Free Software Stands for Itself

As a member of the Free Software Community of Panama, I attend to a lot of Free Software events and showcases, whether to support my friends or to give a talk, and something that usually bothers me from the talks I hear, in general, are phrases like "<name of a free/open source software> is the free replacement of <name  of a popular proprietary software>".

Even when it is true that the Free Software movement started in such fashion: trying to replace those  programs that were in common use and were proprietary, today we are far from that era, and many flagship projects on the free software movement are now unmatched by any proprietary software. Who is Firefox+Firebug+Greasemonkey+Ubiquity replacing?, Internet Explorer and it's lame rendering engine? It's even more ridiculous to say that MySQL is a replacement for MS SQL Server.... oh please, Microsoft developers wished their SQL Server product was at least as fast as the undeniable king of Internet Database Servers, not to mention anything about the flexibility of database engines. Some other more technical examples include wrongly stating that Pidgin or Kopete are replacements of the MSN Live Client... have you ever tried to connect to IRC through MSN Live Client? Sure you haven't, after all, it's just a low-class single-closed-protocol ultra-heavy chat client with colorful displays.

And sure you'll tell me it's a selling strategy: talk to the customer in terms he's already related to. And that's true, but in my opinion, that should be the first phrase in the talk, and the last mention of any proprietary software during the whole talk. You can surely go on stating your free software product can fulfill tasks the customer is also familiarized with, without ever mentioning any other software that can do the task too. If you center your talk in trying to convince your customer that your product is better than a particular proprietary software, you may end up mentioning that proprietary software a lot more times than the free software project you are introducing.... then what are you selling?

Another common mistake is stating that "if your company can't afford <name of a proprietary software> then you can use <name of a free/open source software project> to avoid piracy". That assumes two things:

  1. Free/Open Source software is intended to be used by people/companies with low income
  2. You don't need to use free software if you have enough money to pay a proprietary license.

If we were to think assumption 1 is true, then I could list some low income companies for you here: NASA, Google, Sony, and many others. Of course, feel free to donate to these little companies and organizations trying to make their ways into this cruel IT world. Assumption 2 is, of course, way against Free Software's principle: it's not about pricing, it's about freedom.

So I encourage all of my fellow members of the Free Software Community to think about this. You'll all realize Free Software stands for itself, and that there's no need to buzz about any other product outside the community.