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Why software must be free

Most experts agree that software vendor lock-in is a problem and Free Software a solution. The controversial question is how serious the problem and how realistic the solution is.

On this page we explain why we believe that the problem is serious and the solution realistic. This page is biased. But even if you don’t share all our opinions, consider our belief as your warranty to long-lasting satisfaction because it changes our relationship from an owner-to-user dependency to a peer-to-peer partnership. As our customer you are legally free to choose another service provider at any moment without loosing the product that has grown by our collaboration.

Proprietary software is easier to use

An often-heard argument against free software is “For me as a non-expert, software products like MS Windows, MS Office and Google Maps are easier and cheaper to use than Linux, LibreOffice and OpenStreetMap”.

Yes, proprietary software is easier to use and sometimes cheaper than free software. And as an individual you will of course choose the easiest way, which is the mainstream, the way chosen by your friends.

But as the leader of an organization you are assumed to think further than an individual human. The captain of a ship must not only care whether the engine works optimally, he must also check whether the ship move into the right direction.

Tangible problems of proprietary software

There are a few aspects of software business you might care about even if you are not an IT expert:

As an end user you actually are an important contributor in the software development process. When you have a problem with a software product, then its owners should be thankful that you take the time of explaining them your problem. Every support request increases the value of their product. Despite this, most software developers make you pay for getting support. In a certain way it should be the opposite.

Who decides which features to include or remove in a software product? Who decides which versions they continue to maintain? The owner of course. The owner also decides about the price to pay. Using a software product makes you depend on its owner. The owner has motivation to bind you even further to their product.

“Proprietary software comes with major barriers such as high costs and vendor lock-in, making OSS more appealing as a viable alternative for digital government services.” (Tony Blair Institute, Open-Source Software: Three Considerations for Digital-Government Transformation)

At the world-wide level there is an increasing concentration of power towards a few software giants. National governments are worried. For example the German Federal Government agreed in 2021 that software development should be generally commissioned as open source. The parliament confirmed this in December 2023. Some activists discovered that in 2023 the government continues in an “obscene” way to spend most of their budget for proprietary rather than free software (sources: netzpolitik.org, computerwoche.de).

Sustainably Free Software

Our software is more than just “free” or “open-source”: we call it sustainably free. It means that we develop and maintain it using a business model that is based on sharing rather than limiting the right to use it.

While Free Software becomes more and more popular, it can get misused by players who integrate some proprietary part into an otherwise free product.

  • They gain control over the usage rights on some part of the product like an installer or a front end.

  • They use a liberal free license, which leaves them the legal back door of switching to a proprietary license when the product has acquired enough popularity.

When such attempts are disclosed, they lead to a free (but weakened) fork in the best case, or to the death of the product in the worst case.

A legally free software product may become non-free when one of its components is non-free. Documentation is an important part of a software product. An otherwise free product is not sustainable when documentation and expert knowledge about it is controlled by a single entity.

Conclusion

This page explains why we are proud to say that Synodal Software is not just “free” but sustainably free.

Synodal Software can be used by anybody and forever to write a new application or host an existing one. You can do the work yourself or delegate it to a service provider of your choice.

Further reading

Glossary

intellectual work

When you do the work of explaining something in public, then you become the author of that work.

Your work can be a poem, an article, a book, a picture, a movie, a song, a scientific report, just to mention the major types.

Intellectual work is stored on a medium. Before the digital era this medium was paper, cellulose and magnetic tape.

software product

An intellectual work consisting of a set of source files that may be compiled and then executed on a computer to make it provide a given set of functionalities.

This definition may differ from definitions used in proprietary software business where also compiled (non-source) content is considered a usable product.

The legal or natural person who published an intellectual work the source files of a software product and them. Modified or unmodified copies of the source files may be used only with permission of the copyright holder who usually specifies a license to regulate how his work may be used.

vendor lock-in

The situation of a customer who has become dependent on a vendor for products and services, unable to switching to another vendor without substantial costs or other obstacles.

proprietary software

Software that is published under a license that reserves to its copyright holder the right of sharing the software or derivative work.

Open-source software

Software for which the customer is given permission to consult the source code. This does not necessarily mean Free Software.

Free Software

Software that is published by its copyright holder under a license that permits and encourages sharing of the software or derivative work.

Do not mix up Free Software with freeware (a proprietary software work that is distributed without fee).

Sustainably Free Software

Free software that is developed and maintained using a business model that will keep it free. See Sustainably Free Software.

Software licenses are either free or proprietary. Free software licenses are either permissive or protective.

proprietary license

A license where the copyright holder reserves all usage rights of the source code to themselves, including maintenance and development.

free software license

A license where the copyright holder publicly gives certain usage rights to everybody under certain conditions.

permissive Free Software license

A free software license that sets minimal requirements about how the software or derivative work may be redistributed.

An example is the BSD License.

protective Free Software license

A free software license that requires redistribution of derivative work to be licensed under the same license.

An example is the GNU General Public License..