This post is taken from a response to a comment I made on this blog post at ChurchIT. It embodies much of why I want to do this blog. We as Christians just don’t think about the business models used to deliver the products we buy and what values those business models support. I obviously believe we should think about it and that when we do think about it, the decision to use open source culture rather than closed culture become obvious. Enjoy the post.
OK, so I wanted to take some time to revisit my comment about Microsoft and Apple being “evil” and I’ll go ahead and apologize for the length, but thanks in advance for reading or at least skimming it.
I’m mainly focusing on John’s response to my comment:
Calling companies or individuals evil is a poor tactic. I could probably find plenty of “evil” people in the Linux community. Let’s make sure we’re Christ-like in our discusson and stick to the facts.
So this is my attempt to clarify my position, “stick to the facts” and be “Christ-like”. I tried to only talk about what was completely necessary, but I know that this is probably a new way to think about this issue for many of you so keeping it too short can cause confusion as evidenced by John’s response to my last comment. Speaking of which, before I go on I think it would be helpful to clarify a few things about my initial comment:
1) Even taking my comment completely seriously, I didn’t mean that Microsoft and Apple are absolutely evil in all aspects. I would think this would be obvious as there are always good and bad about anything (except God). On the other hand, as Christians, it’s obvious (at least to me) that we should be lining up corporate ethics and business practices with biblical values and if they don’t match up, they can be considered “evil” as a general term. Just like a person, a company can be judged by the fruit it bears (sorry Apple, pun intended)
2) I’ll strike my comment about Steve Jobs from the record. Talking about specific people confuses the issue that I’m really talking about which is the business ethics of the companies, not the personal ethics or morality of anyone working for the company. While Steve Jobs’ public comments and attitudes are synonymous with Apple’s as he has chosen to be the face of Apple, I’ll ignore that fact to get to the issue I’m talking about: corporate ethics and business practices. I’m not attacking or judging any person. Period.
OK, now for the good stuff. First, I won’t go into detail about why the business ethics of Microsoft or Apple are evil. That’s already been discussed at length and here is a good summary article about Microsoft from the Free Software Foundation.
If you think Apple is any different, here’s a recent article from Newsweek that basically gushes about Apple products, but mentions in several places how proprietary, litigous and unmerciful Apple can be. While there are differences in the two companies, they share many similarities in how they do business.
I’ll summarize the position by saying that in general Microsoft and Apple have business practices that are unforgiving, unmerciful, overly litigous, self-serving, greedy…the list could go on. Again, while some positive adjectives could be thrown in there (again, they aren’t completely evil in their business practices), I think it’s safe to say that the former list doesn’t mirror biblical values very well at all. Now you ask, “but aren’t they just being good business by doing so…competition is fierce and they need to compete?”. And of course the answer is a resounding “YES!”. They are being good businesses according to secular standards. Of course, the Bible doesn’t tell us to be good businesses and to make a lot of money for our investors, does it? As Christians, we’re called to be different from the world. That means our whole lives. How and where we and our churches spend our money supports a set of values that should hopefully match our personal beliefs. Shouldn’t it?
The other part of this discussion is the comment relating to the fact that Ubuntu and Linux isn’t any different from Microsoft and Apple. Yeah, I beg to differ…surprised?! Probably not.
We’ll talk about Ubuntu explicitly for discussions sake, but most, if not all, of the arguments translate to any company using a purely open source business model (of which there are many).
Ubuntu uses completely free, open-source software in their business model. In order to make money, you pay Ubuntu for services, not the software itself. What this means is that while Ubuntu controls their distribution, they don’t control the licensing of their software. Their licensing comes from the author and contributors of the different projects that chose to make their software open-source. As long as Ubuntu complies with the open-source licensing terms (mainly, to make any derivative works also open source), they can use the software however they choose for commercial purposes. The beauty of this model is that:
1) If I can’t afford services, I can still get the software absolutely free (i.e. you have more time than money). I don’t have to break the law to use the software. This helps the poor and less fortunate in many ways. Helping the poor is a biblical value.
2) If I decide that Ubuntu becomes “evil”, I can move to a distribution that isn’t so “evil” because the software is available to anyone that complies to the open source license. This allows me, as a Christian, to choose to support companies that use open source software in ways that mirror Christian values (whether they are doing so purposefully or not). In fact, if I decide Ubuntu is “evil”, I can actually create my own derivative distribution of Ubuntu and create the “NotSoEvilUbuntu” company and do the same thing Ubuntu is doing, with the same software and compete with them. I can also just choose not to support the company by choosing not to pay for services. On the other hand, Microsoft and Apple deliberately use business methods that limit choice and sometimes even force you to use their product (ever tried getting someone else to open a spreadsheet you created in other than Microsoft Excel format?). Freedom to choose is a biblical value.
3) The company has no licensing rights over the software, so Ubuntu can’t sue any one for using, copying, or redistributing the software unless they do so in greedy ways (ex. they don’t comply with the open source license). Punishing greed is a biblical value.
4) Open source business models serve the community as well as the company’s profits. Serving the community is a biblical value.
While there are others, those are the big hitters. Of course, there are lots of “good” and “evil” people in the Ubuntu community. Additionally, open source projects and business models aren’t Christian in and of themselves. However, at a minimum, the business models supported by open source software and culture are much closer to biblical values than proprietary models and many aspects of open source culture mirror principles from the Bible very directly (that subject is what my blog is all about). Therefore, I must conclude that open source companies like Ubuntu are not “evil” or at least much less “evil” by their very nature than companies with proprietary business models like Microsoft and Apple. If I must conclude that, then it seems as Christians it should be a consideration for the decision on which software, hardware, etc. we use, especially in our churches (even if the technical and financial considerations say otherwise).
And for me that leads me to always avoid proprietary software when an open source alternative exists and using the least proprietary solution when OS alternatives aren’t available. Of course, more companies are using hybrid (open-source AND proprietary) business models, so it’s not always a clear case like the one above). In fact, Microsoft and Apple have even been partially forced on the open source bandwagon through competition.
Of course the only reason I brought this all up is that John only mentioned technical and financial considerations in his review of a PC or Mac only environment (including his miniscule review of Linux). Since this is ChurchIT.com and not IT.com, I expect there to be other considerations besides what the secular world would consider. That’s really it. If I want general IT advice, I’ll go somewhere else…here I expect advice that’s not only applicable to church use cases, but also centered on Christ-like values and in this post, I personally found it wanting.
Let the flaming commence…I wouldn’t post things like this if I couldn’t take the heat.
Please feel free to comment here as well on the ChurchIT post.