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I expect most responses here will be pretty negative, and I honestly can't defend his position because our politics differ so greatly (and his stance spins directly out of those philosophical roots). Nor can I forgive his personal attitude and general arrogance over the years, although it has softened significantly of late.

But I'll give the man a grudging amount of respect: he hasn't budged one inch on his position toward "freedom to tinker" as it relates to software in the entire time I've been aware of his work. And, more than that, he walks the walk; he won't urge anyone to do something or take on a position that he's not willing to jump into wholeheartedly himself.

He's a fundamentalist, but any successful movement needs people with "clarity of purpose". He has it in spades, allowing many of the rest of us to be rather more pragmatic.

Stallman is like a goalpost. He's as far over to one side as you can be. We need people like him since we all tend to measure our views and beliefs in reference to others.

I just wouldn't want to hang out with the guy. I say "Linux" and buy proprietary software. I'm sure he wouldn't want to hang with me either, but I do respect him.

Who is the other goalpost? Are they equally necessary?

Organisations like the Business Software Alliance (http://www.bsa.org/) are the closest I can think of to a pro-proprietary advocacy group.

Do they openly advocate for the end of free software?

Sort of. This article is about the IIPA, which the BSA are a member of:


They're not as upfront about it as Stallman and the FSF are about proprietary software, but they clearly don't like open source software. From one of their reports:

"For example, in March 2009, the Ministry of Administrative Reform (MenPAN) issued Circular Letter No. 1 of 2009 to all central and provincial government offices including State-owned enterprises, endorsing the use and adoption of open source software within government organizations. While the government issued this circular in part with the stated goal to “reduc[e] software copyright violation[s],” in fact, by denying technology choice, the measure will create additional trade barriers and deny fair and equitable market access to software companies."

Source: http://www.iipa.com/rbc/2010/2010SPEC301INDONESIA.pdf

I don't think so, but I am quite sure most members would be quite happy with it.

That would be a goalpost on the opposite end of the field, not the same goal.

An example of an opposite goalpost on the same end as RMS might be Bruce Perens.

Casual users.

There are lots of market forces pulling towards proprietary. Most people don't care about software freedom - they want shiny toys right now. Jobs, Gates, Ballmer and Ellison cater to them. They build and sell tools to help you lock yourself to their software. And they even use free software for that.

edit: dear downmodder: try harder. I am sure you can articulate a useful argument instead of just downvoting a comment you disagree with. This should be a place for debating ideas.

I'm not the one who downvoted you, but I do think that casual users aren't quite the opposing goal post to RMS. They are greedy, but more than that, they are short-term thinkers. They can't (even collectively) cause quite as much harm as the guys like Jobs, Gates, Ballmer, and Ellison can when they manipulate the market.

Big corporations led by big egos have the power to kill products and permanently remove innovations from the market: by [ab]using software patents, buying and killing threatening start-ups, or under-cutting competitors to drive them out of business. One of the most attractive aspects of a Free Software ecosystem unencumbered by patents is that ideas don't have to die while they are still useful to somebody.

  Big corporations led by big egos have the power to kill
  products and permanently remove innovations from the market
They also have money to sponsor development: Sun (R.I.P.) and JRuby, Apple and LLVM/Webkit/CUPS, Google and Android, and many more.

And that's why the GPL (and its derivatives/workalikes) is important - because it prevents any company or individual from taking away the freedoms of the users downstream.

Not all projects I mentioned are under GPL and some chose non-GPL license specifically to give more freedom than GPL and likes allow.

Like I said, the only added freedom you enjoy by having MIT/BSD-ish rather than GPL is the freedom to remove freedoms downstream. And the ones that are not GPL are so precisely because the vendor wants to be able to remove freedoms downstream should the need or opportunity arise.

Are you aware of any other freedom I don't know about?

Yes. To allow "downstream" to do whatever they want with a piece of code I gave them being free from my command what to do.

Including denying its users any freedom.

Tell me one freedom that does not involve denying freedoms and I'll give you the point. If, however, the only freedom you want is the one to deny freedoms, then, this argument became circular a couple messages back.

