Freedom from, or Freedom to?

March 1st, 2007

Today I started reading Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice. On page 3 of the prologue, he talks about the difference between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’. Schwartz came up with these phrases based on Isaiah Berlin’s essay “Two Concepts of Liberty”, published in 1969.

I immediately wondered how this applies to open source projects, and what I’ve been hearing in the various interviews I’ve been doing over the last few months. I’ve thought for a while that ‘freedom’ is an undervalued concept in the open source movement. It’s unfortunate that many people first think of cost when they hear term ‘free software’, hence the widely used advice to ‘think free kitten, not free beer’

The FSF’s four software freedoms are all ‘freedoms to’, and they definitely represent the developer perspective. Some of the people at the ‘user’ end of the spectrum have focused more on ‘freedoms from’. Three of them are:

  • freedom from license fees;
  • freedom from compulsory upgrades; and
  • freedom from vendor lock-in.

Since I finished the last face-to-face interview transcript yesterday, and am just waiting for two of the email interviews to be completed (I’ll send out follow up messages again tomorrow), I’m finally ready to start analysing the data. I’m looking forward to seeing what additional ‘freedoms from’ and ‘freedoms to’ I find, if any.

I’m still mulling over how Ranganathan’s second law, ‘Every person his or her book’ can be applied in the context of open source software. Watch this space for my conclusion. I also have a movie/DVD catch up post to write. We’ve recently seen Borat, Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 movie), A Prairie Home Companion, and The Corpse Bride. Eclectic is probably the only word to describe the list.

Entry Filed under: Research, Free/open source


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