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The GNU Project Is Bleeding into Microsoft (techrights.org)
19 points by davesailer 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments

GNU has their own code and project management plattform called Savannah. If you've ever interacted with it you know why this is happening. It's horrible in every way. I remember once trying to make some suggestions to get some basic security improvements that never happened. It wasn't even clear to me to whom I'd have to talk to.

I don't think this has anything to do with the controversy around RMS. GNU has neglected to provide decent development infrastructure for its projects and has only provided them the joke that savannah is. So people are naturally looking elsewhere.

Savannah might be awful, but there are more sensible options. There actually is a good discussion on the GNU website [1]. Savannah gets an A for ethical concerns (which to be fair is what's important to GNU, rather than usability); GitHub gets an F (fully closed source and now controlled by Microsoft...);

However, in the middle there is GitLab, with a respectable C. In my experience, it's usable and has all the important features that Github also has. And it's much better from ethical standpoints! I can't imagine any point of view from where Github is more acceptable than Gitlab.

1: https://www.gnu.org/software/repo-criteria-evaluation.html

I really don't see what the problem is here. Stallman himself is OK with using proprietary software if it runs on someone else's machine. For example, here https://stallman.org/stallman-computing.html, he states he uses DuckDuckGo and ixquick, which are not clearly free software. (Though, they might be free software; their server code isn't distributed to the user, so even under the GPL they would not have to also distribute the source).

So what if GitHub is proprietary? So long as you don't run their JavaScript on your machine, your computing can still be fully free. And, if the problem is that Microsoft will prevent some project from being developed there, they can take their local Git (GPLv2 licensed) repositories and push them somewhere else.

This all seems like a win from the FSF's perspective. Their projects are easier to discover and to contribute to, the developer's computing can remain fully free and the FSF does not need to pay for hosting.

Flex being BSD licensed is a slight problem for copyleft, though.

>Stallman himself is OK with using proprietary software if it runs on someone else's machine.

RMS is against "Service as a Software Substitute" https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-s...

One could argue that GitHub is SaaSS, because eg. issue system encourages lock-in to specific service, instead of communicating via free email client.

I wonder if using a public instance of free software is a problem? i.e. https://sr.ht is an instance of Sourcehut.

I figure if it turns nasty, or is going to disappear, I can take my data to a self-hosted instance.

If any of these projects should pose a risk to Microsoft it will be able to pull the rug from under them.

Code hosting gone, sponsor income gone, forums gone, bug tracking gone. At the same time.

They will have to take care to always respect Microsoft's business interests and conduct codes. It is a much more severe threat to freedom than running all the proprietary code in the world.

I wouldn't be too surprised if one day they say Stallman has to go.

What could Stallman possibly do to Microsoft that he hasn't been doing for his entire life? [1] [2]

He lives and breathes free software and arguably coined the term. If Microsoft deems Stallman a threat after 30 years of being heckled by him I would be very surprised. Additionally the developer community within Microsoft and outside Microsoft would become militant. A decision like erasing all GNU repos would punish thousands of people other than Stallman.

Additionally, Github's value is derived in part from how many people use it. Lots of people use it because it's trustworthy. When Microsoft took over Github there was a lot of skeptecism about MS$ maintaining impartiality. If they start throwing up red flags by taking down prominent open source repos and messing with Richard Stallman (the literal figurehead of open-source) they would be betraying open-source in general and the reprecussions would be swift. That was everyones biggest fear, and if Microsoft proved that fear true the exodus to other SCM platforms would be instant. Within a week there wouldn't be any worthwhile projects left on Github.

[1] https://www.gnu.org/proprietary/malware-microsoft.en.html

[2] https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/microsoft.en.html

[3] https://stallman.org/microsoft.html

>So long as you don't run their JavaScript on your machine

Do you have much of a choice? I think a lot of GitHub features do not work properly without JavaScript. For instance, just trying it now:

- Can't mark notifications as done

- Can't edit the title or description of an issue or PR

- Can't dismiss banners or most modals/popups

- Can't commit files directly on the web interface

- Can't edit an issue or PR metadata (i.e. labels)

- Can't edit most, maybe almost all, repo settings

At-least it's not a blank page. If I see websites like that these days, I just close the tab. Thankfully, you can pretty much use GitHub in "read-only" mode without JavaScript, but working on it is probably quite hard without running their non-free code.

It would probably be better if they'd use Sourcehut or maybe GitLab.

> - Can't mark notifications as done

What kind of notifications?

> - Can't edit the title or description of an issue or PR

You can if you disable CSS. (Admittedly that's not very convenient…)

> - Can't dismiss banners or most modals/popups

Any examples? This has (almost?) always worked for me.

Hmm, I went to get you an example and I found they seem to dismiss if you click elsewhere on the page. I think I was clicking on the close button (the "x" in the title bar) - which won't work without JavaScript.

- Can't mark notifications as done

- Can't dismiss banners or most modals/popups

These worked for me without javascript. Didn't try after redesign yet. IME gitlab doesn't work without javascript (the developer swears he can't be arsed to support noscript).

GitLab is free software though, so you won't be running non-free JavaScript.

It having poor noscript support is a shame though.

GitLab is only partially free; it's open core only.