Using the GPL you deny no other freedom to your downstream users that that.

Yes. Including denying its users any freedom.

"Freedom" is not black and white. Sometimes you need to deny users one freedom in order to give them another. For example, Spotify is a non-free application and it has DRM and lock-in and nasty things like that (no doubt required by the music industry). However, it's completely changed the way I listen to music and given me freedom to listen to more music than I could have done before. I have essentially traded the freedom to tinker for the freedom to listen to music.

Actually, you traded your freedom to tinker for your ability to play whatever they chose to offer you. I hope you like their offering.

  you traded your freedom to tinker
What kind of nonsense is this?

Can you alter the music in any way for your consumption? Can you even listen to it in places a Spotify client is not available?

Indeed. I have no doubt people like Jobs, Gates, Ballmer and Ellison (among many others) oppose the freedom ideals Stallman stands for. Still, I think they rely (willingly or not) on the casual user and its disregard/unawareness of the freedoms they thrown away to reach their goals. Without uninformed users, they are harmless. Tools will be developed and willing users will free themselves from their power.

I dont know whether they 'oppose' the software ideals that stallman stands for or not.

I agree very strongly with Stallman and the points he regularly makes regarding the dangerous of proprietary software, and I am very grateful for the things he has done to push his ideals and to increase awareness of the issues and dangers surrounding copyright abuse and the freedom of software users.

I also create and sell proprietary software, and I disagree with him that it is immoral to do so.

No need to oppose him, I can simply disagree with his conclusions while agreeing with a very large number of the points that he makes.

> I disagree with him that it is immoral to do so

Agreed. I won't go as far as he does, but I thank him for making a stand. As far as the user makes an informed choice, I am not against selling proprietary software. Still, God kills a kitten every time a proprietary license is sold.

Still, God kills a kitten every time a proprietary license is sold.

Even if it's your startup selling it?

Even if it's my grandma's startup selling it. Even if it's the girl scouts selling it.

Seriously, when your user knows and willingly enters what has a good chance of becoming an abusive relation (depending on your upgrades, being unable to migrate their data, forcing you to support ancient versions because they don't have the money to upgrade), I believe it's fine.

But I would prefer another model.

Of course there are risks involved, but don't your users usually pay you because they consider your software worth paying for?

They probably don't feel like they're resigning their fate to an abusive relationship.

I downmoded you. Mainly because I see no freedom in Stallman's vision and phrases like "shiny toys" and "lock yourself" rub me the wrong way. I want my freedom to use whatever I choose: open source, proprietary, free, paid, whatever, without some RMS telling me what to do. And I see more freedom in MIT/BSD than in GPL.

The only freedom you give up by using the GPL is the freedom to take away the freedoms of your downstream users.

Once GPL'ed, any derivative must also preserve the freedoms of its users. This doesn't happen with MIT/BSD and that's one of the reasons there is a vibrant ecosystem around the Linux kernel and the GNU userland and nothing comparable around *BSDs.

Freedom and capability are not the same. People have freedoms by default, and they can be taken away, but people lack capability by default, and they must be provided (in the context of software). The GPL preserves capability by removing a bit of freedom, while the BSD license preserves more freedom at the expense of the possibility to remove capability from downstream users.

It doesn't matter if downstream users are technically capable of exercising their freedoms or not. The point is that GPL preserves those freedoms and MIT/BSD doesn't.

MIT/BSD does preserve the freedom, just doesn't guarantee the preservation of the ability. The GPL guarantees preservation of the ability by removing a bit of the downstream developers' freedom. The GPL exploits copyright law in a clever hack to negate most of the harm of copyright law, but it isn't actually providing more freedom than the BSD license. The freest code is public domain, but some countries don't even allow their citizens to publish in the public domain, so...

Since he argued coherently, honestly, and with good manners, just find someone else to up-mod instead please.

