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Eric Raymond: Why I think RMS is a fanatic, and why that matters (ibiblio.org)
217 points by bhughes on June 11, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 154 comments



We need people like RMS. He marks one side of the Overton Window framing the debate on freedom and software.

(Overton window: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window )

This doesn't mean he's right but what he does is necessary. If he didn't exist we'd need to invent him (or someone like him).

(Oh, and he is indeed a fanatic, but of the pacifist variety -- not the kind who's interested in killing people to enforce his views -- and therefore worth debating with.)


No.

The difference between RMS and ESR is one of kind, not one of degree. Both the free software movement and the open source movement believe that open system are good, and the more open they are the better they are. The difference is in their answer to the question of "why?"

RMS and his adherents believe in inalienable human right to tinker, and consider limitations to that right, such as closed source technology, to morally offensive. ESR and his followers believe that open technology is better technology and that the benefits of technology are more fully realized when it's possible to tinker with it. RMS is concerned with morality, ESR with practicality.

The key thing here is that there's no spectrum with the RMS on one end, Steve Jobs on the other end and ESR somewhere in the middle. The open source movement is just as ardent, just as committed and just as "extreme" as the free software movement, but more successful.

Now perhaps you mean that the FSF serves an important function, in that their fanaticism makes the open source movement look more reasonable and thus more acceptable to the mainstream. But I think the very fact that actual positions held by free software and open source advocates are so similar make it hard for mainstream observers to appreciate the distinction.

So no, we don't need people like RMS.

[edited the last line for clearer rhetoric]


The difference between RMS and ESR is one of kind, not one of degree

Yes.

RMS is concerned with morality, ESR with practicality.

Also yes, for some definition of “practicality.”

The open source movement is just as ardent, just as committed and just as "extreme" as the free software movement, but more successful.

I don’t know how to measure commitment, but I agree that the open source movement is more successful in the sense that it is more popular.

But what else should we expect? If you take two groups with similar ideas, but one thinks of moral arguments as a way to achieve practical goals, while the other thinks that practical arguments are a way to achieve moral goals, you should almost always expect to see the “practical” group be more successful than the moral group.

I see this in school, where students who study how to pass tests get higher marks than students who study the material to learn. I see this in business. I see this in politics. Why would we expect to see anything else in software?

no, we don't need RMS

I think that’s a fine statement to make if you qualify who “we” are. If you mean people concerned with practical objectives, you may be right. I caution against rhetoric that might be mistaken for suggesting that your point of view encompasses everyone reading your arguments.


I think that’s a fine statement to make if you qualify who “we” are. If you mean people concerned with practical objectives, you may be right. I caution against rhetoric that might be mistaken for suggesting that your point of view encompasses everyone reading your arguments.

Fair point. That line was actually meant as a direct response to cstross's "We need people like RMS," but I botched the parallel construction. The "we" there should be the same "we" that cstross was talking about.

one thinks of moral arguments as a way to achieve practical goals, while the other thinks that practical arguments are a way to achieve moral goals

That's an interesting way to think about it, but for me at least, neither of those characterizations is accurate. I think practical arguments are a way to achieve practical goals. I oppose the philosophy of the FSF, because AFAICT, they're making moral arguments to achieve moral goals. You seem to consider morality and practicality to be two sides of the same coin, where I see them as quite separate.

What I dislike about the RMS position is that it seems to consider tinkering, and perhaps geek culture in general, as inherently good and goals in their own right. I take a more utilitarian view: tinkering is good insofar we benefit from the results. (That "we" is very broad by they way. Users of technology and humanity in general.)

[turns out I can still edit the gp, so I fixed that line]


What I dislike about the RMS position is that it seems to consider tinkering, and perhaps geek culture in general, as inherently good and goals in their own right. I take a more utilitarian view: tinkering is good insofar we benefit from the results.

I disagree; his position, as I perceive it, is that having the right to tinker is inherently good, not so much tinkering itself. Much like many of us consider Free Speech to be inherently good, even if we find some speech abominable.

And the advantages of Free Software aren't limited to tinkering, of course.


Sure. The right to tinker is required for actual tinkering, and a right that's never exercised is pointless. Regardless, I don't consider the right to tinker an end in its self. The pleasure of tinkering is utterly unimportant compared with the good that a tinkerers work can bring into the world.

As for freedom of speech, I think the analogy is flawed. The technology equivalent of speech is invention, and the freedom to invent doesn't require anything like the GPL. The freedom to tinker is more like the freedom to copyedit somebody else's work. And hey, I'm for it! Remix culture is great stuff. But it's not in the same league as freedom of speech.

When it comes right down to it, though, I don't consider freedom of speech an end in its self either. The value of free speech is the sort of society it produces, not the speech its self. I favour limits to speech when the effect of that speech is not a net good to society. Now, those situations are few and far between, but they do exist. Yelling "fire" and all that; our legal system has a long and nuanced tradition of weighing the issue in various situations.

The point is that dogma and fanaticism are counterproductive, whatever your goals are. The FSF is certainly not alone in this.


Sure. The right to tinker is required for actual tinkering, and a right that's never exercised is pointless. Regardless, I don't consider the right to tinker an end in its self. The pleasure of tinkering is utterly unimportant compared with the good that a tinkerers work can bring into the world.

But who said anything about the pleasure of tinkering? I don't think that was ever RMS' position.

As for freedom of speech, I think the analogy is flawed. The technology equivalent of speech is invention, and the freedom to invent doesn't require anything like the GPL. The freedom to tinker is more like the freedom to copyedit somebody else's work. And hey, I'm for it! Remix culture is great stuff. But it's not in the same league as freedom of speech.

That was specifically about X vs having the right to do X; I didn't meant to make a broad comparison between them. Subjects in analogies aren't supposed to map 1:1 in everything.

When it comes right down to it, though, I don't consider freedom of speech an end in its self either. The value of free speech is the sort of society it produces, not the speech its self. I favour limits to speech when the effect of that speech is not a net good to society. Now, those situations are few and far between, but they do exist. Yelling "fire" and all that; our legal system has a long and nuanced tradition of weighing the issue in various situations.

But "fire" is an exception mostly because Free Speech is supposed to protect political speech and we can say in a mostly objectively way that "fire" doesn't fit.

But what about political speeches that are arguably not a net good to society, like e.g. calls to pointless (in your opinion) wars? Should they be banned? If not, why not, and aren't you contradicting yourself?

The point is that dogma and fanaticism are counterproductive, whatever your goals are. The FSF is certainly not alone in this.

Another word might be idealism.


The value of free speech is the sort of society it produces, not the speech its self.

With great respect, I urge you to think this kind of thing through very, very carefully. Consider freedom in the general sense, such as freedom to vote. Many post-colonial countries have freer citizens but worse economies. If freedom is useful only inasmuch as it is a means to some other practical end, we could say that these countries would be better off with colonial masters running them.

America threw off colonialism and prospered, but it is the exception. Freedom often has costs, ask anyone who has chosen to start a company instead of taking a job with BigCo. Some people, myself included, consider freedom a worthwhile thing whether it makes us rich or healthy or happy or not.


I thank you for the respect you show when you disagree. I hope I can do the same. I do indeed think about this kind of thing often and as carefully as I can.

The thing is, freedom in the general sense does produce happiness. If you doubt that, consider the contrary case, how we suffer when our freedom is taken away. In its most general sense, freedom is our ability to pursue happiness and avoid suffering. Of course our well being requires it. Freedom is good, in spite of its costs, because it makes us happy. If it didn't, why would we risk our lives and livelihoods to obtain it?

