I have gone through this question regarding the economic sustenance of the GNU Software and I think it is the foundation of my question.

Below is a small excerpt from the GNU Website which states the four principles the Free Software Foundation lays its foundation on.

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if the program's users have the above four essential freedoms.

I believe the above principles will :

  • lead to better transparency regarding how the software works.
  • fuel new ideas, which will lead to better customized software.

I couldn't ,however, think of the economic hindrances for :

  1. Setting up a Free Software Society.
  2. If set up, the survival of such a society.

A society where all the players abide by the above FSF principles is what I call a free software society. Well, this is my terminology indeed.

Any suggestions are appreciated.

  • $\begingroup$ What is a "free software society"? And are you asking about barriers to it coming into existence, or barriers to it surviving, if it were brought into existence? $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ Something to think about: what is the economic incentive for people to produce free software? The incentive for commercial software is obvious. But many people do work full-time, well-paid jobs building open-source software. If someone can think through the incentives that drive that, it will help. $\endgroup$
    – paj28
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers : Valid point. Please see my edit. $\endgroup$
    – maze
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @paj28 : I agree. Many open-source projects are funded voluntarily by companies and even governments. A recent example I have come across is Insight Toolkit funded by the US National Library of Medicine. I believe the well paid jobs in many Open Source projects are in fact a promoter for such a society. Isn't it so? $\endgroup$
    – maze
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ I think one trend which seems to go against the free software society is the amount of closed source software currently produced for phones. In most cases, you lose your warranty if you unlock your phone to install apps outside of app stores. This protects the developers from potential piracy, which increases their incentive to produce software for these platforms. $\endgroup$
    – HRSE
    Nov 23, 2015 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


Your questions asks:

A society where all the players abide by the above FSF principles

It won't ever happen for all players. As a counter-example, consider an engineer who invents software that can predict when a jet engine needs maintenance. It's worth millions to the airlines, who will happily pay him for the software. He has no incentive at all to release this software as open-source. The same principle applies to all sorts of specialist software.

In contrast, open-source works well for common building blocks. For example, there are all sorts of companies who need an operating system for their product - cloud providers, home network kit, super computing, all sorts. While they could build their own, it is much more efficient to have a common pool, like the Linux kernel. This environment means that companies can put paid engineers on open-source projects, and still run a profitable business.

  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't the state force everyone to abide the FSF principles by 'simply' abolishing copyright law? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp The state would also need to mandate source-disclosure, since distribution of executable software does not require distribution of source (which is necessary for freedom 1). But if those two (colossal) things happened, then yes, I think state would then have instituted a Free Software society. $\endgroup$
    – apsillers
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your airline example is pretty good, but doesn't consider that a developer could follow Free Software principles by distributing the software under the GPL (but only to paying customers) and rely on market forces to stop further redistribution -- only airlines want this software, and no airline wants their competition to get it for free. However, your point still stands because an airline could be interested in making modifications to the software. By default, the airline relies on the original developer for new versions, but with the source they could use an outside source for modifications $\endgroup$
    – apsillers
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp : It is worth having a look at this link $\endgroup$
    – maze
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:45

From a software engineer's view I have 2 issues that I think would hinder this Society. And not that I want it to be hindered, just that some realities are hard to over come.

This first is, who will pay me? Writing software is a good living for me. I am okay with my software being free to others, and to be freely modified. But then how do I make a living? Will all software writers also have to have a day job? Will I be a janitor who writes software as a hobby?

The second issue I can think of, and this is more serious, is that even in current large "Open Source" projects you almost always have a group of people that control the source. For example, Angular is currently controlled by Google. If you want to change your personal copy of Angular you can. If you want to change Angular for the world at large, you have to make a change, and request that it be incorporated. I feel like this is absolutely necessary. If you had 100's of people of varying skill levels changing a complex code base without direction or over site, that software would be unusable. It would be like making soup, and letting 100 people just add their favorite ingredient without someone tasting it after each addition, or knowing what kind of soup you want(cream soup or veggie soup, etc.) You would have an inedible mess at the end.

One thing that may not be common public knowledge, but is absolutely true, is that most software is really awful behind the scenes. The average programmer is at a skill level somewhere between bad and okay. And software is VERY complex. Any small change can break a whole system(and often does). Studies have shown that 60% of large software project fail because of being managed or planned poorly. From the outside it seems like it should be simple, but it is not.


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