> I want my freedom to use whatever I choose: […] proprietary, […] whatever, […]

So you want the freedom to lose your freedom, for a short term benefit. Make no mistake: you are not as free to stop using that proprietary software as you might think. Most proprietary software strongly encourage you to stick with them, and make switching difficult. The best examples I have in mind are operating systems and office suites.

The same could be said about slavery: you give up all your freedoms for the ultimate short term benefit: staying alive. Fortunately, we try to eliminate this horrible choice, by abolishing slavery.

Likewise, abolishing proprietary software might be a good idea. Until then boycott is all we have.

  Most proprietary software strongly encourage you to stick
  with them, and make switching difficult. The best examples
  I have in mind are operating systems and office suites.
I don't have such experience. There was a time I was juggling Windows and Linux at work using OS X at home. Now I mostly deal with OS X and Linux on servers. Neither did I have a problem with office suites. I am MS Office free, OpenOffice free. If someone sends me some .doc or .xls occasionally I can usually view them on OS X without any problems. How exactly Windows are supposed to make switching to say Linux more difficult than from Linux to OS X? I give away no freedoms by using whatever software I want.

"You" in my parent post wasn't referring to you, Rimantas, specifically. You Rimantas (and I) are a lucky, tiny minority. You give away no freedom because you pay very close attention to not being locked in.

Most people aren't as cautious.

The company I work in currently have to buy and use MS Word 2003 because the government agencies it deals with want .doc, period. The sysadmins are forced to use windows because that's what most people use, and they just won't switch. (And we're a tech company, so imagine the others.)

Inertia is enormous. People tend to stick with whatever they started with (Blender vs 3DsMax is a good example). Proprietary formats and non standard APIs make it worse.

Slave owners universally don't want to be slaves, thus it's immoral. Buyers and sellers of proprietary software don't have no problem buying and selling proprietary software from others, thus it's NOT immoral.

There's plenty of examples of proprietary software vendors doing their best to avoid lock-in from other proprietary software vendors, while doing the same to their own customers. Apple vs Adobe on the iPhone flash issue for example, where Apple proposed open standards and developing directly for iPhone as the two permitted options.

Interesting observation, but it has nothing to do with the question of moral behavior.

There're also plenty of examples of businesses trying to buy as cheap as possible while at the same time trying to sell as expensive as possible. That just proves that buyers should beware.

Also, proprietary software is not equivalent to high switching costs: in fact, it's a rather subjective calculation. If you don't care about keeping your old emails, switching your E-mail client has nearly no costs, for example. Additionally, "free" software doesn't imply low switching costs: develop a large application using the KDE or GNOME APIs, and you'll find that switching is rather expensive.

In general, your argument is a red herring: Since switching costs may establish a trap, you should warn about software with high switching costs, not about proprietary software.

You're supposing total information. You're supposing that no one can be screwed unaware.

Actually, most people don't know a thing about the issues around proprietary and free software. If they did, I am confident that most (more than 50%) would rather buy free software.

Now of course those who sell proprietary software happily buy proprietary software: they often don't have a choice. They can't use GPL software. They can however, use BSD licensed software. And I bet they prefer that over proprietary products.

The SCO guy, forget his name, that equates open source with communism.

Darl McBride. Top on my shitlist, hard to forget. If I ever run in to him I'll probably end up going to jail ;)

Bill Gates also called open source developers communists.

Steve Jobs?

Apple is pretty active in OSS for someone you'd call the polar opposite of RMS.

Oh, yes, they're active, but only in their interest. You won't see apple freeing the source of cocoa...

But they're active right? Who's interests should they be active in? I bet their shareholders are so mad that they didn't follow Sun's lead....

Or Big Brother freeing the source to their Ad-magic.

But Open Source!=Free Software, as I'm sure RMS would point out if he was reading this.

Apple do contribute to open source software, but you certainly don't have freedom when using their products, which is what RMS is all about.

Very good point. Apple uses OSS for the sake of creating better software, not because they believe in any FSF ideals.

Bill Gates?


