The Meme of Free Is Not Free

When I was a university student, shareware and freeware program collections were popular. I tried free compilers and free editors and such things and decided that free (gratis) is not free (without cost). Often there was a steep learning curve, and the learning curve had a cost in time and the hardware required to play with (study) the stuff.

There is a new free-is-not-free meme floating around that echos that sentiment. Free (libre) software is supposedly all tangled up in the so-called viral promise to give up your own intellectual property rights to whatever you create with it. Supposedly onerous obligations in addition to the learning curve.

Non-sequitur.

Let me emphasize that: This new free-is-not-free meme is one huge stinking pile of non-sequitur.

First, the learning curve was and is real. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. And it's generally not as steep as it used to be, because of the collaborative nature of the free software, open software, and libre software movements.

The learning curve in free software is not nearly as steep as it used to be, and with the availability of the internet, you have help. And with the power of the average desktop/laptop/palmtop/cellphone today, the hardware issues are not nearly as pronounced.

Besides, learning is good, and software bound up in the exchange of money for a license full of conditions is not particularly free of the learning curve, either.

Second, speaking of the conditions of use that your typical End-User-License-Agreement tries to impose, your free (gratis) stuff, like the Microsoft junk that comes bundled (by force) with pretty much any computer you buy, is not really free (gratis), either. Read the EULA sometime. Just like the government dole, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch in this world.

Well, Hugh Nibley said something like, "The lunch is free. We work because it is part of human nature to work." But he was not talking about this world of upward-climbing, rights-claiming, stepping-on-your-fellow-man in which software would be anything but free. That will warrant other posts sometime.

Third, there are many kinds of free. Even if you say you like freedom, broadly speaking, there are two kinds of freedom:
  • You can be free from the burden of making decisions and doing things yourself and otherwise taking care of yourself. (But you really can't. Well, you can try to live in the illusion.)
  • Or, you can be free to make your own decisions and do (some) things yourself and otherwise take care of yourself as best you can (with a little help from your friends sometimes).
Which freedom do you want?

Both?

No. It ain't gonna happen. These two kinds of freedom are diametrically opposed. That's why government welfare is a fundamentally flawed solution to any social problems. (More rants for other days.)

So, watch your freedoms and watch your memes. And don't take it for granted that the talking head telling you that Linux is an evil perversion of freedom has any idea of what he is talking about. Or, if he does know what he's talking about, it's best to assume he is next going to try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, or something similar.

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