Breaking Down Barriers: How Proprietary Software Controls You

Wed, 17 Apr 2024

Have you ever stopped to think, do you truly control your computer? It's a question that often goes unasked. We power on our devices, run programs, and interact with the digital world, assuming we're the ones in charge or perhaps not even pondering the matter. But this control we believe we have is nothing more than an illusion, a facade carefully crafted by proprietary software.

Proprietary software operates under a veil of secrecy. Its inner workings are hidden, and its source code is a guarded secret accessible only to the developer who made it. This translates directly into a lack of control for you, the user. You are not just limited but bound by the restrictions imposed by the developer, confined by their vision and rules to do or not do whatever they say. This is not just a lack of control; it's a feeling of being trapped, of being at the mercy of someone else's decisions.

Let's dissect these restrictions and expose the control they strip away:

1. Restrictions on Use: Proprietary software licenses may limit the number of installations, restrict commercial use, the type of hardware you can run it on, or even dictate how you can use it. Imagine a calendar program that says abortion clinics can't use it for scheduling. Whatever the activity, someone somewhere may find an issue with it. The only answer is that we can't allow such restrictions on use. This fundamentally undermines your freedom to be in control of the software rather than the other way around. Imagine purchasing a car but being told you can only drive it on certain roads or at certain times of the day. Such restrictions would be absurd, yet many seem to accept them without question in software.

2. Restrictions on Modification: Imagine wanting to tweak a program to suit your needs better, add a feature, fix a frustrating bug, or remove something that you don't like. Proprietary software slams the door on this possibility. You are forced to rely on the developer to implement changes, leaving you at the mercy of their priorities and timelines. This lack of control means you cannot adapt the software to your unique workflow or address specific needs. Instead, you find yourself pleading with the developers, "Please, almighty developer, please make this change," hoping they might hear your pleas and deem them worthy of their attention. This power dynamic places you in a subservient position, subject to the whims of the corporation. You are not in control; you are at their mercy.

Even if you decide to switch to another proprietary software program, you are merely changing masters. You have yet to escape the inherent control that proprietary software exerts. You remain within the confines of a system that prioritizes the developer's interests over the users' freedom.

3. Restrictions on Sharing: Sharing software with a friend or colleague becomes an ethical and legal tightrope with proprietary software. The ability to help others and collaborate freely is stifled, creating an environment of isolation and dependence. Imagine if you couldn't lend a book to a friend or share a recipe with a neighbor. Proprietary software imposes similar barriers. This lack of sharing restricts collaboration and community building, further isolating users and reinforcing the developer's control.

As discussed in The Price of Convenience, proprietary software can lure people with the promise of convenience. It's pre-packaged, seemingly ready to use out of the box. However, this convenience comes at a steep cost - your freedom. You become dependent on the developer for everything from updates to bug fixes and everything else. This dependence creates a just power imbalance. The illusion of convenience masks the reality of control and dependence.

Beyond the Individual: The ramifications of proprietary software extend far beyond individual users. It impacts society as a whole. What you use shows others that it is okay. When people use programs like GitHub or other examples where proprietary software is needed to do anything, you're not just using it; you're helping it spread, creating barriers, and concentrating power in the hands of the developer. Schools and universities become facilities for teaching people that it's okay to be controlled by and dependent on proprietary software, and also limiting their ability to provide quality education. The control exerted by proprietary software also stifles innovation and exacerbates social inequalities. This is not just about you; it's about the society we live in and the future we want to create.

Why does this matter? This isn't a technical issue; it's an ethical one. Free software champions the principles of user freedom. It empowers you to study, modify, and share your software. This fosters an environment where users are in control of their computing. This is the vision of the free software movement. I urge you to consider these points and take a step towards using free software, thereby supporting the movement and reclaiming control over your digital life.