This is part four of my interview with David de Ugarte. There are many commons around us already, the most widely recognized of which is arguably free software, and Linux in particular. But it’s not always easy to be an early adopter. In practical terms, how can a cooperative use open licenses, or even use free software, if neither its providers or its customers do so?
Free software lets us increase our productivity. That is, consume fewer resources of all kinds—first and foremost, the main resource in our activity: working time. That means that using free software lets us sell more sophisticated products cheaper, and customized to the needs of our clients. Price is a good argument.
But what’s interesting is transmitting to customers and providers not only the most basic and obvious argument, but the advantages of the use of software and all kinds of free products.
For example, they may end up internalizing knowledge with much greater ease, or at the very least, stop depending on a single provider of basic functions. Let’s take a very typical example of small-scale industry, businesses of less than 100 people: machine tooling. If you manufacture numerical control machines for the mechanical industry in Europe these days, you always end up depending on proprietary software from Siemens. The customers you sell your machines to are tied not to you and your service, but to Siemens, and if Siemens doesn’t respond to their needs, or its prices become a burden, it’ll be you who loses the client. If you substitute Siemens’ software with free software, not only will you be able to make better, more personalized machines, but your customers will also be able to hire local software businesses to do so, and will be more autonomous as well.
By this same logic, small businesses can capitalize projects and develop new ones for much less cost, and therefore, with less risk. And if they’re successful, they can create new, experimental lines, and even have their own R&D, which was unimaginable for an SME until recently.
Something very similar happens in sectors as different as agriculture (seeds, veterinary medicines, software to manage irrigated land, etc.) or food, not to mention services.
If we look at the public sector, the police, and military, who are surely the most aware of the need to take care with security and to remember that it means not depending on any particular providers exclusively, we see they’ve been moving critical systems to free software over the last decade. Today, the Paris police, the German army, European diplomatic communications, etc., run on free software, and it could hardly be otherwise.
Even the new industrial giants we criticize so much, like Google, Amazon, or Apple itself—which is so linked to a proprietary conception of technology—would be unthinkable and surely inviable without free software. They are making the best of the opportunity offered by the large commons and distributed networks, although they don’t share their social possibilities, in the same way that during the Renaissance, the Inquisition used the printing press to consolidate its power and extend the dogmas that it defended.
Small producers in all sectors cannot leave the commons and distributed networks aside, just as earlier freethinkers and heterodox minds didn’t renounce the printing press, but turned it into the battering ram for a new society.