Nevertheless, I think it's important, when making moral judgements, to focus on happiness and wellbeing rather than a proxy like freedom. In a world of maximum freedom, where everyone is completely unfettered, we actually find ourselves less happy. We immediately form groups and establish social norms. We make laws. We constrain freedom in order to maximize wellbeing.

The suffering that I experience at the loss of my freedom to take what I want from those around me is exceeded by the security I feel knowing that the same protection is afforded to me. So yes, freedom is good, but so is security. So is prosperity — taxation robs me of my freedom to spend my income as I see fit, but the benefit I receive more than makes up for it. The only way I can see to measure the trade-offs between freedom, security, prosperity, health, etc is to value them for the wellbeing they bring to us, rather than try to assign value to them directly.


>>What I dislike about the RMS position is that it seems to consider tinkering, and perhaps geek culture in general, as inherently good and goals in their own right. I take a more utilitarian view: tinkering is good insofar we benefit from the results.

Would you say truth is beneficial only so as long as one benefits from it?

The fact is, somethings are inherently good in their own right. Eg: Non-violence.


I go back and forth on how helpful RMS is. On one hand, where would we be without the GCC? This is something he helped get going.

On the other, I see him as someone who misinterprets a bunch of things because it is convenient for him politically to do so. The two examples are what happens when you dynamically link GPL software to proprietary software (static linking is arguably a bigger deal with the GPL v3 than the GPL v2), and taking extreme positions as to what the GPL versions require of developers bridging proprietary and GPL software.

The second is his view of what the BSD license allows and he makes false claims here he bases his view that the BSD and GPL v3 licenses are compatible on. The BSD license probably does not allow sublicensing in the opinion of most lawyers I have talked to (Eben Moglen being the sole exception!) and so if relicensing/sublicensing is a requirement for compatibility with the GPL v3, the BSD license is incompatible but the MIT license is compatible. Last I discussed this with Moglen he seemed to think it was safe just because the BSD author would lack standing or on other technical grounds. Every other lawyer I have talked to says "don't assume it's safe to take BSD code and add license restrictions without first making significant changes" (this is also the Software Freedom Law Center's official recommendation also) something the GPL v3 explicitly requires. (The counter-argument is that everyone involved in drafting the GPL v3 believed it to be compatible with the BSD license and this was a goal so BSD compatibility should be read into the license. This was what Richard Fontana argued when I brought this up on the OSI email lists).

I actually still use the GPL v2 and BSD licenses almost exclusively, and RMS is a big part of the reason I won't consider upgrading to the GPL v3.


The differences between ESR and RMS are:

* RMS is technically competent. ESR is technically clueless. * ESR is more charismatic. He manages to convince people he's important. RMS has on charisma. * ESR will do everything he can do undermine RMS. It's a way of building himself up. RMS will do whatever he believes will further free software. They're both often wrong. * RMS's writings from the late nineties are prophetic. ESR's writings from the same period are, in retrospect, idiotic. * RMS created the whole movement. ESR did little bits of damage to it.


This seems a bit extreme to me. I fall more on RMS's side of things, but I also thing RMS would not characterize ESR as "technically clueless" and only doing "little bits of damage" to the movement. "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is not an unimportant essay, if only as a pedagogy to an important shift in how development can work. I disagree strongly with ESR's attempt to divorce, as he says here, "moral thought" from software - this seems like a mistake to me - but he is not a fool or a dilettante.


Have you ever seen RMS speak? I have, several times. He's fat, hairy, ugly, but he definitely has a great deal of a certain kind of charisma.


Nerd Appeal!

I heard RMS speak at a college even here in Bangalore. It was like listening to a Saint. Somebody like Buddha of software. He has a unique appeal which big achievers build around themselves. That sort of a calm confidence comes only through relentless belief one's principles and proven success demonstrating his principles.

Outside of nerd circles, this doesn't have much appeal.


one of the most striking examples of this is rms's objection to a modular gcc. modularity is a technically superior solution, and would have been supremely useful in supporting a larger ecosystem of development and analysis tools (e.g. ides, automated refactoring, source-to-source translators, etc), but would also have made it easy to build proprietary systems that could remain closed while using modules from gcc.

the current groundswell of clang adoption has revealed just how many people wanted a good, free, modular c++ compiler, but by rms's principles, making gcc serve their purposes would have come at too high a cost.


RMS is pretty brilliant, he's predicted exactly the kind of closed platform iOS turned out to be, and has been fighting against it. I think it's important that people be allowed to code and mess with their devices, and know what their devices are doing. How is it that so many iOS apps grab your contacts without asking?

Before I stray too far from my point; I am glad he does what he does.


We do need RMS.

Compromise is a dangerous game. Especially when the proprietary world doesn't compromise back (and it usually doesn't). How long could the free software movement have continued to mean anything if each year it had crept a little closer to the mainstream technological community?


Open source isn't a compromise between free software and proprietary software. It's a different philosophical basis for advocating the same practices.


The open source movement isn't. The "proprietary software is ok so long as not much is at stake and you weren't likely to tinker with it anyway" idea is.


Except: (1) Politics and public debate is multidimensional and not a single axis with a clear "left" and "right" as people sometimes mistakenly imagine; multiple and different extrema are possible. (2) On the axis where RMS appears to stand, I do not believe his position to be the most extreme one possible. (3) Just the way most people fail to understand that politics is multidimensional, without broad knowledge, they will often mistake one political axis for another. I believe people misunderstand RMS and project their own ideals about freedom and ascetic saints/prophets onto him. I do not believe RMS to be a champion of freedom that many people who had heard of him do. There exists an equally idealistic view, from where his positions are not wrong because they are fanatical, they are wrong period.

Take what RMS wrote about the early days of Symbolics. When you read him, you begin to realize that he believed the community of hackers that developed at MIT to be a goal unto itself, not as a means to achieve something specific. This is in spite of the fact that every individual who started hacking at MIT (this ironically includes RMS) surely saw himself as pursuing a specific goal. It is hard to reason with a man who believes that groups of people exist in and of themselves, independently of individuals and their goals. The only possible consequence that can stem from such a position is to define freedom as a property of groups, not of individuals, which is completely alien to the notion of freedom as most people (at least in the U.S.) understand it. The exact same position, when held by people in other countries, has lead to tyrannies being established, both of right- and left-wing kind.

The issue that ESR is raising is a very practical one -- RMS has become the de facto spokesperson for the free software movement, which hurts free software more than it helps it.


If you think of the Overton Window as a multidimensional space with multiple axes, RMS does occupy a location close to (although perhaps not exactly at) one or another edge of it. Regardless of whether he is wrong or right, he has done a great deal of work stretching the edges of, and drawing attention to, the part of the Overton Window that he occupies. In fact, it's the whole point of the Overton Window argument that even wrong views can often be useful in the grand scheme of things. So I don't think your exceptions to GP's argument are valid.

Also, lots of people have hopelessly romantic views about the group to which they belong (or used to belong). At least in that respect, RMS is not unique at all. But the fact that he falls prey to this common error is not very relevant when we ask whether it is indeed "evil" to make proprietary software, or any other current issue that RMS rants about. (We don't evaluate Peter Thiel's startup advice on the basis of his odd philosophical commitments, do we?)


> But the fact that [RMS] falls prey to this common error is not very relevant when we ask whether it is indeed "evil" to make proprietary software, or any other current issue that RMS rants about.

I believe it is relevant when discussing RMS views. What you call "romanticism" of a group is only one of several possible romanticisms. There is also the romanticism of an individual, the romanticism of a family, the romanticism of a partnership etc. The point is that RMS was guided by a romanticism at the moment he was starting the GNU project as he himself described in the copy included with every Emacs install, and moreover his romanticism was of a very specific, (I believe) noninclusive and dysfunctional kind. This is rarely discussed for some reason, when even people who deep down disagree with RMS put on a guilty face and speak of the man as if he was just one of those rare idealists whom the world badly needs, and as if they do not dare to question his supposed integrity. This breeds orthodoxy besides other things because of which this thread is here.


