Living Libre - Wed, Aug 12, 2020
An exercise in making ideals real.
Let’s try using only libre software!
As a Linux user most of my applications are already free software, but I want to try going 100% libre.
Why does it matter? Here’s an analogy.
Imagine buying cookies from a stranger. You’re given the final product but you don’t know the ingredients or the recipe. The cookies could look delicious and taste delicious but also contain harmful ingredients like allergens.
Proprietary software is similar, you’re given a product but not the source code that made it. It might look nice and be enjoyable to use, but transparently it’s harming you by collecting your data or even damaging your system.
When we say free software, we don’t mean price but freedom. In the cookie example, the problem isn’t that it costs money to buy cookies but rather we don’t have the freedom to know how they were made or to tweak the recipe to best serve our needs. Likewise, the issue with software is not that it often harms our own interests.
I’ll try to use the word libre instead of free to avoid any confusion.
“The cookies could look delicious and taste delicious but actually contain harmful ingredients or allergens.”
What was removed?
Overall I don’t use that much proprietary software, but I’ve been using these a lot.
Discord has blown up as the primary communications platform for many people online. Not using Discord will result in the complete inability to communicate and participate with certain people and social circles. It’s not just for gamers either, real development and work gets done on this platform. There’s a good reasons not to use it besides simply being unfree software. Discord is funded by Chinese company Tencent, they spy on you and collect your data, and have been known to censor political views.
Steam is probably the biggest sacrifice for me. I have countless games and also use it as a communications platform. I’ve been impressed with the rate of Linux support and adoption by Valve and the creation of community made tools like Luxtorpeda. Valve is one of the better gaming companies because they’re not publicly traded and not obligated to shareholders. However, Steam is still nonfree software, and so are most of the games.
Nvidia Binary Drivers are another problem. When I buy new hardware I look for the best value and Nvidia usually provides the superior performance for the price. Sadly the official drivers are proprietary and the open source Nouveau drivers, while being an awesome project, provide a worse experience.
unrar is a simple unarchiving utility that’s sadly unfree. LibrePlanet suggests using GNA unrar or The Unarchiver instead. Thankfully I don’t have to unrar very often.
“Discord is funded by Chinese company Tencent, they spy on you and collect your data, and have been known to censor political views.”
Why proprietary games are part of the problem
While many Linux users, including myself at times, enjoy many of the freedoms libre software provides, we’re too often willing to make exceptions for games. There’s an idea that games are just different from other software. Unfortunately there’s plenty of instances of video games harming users.
DRM or Digital Rights Management is a copy protection method for preventing game piracy. Unfortunately it often has the opposite effect, preventing legitimate game copies from working correctly and ironically pirates who obtain free copies without DRM end up being a better experience than paying customers.
Redshell is a piece of malicious software that was bundled with many games. It violated user privacy by spying on the user’s activities outside the game. It’s likely other spyware is included in games as well, they just slip under the radar.
Lootboxes are a common way modern games exploit the psychology of players for monetary gain. They simulate gambling and the associated compulsion and reward systems of the brain. Children and those with disabilities are especially vulnerable and gambling legislation has not yet caught up.
Of course, issues like these do not usually exist in libre games. If a libre game did happen to have unwanted features, it would be possible to analyze the source code and fork the project to remove the offending material. Not so with proprietary software. Your freedom, privacy, and even the future of your children is at risk.
The unfree data question
When it comes to games, there’s plenty of engine reimplementation projects that provide a libre and modern alternative to aging nonfree game engines. These usually require the original game assets to function, in which case are they really free? I find this analogous to a media player, although the media player software may be libre itself it can still play copyrighted music or video data and indeed a game engine reimplementation can be used to create and run any game data (see Freedoom). We need to ask ourselves if the problem that we’re trying to solve with libre software also applies to copyrighted works in general. Personally I think software should be free but artwork could go either way. I can certainly envision a future where it’s commonplace to make game engines and source code libre, but assets like art and sound are copyrighted. This would make the game economically sustainable by requiring a purchase while also protecting the consumer by being free software.
What about emulators?
Emulators run the original (unfree) code of the game. This is not analogous to a media player simply playing back copyrighted data, but more like playing a nonfree game in a Virtual Machine or WINE. However, if you’re just looking to avoid negative aspects of modern games like DRM, spyware, and gambling mechanics it’s doubtful a game run from an emulator will be any risk. However, the games are not free software.
“These usually require the original game assets to function, in which case are they really libre?”
Matrix is a libre communication software similar to Discord and it’s improved a lot in the past ~5 years. It has end-to-end encryption and plenty of clients to choose from.
AMD GPUs have libre drivers and are preferable to Nvidia hardware for this reason. I can repurpose my old Nvidia GPU for a virtual machine as they usually have better PCI-Passthrough support.
“I’ve been enjoying the first-person shooter Xonotic.”
I’ve really had no major problems so far, I’ve had a lot of enjoyment playing libre games and I’m slowly creating new communications channels with my social circle on libre platforms. I don’t know how long this will last but right now it suits me fine.
Perhaps next time you’re about to use an unfree program, simply seek out a libre alternative.
Want to contact me? You can do so on Matrix @noderunner:matrix.org