Steve Jobs

I normally have the same sentiment about RMS, but one of his responses here really ticked me off in the 'clarity of purpose' department: The bit about the microwaves (#23)

'Installing software' is a fairly abstract concept, especially given how liberally RMS likes to see the GPL used beyond normal software. To that end, I think that if he were truly logically pure, the same logic would apply to the iPhone. But, he would never agree that allowing something like an iPhone to be OK with free software (rightfully so), and so I think that should have demanded that every bit of that microwave be free. And everything else in his life.

Also, his comments on co-op food "Thus, food co-ops are not useful for me. I like them in principle." GPL-encumbered libraries are not useful for me. I like them in principle. Good day sir.

Your comparison of the microwave to the iPhone is just false. The point is that if the software is simple enough that it's pretty obviously bug-free, and you have no reasonable need to tinker with it, there's no reason you should need the source for the microcontroller. If the controller isn't working, the source is probably not going to help you. You just need a new microcontroller. On the flip side, there's no reasonable need to extend the microwave's software.

The iPhone, by contrast, has millions upon millions of reasons you might need/want to tinker with the software. Hence the demand for source. Seriously, RMS is not the one with a logic problem.

When I heard RMS speak a few years ago, he made the distinction between devices like microwaves, and general purpose computing devices. The latter you want to be running Free Software. But for the former it's not really an issue.

Unfortunately, the line between the two is blurry at best. For example, I'm not sure how well this jives with the case of the printer software which provided the catalyst for RMS starting the FS movement in the first place.

Very blurry indeed.

See for example, "Predictable Programs in Barcodes":


From the abstract: "...In particular, we consider programs for microwave ovens, which provide a basic open API for controlling cooking times..."

The authors were only able to _simulate_ a microwave oven, presumably because the software on real microwave ovens is closed. A reasonable argument could be made that the proprietary nature of microwave oven software has limited innovation in this market.

Think of it this way, the printer itself probably has some firmware in it. That firmware source code isn't as important as the printer driver, which is what allows you to use the printer from a general purpose computing device. Without the driver, the printer is useless.

Reasons why you want to tinker with the software? I can come up with plenty.

The point is not that the iPhone should be considered the same as a microwave, but that there is no hard line. If you are going to be a fundamentalist, like RMS, you need to carry it through to all things. There is no point where a microwave becomes definably different than an iPhone. Its a continuum.

This exact same argument could be used on the theoretical pacemaker in another question. But he believes the pacemaker should free software. His response there could have been tongue-in-cheek, but I can't quite tell.

Isn't he using these two situations to show how he can advocate a reasonable common ground for free software advocates, but he personally holds himself to a higher standard as he tries to be the beacon for Free Software, and secondarily, that to replace non-free software, sometimes you have to closely blackbox it:

"The only way I could justify this is if I began developing a free replacement for that very program. It is ok to use a nonfree program for the purpose of developing its free replacement." - RMS answering 22.

Who gets to decide if there is "no reasonable need"? Apple clearly believes (just like the microwave manufacturer) that there is "no reasonable need" to extend the iphones software.

The iPhone is pretty much marketed and sold as a multi-purpose computing device. There is a huge market for installing software on it, there is a development environment etc. People know this when they buy it. It is very obviously a computer-phone.

When you buy a microwave, you are buying it to heat food. You are not expecting to be able to browse the web on it or play games. If you are, then you need your head examined or to invent this new product (if you are right that it's a reasonable/desirable expectation, there should be a market for it). I think the distinction is actually very very clear, continuum or not.

Once the microwave starts allowing for remote control and twittering its status, the line does become more blurred ;)

So, iPod classic is OK but iPod touch is not? What about a TV? A TV that can play youtube viedos? A car? The kindle? The drobo? Are they all multi-purpose computing devices? The distinction is actually not as very very clear as you think.

Anywhere minor modifications to the firmware could cause serious injury, it makes sense to restrict access to the firmware, because the firmware is a very small part of a hardware system that has been well-tested for safety. This makes the car and the microwave off limits.

iPod classic, it's not going to hurt anyone if you screw with the firmware, you should be free to tinker to your heart's content. There are also enough obvious deficiencies (lack of support for a variety of codecs) which can be improved.

