This FAQ is intended to give you some clues on how to answer the most common questions that institutions are likely to ask concerning the letter we are going to address them. If you face some questions that are not listed here, please add them to the list to help other contributors to the campaign and if you yourself don't know the answer, don't hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is it a problem that public websites make a reference to one piece of proprietary software? We see several problems here:
Neutrality of the state: The state has to warrant the freedom of competition in the market and is therefore not supposed to advertise for one software vendor over another. In promoting one product, the state helps to establish or protect a monopoly involving this company and makes it difficult for other software vendors to compete.
Fallacies of the ads: The websites often present the proprietary software concerned saying that "to read this PDF file, you need to download program X". This is false in that you do not need that particular product, since alternatives exist (see "Where can I find free PDF readers"). A correct sentence would be "to open this PDF file, you need to have a PDF reader. You can download here one of these software (list is not exhaustive)."
Proprietary software is harmful for society: see "Why is Free Software better for society?"
Freeware is not Free Software: Proprietary software, even if it is free of charge, does not satisfy the characteristics of Free software. Refer to our definition of Free Software.
What is the problem in having one single featured software product if it is free of charge? The problem here is twofold. One the one hand, public institutions are distorting the market in advertising for the benefit of one product and a single vendor, not the alternatives, and are not getting paid in return. This is unacceptable in itself. Furthermore, it exposes the users to the risk of being locked-in with a single vendor. For reasons of independence from a single vendor, competition, and right to have a choice, it is important not to promote a single product. Furthermore, what is disturbing here is that public institutions have made the choice to advertise a particular piece of non-free software. This is not in the interest of the users and of society at large, because they withhold from the user the four fundamental freedoms. For more information, see "Why is Free Software better for society?"
Why is Free Software better for society? Free Software grants four fundamental freedoms to the users: to use, study, share and improve the software they use. With proprietary software, there is only one company producing one particular piece of software, and this company can any time modify its prices, its support, anything in the contract between themselves and the user, and even discontinue support or terminate its contract with the user... With Free Software, there are lots of decentralized contributors to the software, but more importantly, anyone wanting to dig in and have a look at its structure can do so and can improve it. This mechanism secures the independence of everyone with regard to the software they use, and at the same time allows genuine collaboration so that everyone can participate and share in the project if they so choose. It doesn't favour any big company over small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): it is vendor neutral.
What is the PDF format? The Portable Document Format is a originally a format developed by Adobe in 1993, that was subsequently released as an open standard for document exchange (ISO 15930-1:2001, ISO 19005-1:2005, ISO 32000-1:2008). See also the progressive evolution of the format as a standard.
What characterizes an Open Standard? According to our definition, an Open Standard refers to a format or protocol that...
is applicable (without restrictions): free from legal or technical clauses that limit its utilisation by any party or in any business model.
has existing (implementations): available in multiple complete implementations by competing vendors, or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.
is independent (of a single vendor): managed and further developed independently of any single vendor in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties.
has an open (specification): subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties.
is untainted (by dependencies on closed standards): without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an Open Standard themselves.
Why don't all free PDF readers perform as well as their proprietary counterparts, namely Adobe? This question is insincere. All major free PDF readers are able to open and read files that comply to the PDF standard. The fact is that some companies add extensions to the file format, thereby no longer remaining compliant with the standard. The new format can then only be read by programs that know the code or function of such extensions. In fact, the problem is not that readers are unable to read the file, but that the those producing "extended" or "enhanced" PDF files do not respect the format.