Why a Devout Capitalist Loves Free Software

Posted on July 11, 2011


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When I first began using Linux as my primary operating system, I did so to try to solve some problems I was having with Microsoft Windows.  My computer had begun to feel like it was not under my control.  Updates were being downloaded and installed during inopportune times and they were requiring me to completely shut down my computer nearly every time, or nagging me to do it anyway.  I was running anti-virus software that was buggy and bloated and slowing down my computer.  In order to maintain all of the recent security updates, I had to literally hand over the contents of my hard drive to Microsoft on a regular basis to prove that I had not hacked Windows (Windows Genuine Advantage).  My music, videos and even the font files on my computer were told what they could do by Microsoft’s DRM efforts.  Being a lover of liberty and a bit of a security freak, I was rubbed the wrong way with many of the issues that Microsoft had taught me I just had to live with.

I decided to give Linux a try, just as a LiveUSB at first, so I could see what was possible.  I dreamed of being able to replace every function I needed out of a computer with Linux.  I knew there was nearly no susceptibility to viruses with Linux.  I knew it was built with networking and network security in mind from the very beginning.  The security freak in me liked it already.  But, of course, it needs to work!  While I do have a couple of needs that I cannot fill with Linux at the moment (Netflix and 3D parametric CAD package, i.e. Solidworks), I was very happy to learn that it did indeed solve my major computer frustrations and fill nearly all of my computer needs.  So now, all of our computers run Linux, and we dual boot into Windows on a couple of them.

If you use Linux for a while, you get to know a very interesting culture that surrounds the FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) community.  There are the Richard M. Stallman absolutists that believe every piece of software that runs on a computer must be FOSS and completely configurable by the user.  I respect these guys.  I can’t say I always agree, but I can always understand where they are coming from.

But I also learned of a group that I was quite surprised to find myself being lumped in with: Communists.  While the price of FOSS is obviously appealing to anyone, the philosophy of the Communists especially appreciates FOSS.  They get very uppity at the idea of having to pay people for things; especially if those people belong to large corporations.  I find their hate of profits to be completely irrational.  Profit is the measurement of how efficiently our endeavors are supplying the needs and wants of our society with our society’s resources.  We do not have unlimited resources (man-hours, materials, etc.), so the only way to truly make everyone richer is to use those resources as efficiently as possible.  So, in capitalism, we reward those who use our resources efficiently with more access to our society’s resources.

In order for a capitalistic system to work however, people must be allowed to own what they earn.  And ownership of a thing means that you must be able to make all of the choices regarding what happens to that possession, barring any use that infringes upon the freedoms of others.  That was the philosophy the United States was fighting for during the Cold War.  The USSR believed firmly that only the state was allowed to own anything.  The US fought this idea to maintain our rights to own what we earn.

Well, and this is where I might get a bit preachy, Microsoft and Apple are the new Communists.  They have taught us that we should not be allowed to own our computers.  They should.  They think we shouldn’t have the right to own our music, videos, codecs or fonts.  They prevent us from moving them from device to device as we see fit.  Meanwhile, Linux lets you own everything about your computer and the software that it runs, from the operating system right on down to the files, codecs and fonts.

I want developers to be able to make a profit on what they create.  Companies like Google, Mozilla, and Red Hat have shown that you can make a profit while giving people the source code and letting them own their computers and the software that runs on them.

So, there you have it.  Not only do you not need to be a Communist to use Linux, but to be a true Capitalist, you SHOULD use Linux!

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