purism isn't practical

I just thought I’d weigh in on my opinion on the recent slashdot troll of whether or not proprietary drivers should be let into Linux. The title of my post pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. Idealism is a noble goal, but you’re always going to have strike some bargain between principle and practicality.

One problem with being abosuletely purisitic is that the decision to do so is usually based upon a philosophy, of which in my opinion, they are all generally flawed to one degree or another. (Being a religious person, there is only one philosophy that is not flawed in my opinion, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.) With that in mind, I don’t accept human-made philosophies wholly, and I’m going to have to decide for myself some degree of what is right, and some degree of compromise. In the matter of FOSS, the compromise is going to be in the case of getting things done. I’ll admit, though, that my bias leans more towards practicality than purism when it comes to a choice between the two.

When I first started switching to libre software, the main attraction was first that it was free as in beer. Later, once I started learning about the ideals behind the communities, I was intrigued, and saw them as good reasons, both practically and ideally. There are some very good reasons for using open source software, both on a reasonable level and an altruistic one, neither of which can be argued away. I’m in favor of both at the same time, and my own open source projects are also written and released with those two as driving forces.

No matter how much I praise, admire, preach about and use free software though, you are always going to run into a situation where you are going to need to do interact with the world that isn’t using it. I use Samba at work. I convert GIFs to PNGs. I record calls with Skype. I watch DVDs. I play games. I chat on AIM. Some of those, I have to use free software that interacts with a proprietary world by choice, but in some cases, I have to just to let my life move forward.

A good example is Aaron’s idea to switch to Jabber-only communications over IM. I applaud his idealism, and I envy him for making such a bold move, but I would worry about cutting off communication with others who just don’t see things the way I do. It might be possible to convince all my friends to use Jabber clients instead of AOL / Yahoo / MSN / ICQ, but chances are more likely they won’t fire up one client (or switch to a client that has multi-protocol capabilities) just to talk to me. So, I compromise. I interact on their terms that they they consider standard.

Another example is my car stereo. The thing only plays WMAs and MP3s. Now, I don’t like MP3s because of the gray software patent area, to say nothing about Ogg Vorbis’s superior sound quality, but right now its the only choices I have if I want to put in a CD to listen to a lot of music. Now, there are other alternatives to this scenario, but they are not as practical. One option would be to buy a portable music player whose software has support for Oggs, and then run a line-in cable to my car stereo. Again in this case though, Ive sacrificed my standards a little bit just so it’s simpler to do things the way I want them. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not going to make things harder just for my stand on software policies.

Which is not to say I don’t think they’re important. On the other hand, I think the GPL is a little too restrictive, so I release my software as public domain so that anyone, anywhere can use it for any reason, whatsoever. I know that the GPL enforces that derivatives of that will also be freely avaiable, but in my opinion even that is too restrictive for my tastes (again, only for my software I release).

Let me take another example of purism to the extreme. Let’s say I won’t shop at Wal-Mart because of the corporate atrocities they expend upon their employees and local economies worldwide. That’s great, but where do you draw the line on the principle? I believe that the fact of the matter is that if you start elminiating corporations from your purcashing list because of violations against human rights, that eventually you’ll be left with the prospect of making your own clothes, and having a garden out in front of your house, and eventually being completely self-sustainable. Which, is not a bad goal at all, but it does stand in the way of practicality.

Anyway, my point is this, to each his own. I love free software, support it and use it wherever possible, but I don’t let it draw the lines for me of what I can and can’t do on everything. Moderation in all things, I suppose.

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1 Comment

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One response to “purism isn't practical

  1. First, I disagree with your title. Purism is very practical, regardless of how you look at it. Second, I agree with you wholeheartedly that everyone is allowed to express themselves as they wish. Definitely when it comes to software and their stance on the GPL and Linux.

    I am a purist, and only use open source solutions. But that’s me. Others may be pragmatists and run both proprietary software and OSS. There is nothing wrong with that. Linux has been built for the masses in mind, not the extremists, such as myself.

    I guess I can see how using only Jabber would alienate the users that are in my contact list using legacy IM protocols. However, I am not advocating, nor have I ever, that they should only use open protocols too. If they want to chat with me, all they need to do is just add another account. If they wish not to, that is fine. As far as using multi-protocols, however, most of the users in my list are geeks, and have more than one account to begin with. Email has been around for a long time, and stands as a great communication tool. So I guess email would be my compromise.

    In a nutshell, I think it is great that there is such a wide array of opinions on this matter. It is what keeps Linux going.

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