If we're talking about the man, then you may be right. Few humans are worth constructing an orthodoxy around every aspect of their lives, and RMS ain't one of them.

But as far as ideas are concerned, I think RMS's romanticization of MIT hackers is severable from most of his well-known stances on software freedom. I think ESR's article has more to do with RMS's ideas than with the man himself. If (Microsoft|Apple|Facebook) are evil, they are evil no matter what RMS smoked in his MIT days. If it's counterproductive to treat them as evil, then it's counterproductive even if RMS turns out to be God's only nephew.


Agreeing with you: Absolutists (like RMS) expand the Overton Window. I'm more BSD than GPL, but without RMS, BSD would be seen as radical.

ESR wrote:

Unfortunately, RMS made an early decision to frame his advocacy as a moral crusade rather than a pragmatic argument about engineering practices and outcomes.

Having done a bit of policy work, value statements are what works. "Intellectuals" (progressives, geeks, libertarians) think The Right Answer wins. Nope. Cite George Lakoff, David Domke, Thomas Frank, Noam Chomsky...

Further, open source is a moral issue. Example:

Diebold hid their software. We lost transparency of our elections. Bad things happened. John Bonifaz and voteraction.org proved in court that John Kerry won New Mexico in 2004. The same things happened nationwide. Extrapolate.

Ditto medical devices, our personal data, etc.

So I'm with RMS. I'm sorry that RMS makes ESR feel weird. Tough.


No doubt you feel the same way about Rick Santorum.


I'd say I feel the same way about Ron Paul - he brings a refreshing perspective to politics, but he's certainly not right on everything.

Santorum adds nothing to the debate but repetition of the narrative that's already going on. I should add to this that no one ever likes the same tactic they use to be used against them - in this case having Stallman define an extreme position to maintain a more pragmatic narrative.

All considered, I'm glad both Stallman and Paul are doing their thing - even if I don't agree with them much of the time.


To elaborate on this, fanaticism often looks like a great idea to those allied with the fanatics, even if they disagree with their behavior. But people should not feel entitled to fanaticism because they think they are right, because that's how you get people like Santorum. Everyone thinks they are right, after all. It's hypocritical to say fanaticism is a luxury permissible to the "good guys" and not to the "bad guys".


That would only be true if he thought santorumms ideas were generally good, but too extreme.


I would feel that way about Rick Santorum if (and only if) I wanted people's views to move closer to his. This is not a statement about his opinions, but about how his opinions influence the public discourse. Likewise for RMS.


Santorum is a true believer.

There's a difference between a leader who drinks the kool-aid, and a leader who mixes the kool-aid. Kool-aid drinkers by definition cannot set the agenda.


As John Medaille put it Santorum preaches to the choir but drives the congregation out of the church.


"The problem with it is the same problem with messianic religions in general; for people who are not flipped into true-believer mode by any given one, it will come off as at best creepy and insular, at worst nutty and potentially dangerous (and this remains true even for people attached to a different messianic religion)."

I fit into neither of the caricatures of either a 'true believer' or someone scared of RMS. I see him as someone who truly believes in something and has stood by it no matter what. His 'fanatical' language of evil etc. is because he truly believes those things to be evil. I've always used the GPL for licensing my open source code specifically because it ensures that it stays open and that improvements are given back. On one occasion I've been persuaded to use another license so that $CORP could use the code (http://gmsl.sf.net/) internally and I see that the non-fanatical position helped $CORP but I'm not sure it helped the greater cause of open source.


>His 'fanatical' language of evil etc. is because he truly believes those things to be evil.

Any fanatic truly believes themselves to be right.

That said, I'm a free software advocate. I see where the guy is coming from. I agree on most points. The one that I absolutely cannot get behind is that not releasing the source is evil.


>not releasing the source is evil

I believe it's a cultural necessity given how we make money as software developers. Hardware developers have a buffer in terms of actual production, which requires significant investment. You can reverse engineer any hardware you have in your hands but it's unlikely given 2012 technology that you can mass-produce it and steal revenue from the copied source (patents notwithstanding). I can't imagine a global business environment environment in which open source software is the norm, but I would really to hear some theories - can you imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to explore the source code of say, SpaceX?


Not true.

A number of years ago a friend of mine took the largest 10 software companies by revenue, and broke out their software revenue according to whether it was from sales of software, or from consulting.

Microsoft was the only one who made more from sales than consulting. Every other one made more from consulting. Generally at least an order of magnitude more.

I am sure that a similar exercise today would produce similar results.

This fact strongly suggests that copyright protection is not essential for the livelihoods of most software developers.


I question whether revenue is the right metric given that Microsoft's profit from software sales over the last 20 years probably exceeds the profits from consulting of the other 9 companies.

Also, I question whether the 10 largest companies are representative of the industry as a whole.


If you go to the bottom end, I suspect that there are a lot more 1 man consulting shops than 1 man software development shops. Yes, there are a lot of app developers out tere (a new phenomena that you didn't see much of 10 years ago), but there are a ton of people who do contract work for companies with one-off needs. Software that typically never is seen outside of the organization that asked for it.

As for the top end, Microsoft is a monster. But their model has not proven replicable by anyone else.

The ascendancy of consulting over software sales is also rooted in history. The first pure software company was the Computer Usage Company, in 1955. They were a consultancy. So was every other software company that followed for a decade. It was not until 1965 that Applied Data Research offered AUTOFLOW for sale. (The company was predominantly a consultancy.) And it was not until they filed a lawsuit that forced IBM to unbundle software from hardware that the industry as a whole accepted that software was something that could be sold. (Previously you bought hardware and software came with it.)


It is interesting that you should bring up SpaceX. If SpaceX used the GPL, there is nothing to say that you would ever get to explore that source code. The only time you would be guaranteed the source is if you have a rocket of your own and are using their control system, which is arguably when this becomes more than just a wonderful curiosity and becomes truly important.

The GPL doesn't stop software developers from making money, only certain software developers that would like to market their software software in certain ways, like sell it as if it is a scarce commodity when it is not. Although I'll have to take his word for it, RMS is quick to point out that the vast majority of software is produced under private contracts or internally. Under these situations, the GPL has no "not getting paid" issues for developers as the software you produce under contract is the companies to distribute under the GPL or not distribute. In fact, the FSF has an explicit statement that NDAs for contracted GPL work are acceptable (https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DevelopChangesUnde...). RMS doesn't have a problem with companies keeping their secrets or with developers not allowing you to see the source code they write so long as it isn't on your computer. The flip side is that he does have a problem with the independent developer that wants to write a closed source program and milk it for all it's worth by selling it by the copy or the subscription to end users. Admittedly this is a well represented group on Hacker News and amongst entrepreneurs in general, probably because copying bits can be a quick and/or easy way to make money when compared to getting paid for the actual development directly.

To his credit, RMS has been fairly clear (at least recently) that writing GPL software to sell copies is not a viable business model. And no, I don't think that developing proprietary software so that you can force a false scarcity should be called evil, but perhaps immoral is not too far off, and certainly sketchy.

edit: Actually, on second thought, I think RMS hasn't been clear on this; he seems to refuse to answer the question because it is irrelevant. If the business practice is immoral, it doesn't matter if it is viable. I took his silence as conceding the point.


