Free Software developers fall into two main categories: those that
stand by the principles behind free software - patent-free,
license-free and unrestricted distribution (for example, Richard
Stallman's admirable stance); and those that are simply happy to
compromise to some extent, for example to download libdvdcss to watch
DVDs, or to install proprietary software such as Skype, on the basis
that there is simply no (or no better) alternative (for example, Ubuntu
which supports all kinds of proprietary firmware and binary drivers, and
gets itself into enormous difficulties as a result).
These "level of integrity" choices are decisions that we, as Free
Software developers, are free to make. Yet the average person is
simply unaware of these issues of "integrity", or they are but do not
value them highly, choosing "interoperability with their friends and
businesses" as "more important". Or worse, they agree that integrity is
important yet are forced into making decisions to use - and stick with -
proprietary software. In such instances, the level of experience of
(and thus the offerings available from) Free Software developers in a
particular area of specialist expertise that the users absolutely must
have before being able to consider migration, is close to or literally
As Free Software developers, is it therefore ethical for us to ignore
these people whose lives are blighted by lack of choice, or is it more
ethical for us to remain in our integrity, by providing
non-interoperable Free Software alternatives (with no means of
conversion between the free and proprietary software)?
To put that another way: should Free Software developers serve
themselves and their own needs, or should they look to serve others?
This article highlights these quite important questions that every Free
Software developer should be asking themselves, and advocates a way to
proliferate, protect, enjoy and benefit from Free Software
principles: that of the "Social Business".