Linux should work with everything, proprietary gadgets and all

Recently I’ve been pondering about the role of Linux and free software and whether we should be concentrating on making proprietary stuff work seamlessly with it (or just concentrating on making great free software for us).

I’ve come to the conclusion that we should be making everything “just work.”

Most things are proprietary, my video card is proprietary, my BIOS is proprietary. Linux already works with all these proprietary things, and we should make sure that everything else does too.

Users should be able to seamlessly sync their hardware with Linux, like an iPhone. They should be able to install any Windows application they want to. They should be able to purchase any piece of hardware and have it just work plug ‘n play style.

If users want to use proprietary data formats like H.264 and MP3, they should be able to.

Linux does already do a great job at a lot of these things and we should continue to support as much as we can.

Consumers will buy what they want to buy – things that are nice and shiny and inevitably proprietary. If they can’t use these on Linux, then they will continue to use other operating systems. This vendor lock-in model is not going away any time soon, so unless they work with Linux, these people are tied down elsewhere.

I’m not saying that we should be out there fighting Microsoft for market share, we should just be scratching itches. If it’s an itch to get an iPhone to sync, then it should be scratched and everyone benefits. If the barrier stopping someone from moving to Linux as their primary operating system is because their iPhone won’t sync, then that should be changed.

Sure, Microsoft and Apple are out to destroy us, but who cares? We should just ignore them and keep plodding along making great software for us and scratching itches.

4 thoughts on “Linux should work with everything, proprietary gadgets and all

  1. “If users want to use proprietary data formats like H.264 and MP3, they should be able to.”

    _Do they_ want those formats?
    Or is it just that they don’t have any choice? And, if so, is that because no one has taken a stand on the issue?

  2. Some users do want MP3 because that’s what they know. Obviously the bigger issue is that it’s the primary format that digital music is sold in, but there’s no way someone like Apple would change their format.

    Fedora makes a stand against proprietary formats, which I really admire, but at the end of the day I don’t think that most people will change. Personally I choose to store all my music in FLAC, ripped from CDs. I’ve never bought music online because I can’t find anywhere that sells it in an open lossless format.


  3. BTW, try Magnatune ( for music that’s both CC-licensed and available in FLAC and WAV as well as MP3 and OGG formats.

    I think I agree with your overall approach – that people should individually decide what itches they want to scratch and how much work they put into it. What annoys me here is the sheer quantity of companies who not only don’t engage with the FOSS using community but don’t even get the mindset. They still think in terms of “we produce the product, you buy the product, and that’s the only direction information will flow”. Consumers everywhere – not just FOSS enthusiasts – are wanting dialogue, not dictation; they set up websites to help each-other for even the most costly of proprietary programs or devices.

    It’s easy to get a product to work with Linux if the process is started early on in its cycle, and often that’s completely compatible with developing a product to work with the other major operating systems. (E.g. by using Qt as a windowing toolkit.)

    As a further illustration of this, companies are finding that if they try to use FOSS without obeying the license then it is increasingly difficult to get away with it. If a company like Cisco can’t get away with embedding Busybox and other GPL software, then chances are Random Software Company won’t either. Then, after the lawsuit, they seem to mostly choose the most difficult and costly way of complying with the GPL. And yet most of the time all they need to do to comply is to make the code available with the device and everyone would be happy.

    But ultimately I see Linus’ idea that world domination will be achieved as “a totally unintended side-effect” (to shuffle his words around a bit) as being the best way of proceeding. Trying to duplicate everything that Apple or Microsoft do is a good way to always remain second best. Where FOSS has succeeded, and made the big corporations change their game, is where we have simply set our own course to write the best software we can and forced them to play catch-up.

    Have fun,


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