>It is interesting that you should bring up SpaceX. If SpaceX used the GPL, there is nothing to say that you would ever get to explore that source code. The only time you would be guaranteed the source is if you have a rocket of your own and are using their control system, which is arguably when this becomes more than just a wonderful curiosity and becomes truly important.

I've been trying to figure out a good way to post this. It's simply a problem with the market that the code is intended for.

On one hand, you have applications like Office-style programs and web browsers. Every single computer user in the world uses those types of applications. So for those applications, the code has tremendous value as Open Source. Lots of people can go in and improve on it.

SpaceX's code, on the other hand, is incredibly specific for it's purpose. It's intended to be used with a specific hardware configuration, with users that have been trained to a high level with it's use. It's less valuable to the public, because the only people that can really make good use of the code are SpaceX engineers. Even the orbital guidance code is not that interesting, because variations of it have existed for the last half century, and it's equations and algorithms that just about any serious amateur astronomer should be aware of.


> It's intended to be used with a specific hardware configuration

It's that way because the Boeing CST has its own software, as does the Lockheed's Orion and the Soyuz and every unmanned spacecraft ever developed. Development costs and quality could be greatly improved if all of them shared a single codebase.

If more designs shared the codebase, it would end more modular, more maintainable and better tested.


>It's that way because the Boeing CST has its own software, as does the Lockheed's Orion and the Soyuz and every unmanned spacecraft ever developed. Development costs and quality could be greatly improved if all of them shared a single codebase.

No, it's that way because nobody else in the world is using the specific hardware that they're using in the exact same configuration. Nobody is using the same input sensors. Nobody is using the exact same engine configuration or power.

Nobody has the same amount of fault tolerance or backup hardware.

That's what I meant.

Compared to a browser, where most of the more tricky hardware configuration issues are handled entirely by the OS.


I agree with you - the hardware and its configuration is very different between all of them. Yet, the basics are the same and a lot of code could be shared between the different spacecraft if they builders agreed on a certain level of commonality (and it doesn't even need to be a high one).

And yes - a common OS for spacecraft would be a giant leap forward, abstracting the differences in hardware and providing a unified interface for everyone using them.

The strongest barrier against sharing development is the security concerns. Nobody wants people to build missiles with that.

http://www.openpilot.org/ has, so far, avoided these problems.


Some areas where open source software is the norm:

1) Web servers

2) compilers for UNIX and embedded application development

3) ISP infrastructure

I am sure there are plenty of others. My business is trying to bring LedgerSMB to this area regarding mid-range accounting and ERP.

Open source can be effectively monatized in more ways than proprietary software. As LedgerSMB 1.4 comes along we'll be shifting from consulting company to start-up offering subscription services to do things that open source economics doesn't pay for very well. The software will still be open source but it will be monatized through subscriptions (think RHEL) which come with value added components updated in a timely manner. However the fact that it is open source also allows for me to off-set some of the development costs via consulting services (those aren't going away, but they are being de-emphasized a bit).

No I don't mind sharing the plans here. There are reasons why the revenue for these solutions, even if people know what the problems and solutions are, cannot be stolen from me. Open source is just a different game and you have to figure out what the rules are.

For the record the major areas we are going to focus on will be payroll and electronic submission to government agencies. These areas are frequently updated and the issue is that you don';t want to be the first one to ask for the feature and thus pay for everyone else's use. A subscription model lets us spread the cost around. People could try to jump in but I have a head start and a place of great privilege in the market. It would take a long time for someone to be able to challenge me.

In open source the way you get to a point where you can monetize the user base is by maximizing your downstream market (that's those who use your services and your customers' services). The closer you are to the center, the larger that base is. If anyone here says "oh that's a great idea" and tries to do this in LedgerSMB, you'll be starting near the outside, while I have the entire community as a potential user base. And if you go out and find lots of new customers, those are also potential customers for me. I win there too.

The real reason for proprietary software is that it is one way of spreading around the cost of development. You have to do it differently in open source software, but there are actually a larger number of ways of doing it than are possible in the standard COTS world.


Not coincidentally, those are also areas where there's basically no longer any profit to be made. No one makes money selling web servers or compilers for Unix, because it's not possible to compete on price with "free".

The businesses that make money from open source typically do so by selling something else on top. Google doesn't sell open source. They sell services. Red Hat doesn't sell open source. They sell support to large businesses. ISPs sell bandwidth. Etc.


Well, here's the approach my business is taking:

1) You can bill up-front for major features development. If someone wants a major feature they can may for it. This reduces the risk of software development because much more of the development is being paid for up front. However the revenue doesn't scale and it's subject to boom/bust problems. This being said it's a great strategy to mitigate financial risk in product development.

2) You can find areas where #1 doesn't work and come up with some sort of customer agreement that does scale. The nice thing is that if that area really doesn't work (updates to payroll for example) for reasons inherent here, then you won't have someone else release something like it fully on an open source model and have to compete with free.

So the way I look at it is that I get some things for free (financing for development), my customers get some things for free(software, upgrades on main packages), and this then creates a market for services I can charge more for because the overall package is less expensive.

ERP is huge business but the thing about it is that going with an open source approach brings benefits to smaller businesses that are currently reserved for huge businesses. A multi-pronged approach to revenue here (consulting, subscriptions, support contracts), allows you to take advantage of network effects between these things, cut risk, and still maintain general scalability of revenues.

If others want to do this with LedgerSMB I would generally advise against competing with core, long-term members of the community. You are more likely to succeed if you carve out a niche for yourself in an area that's not being done or is underdeveloped (MRP would be a good example with LedgerSMB).


Too: proprietary solutions cannot (at a sustainable price point) compete with the quality of free.

As someone noted -- there's a development model which shares the load among many eyes, and produces higher quality work as a result.

There are a few other mechanisms at work, but the upshot is that for utility, and even a fair amount of specialized software, there's no longer a marketplace for the software itself.


>Too: proprietary solutions cannot (at a sustainable price point) compete with the quality of free.

That depends entirely on the community behind the free solution, and what class of software it is. For instnance, I'm not aware of a FOS document management system which would compete with, say, Paperport or DevonThink (Windows and Mac systems, very proprietary).


I didn't say in all cases. Specialized, very high-value, and vertical tools particularly.

But generally the trend is that, starting with OS, development and management tools, and commodity software, Free Software is taking the financial value out of software sales.

For your example, OpenKM and LogicalDoc turn up for searches on "document management open source", though I couldn't say how they compete on functionality, scale, ease-of-use, stability, and/or management.

To shift spaces slightly: there's a pretty small market for proprietary Wiki software. Atlassian and Microsoft Sharepoint would be two that I'm aware of, though alternatives, especially MediaWiki, are very widely used (internal to the CIA even).

What's becoming more common is a service model based on free wiki software. Jimmy Wales has a startup based on offering MediaWiki pages, there's a similar offering based on TWiki that I'm aware of. I'm sure there are others. Similarly, blogging engines as-a-service. The software's free, but the service offering drives revenue.

Could be a way into the docs management market as well.


> No one makes money selling web servers or compilers for Unix, because it's not possible to compete on price with "free".

That may or may not be the case. However, it certainly doesn't stop high-quality compilers and web servers being written for Unix.


I never said it did.


But then you have a corporation like Google adopting "Don't be evil" as its value statement.

It's obvious that software nerds do have some concept of "evil" as it applies to software, and they like to label things as "evil" or not.

Nerds believe the potential for "evil" exists through software. Even if they are not fanatics.


"it ensures that it stays open and that improvements are given back"

Actually, this phrase can be understood in two ways:

1. I want to ensure that the software is improved and the improvements are shared. 2. I want to ensure that the if the software is improved, then improvements are given back. If it's not happening, I prefer it not to be improved or used.

