Kent  Pitman's

Personal FAQ

What do I really think about Free Software?

From time to time, it is suggested that I think Free Software is Bad (in some absolutist sense), or that I oppose it. I do not unconditionally oppose its use.

But neither do I think it is Good (again in some absolutist sense). So it should not surprise you that I do not unconditionally endorse its use either.

I think that free software is a thing that is double-edged, and that some uses are more helpful than others, while some uses are more hurtful than others.

If you're interested in the nuance of that, read on. If you're in a hurry (and still reading at all), you might want to skip to the summary at the end.


Although I greatly enjoyed the movie, I'm not a big fan of dogma in everyday life.

As a matter of principle, I prefer not to view the world in dogmatic terms, where I would describe dogma as the practice of saying that if you do an action, the performance of the action, ipso facto, will make you either Good or Bad. I prefer to think in terms of the goodness of outcomes, not the goodness of actions; or, put another way, I prefer to think that people should have to consciously reason about their actions and accept responsibility for them, not scapegoat the doing of acts by alleging that there is some pre-assigned Goodness or Badness to the doing of the act which exempts them from scrutiny for having performed it.

It seems to me that “free software” is offered to the world as a concept as if it were, in dogmatic terms an automatic good. And as if anyone speaking ill of the presence or effect of free software in any circumstance is speaking blasphemy. This kind of notion elevates the free software movement to one of religion. And while I do not condemn the practitioners of that religion for their choice, I do retain my right to elect not to participate in that religion and indeed to assert that I'm not happy with some of the effects of some of the religious choices that that religion promotes.

Free Software “Snipers

While there are places that the presence of free software in a marketplace is useful, I have tried to make clear that I don't think it's always useful.

I do think, for example, that database software was held at too high a price in a somewhat monopolistic fashion for a very long time by the major places in the database world, and I think it was both unsurprising and completely appropriate that Postgres arose as a free alternative to a market that had failed to refine prices over an extended period of time. In effect, I think that market had stagnated and required repair.

On the other hand, I think there are programs that people might offer at very reasonable prices and yet that as soon as they are offered, one would expect someone from the free software community to step forward and offer a free software alternative that might undercut even a reasonable recovery of investment and modest profit in response to the risk taken by software creation.

I invented the term “free software snipers” to refer to people who want to create free software alternatives immediately upon the release of any proprietary software, no matter the price, and before there is a demonstrated market need, but rather out of a dogmatic belief that proprietary software must always be beaten down. I believe there are such people, and I believe the presence of such people (or even just the belief that they exist) is enough to make it very likely that certain other people do not even bother to enter certain markets with software made for sale, even software that there is a need for and no demonstrated supplier for.

This is a difficult claim to prove, so I do not assert that it is objective truth. I merely assert that I believe it. (Others who disagree with me are welcome to make their own PFAQ and put assertions about their own beliefs there.)


If you're just interested in a pithy little sound-byte that captures my feeling, it is not “Kent opposes free software.” It is instead:

Kent opposes free software qua panacea.

If, alternatively, you find that phrasing a bit overly pithy or obscure, you might prefer to expand enough to acknowledge that

Kent thinks that ...

In sum, Kent believes that responsible choices in the use or non-use of free software require active thought, not blind adherence to dogma.

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