When is using proprietary software “okay”?

I think people ought to boycott proprietary software companies, because choosing to use proprietary software is not “okay” - it is unethical to agree not to share software with your friends, and an antisocial reduction of your liberty to use software no one can study and change.

But people ought to buy hardware from hardware companies that preinstall GNU/Linux, even if they include some proprietary software.

Why do I think there is a difference?

If proprietary software companies abandoned GNU/Linux, that would be a great success. But if hardware companies abandoned GNU/Linux, that would be a disaster.

Buying hardware that comes preinstalled with GNU/Linux but includes some proprietary drivers is good as long as you remove the proprietary software and tell the hardware company about what you did, and why you can’t recommend the hardware to your friends yet. It shows the hardware company that there is a market for computers that use free software, but that software freedom really does matter to their customers, and they would sell more hardware (through the best form of advertising, honest referrals) if they used only free software.

If I buy an eeePC, that is certainly what I will do.

Also, when acting as an employee of a company that owns computers, using their copies of proprietary software is okay - as long as you are (trying to persuade them to be) moving to free software.


If you do not have “administrative” or “root user” rights and access to the computer, the software installed is not under your control - but you have some degree of influence over what the company chooses to run, and it is important to use that influence as much as you can.

However, if you are asked to develop proprietary software, you ought to refuse, and be willing to resign - earning profits is good, but not when it attacks public freedom and friendship.

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The When is using proprietary software “okay”? by David Crossland, except the quotations and unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


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