Genres of non-free software

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Revision as of 02:49, 22 September 2012 by Tepples (Talk | contribs) (Examples of free 3D engines)

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This is a mini-rant, a short essay refuting a common misconception among users of an Internet forum. If you think this essay is FUD, feel free to explain why on the essay's talk page.

Over my years of using free software (in the GNU sense) on Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and now Android, I've found a few classes of software for which I don't see open source or free software taking over any time soon.

Games are one of them because they're made of more components than just a computer program, and the authors of high-quality other components still haven't adopted free culture motives to the same extent as programmers. Even if the engine itself is free, such as Id Tech 3 or Torque 3D, developers of the meshes, textures, audio, and scripts that sit on top of the engine still need to eat. What is an emulator without ROMs, or a Doom player without WADs, or ScummVM without the original LucasArts data files? And though selling support works for some kinds of business software, games that aren't massively multiplayer tend to need far less support from the publisher. Free software is best at making libraries and other software that programmers themselves use (jcnnghm) and whose scope a programmer can easily define; original games don't have that kind of clear scope. Perhaps in a free software world, "there's no business case for creating videogames" (turbidostato), and a developer should "avoid fields which prove to be unprofitable. You don't have to make video games, do you?" (alexo) Not everyone agrees though; some have suggested alternate business models (wrook).

For a similar reason, client software used to watch streaming videos published by the mainstream entertainment industry, such as Netflix software, will remain proprietary. The music and film industry associations of various countries (MAFIA for short) don't want people teeing the video into a local copy free of digital restrictions management, which would break the rental-like business model that Netflix and other video-on-demand providers use. So they impose robustness rules on cable TV operators and Internet TV operators such as Netflix, which rule out the use of free software in the video playback chain.

Tax preparation will also probably remain proprietary because "ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY", as several free software licenses put it, just doesn't cut it. The big U.S. tax preparation software companies (Intuit and H&R Block) stake their corporate reputations on the accuracy and timeliness of their translations into machine-readable form of the unending changes to the tax codes in dozens of jurisdictions. The comments to a Slashdot discussion about tax software might raise interesting points.

The fabled "year of the Linux desktop" is the year when these get ported.