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Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software (2016) (gnu.org)
293 points by pera on June 4, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments



At some point there should be the counter essay which is "Why Free Software Misses the Point of Open Source."

There is tremendous value in repairability of things when you can see all of the details of how they are constructed, without having to simultaneously give you permission to manufacture or reproduce those things on your own. I really enjoyed that old televisions and radios included the schematic in the owners manual so that you could repair them down to the component level. It was really nice that the BIOS source code was part of the IBM PC technical manual, it helped you understand what it was expecting when it probed an IO ROM on the ISA bus. Neither of those examples gave you the right to re-distribute your modifications, and yet they were in fact valuable things to have.


Devil's advocate though:

You have the requisite technical knowledge to do those things. Not everyone does. If someone non-technical's stuff breaks, you can't distribute the changes you've already made yourself. It limits the value of the work you're putting in and it limits the repairability of an item based on the owner's skills.

It's a bad analogy but it's as though car repair shops were illegal and you could only repair your own car. Most people would have some pretty junky beat-up cars or they'd be buying new ones every year.


> It's a bad analogy but it's as though car repair shops were illegal and you could only repair your own car.

It's a great analogy: just look at the Mac repair shops being sued by Apple, or the idiotic things printer manufacturers and even coffee pod makers do to prevent people from "pirating" their machines.

Free software, and arguably free markets, mean free secondary markets for used goods. That includes all the repair shops and a cottage industry of craftsmen who provide those goods and services.


Free secondary markets is a great analogy for open source. What comes to mind is forks and plugins of open source projects, I guess they are a secondary market for the main project.


Full forks are very rare. I could count important ones on my fingers.

GNOME forks Cinnamon and Mate (active), libav vs ffmpeg (now closing), mplayer/2/mpv (mostly overtaken by last one).

Most common pattern is multiple packages solving the same problem, rather than forks - and incompatible versions.


LibreOffice? MariaDB? Ubuntu?


I would not call Ubuntu a Fork...

The rest are good examples but of the millions of projects very very few are forked successfully

I could add a couple to this list as well but that does not change the fact that successful forks are exceeding rare


MariaDB and LibreOffice were forked for license reasons - the fork was not avoidable. They also took over original code development.


Car shops are a good example, there is no prevention of repairing other people cars, or their equipment, based on the knowledge from complete schematics / source code. The thing you can't do is make your own version of the thing and sell it.

When my parents wireless router breaks, if I had the source code to the system installed on it I could both better understand the documentation to explain it to them, and I could perhaps patch a security problem that caused the breakdown.

There should be nothing preventing me from re-distributing the fixes, just as Sams FotoFacts used to distribute radio repair manuals, or the Chilton car maintenance manuals.


I still can't fix poor Bluetooth support in my new Toyota.

Also it's quite possible that the mechanics of a car are simpler than most software, for starters software often runs on an extremely complex operating system.


I think the difference is that instead of shipping a modified copy of the software, you ship a "patch" which fixes the software. That was very common years ago, whole markets existed for providing improved functionality of some portion of various OS's (macos, dos, s390, etc) via hooking and patching.

Of course its seems that that freedom is now restricted as well, but that is a fairly recent development that can be laid at the feet of the DRM advocates.


Relatively recent? There are developers in the workforce today who were born after the DMCA.

That's not recent anymore.


Man I am old, makes me sad for those who did not experience more freedom so have no frame of reference to understand why DMCA is bad

Also makes me fearful that we will ever be able to reform or get rid of DMCA


the structure of oss more often than not leads to improved user sophistcation.


> Neither of those examples gave you the right to re-distribute your modifications, and yet they were in fact valuable things to have.

Yes, it did!

You completely legally could buy a TV with the schematic included, use the schematic to modify your TV however you liked, and sell the modified TV. You could even use the schematic to develop some sort of modification-add-on for that model of TV and sell that add-on to people who wanted to modify their own TV. And that includes using any internal functionality of the TV whatsoever, and implementing any functionality whatsoever. If there was some function of a better model present on the PCB with just a few parts missing, you were perfectly within your rights to add the missing components and thus upgrade your TV to the premium version. And you were perfectly within your rights to tell others about how to do it. Or to sell kits with everything you needed to do the modification yourself. Or to sell the upgraded devices. Or to offer the modification as a service.


I just had a total flash back to the modification I made to a portable television to allow it to accept composite video directly. (This was back in the early computer days) It was described by an article in Radio-Electronics, and you got a specific model of TV and you could buy a small add-on circuit board, and then voila you had a "computer monitor" at a fraction of the price of buying a dedicated monitor.


But you were never going to put Heathkit or Zenith or any of these other companies out of business with your side markets. You could never compete even if you wanted to.

The cool thing about software is that one person, with one computer could totally disrupt a giant software company with a better widget because the manufacturing and distribution costs of software can be effectively zero.


> But you were never going to put Heathkit or Zenith or any of these other companies out of business with your side markets. You could never compete even if you wanted to.

That is the ex-post perspective: Those businesses that never became big weren't the ones that put the big companies out of business. And that is what you label "your side market" now. That doesn't mean other companies that ended up as serious competitors and that you wouldn't think of as "your side market" now didn't use such things to get started.

Also, even if you in fact couldn't put them out of business, that does not mean you didn't have a major influence on them. If small repair businesses around the country can upgrade your cheap TV model to a premium device for 50 bucks, that limits what you can charge for the premium model. Even if people are willing to pay a premium of 500 bucks, you won't be able to charge that. You may be able to charge more than the 50 bucks for convenience, but the mere fact that those repair shops exist prevents you from charging your customers as much as you otherwise would.


> Neither of those examples gave you the right to re-distribute your modifications, and yet they were in fact valuable things to have.

Right, and those were therefore notable exceptions, shining examples of what might be even though most stuff wasn't.

The idea behind copyleft[1] is to enshrine that "valuable thing to have" as a fundamental promise. The GPL is the tool, not the goal. And even RMS agrees.

[1] And free software more generally, but this particular point is what copyleft was invented for.


I don't see how free software misses that point. They offer that freedom but consider it is not enough and that closeness remains bad even if you see the source code.

I don't think RMS misunderstands the interest of open source, freewares or various other arrangement. He just states that free software is something more.


But we should always add, that the "freedom" we refer here to is actually "freedom-as-defined-by-RMS". It doesn't match what the word normally means; RMS made up a definition of what he thinks is software freedom, and some people happen to agree with him. Then there is another big group of people who don't.


RMS has also often said that software freedom is just a synonym for software liberty, ie that those have exact same meaning and that the only reason he use the word freedom instead of liberty is that the United States has a political platform which the American people associate with the word liberty, and RMS wanted to disassociate the free software movement from US politics so to not alienate the other side of the political spectrum.

Who made up the definition of Liberty? Not RMS. Was he first to use Freedom as a synonym to Liberty? I doubt it. It is imperfect but both words is commonly used interchangeable when talking about the philosophical concept of freedom and liberty so the question I have is why the distinction is important?


It is like the difference between liberty with right to dissent and one without. System with laws vs system that is strictly case based.

FSF definition was made strictly to prevent embrace, extend, extinguish actions (especially the last) and GPL was improved over time to close holes that allow this. (Affero, GPL3)


Why doesn't it mean what the word normally means? "Software Freedom" was coined by Stallman and the FSF ("free software" might have been around before).

It's also not uncommon to use the term freedom as "free in all aspects but this set of restrictions", it's not equivalent to anarchy.


Because for example someone could say: "Software freedom means that I am free to use the software, so freeware follows software freedom, regardless if the source code is open or closed, because I don't care about that."

Of course I don't say that this is better definition as that coined by RMS, but he just arbitrarily chose what is software freedom and what is not. If you step outside of his worldview, there is no intrinsic reason why exactly his chosen attributes should constitute software freedom. He considers his definition as some axiom, and doesn't care that it isn't an established common understanding. Or in other words, he forces his opinions as truths.


> because I don't care about that

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_political_jokes

An American man and a Soviet man are arguing about which country is better. 'At the end of the day, I can march into the oval office, pound the President's desk and say "Mr. President I don't like the way you are running this country."', says the American. The Soviet man replies, 'I can do that too. I can march in to the Kremlin, pound the General Secretary's desk and say "Mr. Gorbachev, I don't like the way President Reagan is running his country!"'

Also, your "someone could say" example is only possible because english mixes up the words for free and gratis (not that FOSS software might very well be very expensive).

> but he just arbitrarily chose what is software freedom and what is not.

Nope, that is not how words work. He simply coined a short phrase for his "four freedoms" movement.


This reminds me of people arguing that Doom can be called an Adventure game because you are going though an adventure in the game or that Half-Life is an RPG because you are filling in for the "role" of Gordon Freeman :-P. In other words, people trying to come up with explanations for words that make up a term.

