Danny Yee >> Free Software Advocacy

Free Software as Appropriate Technology

Imagine you are putting water pumps into a village in Africa.
You have a choice between two products:

Product AvsProduct B

Designed by a worldwide community development process open to anyone. Sold and supported by thousands of companies, large and small. Produced and sold by a single vendor, a large multinational with a long history of unethical business practices. Control maintained by aggressive use of intellectual property law.

Comes with complete schematics and a set of tools for making custom modifications. If you can't do this yourself, there are hundreds of different organisations and companies worldwide who offer customisation as a service. Is a sealed unit. Not only is access to its internal workings difficult, but international and national laws have been used to make it illegal to even look inside the casing, let alone modify the contents.

Uses standard pipe fittings; designed to connect with equipment from all suppliers. Uses proprietary and poorly documented pipe fittings - often deliberately designed to prevent connection with equipment from other suppliers.

There are no additional licensing costs on top of the cost of the equipment. As well as buying the product itself, you have to licence the right to use it. The licence fee increases with the number of people who use the pump.

A growing number of add-ons are available. A wider range of add-ons are available.

Has maybe 1% of the consumer mass-market, but is used by perhaps 30% of specialists in the field. Has more than 90% of the consumer mass-market.

Has a highly configurable control system. Has a simple standard set of controls which are easier to learn.

Is highly resource-efficient; works with older power sources. Requires a large, modern power source.

Often runs for years without any problems. Is notoriously prone to malfunction.

It is clear that Product A has to be the choice in this situation, under any criteria for appropriate technology (or ethical purchasing).

But this is an analogy - the actual comparison is, of course, between GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows.


July 2000 [links checked March 2001]

Many of the original links above have died; suggestions for replacements are welcome.

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