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Proprietary Software in and Open Source World

Before I begin going, let me ask a question. Think about it for a second. Should proprietary software belong in open source Linux?

Now if you gave that any thought at all, 80% of you are running proprietary software in your Linux box. Whether you are using ndiswrapper for your wireless, playing DVDs and MP3s or printing to a printer. Heck, you may even be using proprietary software on purpose, such as the Opera browser. So back to the question. Should that software belong in Linux?

The neatest thing about Linux is the freedom of choices. You can choose between a number of web browsers, email clients, text editors, office applications and other software. You can choose which desktop manager you would like to use including your favorite window manager. Heck, you can even choose between almost 400 Linux distributions! So, naturally speaking, you should also have the choice whether or not to run proprietary software on your open source machine. Taking it even further, however, there should be plenty of open source solutions for every aspect of your favorite Linux distro.

Think for a second if proprietary software just did not work on Linux. Do you have any idea how crippled you would be? As mentioned, you wouldn't be able to play DVDs or MP3s on your system, although you could play OGG Vorbis formatted music and video. You wouldn't be able to use over 90% of the printers on the market, including HP printers due to licesing that these printer makers have with other hardware vendors. If you have a laptop, most wireless cards do not have open source drivers, so they would not work also. You wouldn't be able to play the cutting-edge games as most games are built for Windows only, and the drivers for your beloved ATi and Nvidia cards would be non-existent. The further we go, the more you realize that, regardless how strong FOSS is, proprietary software drives the Linux operating system into popularity.

This hurts, doesn't it? At least for the GNU purists out there, including myself. If we took away proprietary software completely from the Linux community, Linux would stumble and eventually turn belly up. It just would no longer be for the masses, but only for the hobbyist, enthusiast and geek. Just take a look at HURD. There isn't enough interest in HURD for it to take off, and the few developers working on it, still use Linux by default. Why? Because the FOSS solutions just aren't plentiful enough to keep them going. They use proprietary software in one form or another.

Now, before anyone misinterprets what I am saying here, I am an OSS purist. I do not have the DVD or MP3 codecs on any of my machines. Luckily, my printer has an OSS driver. I use the generic VESA driver for my graphics, as I am not a gamer, so anti-aliasing isn't that big of a deal for me. Literally everything on my machines down to every corner of the kernel is OSS. No ifs ands or buts. But just because that is my belief, doesn't mean that is how it should be.

Personnaly, to answer the question I posed a few paragraphs ago, yes. Proprietary software should be allowed to play in OSS Linux. Why? Because it gives the user the freedom of choice. Linux should always remain democratic in every sense of the word and always keep those options available to the end users.

When it comes to GPL v3, I am torn. I believe that users should have the ability to run proprietary software on their machine, so in that sense, I am against the new license. However, I fully support, and religously believe in the principles of GNU and what they are trying to establish with the freedom of software. So, in that sense, I fully support the license.

At any rate, it is a good party topic and/or ice breaker for your geek friends to talk about.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. TuxGirl | April 18, 2006 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Interesting point, but with confused examples. Perhaps you can clarify your definition of "proprietary", because the last time I checked, I could play mp3s, dvds, and plenty of proprietary formats without using proprietary software. By the logic you appear to be using, opening a doc file in OpenOffice or AbiWord would constitute "using proprietary software", which, last i checked, it wasn't.

    I'd be more worried about other pieces of GPLv3, but as, last I heard, the Linux kernel will not be going to v3, I'm not too worried as a whole...


  2. Gary | April 18, 2006 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem with the idea of running proprietary software in user space. There are plenty of good reasons to run Java on FreeBSD, or Oracle on Linux. Come to that, I don't mind running a proprietary OS: I do use a Mac, after all.

    I don't like the idea of closed-source, binary-only, NDA-encumbered drivers in kernel space or in the base system [1] on an otherwise open-source OS, though. On that point, Theo DeRaadt got it right.

    Regarding mp3s and DVDs, I don't view lame or mplayer or ogle or vlc as "proprietary". I do prefer Ogg Vorbis over mp3, and I do prefer the Mac for watching DVDs, but there are plenty of open-source solutions for both.

    [1]Remember, I'm more likely to be using a BSD than a Linux at any given moment. The "base system" is a BSD concept.

  3. Aaron | April 18, 2006 at 2:44 pm | Permalink


    You can play MP3s, DVDs and other proprietary formats without proprietary software. However, use of many of these formats is illegal unless you purchased the codecs. Plain and simple. DVDs uses a licensed codec and encryption/decryption algorithm that must be purchased. MP3s also use a licensed codec. In both of these examples, neither codec is open, and as such, the codecs are no where to be found on any of my systems.

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