The difference between these two are the difference between OSS and FSF. I think the latter doesn't have better moral claim at improving the world than the former, since it bundles positive environmental change (making better code available for more people) with control over other people's behavior (I won't allow you to benefit from the change unless you act as I like). It's like one person giving to charities with no preconditions and another giving only to charities that support his political views. Both approaches are valid, but the latter doesn't have a base to feel morally superior to the former.


> 2. I want to ensure that the if the software is improved, then improvements are given back. If it's not happening, I prefer it not to be improved or used.

This is false. You are free to use and improve it, even if you don't want to give your improvements back.

But then you are just not allowed to distribute the software with your changes as closed source.

> It's like one person giving to charities with no preconditions and another giving only to charities that support his political views.

That is a crap analogy.

The people who don't want to open source their improvements to GPL'd code aren't charities, they are businesses who want to make money of other people's work. The GPL provides a kind of compensation to these people for their work. Which is the guarantee that all (distributed) improvements will be GPL'd as well.

That's one of the main reasons why I like the GPL. I know I will in some form be compensated for my labour (as opposed to BSD), in the sense that any improvements to it will come back to me.


You seem to be confusing political stance with GPL legal language. GPL legal language, due to the way copyright works, may not allow the author to control usage - even though Affero GPL comes close. But mere fact that the ASP scenario is called a "loophole" and mere fact that Affero GPL exists suggests that the use of improved software without distribution of the improvements is considered something that needs to be discouraged.

You missed the point of the analogy. The point was that if somebody gives away his work for charitable reasons without any strings attached, and somebody else demands that whoever uses that work behaves in certain way that is politically approved by the giver - the latter has little base for claims of moral high-ground over the former. It is an empirical fact that restrictive licenses like GPL lead to more friction in integrating various software projects, often making it impossible to use existing code and requiring to reimplement existing functionality from scratch. Again, this is fine if the goal is certain political action and not just improving the world of software available.

You of course are entitled for compensation for your work, and entitled to choose in which form it comes. However I do not see a base for claiming that your requirement of compensation somehow morally superior to both people that prefer monetary compensation and people that do not require any compensation at all and allow their work to be used freely by anybody.


"It's like one person giving to charities with no preconditions and another giving only to charities that support his political views. Both approaches are valid, but the latter doesn't have a base to feel morally superior to the former."

You give money to charities that do things you don't agree with? Weird.


What am I paying for when I give money to charity? Mostly, a sense of smug self-satisfaction - and I get more of that when I give to one without checking what they do, than when I've looked into it and found they support my political agenda.


I agree with RMS on many points, but I think you're misguided:

> I've always used the GPL for licensing my open source code

ITYM "free software"

> specifically because it ensures that it stays open and that improvements are given back.

No, it does not. Any software not being redistributed does not have to publish its improvements. And even if it does publish the improvements, they don't have to be made accessible in any useful way (for example, just a source dump, rather than a version control repo). And even if it is made accessible in some useful way, often the projects don't end up contributing back upstream (Hello Ubuntu!)

> On one occasion I've been persuaded to use another license so that $CORP could use the code (http://gmsl.sf.net/) internally and I see that the non-fanatical position helped $CORP but I'm not sure it helped the greater cause of open source

They still can. You're confused about licensing and what GPL does.

HOWEVER, I do resonate with your concerns. I think the world needs to start making programs which are NOT "free" according to RMS, in that if someone uses the program, and he improves it, he has to give back to the general population. How to execute this properly is another question, but I really want to be able to release code which is a public good, rather than something everyone can take, without ever giving back.


The Affero license sounds closer to what you want. It doesn't stop someone from using the code internally without releasing improvements, but it does stop a company from building a network-based product on top of your code without releasing their improvements.

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/agpl-3.0.html

Beyond that, though, it sounds like what you want is actually a bunch of mandatory process bureaucracy. You seem to want everyone to be required to contribute to the original repository, but that's a maintenance nightmare. This would pretty much prohibit forks (pushing changes upstream from a heavily modified fork is non-trivial), and add senseless work to lots of derivatives (e.g. some project B uses a tiny piece from A, but now has to attempt to send all changes upstream, no matter how irrelevant).


> a bunch of mandatory process bureaucracy

> pushing changes upstream from a heavily modified fork is non-trivial

> add senseless work

You're right, that's why it's difficult to come up with a balanced proposition that would alleviate the major problems of the GPL.


Ubuntu doesn't contribute to upstream? What do you mean?

The limitations you point out on publishing changes are nits imho. It's far better than nothing, and social pressure has been successfully used in many cases to make sure proper SCM logs are sent.


I'd upvote for humour.


RMS is what he is because, what he is.

You can't change such people, you won't be able to. And they won't change, And they must not change. If people like him, don't live like he does- Its impossible to take on entities like Microsoft and Apple single handedly.

Although you can argue that ideas from Free software were there ahead and during RMS's times. You can never debate that he gave it a sense of cause, activism with passion and enthusiasm never seen before. This man, made Free Software a purpose in his life. He never gives up, never compromises, his passion and intensity never wanes. He just seems to find infinite energy to go on and on.

Don't get me wrong. We are not just dealing Steve Jobs grade material here. He is more than Steve Jobs. This guy wrote some of the most widely used programs on earth today. And of supreme quality. He designed them, wrote them and marketed them. He is also the author of the most widely used license in software history. He is a prolific organizer, and executor.

He also holds strong views on political issues. Although he is often aggressive. I have never heard him do cheap talk or bad mouth some one, criticize, hate and bash them pointlessly without facts, or because of their ethnic origin, faith, belief or way of life.

But I see ESR as a epitome of hyperbole, bad mouthing, hating people because of their belief, faith and their way of life. Advocating violence. Yet his contributions towards are hardly few. I don't know of the last time he made a big contribution. And I don't even know if he has ever contributed something signification. All I know is has a high Blog noise to work ratio. Has written books based on some one else's work. And now feels qualified in the world to take on anybody and comment on them. People like ESR generally don't get taken seriously.


So many fallacies in one post.

1. You conflate RMS being supremely talented programmer with his political strategy. ESR criticized the latter and never doubted - but actually emphasized - the former.

2. Anybody who actually read ESR article knows that RMS was never criticized for his ethnic origin, faith, belief or way of life - only for his political strategy and manner of achieving this goal.

3. Advocating violence? Care to give any proof of that? This goes so far that I actually checked the profile to see maybe this is just an anon trolling going on here. Such accusation needs serious proof.

4. Ad hominem attacks on ESR don't add anything to your argument as they do not defend RMS in any way (even if ESR were nobody, his argument still could be valid on merits) - and they are also completely false.

5. One does not any special qualification to comment on anything. One needs only to make sense and be able to build a solid argument. At which you seem to be failing now, since your argument seems to sum up to "RMS is great, ESR is nobody" and a bunch of factually incorrect statements. Such argument in no way can be persuasive to defend RMS's political strategy and rhetoric which ESR is criticizing.


I never said ESR criticized RMS because of the reasons, I mentioned.

ESR is long know to write blog posts advocating US military campaigns on Middle east(Remember so far no proof found about WMD's in Iraq). He also used to write extreme hate blogs against Muslims and Islam in General, I used to follow some of his posts then. But later gave up on reading it was full of too much hate for nothing. I find it difficult to offer such people audience. Hate is a dangerous thing to encourage, no matter whom its diverted towards.

He would advocate all out wars to 'defend his way of life', So you now want several millions of people bombed, killed and a generation of people with a broken national infrastructure and hope. All of this just because you like hearing to Micheal Jackson and they don't?

ESR to me is nothing more than a guy who use to write articles on controversial issues during pre blogging days. And seems to have made some name encouraging/bashing/thrashing/bad mouthing people. Such bloggers are worth dime a dozen today.

