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Why is GNU software better than proprietary software?

Proprietary software is often looked down upon in the free software world for many reasons:

    * It is closed to external scrutiny.
    * Users are unable to add features to the software
    * Users are unable to correct errors (bugs) in the software

The result of this is that proprietary software,

    * does not confirm to good standards for information technology.
    * is incompatible with other proprietary software.
    * is buggy.
    * cannot be fixed.
    * costs far more than it is worth.
    * can do anything behind your back without you knowing.
    * is insecure.
    * tries to be better than other proprietary software without meeting real technical needs.
    * wastes a lot of time duplicating the effort of other proprietary software.
    * often does not build on existing software because of licensing issues or ignorance

GNU software on the other hand is open for anyone to scrutinize it. Users can (and do) freely fix and enhance software for their own needs, then allow others the benefit of their extensions. Many developers of different expertise collaborate to find the best way of doing things. Open industry and academic standards are adhered to, to make software consistent and compatible. Collaborated effort between different developers means that code is shared and effort is not replicated. Users have close and direct contact with developers ensuring that bugs are fixed quickly and users needs are met. Because source code can be viewed by anyone, developers write code more carefully and are more inspired and more meticulous.

Another partial reason for this superiority is that GNU software is often written by people from academic institutions who are in the centre of IT research, and are most qualified to dictate software solutions. In other cases authors write software for their own use out of their own dissatisfaction for existing proprietry software - a powerful motivation.


JohnForDummies said...

Don't get me wrong, I use Linux on all my machines at home, and I use as much OSS as I can get away with at work, but the following things can be said of OSS as well:

* tries to be better than other [OSS] software without meeting real technical needs. (I'm thinking KDE vs. GNOME)

* wastes a lot of time duplicating the effort of other [OSS] software. (How many text editors do I need? Why is so much software forked?)

* often does not build on existing software because of licensing issues or ignorance (Can be said of a lot of different projects.)

Alan Moore said...


- Do FOSS projects really "compete" like this, or is that just what the sportscast-style press likes to present to us. Do you think KDE developers are really spending time trying to "one-up" GNOME or are they just trying to create some cool software?

- Is it wasted time or duplicate effort to have multiple proprietary office suites, or multiple proprietary IDEs? People who say things like this have a fundamentally wrong view of FOSS, as if it were a company that can provision programmers to whatever need is most pressing. There are so many text editors because (a) text editors are relatively easy to create and (b) programmers have strong opinions about how they should operate (since they use them). FOSS is evolution. To have evolution you need a diverse population so that the most fit can be naturally selected.

- And this is different from proprietary software how?

Jean-Marc Liotier said...

@jhunt1 - The exact same objections you present also apply to proprietary software. They are natural by-products of the competitive process.

Anonymous said...

Users don't contact developers, developers contact developers. (I have never met a client who wanted to have a chat with the developer because something sucks...)

Being FOSS does not equal faster bug resolving and/or the meeting of users' needs.

Proprietary and GNU projects are the people that manage it. There are projects that resolve bugs fast and meet users' needs (if it can be done) and projects that plainly state that "if you want it, build it yourself and don't bother me/us about it"

Meeting standards? Opera met certain standards before Firefox did and that is definitely not GNU software. (Not to mention the innovations that where later rebuilt by Firefox...)

There is one huge advantage about proprietary software: development is aimed at customers (= users) and not "to scratch an itch" which is usually the case in GNU software. Basically that means that _most of the time_ software evolves in a very logical way and not based on a whim of the developers.

The developer of software determines security and adherence to standards, NOT the license under which it is built.

Real technical needs are irrelevant to your clients. They don't look at technique but at usability. If a certain function is built in, which already exists elsewhere, it doesn't meet a real technical need, but it does fulfill my clients' need.

Compatibility in GNU software sucks. In KDE I just can't get Firefox(Iceweasel) to replace Konqueror in ALL browsing activity that I want. Replacing Konqueror with ROX-Filer is also an impossibility for me. Maybe you ask why? Well, KDE developers want me to use Konqueror instead of software of my choosing. (Do you see the comparison in 'duplicate efforts'...)

Speaking of duplicate efforts: Linux versus HURD is an example of duplicate efforts (just like Konqueror/ Firefox above is)

Duplicate efforts are a Good Thing, because it stimulates innovation and the solving of problems.

