FOSS: Altruism?

The fundamental question asked again: what drives people to create and maintain Free and Open Source Software? Some people think that they are just a cleverly disguised business model; and money is really what they want, one way or the other. Some others think exactly the opposite: that FOSS are a completely altruistic initiative.

Today, I came across something that probably sheds light on the developer’s perspective with regard to this topic. I had just installed GNU Emacs in Windows, and was struggling to locate my .emacs file (I should have realized that just rebooting into Linux would have been quicker.. note to self), when I reached the GNU Emacs FAQ for MS Windows. The very first question and its answer happen to be:

1.1 Why support GNU Emacs on Windows?

It is not our goal to “help Windows users” by making text editing on Windows more convenient. We aim to replace proprietary software, not to enhance it. So why support GNU Emacs on Windows?

We hope that the experience of using GNU Emacs on Windows will give programmers a taste of freedom, and that this will later inspire them to move to a free operating system such as GNU/Linux. That is the main valid reason to support free applications on nonfree operating systems.

A very interesting reply! Especially the first line, which conveys the strong message: GNU Emacs is not particularly aimed at helping Windows users (i.e. majority of the world) per se; it is aimed at inspiring them to move away from Windows and similar nonfree systems. Altruistic? Or is it just business-as-usual? (BTW I doubt both.. Misanthropy is the word that comes to my mind, but that may be only because I have been watching too much Dylan Moran these days)

If Emacs for Windows is all about giving programmers a “taste” of freedom, then they are “licking” a small operating system, essentially. Because GNU Emacs 23 is not just a text editor, or just a development environment for virtually any programming language. It also has a file manager, a command prompt, a content-management/version-control frontend, a telnet client, an FTP client, an email reader, a calendar/daily-planner (complete with a list of holidays), a programmable calculator, several games, and of course, a psychotherapist. I hope someone adds a media player to it; then we can do away with operating systems entirely 🙂

Of course, if Emacs does manage to inspire people to abandon Windows, it would be a tremendous favour to them, implying that in its own way, Emacs is definitely altruistic!

2 responses to “FOSS: Altruism?

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