RMS on other hand has proven credentials as a hacker. Both in the MIT Lab and later writing software like Emacs and other GNU utils. His political views are more non violent and more left leaning, yet far better than that of ESR's.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond


"I never said ESR criticized RMS because of the reasons, I mentioned."

Then why you mentioned those things in comment which discusses ESR's critique of RMS? Just because you had a random thought and had to express it before you forget it, no matter the topic? And why you immediately added "But I see ESR as a epitome of hyperbole, bad mouthing, hating people because of their belief, faith and their way of life. Advocating violence"?

Looks like is it you that is badmouthing people because of their beliefs, not ESR, and I also notice a lot of the same un-loving feeling in your responses that you attribute to ESR. I will ignore the attempt to derail the discussion and change topic to Iraq and Muslims, however, since it is completely offtopic (and again, contains multiple false statements). I just will notice that "advocating violence" in context of political discussion and political critique and meaning by it supporting actions (however they may seem wrong to you) of legitimate democratic government in totally unrelated case is extremely disingenuous.

You proceed to declare utter baloney and try to assign this baloney as if ESR ever said it, which also is obviously false and I wonder how you can expect such cheap rhetorical trick to convince anybody.

I think everybody here knows how ESR has made his name, and it has absolutely nothing to do with "bashing/thrashing/badmouthing people". Again, why you expect this obviously false statement to sound convincing to the informed audience is a mystery to me. However, (lack of) your personal respect to ESR is not important, as points he makes do not become less valid because you personally disrespect him.

The most sad part of your comment is however the last link. And the most sad part of this link is that incoherent drivel by some anonymous internet trolls which consists completely of "bashing, trashing and badmouthing", is presented as "Rational Wiki". Sad and deeply ironic.


I don't know who is trolling whom here.

But you find goodness in a man known for his extreme hate writings against people of certain ethnic origins(Arabs), and people belonging to a particular race and color(blacks). Or certain preference on a way of life(like marrying people of the same gender). You consider this man good.

And now you call the people who point to this as trolls.

At this point my debate with you ends. Because I don't think we are on the plane of thinking.


> People like ESR generally don't get taken seriously.

You realize that this is practically a textbook example of an ad hominem fallacy, right?


That sentence came immediately after several criticisms of specific behaviors and tactics that could plausibly cause one to not get taken seriously. So the term "people like ESR" in this paragraph could be inferred to mean "people who behave like ESR". In fact, he even starts out "I see ESR as a epitome of [certain attitudes and behaviors]".

For example, because of his past behavior I do have trouble taking him, personally, seriously. But I would not use that as a formal argument against any of his specific ideas "ESR believes X, ESR is a Y, therefore X is false".


> But I see ESR as a epitome of hyperbole, bad mouthing, hating people because of their belief, faith and their way of life.

Then you haven't stumbled upon kuro5hin I take it?


I have a hunch that RMS will be of great interest to historians, probably more so than Steve Jobs in the long run.

The overall GNU/Linux/OSS movement/project is the only thing I can think of where a work of such magnitude has been carried out on a global scale and has not been orchestrated by a single entity such as a government of corporation.

Something that has been tested on this scale and succeeded as well as it has is likely to be spread to other areas of life. Once Stallman dies , he will be remembered much more fondly than we think of him now and it would not surprise me if he became the inspiration for some future ruler or political movement.


Yes, I agree that history will treat RMS kindly. He's a curious creature. Jobs was right for his time at the crucible of personal computing, but I think RMS will be right for many times in the future, and his mark will be clearer and longer lasting.


Mmm... generally speaking, I'm an ESR fan, but I think he's a bit wrong (and a bit right here. What I mean is, yes, RMS almost certainly is a fanatic. I doubt RMS himself would disagree with that characterization (although I don't know him and have never asked him; so it's just a hunch). But, the question is, is RMS harmful to the F/OSS culture (to the extent that one can talk about any sort of homogeneous "F/OSS culture")? On this point, I'm unconvinced.

In fact, I'll argue that, whether despite his fanaticism or because of it, RMS has been - and remains - a positive influence on the F/OSS world. No, his position and his rantings aren't for everyone but they are for some and to the some who are deeply inspired by his actions, the "RMS as messianic figure" thing is probably very valuable. And considering their are fanatics on the "opposing team" (if you will), like certain people who refer to the GPL as communist, I believe a certain measure of fanaticism is good, in terms of counter-balancing the opposing fanaticism.

The mainstream of culture itself will likely always hang somewhere in the middle. But one has to wonder where things would wind up without Stallman and the FSF proselytizing so strenuously for Free Software.


To be honest , most people don't even know who RMS is and that includes people who work in IT (and many people who use Linux for a living).


The root issue isn't his fanaticism, but the manner in which he chooses to articulate it. He is so dogmatic about even the most inane minutae, that he turns much of his presentation into a self-satire (if it was not for the fact that his presentation style is so dull and pedantic...which it is. As public speakers go, I have never been wowed by him; even Bruce Perens, who is by all accounts the Emo Phillips of FOSS, does a better job).


"You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul." -Mahatma Gandhi

Copied and pasted from stallman.org. I understand the rationale of ESR and many others, but RMS is trying to move the centrepoint of the discussion as far as he can, and to do that he must "resist with his whole soul". Compromise is for others.


A quote I like from Stallman himself more than any of Gandhi's: "They seem to have learned the habit of cowering before authority even when not actually threatened. How very nice for authority. I decided not to learn this particular lesson."


I went ahead and donated to the FSF after reading this article instead of venting here on HN. You lose, ESR. :)

https://my.fsf.org/donate/


I find it funny ESR thinks he or 'Open Source' have made much progress; I would have thought the existence of patent trolls - things fanatics like RMS have been warning about for literally decades and been mocked as fanatics for just as long - would force even the most obtuse to acknowledge their foresight. Guess not.


An argument between RMS and ESR over who's the bigger fanatic is not likely to produce very enlightening results...


ESR doesn't strike me as particularly fanatical from what I know of him. Are you thinking of something in particular?


Have you read much of his writing style, or any of his disputes with others? They seem to always end up in hyperbolic, very personal polemics, like this one. Look up his encounters over the years with Bruce Perens, or RMS several times, or anyone ESR considers a "left-liberal". Also, climate scientists are malevolent frauds, in his view, Barack Obama is the worst president and anyone who can't see that is intellectually dishonest, etc., etc.

Honestly I suspect his distaste for Stallman has more to do with general politics than free-software politics in particular; ESR is an anarcho-capitalist and Stallman is leftish.

Not that that makes ESR particularly unique, but I wouldn't nominate him as a representative of even-keeled pragmatists; his temperament is much closer to the firebrand type that RMS and Theo de Raadt represent.


The difference is RMS is a fanatic with tons of accomplishments in his bag.

Blog Noise to work ratio is too high in ESR's case. I don't know what his contributions to software are. Or when was the last time I heard some major contribution from him. He always seems to find something to bad mouth.

I would consider RMS a super achiever compared to ESR.


Right, RMS at least used to write code. ESR has always been a creepy hacker fanboy, latching on to and idolizing hacker culture, but has never been part of it, and never produced any code.


ESR did not bring us emacs or gcc, but he has made some contributions:

http://www.catb.org/~esr/software.html

I'm most grateful for vc-mode in emacs.

(I'm merely addressing a factual point and in no way excusing the way ESR treats RMS in writing.)


