free software users and the question of ownership

i promise more than i deliver in the headline, but one step at a time.

bruce byfield writes about differences between how people relate to computers. he starts off with an example of how he was able to fix a windows computer although he had limited experience from that particular operating system whereas the users in question had plenty. he attributes his competence in understanding computers to being a “free software user” and defines the concept as follows:

  1. Free software users expect open licenses and no activation methods
  2. Free software users expect regular upgrades and patches
  3. Free software users expect to work the way they choose
  4. Free software users want control of their own systems
  5. Free software users explore
  6. Free software users expect to help themselves
  7. Free software users don’t fear the command line
  8. Free software users learn software categories, not programs
  9. Free software users expect access to developers and other employees

the central theme is ownership, control and sharing. with physical objects, there would be an incompatibility issue between ownership and control versus sharing. but it’s different with zeroes and ones. that’s because data can be copied, and there is no difference between the original and the copy. the order of zeroes and ones are exactly the same. thus, it’s possible to maintain control and ownership of the exact data stored on the physical device you possess, even if another device electronically reads it. reading data is copying data. hence, the issue of control and ownership is different with electronic data. you can’t share physical objects without loosing total ownership and control, but it’s possible to share electronic data without loosing ownership and control of the actual copy you own on a physical device. the same way it’s impossible for anyone to steal a thought from your mind.

perhaps i’m being generous with my interpretation of byfield, because much of it is what i would argue for anyway, but byfield seems to say that there’s an unholy alliance between [a lot of people who for short term convenience expect computers to “just work”] and proprietary businesses like microsoft (and apple, nokia as well, i might add) who are obsessed with gaining control of what the users are able to do with the software that the user own (in the sense of owning a physical copy, running o a device they own). byfield concludes by putting forward the possibility that in a few years time, free software users culture will be quite unrecognizable to the “desktop users”, something that in my opinion to a large extent is evident already. however, he guesses that, also within a few years, the pure desktop users will encounter some problems that will force them to attempt to take ownership and control over their computers. to put it in another way; will the vista users even be able to switch to open source alternatives if their data is already locked to their existing (vista) software?

the importance of owning the data that’s important to you is a related question, and in this context i’ll settle with: because it’s utterly important to me, obtaining the linux-based eee makes perfect sense.