So, GNU software is definitely NOT better. Please do not confuse users with developers in the future, if obfuscates the discussion and creates the wrong line of reasoning (as shown in this post)

I R A Darth Aggie said...

You forgot one of the pitfalls of proprietary software: the onerous end-user license agreement that can be changed with your next upgrade.

Compare that to the GPL, where one doesn't even have to accept the license if all one is doing is using the software.

Anonymous said...

I'm definetly a big FOSS fan, but there are a few points here that aren't entirely fair. But they would be accurate with a little bit of revision:

"* is buggy."
Often true of FOSS software as well. Maybe "Retains bugs for unjustified periods of time" might be better.

"* cannot be fixed."
More accurately, "Can not be fixed by the people who depend on it."

"* costs far more than it is worth."
Maybe "usually costs far more..." would be better. But generally accurate. One sad thing about a world dominated by proprietary software, is the users are led to believe they must pay something to get their computer to do the most basic things (like boot into a GUI, or word processing).

As a novice programmer, I might also add "promotes programming innovation and freedom."

rstanley said...

I assume that by saying "GNU Software" you are referring to the entire "Free" and "Open Source" Software world.

There is a VERY BIG difference between "GNU Software" (or "Free Software"), and Open Source Software. Software who's copyrights are currently held by the Free Software Foundation are only a small part of the Non-Proprietary Software world. Much of the original software, corrections, improvements, etc... claimed by the FSF, are actually written by individuals, and companies, with no connection to the FSF, except by the FSF requiring the authors copyrights transferred to the FSF! And they call this being "Free"?

Instead of referring to "GNU Software", you should refer to F/OSS, FOSS, or FLOSS (for Free/Libre/Open Source Software).

JohnForDummies said...

Maybe I wasn't very clear in my first post, but I wasn't trying to put down GNU or OSS software. I was trying to point out that some of the arguments in the blog post aren't true only of proprietary software, but can be said of any software.

@Jean-Marc Liotier:
Of course those arguments can be said of proprietary software... I took them right out of the blog post. That was my point, those can't be arguments used to say that GNU (OSS) is better than proprietary if the same is true about them.

@alan moore:
1) Maybe the respective developers are just trying to create cool software as you say, but ultimately, yes, they do compete with each other. Whether it's the developers or the end users who create the competition, it's there. I've waded through way too many "religious" desktop flame wars.

2) My point was there is as much duplication in the OSS world as there is in proprietary world, if not more. Is it wasted time? It can be. As a developer, when I'm investigating or considering a new technology or language, I'll often recreate an existing piece of software with the new tools because I know what the end result should be, I don't consider that wasting my time. I do consider it a waste of time when developers jump ship and fork a project because they got their feelings hurt.

3) That's the point exactly! The original blog post says that GNU software is better than proprietary software because of this reason, but it applies to all software everywhere.

Anonymous said...

You are a complete and utter tool. First all the reasons you give for GNU programs being "superior" are all invisible to the common user and common users dont give two rusty craps for any of your listed reasons. Second, more eyes does not mean more secure code. If more than 12 people used Linux on their desktops (the number is an exaggeration, dont get riled up) you would see a lot more attacks that your rocket scientists cant fix. Are you trying to say GNU programs are better because they dont try to clone each other? how misinformed you are. Hell for an example look at the 12,000 distibutions. Which one do I use? The one that cant completely do a damn thing but boot (Ubuntu)? Or do I want to use one that the only thing I can do is read the bible (Ubuntu CE)? Or do I try to use the one that tries to mimic probably one of the most popular OS's, the Mac OS (gOS)? GNU software developers are so out of touch with the common user its not even funny. Common users dont give a crap about religous licensing arguments, they want their systems to just work and the funny thing is when someone creates a system that even comes close, Turbolinux, Xandros, PCLOS, PC/OS and Linux Mint you guys shun it like its the plague. Until you get a clue about the commom user Linux and GNU software will ALWAYS be bargain basement, second shelf offerings. Is proprietary software perfect? Hell no, but at least I dont have to beg borrow and steal to even get half the functionality Im used to.

Anonymous said...

> You are a complete and utter tool. [...]
> two rusty craps [...]
> If more than 12 people used Linux on
> their desktops [...]

Really there's no need of reading more to see this is a troll.

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