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Ryan Cartwright [opinions]

Can we please stop fighting FUD with FUD? [free-software] [community] [fud]

It has long been the case that proprietary software companies regularly engage in FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactics against their opponents. This particularly seems to apply to Microsoft's statements about free software in general and GNU/Linux in particular. Recently I've noticed a surge in the amount of FUD going the other way--from the FOSS community towards Microsoft and other proprietary software companies. Why do we feel it is necessary to fight FUD with FUD

#The genesis of FUD

According to Wikipedia FUD has been used in various contexts since the 1920s but became more used as a terminology in the 1980s and 1990s. It is most frequently associated with Microsoft. Of course, they are not the only proponents of FUD but they do seem to employ it a fair bit.

I am not a fan of Microsoft or their monopolistic marketing tactics

FUD from the FOSS community is, again, not new but in recent years it has become a more widespread tactic--particularly where Microsoft is the target. Just so I don't give the wrong idea: I am not a fan of Microsoft or their monopolistic marketing tactics. I just don't think the FOSS community should be so ready to use those same tactics as a defence. So what are the examples of FOSS FUD then? I don't want to make this into a rant against any individual so I won't give explicit examples but below are the kinds of arguments you might find in FOSS FUD.


  • "Using FOSS will save you thousands!"
  • "Microsoft's products suck"
  • "If you are not using 100% free software--don't bother"

That list in not exhaustive but why would I consider this FUD? To be honest--it's not the statements themselves as the way they are presented. What bothers me is when the "facts" are twisted or poorly researched. All it does is make us look at best foolish and at worst dishonest. When you compare the retail cost of the most expensive proprietary product ranges it is a comparison most people won't recognise. In the proprietary world bulk-discounts, student editions, special offers abound. Rarely do people pay the full retail price. In any case I've said before that cost is not the best argument to use--particularly as others have mentioned you may not always be the cheapest. Using cost may get people's attention but it won't last if your 'facts' are biased--even with the best of intentions.

If you're to going run down Microsoft products then you need to be specific. What products suck, why and how do they suck? I see a lot of this type of thing that simply shows the proponent has rarely used the product in question. Aside from that, is this really a good argument to make? Are we really going to be so arrogant as to imply that free software doesn't suck at all? By running down the opposition aren't we implying there are no issues with "our" software? Arguing your case by running down the opposition is the stuff of politicians and is pure FUD. Argue your case on the merits of free software not the faults of the proprietary alternatives. There are situations when it is useful to highlight the differences there's a very real danger of it sounding bitter and jealous.

With regards the purist argument: I agree that the world would be better if everyone used entirely free software--something I try to do myself. That said, if you come in too quick and aggressive with this point you can drive people away just as they are starting to take an interest. We need to encourage people to take small steps into our brave new world. Let's allow people to open their eyes at their own pace.

Swapping shoes

Before we make any plug for free software, we would do well to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. What may sound obvious to us could sound bitter, pedantic or jealous to them. It's difficult to do this though and we'll always come to that point where mis-information needs correcting. This is when we need to consider how they may interpret what we say or write.

If we want to promote free software--and it's associated ideals--to new users then we should promote it on its merits, without twisting facts and by giving them a chance to get it wrong occasionally. Most Windows users I know moan about it. They tell me it's 'bad' without me having to tell them. My job therefore becomes simpler: to tell them how they will benefit from free software.


Fighting FUD with FUD will nearly always leave the listener/reader confused and less enthusiastic about your side. I--for one--would like to see more blogs and comments on why free software is good rather than why Microsoft is bad. So let's start here. Your task is complete the sentence "Free software is good because..." in less than 50 words.


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