#7: In Defense of GNU's Free System Distribution Guidelines

A while ago I made a blog post on why the GNU Project is wrong about its Free System Distribution Guidelines. These guidelines state the requirements that a GNU/Linux distribution must meet in order to be endorsed by the GNU Project and listed as a free operating system. The point that I made was that free software is not binary. That is, you can dip your toes into free software without cutting off all proprietary freedom-violating software from your life at once. When a distribution intentionally limits your ability to use non-free software, it can turn users away from the movement. This is too hard, why should I bother? I encourage you to read that post before you continue on with this one.

I've given this idea some thought over the past however long it's been. I now believe that there is a big point to be made in defense of these guideliens that I did not go over. This is that users unaware of the free software moment cannot spot the difference between free and nonfree software themselves. To the average computer user, a freedom-violating data collection program with malicious intent looks no different than a freedom-respecting program. The only thing that matters is what works best and is easiest for them, although sometimes even that doesn't matter.

There is no easy middle ground for this problem. One solution would be to give all nonfree programs a noticeable mark of shame that shows that they do not respect your freedoms. This approach is flawed, because it simply will not work. The fact that Facebook isn't bankrupt should tell you all you need to know about how many fucks users care about their privacy and freedom.

This single yet very strong point poses a great reason that free operating systems should follow the FSDG. I welcome critiques, points, debates, and criticisms. Please contact me if you wish to discuss this further.