reliable, or add more powerful features. But no amount of programming labor or technical skill will make a nonfree program free.

What is the harm, exactly, of referencing non-free software, if the
reference is accompanied by links to the FSF's arguments against using
Where is there a prohibition against GNU programs "referencing" nonfree software?

I see "A GNU program should not recommend, promote, or grant legitimacy to the use of any non-free program.". I also see that well known proprietary programs (such as a widely used nonfree operating system) can be mentioned and one can supply directions as to how to use the free program on said system.

I trust it's obvious how nonfree software harms the user and why an organization founded to supplying free software has no interest in recommending, promoting, or granting legitimacy to any nonfree software.

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.

I believe nonfree software will still exist no matter what the documentation for free software says. Any perceived competition is in the eye of the beholder.

Also, but somewhat relatedly, can we expect proprietors to recommend free software to their users? It would be useful to those users to learn that they don't have to put up with privacy violations, backdoors, and the rest of the malware users are not permitted to fix.

"Look at any kind of website. How often do they discuss alternatives
to whatever their site is about." -- philosophy sites certainly do
discuss alternatives.

Positioning nonfree and free software as alternatives runs against quoted below:

We don't describe free software as an “alternative” to proprietary,
because that word presumes all the “alternatives” are legitimate and
each additional one makes users better off. In effect, it assumes that
free software ought to coexist with software that does not respect
users' freedom.

We believe that distribution as free software is the only ethical way to
make software available for others to use. The other methods, nonfree
software and Service as a Software Substitute subjugate their users. We
do not think it is good to offer users those “alternatives” to free

This is similar to the listed objection on the same webpage calling all writing "content" which suggests every piece of writing is interchangeable with every other piece of writing, presumably the only difference worth recognizing is commercial value. That's not the case, they argue, so we shouldn't use language which suggests that is the case.

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