A New Dawn for Software Freedom

Alexandre Oliva

"Night's black mantle covers all alike."
-- Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas

January, 2020, marked the sunset of two very popular software platforms. Users of both have long been warned in advance and extended support is available, but nevertheless many users felt compelled to upgrade. Such helplessness is common in non-free software, but free software users have autonomy. How could it feel the same?

Windows 7 is non-free, so the vendor knows they can corral users away from it, unless they heed our call to liberate it, which would enable communities to keep on maintaining it independently, just as Python 2 ones can, and indeed some have.

Whether twelve years are long enough to leave a programming language behind, and whether there are good enough reasons to do so are debatable (GCC maintains support for popular languages from the 1970's) but also besides the point: free software users always have an alternative to taking commands from a vendor.

Why, then, do some of the FAQs at the Python 2 sunset page seem to be responding to user frustration out of a recommendation to upgrade by a certain date? I suspect, after years of propaganda and abuse turning them into passive consumers, they just don't realize they have a choice, or even that they should have it. This shows we have more work to do in letting them know of their rights and freedoms in using free software, as well as of the supporting ethical framework.

As non-free software vendors and users join our communities, they may bring over their mindsets and practices. Until the importance of valuing, defending and enjoying the freedoms we have conquered dawns on users, they may mistake developer advice as mandate. This renders them vulnerable to social engineering attacks, and unethical vendors may exploit this weakness to subject users of freedom-respecting software to mistreatment that can only be imposed on users of non-free software. May the dawn break before the attack comes.

"The day begins to break, and night is fled,
Whose pitchy mantle over-veil'd the earth."
-- William Shakespeare

Thanks to figosdev and rms for suggestions and reviews of drafts of this article.

Copyright 2020 Alexandre Oliva

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