Certainly "never produced any code" was hyperbole, but "contributions" is being pretty generous. Hobbling together some random scripts nobody has ever used isn't really contributing. Most of what he has tried to contribute has been rejected.


giflib is probably his most important project in terms of how many people use it

gpsd is probably the project he's working on right now with the most potential for widespread use and importance

forgeplucker http://home.gna.org/forgeplucker/ (oddly not linked at http://www.catb.org/~esr/software.html) is probably the project he's working on right now that's the most interesting (and ironically something i expect RMS would be a huge fan of)


""" imgsizer:

This is a nifty little HTML authoring tool that will generate correct Netscape-style WIDTH and HEIGHT parameters for each of your IMG tags on an HTML page. This will allow the text portions of the page to load much faster. Requires that you have either identify(1) or a recent file(1) and rdjpegcom(1) installed. The RPM is architecture-independent. Requires Python. """

Ok then.


huh? did you have a point?


I'm curious, how does ESR make a living? He seems to spend a lot of time running his personal site (which carries no charges or ads) and has written a bunch of Open Source software. I don't see him doing anything that would put money into his bank account, or is he being sponsored by some company? If so who?


I am going to simply go by what ESR himself says, which is that his wife is a lawyer and so she goes and works every day which funds his ability to stay at home and write blog posts about the intellectual inferiority of black people and how the poor deserve no government help. No I am not making this up.


You might as well be making up the part about black people. I checked, and ESR's actual argument is that black people have a lower average IQ than caucasians even after adjusting for things like socioeconomic status and childhood nutrition, that this IQ difference has significant effects on the observed distributions of things like income and crime, and that these same statistics prove that racial discrimination against individual people is idiotic, since the relatively weak Bayesian evidence from someone's race is greatly outweighed by, say, actually talking to that person for half a minute. (He makes exactly the same claim about caucasians having a lower average IQ than Ashkenazi Jews, BTW.) In addition to these claims about fact, he also makes the normative claim that racism is immoral.

I know that doesn't make quite as snazzy a sound-bite as "the intellectual inferiority of black people".


From time to time I go slumming and read the kind of thing Mr. Raymond has written, things like:

http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4278

He quotes something which appears to be backed up by statistics, then carries off into some social speculation. He rails against “political correctness” muzzling the truth. I have read similar things from people who feel a need to “have an honest conversation about the actions of Israel in the Middle East.” And like wise from people who can cite in detail the various horrors inflicted by the legal system against men who are tricked or trapped into biological paternity. All quite possibly true facts to share, of course.

It’s a massive Ad Hominem on my part, but I can’t help but wonder when I read such passionate words, “Why is this person fixated on this particular topic?” We all have our passions, some of us have crusades. What compels a programmer to take it upon himself to fight the injustice of a society that walks on eggshells about the various differences between the “races?”

I’m not going to say he’s a racist. I’ll say instead he’s a man fixated on race. And I’ll wield the Ad Hominem hammer again and suggest, although he may be a pragmatic voice for the open source movement, where society is concerned he comes across as every bit as fanatic as his accusations.


It’s a massive Ad Hominem on my part, but I can’t help but wonder when I read such passionate words, “Why is this person fixated on this particular topic?”

Because in their view, which may or may not be correct, they are injustices which receive very little mainstream attention. Is that not enough?

I’m not going to say he’s a racist.

I'm not going to say that John Doe has ever had any inappropriate relations with his students.


Because in their view, which may or may not be correct, they are injustices which receive very little mainstream attention. Is that not enough?

Enough for you, not enough for me. That’s how human behaviour works. You may meet someone who goes on and on about men’s rights and think, “here is a fellow who has encountered injustices which receive very little mainstream attention, how perfectly ordinary.” Someone else may beet the same fellow and be disquieted by their choice of injustice which receives very little mainstream attention they have picked as their fixation.

And I didn’t say he’s a racist. Pointless waste of time when discussing a man who wrote an essay asking for the word “racist” to be defined in such a way that he explicitly isn’t one. Likewise, it would be a waste of time to insinuate that Mr. Does had inappropriate relations with his students in the middle of a debate about the word “inappropriate.”

If you and I can agree on a definition of the word, I’ll happily denounce or exonerate Mr. Raymond. Until then, I’ll use a made-up-phrase so there’s no misunderstanding: He strikes me as a man fixated on race. Do you disagree?


IIRC he was given a chunk of stock in a Linux IPO and while he lost most of its value in the dot-com crash, it still left him some spare change; add on consulting, royalties, the occasional job like being president, basic nerd frugal living, and you probably have the whole story.


Shrinking book royalties and the earnings of his wife, who is a lawyer.


I believe he was employed by the Open Source Initiative (which he co-founded) for some years, as its President. So indirectly funded by the companies that donated to OSI.


Many years after found the Open Source Initiative, ESR stated publicly that he never made any money from it, and having read most of his writings from that period and a lot of commentary on the organization, I find that statement credible.

Also, he has claimed at least a couple of times over the years that he was (at the time of the claim) a consulting programmer.



This blog post seemed pretty levelheaded to me.

I think in general people can be levelheaded thinkers in one domain and dogmatic in another. So maybe ESR is dogmatic about other things, but this doesn't seem to be one of them from my perspective.


Are you familiar with his views about Islam or Homosexuality? Those seem pretty fanatical to me, they are completely biased and downright offensive and illiterate. He equates homosexuality with paedophilia, denies HIV is the sole cause of AIDS and believes in a conspiracy to hide the true causes, and calls for the murder of religious leaders of the middle east equating them with animals. I tried multiple times to discuss this theories with him, but he called me a "marxist anti-american fag" (sic), a label that even if undisputed gives him no logical arguments against any refutation of his bizarre theories nor justifies his calls for action or even sometimes genocide.

For some time already his mind has been drifting in a sea of obscurantist choosing of statistics and a convenient selection of right-winged american-exceptionalist conspiracy theories.

I could link to his twisted essays, but although biased the entry in Rational Wiki about him sums most of the hard facts, though I suggest you ignore their opinion and go read the compiled cited writing of ESR. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond


I dislike seeing someone's name smeared in a vague way. A bit of googling brought up the essay you mentioned regarding homosexuality, pederasty, and pedophilia:

http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=26

(Vagueness, begone!)


The rationalwiki article linked above links to that article and several others. So IMHO your charge of "name smeared in a vague way" is incorrect.


Vile. `pvarangot' didn't exaggerate.


That RationalWiki page is terrible; I had a high opinion of RationalWiki before that. (No refs; just read the content headings for what I mean)

This all apart from what I think of ESR.


Well, that's undeniably pretty fanatical.

I have only read his technical articles that get posted to news aggregator sites -- I don't particularly care about what strange political beliefs some washed-up developer has -- and hadn't noticed anything so vile as this.

I think he still (occasionally) makes good points about development and open source, but his political and sociological views are very immature.


I had long since concluded that the Free Software Foundation’s moralistic rhetoric was serving us badly.

Which "us" is this exactly? ESR presumes too much.


Surprised? ESR has been doing this for years, even though he now only has a very small group of devout followers who consider his ramblings significant. It has been years since he could actually be said to speak for open source hackers everywhere. (In fact, if you ask me and quite a lot of other people, he never could.)


Eric Raymond's working definition of a fanatic is, "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim".

RMS is to me the exact antithesis of this definition. He has always had a complete focus on his end objective and everything he does is geared towards it (and scraping out a meagre living so he can continue it). One could argue that the path he has chosen to his objective is incorrect but to say that he is now acting having lost sight of his objective is wrong.

RMS to me has always been very conscious of his ethical position and has been pragmatic to the extent that being so does not put him in the position of being a complete hypocrite. For example, his position of the use of the LGPL. This has never seemed to be to be the behaviour of a fanatic of any variety.