The "Free" in Free Software refers to the software itself being free from the shackles of any programmer or company trying to keep it under control - specifically controlling who can use it and for what reason (edit: to clarify, this doesn't imply that Free Software and Copyleft are the same, Free Software can still be "caught"/"trapped" in a proprietary product due to its permissive license).

Of course people may try and use "Free Software" to mean "software that has no price", but people apply labels and terms wrong all the time, that doesn't make them right.


> Of course people may try and use "Free Software" to mean "software that has no price", but people apply labels and terms wrong all the time, that doesn't make them right.

Yes, but why do you think it is "wrong"? :-) Because it is the same opinion as RMS holds? It is only a matter of definition, IMHO.


Because English is a bad language?

"Liberty software is software that has no price" is obviously wrong. Just like "free speech" does not mean radios have to broadcast whatever you say at no cost.

> It is only a matter of definition, IMHO.

Language may change over time, but if you want to use "free speech" to mean "speech that has no price" I would certainly tell you that you are using the term wrong.


RMS wants software to be so free that you can forcibly prevent other people from doing certain things with it.


RMS wants software to be so free that you can't prevent other people from doing certain things with it and they can't as well.

FTFY


Exactly! My three favourite points about open source:

- Transparency

- Knowledge sharing

- Repairability (hackability)

I see those as what I hope will one day be seen as essential consumer rights regarding software they purchase: The right to know it, the right to understand it, and the right to improve it.


I like the example given in the RMS essay: open source DRM. You're free to improve your shackles.


That is a very theoretical value. I would even argue that that value no longer meets today's standards. For example, there was an HN thread today about "Gitlab is not really open source": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17229940

Let me quote a comment from there: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17230438

> These features aren't technically difficult to implement, but even if we wrote open source versions of them we'd have to carry our own internal fork of Gitlab since there is no chance upstream would accept them

What this commenter was saying was: I have the ability to fix the TV myself, but I would rather someone else fix it for me and keeping it fixed in the future, and I want them to do it for free.

This isn't even the first time I've heard it. Increasingly, this kind of expectation is becoming the standard. Being able to fix the TV yourself, and even receiving help in the form of a good manual, is increasingly becoming too low of a bar for people.


It's kinda hard to deeply understand how something work without being able to modify and experiment with it, but yeah, proprietary OSS is still better than proprietary closed source software.


> proprietary OSS is still better than proprietary closed source software.

This holds true until you begin looking at bigger picture market economics, then it could be argued that "proprietary OSS" is harming "true free software" by preying on less principled developers (and users).


> preying on less principled developers (and users).

Oh, please. Non-GPL OSS developer here. I'm not some weak doe in the woods being preyed on by evil companies and their MIT and BSD licensed software. I know exactly why I strike the bargain I do - its because I want to be able to make money selling proprietary extensions and modifications on top of any software I write. And I want to encourage any developers using software I write to do the same.

I use BSD/ISC/MIT licenses because I support the right of other developers to make modifications to my software and keep their modifications closed source if they want. I support developers feeding their families. And more $ usually means more ideas, more developers and healthier ecosystem.

Get off your high horse. I'm not a "less principled developer". I just have different principles thank you. I think having developers who pay rent writing OSS is a great deal for everyone.


You value (individual) developer freedom more than user freedom. Which is totally fine. However, the goal of Free Software is user freedom. Copyleft licenses help with user freedom because a program released under that license can never be made proprietary by other developers, every contribution to that program will be free so the users (and original dev, and other devs) can benefit from it without sacrificing their freedom.


permissive free software licenses like BSD are still free software. The comment you were replying to mentions proprietary open source which is another thing.


At some point there should be the counter essay which is "Why Free Software Misses the Point of Open Source."

Here's my stab at it.

From the essay: The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. I will get my work done some other way, and support a project to develop a free replacement.”

This is the attitude of people who care more about being special and different than they care about actually changing the world. Do you want to change the world? Then don't isolate yourself and others into a special group of the anointed. Do your best to stay away from harmful groupthink. If you want to change the world, then engage with the world. Solve the world's problems. Create something that sells itself. I think most of the successes of Open Source and Free Software come from the "engagement" way of thinking and most of the failures come from the isolationist way of thinking.

Free Software/Open Source should seek to eliminate barriers and solve problems. It should not be in the business of creating plainer, less featured, and worse designed alternatives to proprietary software. Separate but equal, but with an ideologically superior distribution model is a recipe for failure.


I think you're right about engagement, yet imho this is in the same direction as the essay.

> Then don't isolate yourself and others into a special group of the anointed.

Thinking that the essay leads to isolation is a dangerous oversimplification. First, this reaction is an ideal. Everyone has some form of ideal and everyone draw some limits on how much they allow themselves to diverge from that ideal. So two important things: (1) you'd better get conscious about your divergences and (2) you'd better strive to lessen your and your surrounding's divergences at your pace and bit by bit. This is exactely what RMS is doing with that post.

Going back to the FS activist's reaction, the problem here is that rejection of a program doesn't mean in any case isolating from it. I deeply hate and don't use most social media and yet i do follow closely their development, looking for interesting bits i can learn from. It is actually very important that some individuals speak out and do "strikes" (eg perform "unbeneficial actions" for ethical reasons) because it's the starting point to bring unsuspecting people to think that there might be something wrong with the service they use. Speaking out and stubbornly refusing to use something is actually the opposite of isolation, it's goal is to communicate with people and build a link between less-known alternatives that would need some work&love and people that didn't think about that issue before. The root idea here is to make people think about new questions and open new doors into stuff that they didn't think was questionable (eg that we could do otherwise).

The first step in solving a problem is stating it clearly and thoroughly. Thus i think that just thinking "problem solving" (eg "let's just build a FLOSS alternative to x") is never gonna reach anything meaningful. You won't have done the step where you healthily criticize every single part of some service, deconstructing deeper and deeper the model it projected. Only then can you start doing it. So of course we need to eliminate barriers, but first we need to run around them for some time to not realize aftewards we're not breaking the most important ones first. And i'm probably noone is gonna break them themselves so the best choice is probably to spread plans of the barriers. Solving social issues (here patents and copyright laws) takes time, ideas are hard to figure out alone and somehow the biggest step is just to get a sufficient mass to understand the issue.


Thinking that the essay leads to isolation is a dangerous oversimplification.

That's fair. My motivation is primarily my 30 years of watching the FSF, going from fanboy to skeptic, and less about the essay specifically.

It is actually very important that some individuals speak out and do "strikes" (eg perform "unbeneficial actions" for ethical reasons) because it's the starting point to bring unsuspecting people to think that there might be something wrong with the service they use.

The dramatic "actions" need to be done from a place of philosophical and moral integrity. The actions themselves need to be executed ethically. What I've encountered is the leaking-in of groupthink, in such a way as to other and turn away outsiders. This seems to have infected our society's view of activism as a whole.

The root idea here is to make people think about new questions and open new doors into stuff that they didn't think was questionable

The potential downside is to make people think, "Well, there go those nutcases again!" How much of that potential downside has the FSF accomplished? Way more than you'd like, from where I'm sitting.

You won't have done the step where you healthily criticize every single part of some service, deconstructing deeper and deeper the model it projected.

Critiques are valuable, but they will never easily reach any but a small fraction of the populace who like to analyze things as a general interest. Everyone analyzes things at that level, but usually only when they directly have something to lose or to gain. Also, it's easy to critique and deconstruct. It's harder by far to build. People should be highly skeptical of those who critique, but cannot support or substantiate their prescriptions for the future. (Particularly if those are utopian in nature.) Where free software and open source have won, it is through building. I think that is rightly so, because it's building and flourishing which is the only legitimate proof of ideology.

Look to the scene from the Gandhi movie, where he led the march to gather salt. Show by doing. Address a simple and stark injustice. Act constructively. (If possible tactically elicit a response that highlights the injustice.) That is how you reach people.

Too much of what I see around free software seems to be more about posturing.


Absolutely 100% agree, but Open Source is more than that, it is actually more "free" than "Free Software". Richard Stallman is just flat out wrong, and I'd be more than happy to get into a public debate with him:

I've spoken about this on The ChangeLog podcast[1], Hackernoon[2], and other places[3], to copy some of it here:

Stallman is wrong. He correctly claims that users should have freedom, but then argues for the following two thoughts that contradict each other and the premise of freedom:

1. He is okay with people charging money for their code[4]. This creates SES (socioeconomic status) barriers for vulnerable and impoverished people. This is like saying "access to information and education should be free" but then charging admission for a public library. Further, that could prevent people from review/verifying the program before purchasing it. This does not help create a free and flourishing society. Non-material goods (like software) should be free up to their economies of scale, instead charging for services/products (consulting, material goods, hosting things beyond scale, or penalizing people for themselves charging/spying on users).

