This is an interesting article, but it's a bit surfacey, I think. This bit near the end is a good encapsulation of the idea, I think:
"What will work, for folks concerned with protecting software freedom? Providing solid and useful free software alternatives. Finding ways to make those alternatives sustainable businesses (or non-profits, like Mozilla) so that contributors can be paid to keep those tools free and functional. The FSF should be at the center of this effort instead of trying to hold users back to the stone age of computing. But if they won’t be, then it’s time for others to solve these problems rather than joining the Party of Gno."
What I think Joe Brockmeier doesn't realize (maybe I'm wrong) is that this has been precisely the central aim of the Free Software Foundation for the past half a decade at least. They may have gotten some things quite wrong - I think it's clear now that the GPL 3 was a mistake - but they've taken up and published the latest draft of of the Affero license, which is the alternative for developers seeking to build free and open-source software-as-a-service. Listening to clips of Stallman's evangelistics may lead you to believe that he's being purely negative, but the fact is that the FSF has offered and supported what's probably the most viable and practical solution to the problem.
Also, it seems to me that one reason we really can't write RMS off is the simple fact that he's turned out to be quite correct in some of his predictions. He stood against ESR's change in nomenclature to "open source," saying that calling it "free software" was the only way we could be sure that we were understood; at the time, it seemed like a silly pronouncement about unimportant vernacular, particularly because RMS is given to silly pronouncements like that. But in fact he's turned out to be absolutely right: now, with "open source" in its ascendancy, everyone calls their products "OPEN," whether they're actually free or not. Every MS press release is an opportunity to read that particular four-letter word at least a few dozen times, though it never means much of anything; and companies like Apple and Google (for all the good that Google has sometimes done for free software) like to brand their products as "open" when they're often anything but.
RMS may seem like a bit of a crank, but he's always seemed that way - and yet he frequently proves to be right. I don't think we should write him off just yet.
There are two ways you can interpret "users" when it comes to SaaS applications: Either the "user" is the person running the SaaS server, or the "user" is the person actually using a client to connect to and use the SaaS application. If the latter, then the AGPL is unquestionably a good thing for user-freedom. If the former, then it still doesn't actually limit the freedom of "users" to "run the program, for any purpose"(or any of the 4 freedoms). It simply requires making one's source available.
It's a simple extension of the spirit of the GPL and of free software to software that is ran on the servers of someone else on behalf of the actual users of the software. The GPL has always sacrificed the freedom of creators of derivative works to distribute their derivative works under different licenses in order to protect users. The AGPL is a natural extension of this to software that isn't normally technically "distributed" to its users. The GPL fails to protect users when the code in question is used to create SaaS applications. The AGPL fixes this weakness in the GPL. It's not "RMS really compromising his principles"; it's the FSF really fixing a bug in their implementation of their principles.
You can't "run the program, for any purpose" on your computer if other people can see it. You don't have Freedom Zero. Period.
The GPL's mechanism fits neatly within the bounds of copyright law, as it hinges solely on distribution. The AGPL goes beyond that -- you must agree to it to run the program, which makes it a naked EULA.
Making one's source available is quite often not simple at all, and in the case of nearly all SaaS apps, completely useless even to developers, much less the end user. The frontend CRUD code is disposable -- the server infrastructure, the network effects, and your fucking data are what matters. RMS doesn't understand this at all, probably because he doesn't use any such applications.
Well, I shouldn't say "clear" necessarily - I know this is a point of contention, and there are good arguments on both the Stallman side and the Torvalds side. I don't really know where I stand myself, honestly; I'm still deciding.
But regardless of what position you take, it seems as though RMS' decision to go ahead and push through the GPL 3.0, even though the community was clearly divided on it, wasn't necessarily the best thing to do. It's been bad for Gnu in general, I think; and the fact that RMS has popularized the sort of insulting term "Tivoization" hasn't helped.
Of course, I can see how people might disagree. After all, the whole point of Gnu is to stand against the tide of nonfree stuff in society - and standing against that tide means often doing unpopular things. From that point of view, all this stuff about getting community support and getting everybody to agree before moving forward is actually a distraction; the Free Software Foundation is supposed to encourage people to do what's right, regardless of whether it's popular or not.
On the other hand, I have to say that, at the end of the day, I think Free Software has to stand for a larger kind of freedom, even beyond just the software and hardware spheres. And that's why, while I actually tend to agree with RMS that what Tivo did was sort of shitty and anti-communitarian, I tend to feel as though it really can't be against the law for companies to do what they did. Torvalds and the strong contingent of kernel developers who are anti-GPL3 are correct, I think, when they say that you can't simply disallow distributors (be they individuals, organizations, or companies) from designing their software and hardware to work in a particular way together. If what Tivo did is forbidden by the community, then all kinds of really worthwhile and useful things - upstream version control, security updates, hardware optimization, etc - get forbidden too; at least if we follow the GPL3 license. This means less freedom for the people who help create software, regardless of whether they're malicious or not; I don't know how I feel about that.
But of course maybe that's a fair tradeoff for what that extra user-freedom it gives us. I could go back and forth on it all day, and often I do. Like I said, I don't think the GPL3 was introduced quite right, but it's more of a leaning I have than an actual conviction. It's a tough issue.
What I do know, however - and moreover what the whole community agrees on - is the Free Software is essential, technically, economically, and morally, for building a better world for computing.
The FSF needs a good Joe Sixpack visible flagship "product". Most programmers respect code before the message. I think a decent flagship product would go a long way towards increasing the visibility and understanding of the message.
Where the hell is this meme coming from that the FSF just talks the talk? Sure, that list contains a lot of incidental stuff too, but in order as they strike me, I see aspell, autoconf/autogen/automake (for better or for worse), bash, bazaar, ddd, dia, djgpp, ed (ed is the standard text editor), emacs, g++, gawk, gcc!!! (worthy of an exclamation point or three), gdb!!, gettext, gimp, glib, gmp, gnome, GNU fdisk, grub, gnumeric, gtk+... and I'm getting tired now so I'm going to stop. Except to honorably mention the last line in my browser as it now shows, the critically-important GNU Hello World.
I suppose the natural next objection is that it isn't people in the employ of the FSF who wrote every line of code of all of those programs, but I'd submit that that would be a very silly accusation to level against an aggressively-open-source organization.
You're sort of ambiguous whether "Joe Sixpack" in your post is a programmer or not, but if so, gcc and if not, Gnome are certainly in the running. FSF has more backend than frontend stuff but "Gnome" encompasses rather a lot in one word.
Those are all nice things and represent countless man hours or work and dedication however none of them are a good flagship. Firefox is a flagship. Gimp is close but somehow took a wrong turn. The FSF needs something to say "use this it's awesome! btw free software is why it's awesome!" And they need to be able to convince at least the average power user.