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A capitalist fan of commie software

Why would an avowed free-market capitalist, as I am, be such a fan of free and open source software? Simple, really.

Read time 4min 30sec

It's a good question, I suppose. A tree-hugging leftwinger from a proud union family with an inexplicable taste for expensive Scotch single malts asked to know why, if I'm such a capitalist, I am so vocal about liking free and open source software.

My desktop operating system has been Linux ever since 2003, when I formatted my Windows box in a fit of pique that had been brewing since sometime before Windows 3.1 was released. I tried a few variants, but quickly settled on the local distribution, Ubuntu, masterfully named and competently compiled by a famous rich kid from Durbanville in the Western Cape.

Ironically, the only thing I don't like about Ubuntu Linux, despite the patriotic feel-good factor, is the name. I'm not of the view that we live vicariously through others. We are what we are because of our own decisions, our own attitudes, and our own efforts.

That said, I don't feel that strongly about it, since I can go along with Arch Tutu's description: "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

Hidden in this high-minded rhetoric is an easy way to reconcile the notion of Ubuntu with the philosophy of individual liberty and free markets: one cannot benefit from voluntary trade with others unless such a trade benefits them. Moreover, if profit is your motive, the prosperity of the society around you is very much in your interest, and its impoverishment hurts you. You will get what you want - be it profit, personal satisfaction or social upliftment - only if your work helps other people get what they want.

So I'm not going to be churlish about the name of my favourite operating system, just because it refers to a philosophy more often appropriated by socialists.

Moreover, my choice is in large part motivated by painful experience of products made by Microsoft, and a rational refusal to agree to the ridiculous lock-in policies of Apple.

Like my desktop computer, my little Asus netbook runs Linux, and my preferred smartphone is an HTC running the Android operating system - a Google variant based on Linux.

Ironically, the only thing I don't like about Ubuntu Linux, despite the patriotic feel-good factor, is the name.

Ivo Vegter, contributor, ITWeb

I use OpenOffice, the GIMP, qCAD, Firefox, and a whole host of similar open source applications.

One of the key reasons for my insistence on open source software is that it offers me choice and the freedom to exercise it. Of course, the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook have every right to exploit people who volunteer to be locked in a room, bent over a table and ravished. To each his own, but I prefer to get my jollies under less duress. I want to have control over my data, I treasure what privacy I can maintain, and I want to be able to say yes or no to the latest vendor scheme to make money out of me. Proprietary software vendors, for the most part, don't offer me this liberty.

Are these software projects communist? Well, I know I wouldn't write reams of code for nothing. There's something eternally puzzling about the revenue model (if any) of most free and open source software projects. Usually, it involves selling something else on the back of market penetration achieved with the free software. However, like with new media models, the disconnect between what people do pay for and how the people who do the real work get paid is troubling.

If you want to venture into the minefield of how software vendors make money, be my guest. Just ask a handful of software entrepreneurs about the relative merits of free-trial, advertising-supported and freemium revenue models. With rare exceptions, you'll be treated to a lengthy rant, full of weighty opinion and relevant experience, but signifying nothing on the bottom line.

The thing is, the revenue model makes little difference to me. Sure I'd like to know that it's sustainable, so I don't get left in the lurch at some point in the future, but while it lasts, I'm perfectly happy to trade off a little insecurity about the future for a guarantee of benefits today.

In the end, it is not my problem how a company produces what it does. All I see is a product, and a price. If the product is something I want, I consider whether the price is worth paying, or whether I could invest my limited wealth into something more useful or desirable. If it's worth paying, it's a deal.

And face it. The price is right. No self-respecting free-market capitalist is going to argue with someone who offers him free stuff. Especially not if, at no extra charge, they can luxuriate in the knowledge that they exploited a na"ive communist.

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