2. But he is not okay with corporations [5]. What is the difference between a person charging (1) for something and a company charging (2) for something? Corporation literally comes from "corpus" in Latin, which means "body" (a person), a "body" of persons is a corporation. Corporations can be psychopaths, but so can individual people or other bodies of people (like the government). It is contradictory thinking of Stallman (and thus hypocrisy and heresy of his own ideology) to be okay with (1) but not okay with (2).

Personally, the most concise way to better express these ideas is just the decentralization of power. For me, any individual, group, corporation, or government that becomes too powerful represents a danger to any and everybody else. This is why we are building P2P systems and enabling end-to-end encryption, that can be used by any and all of us (whether individuals, groups, corporations, or governments). If we can create equal opportunities, free for all to compete and cooperate, we will enable the most freedom and flourishing for all.

[1] https://changelog.com/podcast/236

[2] https://hackernoon.com/the-implications-of-rethinkdb-and-par...

[3] https://github.com/amark/gun/pull/434#issuecomment-336536807

[4] https://www.datamation.com/osrc/article.php/12068_3737586_3/...

[5] https://stallman.org/articles/why-we-need-a-state.html


> He is okay with people charging money for their code[4]. This creates SES (socioeconomic status) barriers for vulnerable and impoverished people.

No, this lowers SES barriers for vulnerable and impoverished people to get into software development and thus become less vulnerable and impoverished and influence how the world works. If you can't charge money for your code, only rich people can write software.

> This is like saying "access to information and education should be free" but then charging admission for a public library.

No, this is like saying "access to information and education should be free" and also agreeing that authors shouldn't have to work for free.

If you want to have a public library, you don't ask authors to work for free, you use taxes to pay the authors for their work, and then make it available to the public for "free". Which is something that you can do even better under Stallman's model: If you pay someone for a piece of Free Software, you not only can then lend it to the public for free, you are actually allowed to give away as many copies of it as you want to the public for free, for the public to keep and redistribute and modify.

> Further, that could prevent people from review/verifying the program before purchasing it.

It absolutely doesn't have to. You totally can make a contract selling Free Software with the additional requirement that certain measures of quality must be met by the seller, so the buyer can refuse to pay if the software turns out to be crap.


I literally accidentally read your lines as:

""" Use taxes to pay the authors...

then make it free for the public...

This is even better under Stalin's model: """

It took me about 5 to 7 seconds of rereading before I finally saw "Stallman's model".

So I have to grant to you, you are probably right, if and only if you can find a perfectly fair and just agent to do the taxing and not become corrupt. Have any volunteers?


Perfection is not a prerequisite for being beneficial.


> Open Source is more than that, it is actually more "free" than "Free Software".

The remainder of your post you only talk about Richard Stallman. Sure, RMS is the father of Free Software, but that doens't mean RMS's beliefs are all perfectly aligned with it.

If you wish to argue about OSS vs Free Software, you should be arguing about licenses, movements, and emergent behaviours and incentive structures within each of them.

Arguing about one single person's beliefs on either side will not be productive. No one person defines OSS or Free Software in full.

By way of example, I disagree with RMS politically and on many many other subjects, but I still believe the free software movement to be better long-term than the OSS movement.


Well said, excellent point.


> 2. But he is not okay with corporations [5].

> [5] https://stallman.org/articles/why-we-need-a-state.html

That link does not demonstrate what you're claiming it demonstrates.


Why not?

There are countless interviews where he rants about his hatred of corporations. Saying "no he doesn't" doesn't demonstrate any counterpoint. Tell me, what is he saying then?


His objection to corporations seems to be that corporations don't have innate morals, so need additional rules placed on them. Even if the word derives from "person," it is not a person.

That said, I don't see how you can expand this to him thinking corporations shouldn't sell software. He seems largely fine with Red Hat, save some ideological issues.


In that post he says "we need a state" and states quite clearly why we need it. I was surprised. I expected another Stallman rant, but that was .. quite coherent and insightful for a change. One of his better articles.


"corporations are psychopaths" ~ Stallman, in the discussed article.

Psychopath: a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior.

I think it is pretty far fetched to suggest I was misrepresenting Stallman. Sure the article discusses the need for a state, but very clearly suggests his primary interests in the state is to stop CEOs from intentionally murdering their own customers.

The gravity of irony is so severe, it forgets some of the most appalling history lessons of Stalin, Mao, Hitler and others.

So yes, I'll debate Stallman any day any where.


It's not that he's wrong, it's that he has radically different priorities than you to.


Regarding point 1 about charging money for code, that you argue against. If people shouldn't charge money for code, should authors also not charge for open source books [1] beyond printing costs? Should open source hardware manufacturers sell their hardware for exactly material + assembly costs? The consumer of open source hardware has the right to repair the hardware, to modify the hardware, and to resell the hardware but they don't usually have option of reviewing/verifying the hardware before purchasing it. Can you expand on why you think non-material goods should be treated differently than material goods?

[1] For instance https://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/ https://craphound.com/littlebrother/buy/


Yes, I think those books should be free as well.

Material costs I'm ideologically fine with people making some profit off of, however inevitable market forces will cut margins lower and lower, until a point where no, people won't make a profit off of them.

The most successful of companies will ironically be the ones that give away the most, because they'll be the only ones that can survive in an extremely skeptical public market.

I predict this will either not happen, because citizens vote their governments into being socialist benefactors that provide these services for free, instead of the market (I also predict this will lead to increase government abuse). Or I predict the capitalist market will cater to socialist citizens by providing 0 margin services that maintain their monopoly in order to out compete governments or competitors that reap higher profits.


Concur. He completely disregards the enormous human freedom and prosperity that comes from open source. It's amazing to be able to launch flask in a container and have a web app running in 10 minutes, and it wouldn't be possible without the present mixture of free software, open source and a healthy dose of commercial self-interest all mixed together. I mean, look at github. Yes, of course, it wouldn't be possible without open source. But by the same token, git alone isn't sufficient to produce the social coding phenomenon of github. And social coding is good for the world.


Most Open Source code is Free Software, and vice-versa. The definitions are pretty close. The difference is in the philosophy of the movements. He's not against MIT/BSD/Apache/etc licensed code.


Citation needed.

When did he change his mind on this?


Citation needed. When did he hold the views you are attributing to him?


https://gcc.gnu.org/ml/gcc/2014-01/msg00247.html is a good example.

I can't find the exact thread right now, but RMS asked someone to use gcc instead of clang when proposed for code completion in emacs... and then refused to allow the necessary changes be made to gcc to allow code completion because evil corporations might use it to extract the AST from gcc and therefore bypass the GPL.


Yes, because he prefers the GPL over non-copyleft. That doesn't mean he opposes non-copyleft Free Software. For example, gNewSense - the distro sponsored by the FSF - doesn't really distinguish between them when deciding what to include.


> But by the same token, git alone isn't sufficient to produce the social coding phenomenon of github.

How do you know that? Especially so, given that tons of "social coding" happened long before github was a thing?


I guess we don't agree on what "tons" means. I don't remember searching through millions of projects on source forge.


So, the fact that people didn't stop producing new software when github was created is because github was created?

Or the fact that there are more software developers in the world today than there were when github was created wouldn't have happened without github?

Or is it that because sourceforge wasn't a quasi-monopoly, therefore everything that was not on sourceforge didn't exist?

Or what exactly is your point?


Sourceforge was definitely a "quasi-monopoly". If you weren't on Sourceforge you had a much harder time gaining credibility. There were also other projects that didn't use Sourceforge just like there are projects that don't use GitHub now.


For lack of a better term, Stallman is a zealot. For that I can respect and admire him even if his stance isn't always practical. I can look up to his hard line mentality even if I understand why I (and many others) can't follow the same path. He is to open source what monks are to buddhism (ironically both the good parts and some of the bad).

With that in mind his lessons are the golden path that many of us should aspire to even if we cannot attain it.

When ever I have to confront Stallman I am always left with the same dismal feeling, he's right, he might be an ass(1) but he is still a person(2).

1. https://kottke.org/11/10/richard-stallmans-rider Yea he's saying please but its still outrageous this article was chosen because it makes the brown M&M's comparison and that apparently had a secondary purpose. There is no secondary purpose for asking for a Parrot, regardless of how politely or how it is caveated.

2. This (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pube5Aynsls ) is what I go back and watch every time I go through this (difficult) process. It is funny (unexpected) that a man as large as my self can be so nimble... guts, self-awareness, gusto... IDNK what kinds of traits would possess him to do such a thing but it is just fun to watch. The fact he does it with the lap top just makes me giggle.


