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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Amusing Free Software Story

From: mark
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Amusing Free Software Story
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:33:19 -0500
User-agent: Roundcube Webmail/0.9.3


I think that this story will be amusing and somewhat instructive of the kinds of things we are up against in trying to preserve some freedom for ourselves and posterity. In order for you to understand the story, you will need to know a little about me and my business, Picaflor Azul, which is a web design business. We are a free software business, by which I mean that we only use the GNU operating system (With a kernel by some guy from Sweden or something) and the software we write is all GPL too. I'm quite sure that I'll never be able to qualify as a saint in the church of emacs, but maybe I could be an aspirant.

Well, a couple of years ago my daughter was fifteen, and had just finished writing her second book. ( I was in the process of trying to publish them for her, and for various reasons I had to get it done as soon as possible. As far as I know, the ONLY sensible way to publish a book is using TEX and LATEX, so I wouldn't have ever tried to get any proprietary software to do the job, even if I could have afforded to do so. It was August, and we were all kind of running hither and thither trying to get the books published by September or October.

It was into this situation that my mother, with whom I had been out of touch for some time, decided to show up on her annual migration from Cape Cod to Florida. She is a VERY longstanding and diehard proprietary software user. As it turned out she was, unbeknownst to me, also a professional book editor and absolutely aghast that I would even think about trying to publish these two things I was trying to call books. Since I had nowhere near enough money to pay her the going rate for her services, she very kindly offered to help my daughter edit her book, and did a very good job on one of them, for which I am very grateful. My daughter learned a lot from her help.

Since I use all free software and she uses all proprietary software, there were some significant technical problems involving text documents versus various proprietary formats. I have had a lot of experience with this here and there, and trying to use documents in these proprietary formats always causes big problems, as far as I can tell. Since I had to use TEX and LATEX to have any chance at all of getting the books published on time, it was impossible to use a proprietary system even if I would have been willing to go out to the pawn shop and buy one. I just didn't have enough time to deal with all those nasty special/nonprinting characters. This is why I had to try to explain to my mother that I only use free software.

Unfortunately, in order to explain to her that I only used free software, I had to try to tell her that there was such a thing as free software. This turned out to be impossible. She kept insisting that she knew what free software was very well thank you, and telling me that it was the freeware proprietary stuff that is so common on that kind of system, and that none of it was worth anything at all. If I didn't pay for my software I was just being stupid. Everyone knows that free software is worthless. Don't you know that you only get what you pay for? Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

She stormed out and I have not spoken to her or seen her since, although she did send my wife an email to complain about a perceived breach of etiquette. I'm pretty sure that she still has no idea what free software is, and almost certainly never will. It is impossible to explain to someone like this that the main reason I can publish a book in a couple of months in stead of a couple of years, is because of the free software programs TEX and LATEX. They just can't ever get it. How much harder to explain how and why free software is so much better in so many ways? It boggles my mind that these simple and so important ideas about software and freedom, which are so obvious to me, are so far out of the reach of so many people.

I hope you enjoy the story.



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