free software, free culture, free hardware
two of the best uses of free software are for education and reducing e-waste.
if you have an old computer you arent using, you can wipe the drive to remove things like credit card data, and replace an unmaintained, older, slow operating system with a new, actively maintained, faster operating system.
many users are accustomed to older machines being slower, and newer machines tend to have specs that outperform older models, in theory. in practice, one easy way to get a faster computer is to get software with lower requirements.
again, many users are accustomed to software that has lower requirements being older. but this is not always the case.
in many instances, the computer is wasting a great deal of resources on a heavily-designed window manager or desktop environment. if you replace this window manager with a more lightweight version, you can often run the latest versions of other software you like and have a much more reasonably-paced experience even on older hardware.
software is always gaining features, the web browser most of all, and people are tolerant of this to the point of regularly buying their software a new machine whenever something slows down.
demanding software that is less resource intensive is just as reasonable a response as forking over more money every time the new version of an application is slower.
there are exceptions-- if youre processing heavy amounts of video for example, an older machine can only do so much. serious gaming hobbyists like to have fast machines they can brag about, so getting them to use an older computer is only going to make them laugh. though even a machine with just 2 cores and 1.5 gb of ram can perform very nicely with the right software.
when it comes to choosing a kernel, and deciding whether or not to run non-free firmware, we still recommend against it. if you insist on using hardware that is compatible with libre drivers and firmware, you are contributing more to the free software ecosystem than if you settle for non-free drivers.
this strong recommendation against non-free firmware is sometimes misunderstood and then cast as some sort of elitism. "sure, if you can afford to throw good hardware away, then you can afford to follow the fsf [or us] and their recommendation to use a libre kernel."
that counterargument is a little one-sided, and a little unrealistic-- it certainly rings true with some people.
the most common uses of non-free drivers and firmware in the free software world are probably for video acceleration and wifi adapters. in the business world we could also talk about network support for servers, but we are talking about income classes and reducing e-waste, not businesses with servers to maintain.
video acceleration is not required to use a computer. its nice when it works, its needed for gaming and for some more recently-designed desktop environments, which are certainly a luxury and not a requirement for computing. we dont have anything against desktop environments that make use of video accelleration, but would argue that a desktop environment that fails to load without one is just poorly designed-- though increasingly common in practice.
if you cant afford video accelleration without adding some unalterable binary string to your computer, then you shouldnt need a fancy desktop environment. a lot of people prefer a simple, no-nonsense de[lit]/[lit]wm that leaves those resources available for software that actually does something the user needs.
the point is, not everyone even cares about a fancy desktop environment. its not a requirement for computing.
which brings us to the non-free firmware people are most likely to use, which is for wifi. if at some point you invest (or have donated) an external wifi adapter that works with free software, you can use that adapter from one machine to the next-- from desktop to laptop. and if it is supported by free software, then it will likely work from one generation of kernel to the next. it will be good for a long time.
non-free drivers and firmware can create problems during upgrades of other supporting software. they are not the most sustainable model for hardware support. they could leave the user getting hardware that works with one kernel, but having problems with the next. so theres probably a misconception that free drivers are always hard to find, generally unavailable, and that the only "reasonable" way to use software is to support non-free drivers in firmware.
the reality is that the "savings" and convenience from relying on non-free drivers is subject to a diminishing law of returns, and that if your goal is to reduce e-waste you can do that perfectly well using debians free kernel, or the linux-libre kernel. theyre neither perfect, nor as useless as people tend to assume.
its not unreasonable, elitist or impractical to use only free firmware. in some instances, it is a mild inconvenience. as to the accusation that using only free firmware is just something a comfortable middle class came up with, to unfairly and ignorantly subject developing nations to-- the fsf sends mr. stallman around the world to talk to people in countries that generally exist under every sort of economic condition. the original olpc model was compatible with the free firmware atheros chipset. computer resellers sometimes donate hardware to people who are economically disadvantaged, and can be asked to be sure the hardware is compatible with a free software distribution.
not to mention that there are countries all over the world with high poverty levels that support (or maintain) fsf-approved software distributions, so the scenario the "elitist" argument creates is largely imaginary. it may be honest and based on reasonable assumptions, even if the reasonable assumptions are (for the most part) false.
the closest the free software movement probably gets to elitist is that they cant seem to do very much (as of yet) to bring a new generation of coders into free software. thats arguably the job of the educational system. one of our goals is to find ways to improve this without expecting schools to change very much, though painting free software as "elitist" over not addressing this is probably also unfair.
if you want to call something elitist, how about a software ecosystem that only allows participation and change if you are selected by people hiring within a large corporation? thats the sort of elitism that non-free firmware keeps established.
maybe we dont call that elitist, because "everyone in general supports it," which is true-- though they "support" it by surrender, less by "choosing" it over other options that wont exist if people dont demand better-- which is what the fsf does. if people surrender to a large corporation to have faster video performance, thats one thing. but please forgive the fsf, for trying to help create an ecosystem where everyone has more control than just "doing whatever the big company tells them they have to do." if thats really elitist, then its obviously a very new sort of elitism.
taking a big picture stance, you are better off without non-free firmware. whether you surrender to the monopolies or not, there is nothing inconsiderate, unfair or terribly ignorant about saying that its better to stand up to the monopoly. people of all social[lit]/[lit]economic classes sometimes do. but since when is it "elitist" to call on people to do so?