I usually don't have a slightest problem with someone being a zealot, but I don't respect RMS because of his tactics to take some word (for example 'freedom'), attach his own meanings into it, modifying what the word normally means, and then pushes his definition no matter what. I consider this an incorrect thing to do.


After spending at least 15 minutes explaining the difference between spicy, spices, hot (as in burn your fingers) and hot as in peppers to a small child I have to say that this is yet one more thing that is done with language that I find horribly disappointing.


It's fine for rms to be the extremist and zealot. I feel like the problem is that the Free software/copyleft movement is missing strong pragmatic realist leaders and organizations, so the situation is that either you are on the crazy train helmed by rms, or you fall back to the more relaxed open-source world.


> is missing strong pragmatic realist leaders and organizations

As far as I'm concerned, that is by design. Even though he is fairly well known, rms is not the pope of Free Software as some seem to think. He's just a guy. You can email him if you want to, if you have questions.

He has some very specific ideas about software. He writes essays about that and tries to explain the thought process behind his ideas. You can read those and agree or disagree with these thoughts or not.

I think "strong pragmatic realist leaders and organizations" would be harmful to Free Software, because people swayed by such things can ultimately be swayed in the opposite direction once even stronger leaders and organisations with even better marketing pop up.

So no, there is no "crazy train helmed by rms" as you, and a lot of others, like to believe. rms is not the one standing in the way of the global victory of "open source." What does stand in the way is dilution and corruption from within. And I think, in that regard, rms could be considered a "leader", and the Free Software movement, and even Open Source by proxy, is lucky to have him.


Rider Rider Evolution, courtesy of David Dolphin:

https://github.com/ddol/rre-rms

Richard Stallman's rider has been a cause of amusement, bemusement and confusion for many conference and lecture organisers who have hosted him. It has even drawn the attention of the press[0].

But what is the story behind this complex beast? When were certain clauses added, and why? We hope that with enough data regarding when modifications were made, we may be able to shed some light on the why's.

If you have a copy of RMS's rider we would love to include it in this archive. You can mail me a copy personally if you do not want your identity attached to this project. I can be e-mailed at: David.Dolphin at skynet.ie


I dont find his tactic always admirable nor his positions that great. He is quick to claim superiority without there being any real evidence for it. While that thumping of chest feels good and inspiring when I was younger, the older I am the more suspect it is and the more it looks like self serving lie. Not a lie in something big and important, but a lie that no one checks and thus works even better. It makes me loose respect for such people now. I get that zealots often achieve more success, but I find more admirable people who don't do everything just because they want something.


> But software can be said to serve its users only if it respects their freedom. What if the software is designed to put chains on its users?

I love that there are people carrying this torch, I just wish the language wasn't so over the top hyperbolic. That would make it easier to join the effort for me.

Framing it as a right & wrong moral issue seems ironically Disney-esque in it's inability to acknowledge the gray areas and realities of life. This entire article complains about restricting freedoms without once mentioning funding of any kind.

People building non-free software aren't setting out to put chains on people and restrict all freedoms, they're trying to make money, and we all need to make money.

I don't know how to write free software all day long and feed my family, and I'd put money on most businesses feeling the same way. If I did know how, I would absolutely do it.

Who has experience based and practical advice on funding models that businesses could reasonably adopt for releasing their software as free?


It depends on what you're expecting by "release".

In my career, 90%+ of the code I've written is Free Software (specifically, LGPL or AGPL licensed). That said, most of it is not publicly available - it's custom code written for clients, who could - but for the most part don't - release it publicly. That complies with rms' philosophy, but is it enough for you?

If not, then you have fewer choices - mostly a position on a company like Mozilla, Canonical, Sentry, etc. Finally, some people live on patronage (by companies and/or individuals), but this is generally hard to achieve.


> In my career, 90%+ of the code I've written is Free Software (specifically, LGPL or AGPL licensed). That said, most of it is not publicly available - it's custom code written for clients, who could - but for the most part don't - release it publicly. That complies with rms' philosophy, but is it enough for you?

Hmm, yeah interesting point! I think I would put this in one of those gray areas I was talking about. I've written code for clients, but in those cases the client decided whether and how to license the code, not me.

I'd probably suggest that if neither you nor your clients release the code then it doesn't really fit Stallman's definition of Free Software. Business decisions to not release it publicly are exactly what he's talking about when he claims the code is limiting freedom of the users, without source they can't modify the code.

The piece feels a bit like Stallman against the world though, he's not only alienating most of the people who would like to write Free Software while by day getting paid to write code for their employer, but he's also pitting himself against many of the people who freely release their source too.

> If not, then you have fewer choices..., but this is generally hard to achieve.

Yeah, exactly right. Those few companies have managed to eke out the funding model that perhaps depends on B2B relationships or support contracts, and not direct software sales.


I'd probably suggest that if neither you nor your clients release the code then it doesn't really fit Stallman's definition of Free Software. Business decisions to not release it publicly are exactly what he's talking about when he claims the code is limiting freedom of the users, without source they can't modify the code.

They don't release the code nor the software itself, as it is for internal use, not for redistribution. That's in accordance with the philosophy:

"Distributing a program to users without freedom mistreats those users; however, choosing not to distribute the program does not mistreat anyone. If you write a program and use it privately, that does no wrong to others."

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-even-more-impor...


Well, the user in this case is the client who ordered the code. If you become the user, you have all the rights listed in the (A/L/)GPL. I think that's more to the point of Free Software, not to liberate all code that has ever been written for someone but to liberate the code that you have to run for some reason.


That would create problems in legal terms about what "distribution" means.

By definition in GPL, internal use is not distribution.

How to define internal is up to lawyers.


I'm trying to think of how this situation works. And the only one I could come up with is that you're writing software that your clients use internally. Or I guess the software could produce something that your clients would end up selling to their clients.

The biggest "risk" is where you interpret the user of the software. At what level does the rights to view, modify and redistribute go away? Does your client have to make source available to its clients?


Yes, the vast majority is internal; most of our clients are not software companies, they only use software to provide other services/products.


This is one of the holes closed by Affero version of the GPL. Where internal GPL code is used as a server and uses a documented non-GPL protocol and is not distributed.


You need to make it a business where you could allow 99% of your users to pay you $0 and still survive. Meaning a small segment of your users pay for 'enterprise' or advanced features to sustain your business.

Support/services is not a scalable business model.

There have been a few companies that had a moderately successful open source project, but saw their business fold.


If you are producing free software that demonstrates that you are an expert in the domain, you may then be able to leverage that reputation to gain related consulting work. This might be helping other companies solve similar problems in their software, ensuring their product works with yours, or customising your software to meet their needs.


> I love that there are people carrying this torch, I just wish the language wasn't so over the top hyperbolic. That would make it easier to join the effort for me.

Manifestos often have hyperbolic language. See the communist manifesto or a declaration of the independence of cyberspace[1]. That is usually what gets people excited about a movement.

[1] https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence


The word manifesto is something you don't want to be associated with. If what you wrote is considered a manifesto, you are probably off base, or simply crazy.


Why? According to wikipedia, a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.

Some manifestos are crazy, some are innocent, some are useful. Mozilla has a manifesto [1]. Apple has published a manifesto before [2]. And Debian [3]. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto against nuclear weapons [4]. Even the UN Universal declaration of human rights is a manifesto [5], or even similar documents like the US declaration of independence.

[1] https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/about/manifesto/ [2] http://www.businessinsider.com/designed-by-apple-in-californ... [3] https://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/project-history/ap-manife... [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%E2%80%93Einstein_Manif... [5] http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf


I suppose that's a good approach if your aim is conformism and bland mediocrity.


I'm starting to think it's a mistake to take on too lukewarm of a movement to try to get widespread appeal. I know this is basically Godwin's law now, but see the difference between Clinton and Trump's (or even Sanders') campaigns.


My concern with free vs. open source software is this: free/libre software assumes the power is with the programmer, to make stuff that does battle with the closed source hordes, and bring justice. Nobody will starve, the good stuff will rise, and bad powers won't win. It's a pretty fantasy and I'd love to live in that world.

I use open source (MIT license) because I need the ability to give of myself to others, and because I don't think I have any real power and do risk starving and failing. If I try to make a stand for justice, and push around larger powers, I can be just sort of blackballed and end up marginalized.

The solution to that is the situation that's always existed in my industry, the music business. Exploitation. I can only thrive and see my ideas proliferate, if I allow some larger power to exploit me and get most of the benefit from my work. They get to take and not give, they get to make themselves rich at my expense, and if I want to not starve it's a negotiating process as to what crumbs they want to throw, and my weapons are more PR than legal pressure forcing the larger entity to comply. If I can make it seem advantageous to 'shout out' me and my work, by painting it as a PR bonus that doesn't have extra business consequences, I can get more crumbs. What's crumbs to a giant business might be all I would ever need to survive. The relative poverty levels are that wildly disparate.

