Free Software: We Have the Capacity

Free Software: We Have the Capacity
Photo by Luis Quintero / Unsplash

When discussing the principles of Free Software, it is all too easy to make the mistake of emphasizing one interpretation of Free Software idealism over another. You can frame it two unique ways: “Microsoft is bad” vs “Free Software is great.”

One way of interpreting Free Software is in its inherent denouncement of proprietary code and the collective communities attitudes towards proprietary vendors such as Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. “Proprietary software is bad, and so are the companies that make it,” it could be said.

Image credit: Defective By Design, an FSF campaign

But there’s a far greater message to be had, and I think it needs to be emphasized to the fullest.

“We have the capacity.”

It’s easy to focus on the negativity of an opposing ideal first. If nothing, the Free Software community is a fairly passionate one, and although  internally it doesn’t always agree on everything, overall it’s a welcoming enough space that can encourage new people to become a part of it. A good experience of making things together is kind of what keeps a community going. This includes making decisions and assisting newcomers.

I think a better mindset for Free Software is “we have the capacity” because it focuses on all of the things one can do with  it, rather than all of the things its opponents cannot do. It is an important distinction because it is foundational to the very tone and  tenor of what Free Software is actually about: having the capacity to make things however you want to. You can study new ideas from existing code, and use that to learn how to do something new.

There are communities filled with volunteers that code together because they love it and care about their projects enough to keep working on them. There is code that can be used for free that anyone can install. You can make 3D printers, robots, desktop and web applications. You can use tools to build other tools, and make programs that create other things, such as art, music, and films.

In the end, Free Software is not just about being an alternative to the  status quo. It is about giving empowerment to people, and levelling the  economic playing field by offering every bit of it for free. By providing the tools and the knowledge to a person, you can give them the power to help themselves.