A quote from a blog I'm reading a lot more regularly now, Baldur Bjarnason's:

It's almost as if open source has become a system for transforming people's leisure time into free labour for corporations—eating up people's lives while driving them on with promises of future employment. (E.g. "GitHub is your resume".)

15 years ago, I had a long conversation with Bob Hughes (of Dust or Magic fame) about Free Software and open source. I was gushing about it

I talked about how it was going to change the world for the better, make software more egalitarian & democratic -- I was a bit of an idealist[.]

He then explained to me what was going to happen, how corporations and capitalism in general would twist the system to their benefit.

And then a follow-up here:

Instead of empowering the people and regular computer users, we've empowered VCs and tech billionaires.

OSS is still there for the rest of us to take advantage of, if we have the will and the skill, but it isn't doing much for your regular computer user.

I suppose that was Stallman's point about OSS versus Free Software in the first place.

I'm not sure what the angle Bjarnason's ascribing to RMS, but I bet I'll repeat it here accidentally.

Look, here's the problem with OSS... Well, here's the problem with indie-garage software coders (the toymakers) in general: As RMS says, software [sic] wants to be free. That's in large part why the App Store prices raced to the smallest possible (imagine if Apple had let you set any price! How many 12¢ apps would there be?). The marginal cost of distributing software, once written, quickly approaches nil.

What's neat is what you can do with software. If you make software that enables people in real time to do something interesting, you can sell that service. Software naturally enables. If your hours of github wrangling is worth 98¢ in actual cashola, but enables you (and others) to perform thousands of dollars of services, well, yes, github is your resume.

That is, if you chose to write server-side code, you've already boxed yourself into a use that'll never be customer facing. The flip side is -- your faceless, nearly designless software is barely worth anything on its own. There are so many replacements for what you've done. If you charge so much as 99¢, folks will go elsewhere. It stinks, but it's the hard truth. Sellable software requires design, serious design. Otherwise you'll never hit that group of end-users willing to give you real cash (the "market").

So it's better to give your services-focused software (your jQuery plugins and SQL profilers) away for free. At least then the barrier to entry of licensing and price is gone, and you have what's at worst an even playing field with your like-minded competitors. You probably still won't build the next Bootstrap, but now you at least have a shot. Hard truth time? Even those folks that try to eek a living out of customer-facing apps, and who are good at it, have a really hard time making ends meet.

And there's nothing wrong with writing code for a job. Server-side programming pays well. You will love your salary for doing brainteasers.

But you're not overtly using open source to be political in this case. You're following the market's natural direction. That is, these "resume" projects you're making are likely the easiest worthless projects (insert a smilie and remember that my assertion is that all software wants to be free and is, eventually, essentially worthless) you could make. And, again, good for you. Most people never share excellent worthless work. ;^)

Free Software's alternative

If Bjarnason's point is that non-GPL licenses are too lenient, I've agreed for years. You have to use a protective license if you want to create a privileged space that competes with capitalism. You must use capitalism to create this Free haven. The most brilliant, Deluezo-Guattarian move GNU ever made was to copyleft software. Use copyright to fight copyright. Use capitalism to fight capitalism. Inhabit, reassemble, and redirect. Don't fight head-on.

And it's the lack of inhabitation that's killing the dream of OSS (and GNU) idealists. Where are OSS' best wins on the client? LibreOffice, which is still a big win. Firefox, less important now that there's mobile, as Bjarnason points out. Even The Gimp or Audacity were good apps.

But none of these are best in class designs. Where is the better mail client, the better word processor, the better personal finance software? Where is the better desktop OS? Where is my hoverboard?

Cutting closer to the bone, how much Free software do you use "at home"? How about that phone in your pocket? Is it Free software? Look man, it's not. You're happy to use OSS at work, but you're not using it at home. How do you expect work software to make your home life better? How is Free software going to improve your life if you don't use it?

Better yet, WHY AREN'T MORE OF YOU CONTRIBUTING TO REPLICANT, the truly Free Android fork? In other words...

Why aren't we putting our time into game-changing software?

If you want to create that idealistic society that Free software enables, you have to work on projects that society cares about. As long as Free software remains derivative, it's going to be playing catch-up. And if Free clients are only as good as paid clients from ten years ago, platform-jumping (like the one from PC to mobile) will keep catching it by surprise.

Until we concentrate on the client -- that is, servicing the needs of people, dammit -- Free software will continue to gain a foothold only in those spaces where the software experience is completely fungible, like we see on servers today. It's not OSS' fault (I realize I'm conflating OSS and Free software too much) that we haven't created the ideal. It's ours.

(This is where, if I allowed myself more time, I'd start into suggestions about how to make this happen. Use Free software "at home" (and in your pocket). Learn the apps' foibles. Learn the languages used to create them, or figure out how best to recreate them. Find the pain points its users would have, and make the apps truly citizen-usable. And help folks figure out how to make Replicant work. There's like one dude plying away at the most important Free software project going, and that's simply not enough.)

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