Same with a TV, the Kindle, the Drobo.

Clearly the success of the app store shows that there's a desire to extend the functionality of the phone. Apple just doesn't believe that there's a reasonable need to do it beyond a certain point or to do it without their permission.

However, no one is clamoring to write apps for a microwave. A microwave really just has one function and as long as it does that one thing then it doesn't really matter how the software works.

> A microwave really just has one function and as long as it does that one thing then it doesn't really matter how the software works.

To a hardware hacker that would be a false statement.

What if I want to change what the buttons do? On my microwave, you have to type in the power setting before the time, what if I always want to default to 100% power unless I hit a specific button first? What if I want to hook a smoke detector up to the microwave so it will automatically shut off if its burning something?

I can actually see the point of the microwave running software that you can't mess around with, it wouldn't be too hard to bypass the safety like that and someone might end up getting hurt. That said, there are plenty of other ways in which you can hurt someone using a microwave that do not involve the software, taping out the interlocks, rewiring the thing and using it as a blunt weapon are a few.

Tinkering with the software on your phone has much less potential to do so, for me it's simple if it has software in it and you bought it then you should be able to tinker with it.

The iPad is pushing us closer to computer-as-appliance. The distinction may not be so clear-cut in the future.

The real weird thing is that RMS is OK with microwaves but could not accept an implanted device that runs proprietary software unless he started developing a free replacement for it.

Maybe that "clarity of purpose" is just age old stubbornness. Going at something so long, so hard, so staunch, and then learning over time perhaps you need to adapt and change. However, you have dug yourself into a deep hole, due to the rigidness over time, you would never be able to adapt, as people would see it as weak, and your own self/ego would not allow it.

The guy is in a tough spot.

I wish someone would have asked him about the eating of his toe jam. :) It was touched on, and I understand it is not important, but his appearance distracts from his goal. And who in the hell eats the crap between your toes? ( I mean, in public that is, I do so in the privacy of my safe room, duh! )

How in the heck could he have forgotten the belittling of a small kid. Either the OP was in fact making it up/embellishing, or there is no way he forgot, and was covering.

The hypothetical about the software based medical solution; that was a surprising answer to me. In a way, he has invented a religious dogma. He seems to have an answer to everything that comes up, in the same way religions also have an answer for dinosaurs and aliens.

Just pick a damn movie and pick a damn book for Christ's sake! :)

This one just killed me:

     When a company says, "We want to merge with competitor XYZ,
     since we are too small to compete in this market, and by the way
     the merged company will become the biggest in the field," we
     need to respond, "We won't let you merge. However, we just split
     your biggest competitor into 5 pieces; maybe now you will find
     it easier to compete."
That is insanity. The guy is not working towards freedom in any sense of the word when I read statements such as that. Government enforced split companies to help out the little guy; sorry, I can't get behind that one at all, no matter how skewed our system is in favor of the big guy.

His inability to adapt his position hurts him in the long run. When making comments about textbooks, it was clear to me, that the preferable solution would be to use a free textbook over a non free textbook. I can get behind that. However, when the quality of the non free textbook is abysmal, you must go with the non free version. We are talking about one's eduction, or health, or life saving scenario, their future in general.

Giving up a little in the beginning to position yourself to be able to make sure that what you gave up in the beginning never happens again, is the adaptation he lacks, which hurts his end game.

Compromise does not seem to be in his vocabulary, yet I suspect he would be so much further along had he learned about it. He may walk into a meeting with major leaders of other countries to get them to look into free software deployment on a scale of millions. That sets the tone to be able to one day implement his idealistic end game. That meeting would have no negotiation to it, it would be his way, or no way, in which case, Microsoft just made all the money, and he took a step backwards for the sake of being stubborn.

ESR is far more radical than RMS will ever be but few measure themselves by him, probably because ESR look like and act like a pragmatic man.

I think he secretly watches DRMed videos on his MacBook when nobody is looking.


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