Open source lets me give ideas and code to other small fry like me, and also lets the giant centers of power exploit me in this way: it costs them IP-wise so little to 'give credit' that it's pretty advantageous for them to interact with me. I chose the MIT license for this reason, and hope to establish a good library of cutting-edge audio DSP code that can grow and serve the needs of open source and the true free/libre community.

I don't believe anything I can do, can get me enough power as an individual that I could join libre and pressure giant corporations to change their ways. I've written the best wordlength reducer in the world, the best audio distortion algorithm in the world. Doesn't matter.

Power is not about performance and meritocracy doesn't exist: the highest-merit solution tied to a restrictive license is a meaningless historical sidenote. I will happily funnel ideas and code to free/libre software, but I won't survive unless I let myself be a lot more exploited, because power is impossible to fight.


It should be noticed that MIT licensed software is Free Software. There's a disagreement in the philosophy, but the problem is proprietary software, not MIT/BSD/Apache/etc.


It's open source. It does very little to force the world into more freedom. I feel I understand the libre folks' point of view, I'm just not in a position to do much about it.


The FSF explicitly states[1] that the MIT licences (e.g. Expat, X11) are free software licences.

This means software written under the MIT licence is both open source _and_ free.

[1] https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html#SoftwareLi...


Almost all open source licenses are Free Software, and vice-versa, MIT included. As long as it gives users the Four Freedoms, it's Free Software. What you're talking about is copyleft, which rms certainly prefers people use, but it's not mandatory to be Free Software.


Its clear that the music industry has a long history of exploitation and its an interesting comparison to the software industry. Record labels taking the product of the artist and giving crumbs or often nothing at all back to the artist (or in the past a large loan to be repaid).

But hasn't the law tried to catch up to those abusive tactics? An artist can split their copyright into multiple tiny pieces for specific use cases, often time limited, and there is even laws that gives the artist the ability to break a contract after a number of years. There is also very little "work for hire" that I can see where the record company owns the work and the artist just got paid once. Occasionally I see the odd article where an artist is in a constant legal fight with a company because they signed off on a one-sided contract and the product of their work happened to be worth millions.

I am trying to imagine what would happen if the software world would get the same protection as current day laws and practice for musicians. No more work for hire, software being split into "performance", "internal", "on-demand-download", "CD", "combined/synced with X", and so on. Here in Sweden we have state funded public radio and TV so maybe a stated funded repository where a small tax pie is distributed based on some form of statistics. In this world, what kind of licenses would be popular?


> Radical groups in the 1960s had a reputation for factionalism: some organizations split because of disagreements on details of strategy, and the two daughter groups treated each other as enemies despite having similar basic goals and values.

That observation could be what inspired that gag in Monty Python's Life of Brian film: the "People's Front of Judea" versus the "Judean People's Front".


I think this is more an general observation on human behaviour, I don't think there's any particular characteristic of 60's groups that led to more factionalism.



There seems to be a lot of confusion here about what open source means. In practical terms, open source and free software imply the same freedoms for the users, including the rights to change and redistribute the source code.

The more common terminology for proprietary software whose source is available is source-available.

See the wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_software#Open-sour...


> When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms

What do readers here think about a new name that is more direct, such as "freedom software", or "freedom source", or other names that emphasize the essential freedoms?


We already have Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) which is designed to emphasize such things. I don't think Yet Another Buzzword™ is going to help.

It's also worth noting that the issue of "free" versus "freedom" is an English-language-specific confusion and not quite as much of a problem in other languages (cf. German, "gratis" meaning no-cost vs "Freiheit" for freedom). That's partially why Stallman chose to use the Spanish term "libre" to help obviate some of that confusion.


The word "libre" is gaining momentum now that people are using LibreOffice. The word is working its way into the English language:

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/libre


le plan se déroule comme prévu !


> For instance, in some contexts the French and Spanish word “libre” works well, but people in India do not recognize it at all.


The phrase "free software" predates "open source" by over a decade. It is of similar vintage to terms like "shareware".

Any phrase that you use will require explanation.

That said, you also see it called "libre software". Or you see it with the catchphrase, "Think free as in speech, not beer."


For the longest time I had no clue what "free as in speech, not beer" was supposed to mean; even now I don't think it fits very well - free speech is about what you have rights to create and what you have rights to say. That would be like a right to create your own software. Free speech is not about how you can re-use someone else's words, or how someone else's .. proprietary and restrictive speech can lock your data into someone else's ecosystem (see, it's a nonsensical comparison to try and write out).

"Freedom respecting software. Think zero restrictions on how you use it, not zero cost". It's not as catchy, but it hints a lot more at what it means. Even "Think free as in freedoms, not price" seems more helpful. But maybe that's because I already know what it means now.


"Free as in speech, not beer" is about what meaning to avoid: the "free" refers to freedom (free speech is about freedom), not price.


At the time, I could see that - "it's not zero cost", but couldn't see what else (relevant) remained once you took that away.

How is a kernel or a text editor like speech? Of course speech costs no money? Why is a webserver or a compiler like arguments about shouting fire in a crowded theatre?

Free speech is about the person speaking and their interaction with wider society, free software is about the person listening and their interaction with the speaker and with the speech itself. It's mismatched.


You focus too much on the "speech" part, it isn't like zero cost software is compared to beer. The "free as in speech" is used to disambiguate between the "price vs freedom" use of "free", not to put any connotation between software and speech.

"Free as in speech, not beer" is really a short way to say "when we use the word 'free' here, we do it with the meaning that is used in the phrase 'free speech' as opposed to the meaning used in the phrase 'free beer'".


Smacks of freedom fries talk that went around during the early 2000's when France wasn't so keen on joining the "Global War on Terror".


I honestly prefer either FLOSS or just libre software, but I guess I'm biased :)

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/floss-and-foss.html


Since we're bike-shedding, just wanted to mention: "unfettered software".

It has a liberating ring to it like none other. :-) Wikipedia even says [+]:

Stallman has suggested that the term "unfettered software" would be an appropriate, non-ambiguous replacement, but that he would not push for it because there was too much momentum and too much effort behind the term "free software".

[+] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_terms_for_free_s...


> "freedom software"

Too long, let's call it "free software" for short. It has "free" as the first word which emphasizes the essential freedoms.

If you want to refer to non-free, gratis software, the term "freeware" has been common for decades and other languages don't have that annoying ambiguity problem.


{Emancipating,Respectful,Organic,Common,Empowering, Liberating} software come to mind. But I really like Libre software.


“Civil software” is simple, accurate, sounds good, and is relatively unambiguous. It would get my vote


Community code?


How about "Leftist Code"? You know, for Copyleft! ;)


It depends on what freedom. GPL isn't free; it's handcuffware. It's "freedom" on someone else's terms. BSD is a truly free license whereas GPL is an attempt at an anti-capitalist license model.


It’s free in a similar way to how preventing citizens from owning slaves is free.


> It's "freedom" on someone else's terms.

It's freedom on my terms too: GPL protects the developer and user community from malicious patents, hostile forks, lock-down attempts, bait-and-switch-to-closed.


The question is why those are legitimate things to insist on protection against. Surely a free software license couldn't say "it's forbidden to run this program on iOS" or "nobody affiliated with the US government may modify the code", even though the free software community has real concerns about walled gardens and government backdoors.


> Surely a free software license couldn't say "it's forbidden to run this program on iOS"

Of course not, free software allows the user to use the software however they wish. Anything else would be unfree software.

However, if you receive software governed the GPL, it is NOT legal to publish that software via the iOS App Store, as that violates the users' GPL-given right to build and run modifications. (The original author can dual-license software they create, in both GPL and iOS-licensed versions)

https://www.fsf.org/blogs/community/why-free-software-and-ap...

Government backdoors are irrelevant to free software, since anyone can inspect software and remove backdoors.


> why those are legitimate things to insist on protection against

Because there is a track record of this things happening and damaging the projects.

> Surely a free software license couldn't say "it's forbidden to run this program on iOS"

Restrictions like "don't be evil, don't use it inside NSA" can be either too vague to be applicable, easy to circumvent, legally inapplicable or nonsensical. E.g. in many countries some institutions including military are not restricted by copyright law.

On top of that, shipping a distribution with thousands of different licenses would be a nightmare.


What do you mean? Free software was specifically designed to be about user freedoms (and all users, not just developers). Forbidding software from running on any given platform would go against this goal.

