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    For reasons that are complicated and that I don’t fully understand, the software development community in the eighties and nineties developed a culture of anti-capitalism and liberal values that put technology on a pedestal for its own sake. Open source good; commercial software bad. Free software good; commercial software bad.

    I wouldn’t claim that the entirety of the software development community did this (or even that everyone who makes software is in one monolithic community, either today or in the 80s and 90s). The free software movement is a specific subset of software developers who believe that software licensed under freedom-preserving terms is better quality or more ethical than other software. This isn’t now and wasn’t then the position of every software developer - plenty of closed source or otherwise non-free software has been written by many different programmers (myself included) continuously since that time.

    I’m not entirely unsympathetic to such ideas, but it’s seems clear, now, that these ideas have had unintended consequences. The idea of free software, for example, has led to a software economy where you, the user, are no longer the customer, but the product.

    Most software such that the user is the product rather than the customer is not in fact free software. Large platform companies that offer a monetarily-free, ad-supported service to their users don’t release the code for that software under free terms. I don’t think that there’s a good case that the existence of free software has lead to this state of affairs either - at best, you can say that user-hostile platforms often use free software internally - Facebook and Google can use nginx and git internally to help them build and serve their own non-free software - but that’s because anyone can use free software for any purpose. That’s the point of free software.

    The idea of open source, too, seems largely defunct as a means of ‘sticking it to the man’. The big tech companies now embrace open source. Despite initial enmity towards open source, Microsoft now owns GitHub and is one of the most active contributors. Google and Facebook control popular front-end platforms such as Angular and React, as well as many other technologies such as Android or GraphQL. Continue the list at your own leisure.

    This constitutes a partial victory condition for many free software advocates. GitHub itself is a non-free and closed-source platform run by a single company (and indeed this is a good reason to avoid using it), but any software produced by Microsoft under a free license is strictly better than them releasing it under a non-free license, or not releasing it at all. And if I fork it, I can repost it on any of several open-source Git hosting platforms that aren’t GitHub. Google and Facebook control these particular popular Javascript libraries in the sense that they employ the main people who maintain the software. But the software is still freely licensed - I or anyone else can fork it if I want to do something different with it, or disapprove of a change these companies make to it.

    I’m all for sticking it to the man, in the sense of disrupting the operations of large private platform companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. But the existence of free software is mostly orthogonal to the problems I have with these large institutions. They would be less problematic if more of their software was more free, in fact!