Who Cares If Software Is Free (As In Speech)?

Going around a lot of the social bookmarking sites like Digg and Slashdot lately has been an article by Richard Stallman, in which he waxes on and on about the current state of javascript applications across the web. Stallman’s primary thesis is that there should be some sort of standard for javascript that requires javascript to provide a location where the readable source of the scripts can be obtained. Furthermore, he argues that modern web browsers should have a built in way of specifying a way to replace the scripts found on a given page with free versions of those scripts, ensuring that the entire pipeline of execution is “free” code.

To put it mildly, I find the entire free software movement to be a bit too obsessed with this notion of using only free property. There exists another version of Firefox that is called Iceweasel. This is because, despite all of the source code of Firefox being free and open, the Firefox logo is copyright by the Mozilla Foundation, and therefore the program is not free. Iceweasel replaces this logo with a free one. Richard Stallman and friends need to understand that we are living in a world in which people like to take ownership for their work, and that often, it is this ownership that helps promote the work. The Mozilla Foundation has a copyright on the name and logo of Firefox because it is the most important part of the program’s image. It is the branding and name recognition of Firefox that has allowed it to capture such a large portion of the browser market in such a short period of time. The average user, if presented with two identical programs, one containing a brand name they know, and one with a “free” equivilent that they’ve never heard of, will say that they prefer the brand name every time, even if both are available at no cost to them.

This brings me back to the specific topic at hand, that of free javascript. The idea that for every major webapp, there should exist a set of third party javascript to replace what exists already in order to perform the same function is absurd. Technology and the web haven’t evolved as quickly as they have because someone wrote the exact same piece of software as someone else. These things have evolved because people have taken that software and changed it to get rid of things they don’t like and add things they feel are missing. If you don’t like something about Google Docs, don’t rewrite it. Write your own (free if you want) Ajax web application for document editing. The field will evolve because there is another quality contender and we will all be better off.

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