Are you asking why did they choose this goal? There are many essays explaining why this goal mattered to both FSF- and OpenSource- advocates.


But copyleft licenses do end up preventing software from running on some platforms. For example, none of the work that goes into the Linux kernel can be made available to Windows users.

I'm sure the FSF sees this as a tradeoff that has to be made in order to keep free software viable. But that's a very different story than "user freedom is everything".


Well, that's right. The GPL is designed so that you can't copy-and-paste GPL code into a closed-source project. For software competing with each other, that stops the arms race being won by the side that can use their own work, and the work of the other side.

It is certainly fair in the sense that the Linux or BSD kernel people will never get to see, and benefit from the NT code, but microsoft and Apple can certainly use any BSD or MIT licensed code they want to.

But using Linux kernel code in the NT kernel is a special case of software sharing that can only be done at the source code level, by experienced programmers. And then it has to be released by the project maintainers, in this case the linux foundation, or microsoft.

But application code (e.g. an mp3 player), can be released for both windows and linux whether they are closed-source, or GPL.

The kernel might not be the best example to make your point.


> I'm sure the FSF sees this as a tradeoff that has to be made in order to keep free software viable. But that's a very different story than "user freedom is everything".

That presumes that the FSF's tradeoff is getting things wrong. If this strategy is what results in maximum overall user freedom, then that is exactly the strategy you have to follow if "user freedom is everything".

It is meaningless to say that making slavery illegal is a tradeoff that has to be made in order to keep a free society viable, but that is a very different story than "human freedom is everything". Yes, human freedom is everything, and that is exactly why we restrict people from owning slaves, there is no contradiction there.


What do you mean? The Linux kernel could theoretically be available to Windows users. In practice, embedding parts of the kernel in Windows under the license provisions of the Linux kernel is something Microsoft is unlikely to want (which makes sense because of their business model). Note that a lot of Free software does run on Windows, so the problem is not about Windows as a platform.

This is not inconsistent with "user freedom is everything".


Which is why FreeBSD has taken over the world of UNIX, and everyone gladly contributes back to it.


Except it didn't. And vendors do not contribute drivers, binary blobs get made. :)

(With a minor exception of one game console.)


Its freedom for end users. Not developers and not businesses. Because developers and businesses have proven many times, they will abuse the power granted by bad laws, licenses, agreements and code. They even exploit code intended to be good, but licensed poorly, against even the original author.


The big difference between BSD and GPL (after all the legalese is said and done) is as follows: * BSD says you have the freedom to swing your fists * GPL says that your freedom to swing your fists ends at the tip of my nose.

That's pretty much the difference in practice. That's actually pretty similar to how our capitalist, democratic society works. (we do restrict people's freedoms where they would end up taking away freedom from someone else).

Sometimes the one approach is better, sometimes the other. Apply right tool to right job, as needed.

Note that it is entirely possible to earn money using free (as in speech) software, and many quite capitalist companies do so.

(ps; in my limited experience in hiring expensive lawyers to resolve legal conflicts while capitalisting: the GPL appears to deliver a lot more bang for buck than MIT or BSD. In that limited domain. MIT and BSD can be quite useful in other domains! )


The fist analogy doesn't work at all. BSD licenses do not permit face punching, literally or metaphorically.


It is hardly anti-capitalist. It is anti-exploitation. Granted, given the some of capitalists we currently have to put up with, it is easy to miss the distinction, but it is there.

I would, however, encourage you to continue to avoid software that does not meet your ethical standards. That is what I do, and why I refuse to use software from a number of sources myself.


It's literally anti-capitalist: It is specifically designed to prevent software from being a form of capital that rent can be extracted from, since Free software can be given away by anyone who has it, destroying the software's value as capital. (The Free software model, only knowledge and skill in consulting and services is useful as capital)


"freedom" is an imprecise word. Most people are surprised at hearing it associated to software or books or artwork.

"collaborative software" sounds more accurate to me.


Yeah, but as a brand, it sucks. There aren't so many Epic Rock & Roll Anthems about "Collaborative Software". But there is one about "Free Software", though:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sJUDx7iEJw


Windows is also a collaborative piece of software. That term seems ambiguous.


> Any activity that promotes the word “open” tends to extend the curtain that hides the ideas of the free software movement.

This is the end of one paragraph.

So...from whom is the curtain "hiding" these ideas? It must be from the audience for the conferences that have the word "open" in them.

That means that a substantial part of the audience does not consist of "open source advocates." At least not in the sense of people who heard the open source vs. free software debate and knowingly chose against free software. If that were the case, then RMS wouldn't be talking about the curtain "hiding" anything-- rather he'd be talking about "open" conferences merely serving the desires of people who know about free software but don't agree with it and instead chose open source.

Therefore-- one would think-- it's in the best interest of free software advocates to attend such conferences and communicate their message clearly and effectively to the substantial part of the audience who doesn't know about free software.

Who knows-- they could even play a prank by redefining open source to its literal meaning, then explaining it as a subset of the free software development process. That would put the onus on open source advocates to argue against open source as a subset of free software. But to do that they'd have to reference the very features of free software they wanted to ignore!

I think there was once a word for such playful cleverness...

Anyhow, on to the beginning of the next paragraph:

> Thus, free software activists are well advised to decline to work on an activity that calls itself “open.”

Hm, I can't seem to remember the word for that "playful cleverness." Well, it was from a long, long time ago...

Edit: clarification


network effects have nullified alot of the value of "free software." Without "free data" and a "free communication channel," people are as locked in today as they were proprietary software of the 80s


The Affero General Public License attacks this problem

https://www.gnu.org/licenses/agpl-3.0.en.html

> The GNU Affero General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software and other kinds of works, specifically designed to ensure cooperation with the community in the case of network server software.


1. free source

2. open format for import export of data

3. api interface to services.

4. forkable open protocols file formats


No, "free as in beer" nullified a lot of the value of "free as in liberty". When is the last time you paid moneys for a software product?

You are the product.


But, if you could easily take your contacts or word docs or reviews etc over to another platform there would probably be more competition and more value would probably be passed to the consumer.


If that's the intent behind "free software" I'd call it "liberty software" or "liberated software".

I'm not a native English speaker so it might have things attached I don't know about.


Yes, this is indeed a problem of english semantics, which is why the term "libre software" is sometimes offered as an alternative. "Libre" is a french word that means that part of "free" that free software cares about (ie not the cheap part)


Oh, I thought it came from Spanish, with the same meaning.


It comes from the same latin origin, I don't think we can link it to one language more than to the other.


This is actually a "known bug". It is more specifically called "libre" software, and the idiom "Free as in 'beer' versus Free as in 'speech'" comes up to help illustrate the difference in meaning.


"Liberty software" should be correctly understood by a native English speaker. That being said, it is a bit awkward... I interpret "Liberty ${OBJECT}" as an Americanism[0]. Though, I'd be interested in the perspectives of people outside North America...

As someone else pointed out, "liberated software" is past tense, where a previous state is implied.

[0] Anecdotal, but take a look at Wikipedia's "Liberty" disambiguation page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_(disambiguation) most examples of "Liberty ${OBJECT}" are American based.


Free as in freedom is a very old and established definition of the word. It is also very engrained in the American consciousness.

Liberated software sounds like closed source that someone leaked the code for, or just a euphemism for pirated software.


I have written about it elsewhere but it is worth repeating here. RMS prefer liberty software but because of US politics he choose to use free software in order to not associate the free software movement with the United states libertarian political platform.


As some here did point out free software as Richard Stallman and GNU foundation use the term is a specific set of freedoms and limitations.

These freedoms and limitations are arguable depending on many factors and they are not what everybody considers free software.

While I can understand the need for those limitations in order to promote some ideas and practices, I am not happy that they stand for free software as an absolute and at the same time the GPL license limits freedom in two aspects: - You cannot distribute copies (modified or not) without attributing the work to the original author - You cannot distribute copies (modified or not) with less permissions than the original license

Some people can argue that the GPL license actually limits your freedom while the UNLICENSE license gives you more freedom.

And here is my question: If I work on a patch or feature and I put my time and effort into it, is it ethical to get rewarded for my effort? How can I sell the modified version without closing the source or changing the license? That at least until I get the money back for my invested time.

And this point for me is where non free software will get ahead, simply because they are able to get paid for the the developers time and will always have more resources than free software projects.


Good to see this discussion and the different viewpoints of the matter coming up to the surface from time to time.


He talks about it in the essay, but I think it bears mentioning again that "free software" at first glance implies something apart from what the FSF intends. Is there really no other satisfactory word that could be used that would get the point across with less explanation?


"Software which respects the moral positions of people like those in the Free Software Foundation" seems like an inherently complicated concept, that's not really amenable to a one or two word summary.


