What would Jesus run?3 min read

Zeth’s been updating his Command Line Warriors blog recently, and made an interesting post a couple of days ago: Would Jesus Run OSX on a white box?. It’s an interesting post, worth a read!

Anyway, he made a point which I didn’t really agree with, which I just wanted to respond to, so I’ll quote the original bit here:

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I personally do not believe that Jesus would use proprietary software at all [snip] Is it sinful to own or sell any proprietary software, regardless of whether it is wrapped in a bittorrent or in vacuumed plastic?

This of course goes back to the deeper question of whether our energies be should be devoted to increasing the social good or increasing the wealth of the corporatist elite?

… and then goes on to quote Matthew 6:24. So I just wanted to talk about proprietary software – is it ‘ethical’? How does it fit in with open-source software?

Let me start out by saying, I do not believe proprietary software in and of itself is wrong. Why? For the same reason I don’t have a problem with buying a CD or a DVD or a book (etc). People have all got to make livings. If someone has worked hard to make a piece of software, I don’t mind paying for it. To an extent, it’s the actions of the software company which make the software ‘ethical’ or ‘unethical’. Now I don’t want to mention The Beast of Redmond in here, so I won’t. There. (Do you like what I did there?!)

However, certain large corporations have taken to rather unethical tactics in the marketing and ‘protection of intellectual property’ departments. (One good thing about open-source software is that it doesn’t really suffer from these problems, because there is no “marketing department” for open-source software, and no protection of intellectual property because it’s under an open license.) I do not believe that using proprietary software is unethical, but perhaps using proprietary software from a company you know to have some unethical practices is.

On a bit of a tangent, I just briefly want to mention the quality of FLOSS and commercial (proprietary) software. Developers of FLOSS have the goal of making good software. Developers of commercial software have the goal of making a profit. Does this have any impact on the quality of the software? Well, sometimes I think it does. If you do some programming as a hobby, you don’t really have any reason to make a piece of software particularly good apart from your own personal satisfaction – of writing a good program, and (presumably) seeing people find it useful. However, for a commercial developer (or team of developers), writing a good program is actually much more important: whether you go home at the end of a month with a paycheck depends on whether the program you write is any good! This is a much higher incentive.

Now, for big projects I don’t necessarily know whether this makes much difference: quite a few big open-source projects such as Fedora Core have a lot of developers working on it, with a regular release cycle etc. This is similar to a commercial software company (I don’t really understand how it all works but I presume so). But for smaller projects in particular, the guy who does spare-time development is often going to lose out to the guy (or guys) who does (or do) full-time commercial development. The evidence for this? Compare open-source software with commercial software. For example, the only graphical FTP client I’ve managed to find for Linux is gFtp. It’s pretty good, but still feels a bit rough around the edges compared to my favourite Windows FTP client (Smart FTP).

A large software development company can throw a lot of programming resources at a problem, open-source … well, whilst there are a lot of open-source developers, there isn’t so much the structure outside of the bigger projects!

Right, I’ve rambled on for quite long enough… that’s all from me!

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