Mainstream exposure for open operating system a mixed bag, says GNU founder Richard Stallman

Valve’s Linux move labelled unethical

Valve’s move to Linux is unethical because it offers paid-for game content, claims GNU and Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman.

Admitting that the pros for Linux probably outweighed the cons, Stallman claims that priced software, in any guise, is a bad thing.

"Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users," wrote Stallman on his personal website.

"If you want freedom, one requisite for it is not having nonfree programs on your computer."

Valve founder Gabe Newell said previously his company was investing in Linux as a games market due to concerns over Windows 8.

Steam is the largest digital distribution platform on the PC, and the new Linux version could raise the consumer value of the OS considerably.

"Our perception is that one of the big problems holding Linux back is the absence of games," said Gabe Newell in a talk recorded by VentureBeat.

"So we’re going to continue working with the Linux distribution guys, shipping Steam, shipping our games, and making it as easy as possible for anybody who’s engaged with us — putting their games on Steam and getting those running on Linux, as well. It’s a hedging strategy."

But for Stallman, exposure is just one side of the story.

"I suppose that availability of popular nonfree programs on GNU/Linux can boost adoption of the system," he admitted.

"However, our goal goes beyond making this system a “success”; its purpose is to bring freedom to the users. Thus, the question is how this development affects users’ freedom."

Freedom is the driving goal of the free software movement, and to Stallman, a platform that does not support free and open source software cannot by definition be support for his cause.

"Any GNU/Linux distro that comes with software to offer these games will teach users that the point is not freedom," he explained.

Newell said nothing of his views on the free software movement, but he does value the freedom an open platform like Linux provides.

"In order for this innovation to happen, a bunch of things that haven’t been happening on closed platforms have to occur and continue to occur," said Newell. "Valve wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the PC. Id Software, Epic, Zynga, Facebook, and Google wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform."

It is this freedom that consumers and developers uninterested in the ethical considerations of the free software movement find so appealing about the possibility of a shift to Linux, and Stallman was unequivical in saying that for the user, Valve’s choice was good news.

"If you’re going to use these games, you’re better off using them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows."

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