I really disagree with Stalman on this concept because it applies equally to the powerful and the powerless.

I may not be putting this eloquently, but the user of the computer could be a huge company using their freedom to build a killing machine. Their are real balances of power that this seems to not address. I'm probably just kind of rambling. I. Not trying to offend anyone.

EDIT: I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's taken as a given that this type of free software would somehow address these imbalances of power and I don't think that's the lesson that you could take from the last 20 years.


Free software introduces one balance of power: by drastically reducing switching costs it reduces the power of the software creator.

As an example: if I don't like the direction MS is heading with MS Word my only real options are never upgrading or switching to a competitor. That switch would be painful, I would have to learn a new interface, import my files etc. So MS can push a lot of stuff on me, as long as enduring that is less painful than switching to another program. In contrast, if I dislike the direction Libre Office is heading I fork it and selectively merge the changes I like. And if my opinion is shared widely enough my fork might replace the original project.

That's also why benevolent dictators are so popular for free software projects: it's efficient, and if the dictator becomes a tyrant someone will just fork.

What free software doesn't is prevent the construction of killer robot swarms. But if the killer robot swarm is free software you can fork it and build a killer robot killer swarm :)


> That's also why benevolent dictators are so popular for free software projects: it's efficient, and if the dictator becomes a tyrant someone will just fork.

Just like a blockchain that runs of coffee instead of electricity.


> Their are real balances of power that this seems to not address.

Yeah, don't expect to solve all of these with a software license.


There's a license for you, but it's nonfree:

https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#JSON


Because of limitation of English language, no single word to represent intent of 'free'.

Often you need to explain that free as 'free as in free speech', which probably confuses people more.



1. Sapir-Whorf is racist pseudoscience that was never substantiated and was universally rejected from day 1 by everybody but science-illiterate journalists

2. Even if there was substance to it, it's not relevant to this. People have no difficulty understanding what "Free" means when you explain what you mean. Just as in the above sentence you experienced no confusion at all over whether I used "that" in the indicative or grammatical sense.


What ever happened to the words "Open Source" ??

The issue is: marketing. Any word that has a precise technical meaning will become non-technical as marketers latch onto the word. Because if its technical, precise, and useful... then marketers will "stretch" the meaning of the word beyond its true definition.

In many cases, the word "free" itself is overloaded. Chosen by the "Free Software" movement because of its ambiguity. Free from cost, freedom to use, freedom of choice... etc. etc.

Stallman wants "free" to mean everything he wants it to mean, without any of the meanings otherwise attached to the word. Its an issue of branding and I've never really liked this aspect of the FSF / Stallman's philosophy.

Ultimately, Stallman wants to distinguish between the "Open Source" community with his "Free Software" philosophy. There's plenty of more appropriate words, such as "Copyleft" software, available at his disposal.

Overloading the "Free Software" word and/or branding is part of the strategy. Ambiguity is good. It allows the people who hear the word to imagine the best possibilities, as opposed to focusing on the technical details or legalize.


I've seen this often, but I don't think it's true. How about "liberated"? This implies that restrictions did exist at one point, which is true, as copyright is assigned by default and needs to be explicitly liberated in most places. It also reminds people who forget to assign a license of the importance to do so.

I'm sure there are other single words that would convey the same message.


As you say liberated software implies a removal of restrictions, but I think it implies it was accomplished by force. I think it would be a good term for someone who believes piracy to be a moral imperative, but I don't think it's a good term for expressing the idea of the author willingly sharing their work.

"And the soldiers liberate them, laying mines along their roads." ~Megadeth


Honestly, the name is a problem. If you read "free software", you will think of free as in gratis. Nobody thinks about freedom there, because of that its not popular.


The GitHub purchase demonstrates once again that rms is right.


Do proponents of Free Software, on the whole, assert that the concept of intellectual property should not exist?


Proponents of Free Software, on the whole, would caution against the term "intellectual property".

Are you referring to:

-copyright?

-patents?

-trademarks?

-something else?

Because, in general:

-copyright is obnoxious, but usable. The GPL depends on it.

-software patents are terrible, no excuses.

-trademarks are generally good and productive.

There is no one concept of "intellectual property," and most people using it are confused or being deceptive.


trademarks are a very special form of intellectual property and the furthers away from property. In part it is just an extension of anti-fraud laws, where one company is forbidden to masquerade their product as if they were produced by someone else (usually by someone of high reputation). I think historically you could not even sell a trademark, which really put it far away from the concept of property.


No. In fact, copyleft licenses are completely dependent on copyright. Copyleft advocates sometimes claim that copyleft "uses copyright against itself", but this isn't really true. Copyleft uses copyright, but not against copyright. If there was no copyright (all else equal), creative works would be in the public domain, truly free for anyone to use (more or less like the MIT and BSD licensed works today).


The language of copyright laws lets content creators stop unauthorized usage/sale of their content. The purpose behind copyright laws is to let copyright owners make money of their content.

Copyleft licenses leverage the language of copyright laws to subvert the purpose of copyright laws: copyleft licenses roughly say you are authorized to do whatever you want to do with my content, as long as you let others also do whatever they want with my content.


> their content

> my content

So in other words, yes, proponents of "Free Software" do not, in fact, assert that that the concept of intellectual property should not exist.


No, I am using the language of current legal system (which recognized IP) because otherwise I have to establish an alternative context. Again, the language is being used, but the underlying purpose behind the law is not being respected.

We can imagine a society where copyright laws don't exist, i.e. content created by someone is not considered their property and others may do what they will with the content in a GPLisque manner. In that society we would never have to use 'my/their content', as there will be no notion of IP in that society.


People would be free to make use of the creative expressions of others, yes, but it would be more like MIT/BSD than GPL. All else equal, anyone would be free to make a modified Linux and publish the compiled binary without being required to publish the source code. What you describe would require not only abolition of copyright law but also a new copyleft law.


"the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. " Under this description the author has basically zero rights. Im not talking legally im talking under the moralizing perspective of Free Software.


More precisely, under GPL the author of the software has no power over users. The author has all the same rights as the users.


So many arguments start because they use the term "free" instead of "freed".


"the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes" What if my "software" was just an exe that played all the Disney movies? Is free software against copyright laws?


> Is free software against copyright laws?

Mostly. https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/freedom-or-copyright.en.html

> To make copyright fit the network age, we should legalize the noncommercial copying and sharing of all published works, and prohibit DRM.

But note that "being against copyright" is different from "advocating violating current copyright laws"


Ok i think i understand it just mostly sounds delusional considering the lived reality of capitalism. Perhaps if UBI becomes a thing?


Why would "free software" imply that you could ignore other people's copyrights, take other people's non-free work and give it away?

If Disney offered you a program to play all their movies, you could say "I refuse to use their black-box proprietary movie player, I will only use a free software video player that I can inspect, to make sure it isn't scanning my computer for copyrighted Disney movies and reporting everything it finds back to Disneyland, and one I can recompile to put the video stream into the background of my transparent terminal because I'm not watching dozens of hours of movies unless I can work at the same time".

That's the kind of thing it's supporting.


I understand the nature of the problem. Its everywhere ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17237792 ) I just think lived reality is more complex than a moralizing ideology. Something you understand: quote

"Open Source" (as if it's a single movement) didn't win in creating desirable, accessible, commercial or beautiful software. It 'won' in the worst possible way - big companies like Amazon and Facebook took the work, hid it in their datacenters behind their paywalls, and use it to extract money from people.

Nobody has any more freedom with their data and their computing because Facebook uses PHP, than they would have on a proprietary desktop OS.

"you can have an open source OS and browser which connects you to a restrictive interface where your data is under someone else's control" is a lose for all of us.


mmhmm, I remember writing that. What was more in my head with that was privacy and freedom vs cloud computing rather than closed/open ("open source has won", "not in the ways I care about it hasn't"); I lament the loss of the late 90s and the enthusiasm for desktop voice recognition, particularly, and how that's all gone cloud based and will probably never come back leaving the only options as "give your data to this company or that company".

And recently Microsoft has predicted they can extract 8+ billion dollars from years of free work of Git developers (GitHub) and other open projects, yet open source advocates are trying to spin this as some kind of win for open source and a loss for Microsoft.

I agree lived reality is more complex, but if you can start from a moralizing ideology you agree with, that can make decisions for you to simplify it. But then you risk living with a Leemote Yeelong laptop and using the web over plain text email.


One can be developed without donations, one can't. See GNU, they haven't ever been able to sell software as a product.


So is LGPL = Free Software?


> When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms

What a ridiculous definition.


Religious argument that comes down to preference. Might as well say "Why Emacs misses the point of modal editing."

Edit: Downvoters, care to engage at all? Or do you just disagree with the idea that reasonable people might hold a different preference to yours, whichever flavor you prefer?