It might be better titled "Microsoft is bleeding into the GNU Project". Honestly, I'm not super bothered by GNU using github, because everybody uses github. I mean, it's the hub for git repos! At the risk of making more bad puns... well, I can't think of anything worse than the last one, but my point stands that github won this war, and while GNU might feasibly use gitlab or similar, github is where everybody is at, and it's very quickly becoming the place people search for code. It's almost like, "your code isn't open source because it's not on github." Github is code google.

EDIT: It should be obvious that github being "code google" is not great for freedom. It's brilliant on the part of Microsoft, in the same way that securing a monopoly on OS's 20 years ago was brilliant. With the cloud-backend->web-frontend being our new defacto operating system, Microsoft is set to achieve this once again. Azure and GitHub synergize really well together. At this rate, the default way to deploy open source code will be VS Code -> .NET 5 -> Github -> Azure, and we will be at Microsoft's monopolistic mercies once again, enthralled to the cloud instead of running our own software that we own (even if we don't understand) on our own hardware that we own (even if we don't understand), and maintaining some semblance of ownership over our own computing and communication with one another via these computers.

> Interestingly, most of these redirections seem to have made fairly recently, not long after Richard Stallman was ousted.

That's factually wrong : Richard Stallman resigned from the FSF, not from GNU.

The very first paragraph on his personal website reads: "I continue to be the Chief GNUisance of the GNU Project. I do not intend to stop any time soon."

Also, while I share author's annoyance of seeing GNU packages on github (that's what savannah is made for, after all), singling out GNU here seems sensationalism : it could basically be said that "most FOSS projects are bleeding into Microsoft", or probably more reasonably "FOSS projects should consider what it means to be hosted by Github now that Microsoft owns it".

It more about how difficult Savannah is to use which is why people use alternatives. Though the GNU project does evaluate whether a code hosting service is suitable. [0] They were also looking into hosting their own alternative to Savannah. [1]

[0] https://www.fsf.org/news/gnu-releases-ethical-evaluations-of...

[1] https://www.fsf.org/blogs/sysadmin/coming-soon-a-new-site-fo...

Based on the latest updates[1], it looks likely that they'll try setting up an instance of Pagure[2].

[1] https://libreplanet.org/wiki/Fsf_2019_forge_evaluation

[2] https://pagure.io/pagure

> For a number of important reasons, hosting GNU development on a proprietary Microsoft platform should be verboten.

What ridiculous hyperbole. Yeah, a "number of important reasons", yet they list none. I hate Microsoft as much as the next guy, but it's Github. It was fine to host open source software on them before, but now that they're bought my Microsoft, it's bad? Why? Because we're afraid Microsoft is going to steal our free open source code? I've mitigated some of my own projects to other git sites, like gitlab, just to get more experience and diversify my access, but it makes no sense to abandon Github.

This level of anti-Microsoft hysteria is a little over the top.

You want to know the real reason why GNU is hosting so many of their projects on Github? Because their interface is clean and it's free and the GNU developers want to spend their time writing GNU software, not maintaining websites.

Some of the projects, like GNU Radio, seem pretty active. I imagine that GH is simply a more attractive platform than whatever they were using previously (Savannah?), and it seems to much better facilitate community interaction than e-mail mailing lists. And honestly, for the sake of developing free/libre software, I'd much prefer that it be hosted on a platform that facilitates active development, than following a Stallman-approved™ fully libre stack, that results in the entire project being maintained by two guys in a university closet.

Is the whole contention solved by just moving over to GitLab?

GitLab would certainly "feel" like a better bet. But I don't think there's much in it. If it's a free platform, perhaps some GNUers like the idea of their code being hosted on Microsoft's dime :-)

"The GNU Project" is not really a thing. It's just a list, and the list includes projects with varying degrees of connection to the FSF:

1. Some projects are owned and controlled by the FSF. All contributors have to assign copyright to the FSF, and the FSF makes decisions about appointing maintainers, where the code is hosted, etc. Examples: Emacs, gcc, glibc.

2. A much larger set of projects are not FSF-owned or controlled in any meaningful way. The maintainers (or former maintainers) voluntarily chose to associate with the GNU project, but didn't assign copyright to the FSF, and basically kept their own project governance. Examples: R[1], GNOME[2], GIMP.

3. Finally, many projects on the official list[3] are basically abandonware. They got started because someone thought it was important or useful to have an open source clone of some widely used piece of software, but they never got close to feature-complete, were never widely used, and the authors have moved on. Check the most recent releases for most of the software on the list - it's often been 2+ years since there has been any activity.

The projects that have moved to GitHub are all in category #2. The developers and maintainers of those projects don't necessarily share the antagonism towards SaaS platforms that the FSF has historically had, and they've moved to a platform with better tooling and a larger community. A few better-resourced projects that have stronger views on avoiding proprietary SaaS code have set up self-hosted GitLab instances. The projects I follow that have FSF-appointed maintainers have stayed on GNU Savannah, although many have GitHub read-only mirrors.

[1] https://www.r-project.org/about.html

[2] https://wiki.gnome.org/FoundationBoard/Resources/CopyrightAs...

[3] https://www.gnu.org/manual/blurbs.html

Having been around for a while, I believe that GNU based software was a generational event, in the upcoming two to three decades future generations will have back our old shareware and public domain software licenses.

Rob Landley argues that a lot of the popularity was due to the fact that the FSF had a high bandwidth FTP site at a time when that was pretty rare, so people were willing to sign code to the FSF and license it GPL in order to have access to that distribution method: https://landley.net/notes-2010.html#19-07-2010

Obviously that particular advantage is no longer relevant.

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