I think the reason that most of the folks are against the free software movement is because they’re only familiar with the movement is through “movement types” like the folks you cite above. These folks can be pretty poor ambassadors for libertarians because of the rhetoric they use, like you mentioned.
Sadly, libertarian writers stop there. I was guilty of this in the past and it’s why I didn’t see the truth in a lot of your writing. However, in working with the WordPress and Drupal communities over the past three years (and to some degress the larger LAMP-stack community) I have come to understand why the free software movement works, and very little about it has to do with ideology or dotCommunism.
In my experience, many developers give away their software for entirely self-interested reasons. Making your code open make you well known, well-respected by your peers, and therefore worth much more in the marketplace. In addition, established web development firms participate in open source development not solely because of some motivation to make the world a better place (though this may be a partial motivation), but because any software platform they might attempt to make on their own will simply be worse than something made and maintained by a community of tens of thousands.
On the consumer side of things, I can’t see why anyone would choose a closed source option in a software category where a sufficiently large community of open source developers exist–this explains by about 65% of the Net is running Apache. For the consumer, open source not only means cheaper (free is as cheap as it gets), it also almost invariably means better quality software because of the benefits of having so many developers look at the same lines of code, and more versatile software because those same thousands are adapting these open platforms to fit all manner of esoteric applications.
So, if libertarians are uncomfortable with the rhetoric of the self-appointed spokesman for the open/free software movement, they need only take a look at the folks actually producing and consuming open/free software. These folks are not pursuing some Marxist ideology, but rather acting in their rational self interest in a free market. Looks pretty libertarian to me.
Quite so. I think part of the problem here is that non-programmers only see the tip of a very large iceberg. The average member of the free software community spends only a tiny fraction of his time thinking about the politics of free software. They spend the bulk of their time creating, using, and helping others use free software. Like any other large community, there’s a broad diversity of political views. Some people like Stallman and company, while others see him as an out-of-touch ideological zealot. But this doesn’t matter very much for working programmers, sysadmins, and the like because for most of them the primary reason to participate in the free software community is because it helps them do their jobs. The ideology is a secondary consideration, if they buy into it at all.
The problem is that if you don’t have first-hand experience with the free software community, then the debate between free software and proprietary software is going to seem like a wholly academic one. And that means you’re left to judge the merits of the two sides based entirely on their rhetorical and ideological appeal. And given that many of the free software movement’s spokespeople are hostile to free markets, the result is that a lot of non-geek libertarians wind up being hostile to the concept of free software even as most geeks with actual hands-on experience with free software are more favorable to the concept.
Part of the problem is that Moglen and Stallman don’t do a good job of distinguishing the values of the free software community from their own broader political views. A lot of what Moglen has to say about free software is broadly supported within the free software world, but he has a tendency to weave these valid points together with Marxist ideology that’s only tangentially related to the values of the free software community.
The way libertarians ought to respond to this is not to throw up our hands and conclude that the free software movement is the enemy. Rather, we need to do a better job of articulating the values of the free software movement in terms that are congenial to libertarians. There are a significant number of libertarian-leaning geeks in the free software movement—I’m sure they’d be grateful to see someone explaining how free software works without a lot of superfluous Marxist baggage.
And frankly, I don’t think it’s hard to explain free software in libertarian-friendly terms. After all, we’re talking about a private-sector community that’s producing immensely valuable public goods without a dime of taxpayer support. How can libertarians not get excited about that?