I didn't downvote, but I think people disliked your use of the word "religious", as it's sort of a discussion-stopper.

To answer your point, the difference is that most people confuse the terms, which have a very different connotation. One is about software quality, the other is about users' freedom (as defined by the fsf).

Emacs does not try to appeal to business (or users in general) by using the principles of vim in a more business-friendly connotation, so comparing the issue at hand with "emacs misses the point of modal editing" kind of misses the point, if you will :)


> I think people disliked your use of the word "religious", as it's sort of a discussion-stopper.

That's kind of the point. There's no use arguing about it since it's a matter of personal preference — i.e., religion.

> Emacs does not try to appeal to business (or users in general) by using the principles of vim in a more business-friendly connotation

Open source software does not try to appeal to users by using the principles of the FSF. I don't think this illustrates a problem with the metaphor. They're both fine editors and reflect the preferences of their developers. Ditto different software licenses.


The "preference" of whether you submit to a dictator because you have no choice or {nothing here because you have no choice}.

Free software is what gives you a choice. Then you can prefer it to proprietary software or not. But replying "it's a preference" to an article trying to explain what free software is and isn't and why it exists, makes no sense. "Why it exists" or "what it means" is not a preference.


The preference is whether, as a creator, you license your work under a free software license or an open source license. The FSF's piece attempts to sway creators, and argues why they should use the FSF's license. Users never had a say in the license of the work they consume, so they're sort of irrelevant.

I'm not sure what dictators have to do with anything.


The original articulator of open-source values, Eric Raymond, whose essays helped crystallize open source as a "movement", gets free software on a fundamental level. He and Stallman were once close friends, and from his blog posts and comments it seems he and Stallman are in broad agreement on the points of software freedom being good and proprietary lock-in being evil.

The reason why open source is a "thing" is to convey these benefits -- these virtues -- to an audience that doesn't think like Richard Stallman. I.e., most of the world. It was an exercise in much-needed marketing for the movement. At the time, no one could out-market Microsoft. Microsoft were licensing Stones songs and lighting up the Empire State building to promote Win32 duct-taped to DOS. Unless free-software hackers had a counterstrategy that didn't sound like a tin-pot revolution organized by bearded, Kaczynski-esque radicals, they would lose and lose big.

Criticize Raymond's efforts all you want. 20 years ago Microsoft was making strategic acquisitions to quash the viability of free software; today they're making strategic acquisitions to be at the center of it.


Upvoted, but with a caveat I wanted to throw out:

> 20 years ago Microsoft was making strategic acquisitions to quash the viability of free software; today they're making strategic acquisitions to be at the center of it.

I think you've run afoul of the very confusion RMS is talking about in TFA. They're not buying into free software, they're buying into open source. Most of what MS is doing in the space is using Apache-style licenses. I'm not going to say Microsoft is bought into Free Software until I see VSCode being distributed under the GPL. (It's currently MIT.)


Nope. Even Stallman distinguishes between free software, which includes MIT- and Apache-licensed software, and copylefted software, which is the subset of free software that requires changes to be distributed under like terms to the original software itself.

Of course RMS and the FSF would much rather you use copylefted software and copyleft licenses such as the GPL. But not doing so is not the inherent submission to evil that using proprietary software is, in their view.


> But not doing so is not the inherent submission to evil that using proprietary software is, in their view.

No one says using proprietary software is evil. What you do with your computer is none of my business.

Distributing software without giving the recipient a right to inspect, modify and share it is what is evil.


And buying and using that software is submitting to evil forces. Which is what I said.


The Apache license is absolutely a free software license. Even the FSF agrees with that.

https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html#apache2

> This is a free software license, compatible with version 3 of the GNU GPL.


> [ESR] and Stallman were once close friends

I rather doubt that. One of ESR's skills is to insinuate that he's on closer terms with people than he really is, as astutely captured by this comic:

https://geekz.co.uk/lovesraymond/wp-content/ep013.jpg

For a lengthy first hand report of an actual interaction between ESR and RMS, there's for instance this:

https://invisible-island.net/ncurses/ncurses-license.html

Does not look like former or current close friendship to me.


I find the GPL 'free software' license to be a lot less 'free' than other kinds of open source licenses in terms of what you are allowed to do as a user of the software.

For example, with GPL, you do not have ownership over any derived work that you produce; you are legally forced to share your work with everyone. This is a weapon to allow big corporations to sue small indie developers and startups who are trying to compete with them. The balance of power is asymmetric. Only corporations have the money to legally enforce GPL licenses - Also, the creator of the software is allowed to keep their own derivative work private (because they have copyright) but no one else can (everyone else is bound by copyleft).


> I find the GPL 'free software' license to be a lot less 'free' than other kinds of open source licenses in terms of what you are allowed to do as a user of the software.

Quite the contrary. For users of software, there's no better license than strong copyleft licenses.

> with GPL, you do not have ownership over any derived work that you produce

This is false. You are free to produce derived works and keep them to yourself, or even to your organization. No need to share source with anyone.

If/When you share the derived work, whomever you distribute the derived work to, they are now a user. You have to give to that user the same rights you got: full source code and GPL-provided rights. You do not have to give those out to "everyone", only to those to whom you distribute your derived works.

> This is a weapon to allow big corporations to sue small indie developers and startups who are trying to compete with them. The balance of power is asymmetric. Only corporations have the money to legally enforce GPL licenses

If not via the law, how can rights possibly be enforced?

Also, note that the GPL has been enforced — for better or worse — by individuals against far richer corporations. This is, of course, only because of the fear of the law.

> Also, the creator of the software is allowed to keep their own derivative work private (because they have copyright) but no one else can (everyone else is bound by copyleft).

As I said above, this is false. Your changes are yours, and you retain copyright on them. Code you didn't write, of course, is not under your copyright; but you still have the full rights granted to you by the GPL to do with them privately as you please.


What you're saying about not having to share your derived work with others is completely untrue. You can read the statement by the CEO of wordpress made towards Wix https://ma.tt/2016/10/wix-and-the-gpl/ - Wix used GPL source code from Wordpress and WP's CEO implied that it was illegal and demanded that Wix release it publicly.

I'm not saying GPL is wrong but it's definitely less permissive/free than an MIT license.


>Wix used GPL source code from Wordpress and WP's CEO implied that it was illegal and demanded that Wix release it publicly.

But they _did_ share it with others! They distributed the application, which used GPLd code, so they need to abide by the rules.


He has to release the code because he is distributing an application (as in, distributing the binary files) based on GPL code. If you don't distribute anything, you don't have to share anything, that's the point of the parent comment.


I don't see how this changes anything; if the software is not distributed/shared/used by others, then it might as well not exist.

Also in my first comment, when I said "work" I was talking about the source code, not the software. It's a given that software is meant to be used by users.


> if the software is not distributed/shared/used by others, then it might as well not exist

Even if it is used by the author/modifier in private? "others" != "everyone".

In your example, Wix could have kept the usage of GPL code internal to their organization and not have to publicly release anything. If they allowed others (i.e., outside their organization) to use the derived work, they'd have to provide the same users with the source code. Of course, in their case, they allowed the public to use the derived work, so anyone who used their service should be given the source.

> Also in my first comment, when I said "work" I was talking about the source code, not the software

I don't see how this changes anything.

Also, note that the GPL uses "work" to refer to the software (and to other forms of copyrightable works, as applicable) in both source material form as well as the compiled and linked forms.

----

Judging from your views expressed here regarding the GPL, I strongly suggest you talk to a copyright lawyer, or at least read what copyright lawyers say the GPL and/or copyleft is: https://copyleft.org/guide/


> you are legally forced to share your work with everyone.

> the creator of the software is allowed to keep their own derivative work private (because they have copyright) but no one else can (everyone else is bound by copyleft).

This is simply wrong. Please read the actual license text.


It is correct, in that one can (and some do) offer a dual license, iff one is the sole author or has the consent of all contributors.

Such projects won't merge a patch without the correct paperwork. It can be done, and is.


The license simply doesn't apply to the author.


It is in many ways similar to the notorious JSON license by Crockford that says "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil.". Except GPL is more explicit on what it considers good and evil.

An appropriate analogy would be question is a country free (as in respecting freedoms) if you are not allowed to murder people? Most people would say yes. And it could be even argued that it is more free than country that does allow murdering people, because the limitation on murdering empowers people to exercise their (other) freedoms more freely.

Note that I'm don't fully agree on RMS' stance on the matter here, but I think I understand it reasonably well.


https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html

“The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil.” This is a restriction on usage and thus conflicts with freedom 0. The restriction might be unenforcible, but we cannot presume that. Thus, the license is nonfree.




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