Computers are terrible things, and I speak as someone who has enjoyed making use of them for thirty years now. The problem, essentially, is not the machines themselves. Nor is it really the software that is used to run them and instruct them in tasks. No. That would be too easy. The real problem is the people who create the softwares (and a lot of the hardware).
Near to twenty years ago, a judge ruled that the company known as Microsoft had a de facto monopoly in the computer software market, and that steps should be taken to relieve them of same. Whilst the only available steps proved more or less useless in divesting Microsoft of its ill-gotten monopoly, time and changes to the market are to a degree doing that instead.
However, interviews with Microsoft staff always run along the same lines. Wah, Microsoft is being picked on. Wah, Microsoft should have fought harder to keep people locked into Windoze. Wah, users do not deserve a real choice. Wah, wah, fukking wah, in every word of every little thing a Microsoft staffer says.
Nokia have apparently taken to putting Windoze in their so-called smartphones. Needless to say, I will never buy a Nokia smartphone. But this is not quite the point. The point is that without using a good example of software, one often fails to understand just how utterly terrible Windoze as an operating system really is.
Unfortunately, most of the alternatives presently available are not much better, at least in terms of implementation. Hell, structurally, from the point of view of being able to turn them on and expect them to work, or be able to recover from serious operational errors, they shit all over Windoze from a great height. But in terms of getting the product out there to the user, they are complete losers.
At this point, I would like to bring to your attention a little site called Defective By Design. Defective By Design is a campaign site opposed to what its advocates call Digital Rights Management. Defective By Design refers to DRM as Digital Restrictions Management. I agree with them on this. For decades, programmer and user alike have desired certain regulations of computing software. A good example of this would be file formats. The file formats used with Microsoft products are probably the biggest mystery box yet remaining in software. Nobody knows what is really in them or how they work, yet Microsoft expects them to be the lingua franca of the business world and how their customers interact with one another.
Needless to say, if file formats were set, regulated, and designed by an independent body that told commercial companies wanting to sell software to use them “here they are, take them or leave them”, things like that could not happen. Microsoft Word files are also known to be at least ten times as big as they should be. People who use computers would benefit no end from software companies being told “this program must be as big as it needs to be in order to do its tasks, but no bigger”. Like their file formats, Microsoft programs are dissected and often found to be at least ten times as big as they need to be.
Regulating the computer industry so that users no longer felt pressure to upgrade every time World Of Warcraft added a “content patch” is an example of positive regulation. That is, regulation that not only do savvy users desire, but the industry (and the world) could benefit from.
Defective By Design does not advocate for positive regulation. They do advocate for a world without Digital Restrictions Management, and to be fair to them, that is a noble goal. However, if you look at their site for long enough, you notice a particular trend on it. DRM baaaad, DRM baaaad, on and on and on. The fact that it is right does not change the fact that without posing any credible alternatives, a lot of people are not going to listen.
Let us wind the clock back to 1999 or thereabouts. Music was still mostly sold on compact discs, books on paper, and on and on. The biggest grief that artists in all walks had was being ripped off. Basically, every book that was sold was five cents to the author and twenty dollars to the publisher. It sucked, and at the time that sites like MP3.com were starting up, artists were crying out for an alternative. As shitty and irritating to the ear as MP3 still is, it and sites like MP3.com were that alternative.
Then Apple came along (no, morons, Apple did not “monetize downloads, see that name above – MP3.com, that is where they stole the idea). Now it is basically ten dollars to Apple and the record company (or just Apple) and a fraction of a cent to the artist. Things are worse than ever.
Artists want to be paid. Artists deserve to be paid. But DRM, MP3 (and whatever variant of it Apple now uses), and so on and on are not that artist-gets-paid revolution everyone was cheering about in 1999. Not even close.
In his 1966 classic The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein expended literal pages to expound his belief that there was no such thing as a free lunch. As much as I disagree with his politics in some senses, I am right behind him on this one. Let us take email, for example. Email when it was first being proffered to the public was publicised as being virtually instant, and able to send piles and piles of texts to people anywhere in the world who had it.
The problem was that the people who originally designed email failed to take into account Human behaviour. Before long, people were drowning in unsolicited bulk email, all because the cost of sending email did not escalate with the numbers of emails sent. (Remember this whenever some dickhead tries to tell you that spam makes your email cheaper. The person who is sending those emails about how you can enlarge your (in a significant number of cases nonexistent) penis is not paying for the emails he has sent to you and possibly every other user on Earth. You and those other users are.)
This problem, called cost-shifting in economic terms, is at the heart of every problem with the Internet today. Nothing is ever free when people have to sit down and work at making it for periods of hours, even years. Making a novel might not seem like a job to you, but I challenge you to tell me the same after you have sat down and written a thousand words. Imagine that multiplied by at least eighty. How fast can you write a thousand words? My mother is a professional touch-typist, and can type from dictation at over a hundred words per minute. But if she did what I do, and tried to make up stories as she was typing, I expect her pace would slow to less than half of her professionally-certified speed.
To believe that the writer is not incurring any costs upon himself whilst he is sitting down night after night and typing out these words is to believe that Peter Pan is real (if you have read any of my words about babification, you already know what I think of that site). It is so unsupportable as to make Andrew Wakefield seem like Albert Einstein by comparison.
The speed at which authors write their works is highly variable. But one published book represents thousands of hours of work, often carried out by multiple people in the latter stages.
The free software people are very insistent that everything should be given away for free, regardless of how much work goes into it. This should give a good clue as to whom the free software people consist of, because only a very rich person who has never had to work for a meal could ever insist that a project entailing thousands of hours of work should be given away without compensation.
That is why I cannot see a time when free software, as it is presently defined by movements like the Free Software Foundation or whatever they call themselves, catching on. The overwhelming majority of people have to work for a living.
However, it is interesting to note that this attitude (“give me it for nothing, you has to”) is not, as it is often described by those who bemoan it, exclusively at the bottom of the pyramid, so to speak. It is, like the “who cares if it works or not, it’s already sold” mentality of the 1980s, a top-down thing. For thirty-plus years, the giant corporations that can stand to give away their products for free if only to silence competition have helped themselves to all kinds of freebies from governments. A good third of Sam Walton’s wealth is nothing more than tax breaks from the American government, and that is just one example.
Simply put, the giving of things for “free” is a luxury of the ruling class. One that they wish to impose as norm upon the rest of us.
To say that this clashes badly with the world I grew up in is an understatement. I was taught that when you want something that others have worked to make, you pay for it. Granted, I have not followed that too hard in recent years, but I am in poverty. That is not meant as an excuse but an explanation.
There has been a saying that the poor stay poor and the rich get richer for a long time. The brazen attempts to turn the Internet into TV All Over Again, an extension of “monetising downloads”, is only going to exacerbate this.
I honestly no longer know whether to laugh or cry.
(The first thirty seconds of this video explains it even better. I agree with Maddox. There is nothing that makes me want something less than the word “free”.)