I think offering the suggestion that religious language is detrimental to his message is perfectly reasonable. I have always viewed RMS real audience as hackers, and since the hacker culture is one of using religious language tongue-in-cheek I think the language fits the audience.


The problem with the 'Open Source' movement is that it stopped the free software revolution in its tracks by opening up a third way that relieved the pressure that was building up on corporations by the growing mountain of GPL code. That ultimately has allowed corporations to coopt the work of the volunteer community and turn around and attack us with even more locked down proprietary code such as the iPhone.


This post repeats a very weak argument over and over: RMS uses messianic language which alienates potential allies. Ok. But do you think strict adherence to the principles of the FSF are good? This piece doesn't even address the core issues of RMS's position, and just accuses him of phrasing his point poorly.


I sense that you did not read the essay.

The point is that two people can agree on a particular goal that needs to be achieved, while disagreeing -- perhaps quite strongly -- on the means appropriate and best suited to achieve that goal.

RMS' approach to a business which produces proprietary software is, essentially, "Your business is evil, you are evil, and I will crusade to end your evil."

ESR's approach is, essentially, "Your business could be so much more efficient and productive. Let me show you how."

ESR is, much as it pains me to admit this, correct as to which approach is more likely to achieve the stated goal of convincing businesses to stop producing/using proprietary software.


OK, but you have to acknowledge that businessmen and engineers are not the only people who could be interested in FOSS.

I work regularly with social scientists; they are really interested in Free Software and don't care much about Open Source. You can talk about efficiency and reduction of cost endlessly and to them it's just another "marketing speech" but if you talk about ethics and the well-being of society at large they are instantly hooked.

RMS is just a man, he can't be all things to all people. There are situations in which his rhetoric is really effective, and others in which it isn't; as simple as that. It's great to have Open Source to make an argument that businessmen will pay attention to. However, criticising the "Free Software guy" because he's not an "Open Source guy" is kind of pointless.

I think the diversity in points of view is a testament to the cultural importance of FOSS, and we should celebrate that.


At the time of this writing, yours is the most insightful comment posted here. Also, I'm pretty sure that both RMS and ESR would consider it a decent summary of their disagreement, which is unusual in discussions about this subject.


on >>RMS' approach to a business which produces proprietary software is, essentially, "Your business is evil, you are evil, and I will crusade to end your evil."

He's been around for some years now. He's had the time to formulate his thought on matters. It's okay to not know what exactly he said/wrote, but it's not okay to just make up stuff you thought he might say based on your own biases.

What he actually wrote, is: "Over the years, many companies have contributed to free software development. Some of these companies primarily developed non-free software, but the two activities were separate; thus, we could ignore their non-free products, and work with them on free software projects. Then we could honestly thank them afterward for their free software contributions, without talking about the rest of what they did." Which is a far cry from what you assumed he might have had to say about it.


I wouldn't have used the words "messianic language". I'd use the words "black and white thinking". While dividing the world into a rigid good versus evil certainly has its place: "Thou shalt not kill", for example --- although even there there are all sorts of gradations for things like capital punishment, just war theory, etc --- the use of a rigid black and white thinking is what I think is wrong with the Tea Party and Republican Party, just as I think it's what's wrong with the FSF and Stallman's view of the world.

You can't really argue about axioms, though. There's no way you can address the core issues of RMS's position, because it's a religious issue. Either God exists or it does not. Either the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists or it does not. I happen to believe the first, and not the second, but I also believe that I can never convince anyone about that using reasoned argument, because fundamentally you can't prove or disprove axioms. You can prove or disprove what follows from a commonly held set of axioms, but that's a different story.


I have no love for ESR, but of course it doesn't. It's about the reaction of RMS to ESR's essay in which he addresses that particular point.


Aside from this being a good candidate for the dictionary definition of the kettle and pot idiom the problem with RMS is that whilst I agree with him wholeheartedly on almost all software issues I would never use him to convince any of my non-tech friends of anything because I think they wouldn't be able to get over his eccentricities. And some of these are just... unique. Which is a pity because his ideas and essays are well thought out and interesting.

I don't agree with the complaint about bringing in moral arguments in what he sees as a purely technical issue. Every human endeavour can be viewed from a moral standpoint and it's a perfectly valid perspective and doesn't exclude others.


The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw - Maxims for Revolutionists - http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/26107/pg26107.html

In my opinion Eric argues against his point simply by making it.


I found ESR's comment interesting: ">In setting this stance, we push the Overton window further to our side, allowing pragmatists to be able to say, “We’re not extremists, like Stallman” and gain more credibility.

This is actually reasonable. I’ve used Stallman this way myself – he more or less begs for it. But I don’t think you’re answering the usual intent of the claim “the moral viewpoint is essential”, which has nothing to do with anything as cold-blooded as gaming the Overton window and everything to do with deep-seated convictions in the speaker."


I find that comment (and the comment he's replying to) more interesting than anything in the post itself.


I think that ESR should employ a more radical license for his programs: the "do what the fuck you want to" public license.

If RMS want to dress like St Ignacious, do what the fuck you want.

If RMS wants to be the new Che Guevara, do what the fuck you want, man.

ESR is libertarian, and libertarianism is all about deploying that kind of license in your personal life.

RMS is not a fanatic. He's passionate, and I like his passion and his cause.

I don't think that engineering pragmatism is politically neutral. Sure, you can write a fine piece of software, but Who controls the software? For me, that's the crucial question, and I think is a very pragmatic question, indeed.


esr has long become open source's Colonel Kurz. Being stuck somewhere in his own little piece of the cyber jungle, together with those who adhere to his peculiar view of life.

Some might know him from his work "the Cathedral and the Bazaar", or know him as contributor to "Battle for Wesnoth". And some might even know him for his contributions to GNU (yes, really! open up the documentation to various utilities some time, and his name will be there). The problem with esr is however, his fanaticism. Where rms speaks of software, he speaks of software and its impact on society only. Whether this is done in the most effective way is open to debate. To expound on the rest of his personal political ideas, he uses his homepage. In general he makes a clear distinction between his general political stance (which everyone has one), and his ideas on software (where he can speak authoritatively).

esr's views are "all in". You are either part of "the tribe" and accept him as your "silverback gorilla" alpha-male, or you're wrong. He's been using his notoriety as a hacker to create visibility for his ideas on other aspects of life, creating, imo, a position of false authority for himself.

You can agree or disagree with rms. But irrespective of the way he presents his ideas on software, they stand on their own, they stand up to scrutiny, and can be defended by and discussed in terms of logical arguments; meaning you are free to agree or disagree with the body of ideas behind free sofware and radically differ (from rms) in any other aspect of life.

Pitting esr's and rms's ideas on free sofware as "two sides of the same coin", needs a coin in a very non-euclidian universe.

In short. esr's influence on opensource dwindled over the years, alienating readers because of tying in his views on software with his strong political beliefs. rms's influence on free software has remained strong, not because of his persona (some might say, "in spite" of), but because they are sound and selfcontaining, and don't require people to "buy into" ideas on other aspects of life that are not strictly software related.


"There is too much at stake for me to be diplomatically dishonest about this – it did immense damage to the cause of openness, and I had to spend a good many years remediating that damage."

Exactly what is at stake in Raymond's communication of his opinion about Stallman? If the answer is "nothing", is it worth pointing out how flawed his analysis is?


Moralists and fanatics are principally concerned with issues of ideological purity...often to the point of being willing to sacrifice tremendous parts of society in pursuit of this purity -- even as their own slice of the pie gets smaller and smaller and even when pursuit of the practical would move the world towards their ideal much more effectively.

Every so often an event will happen where an ideological purist's rhetoric is true, and this arms them for years of ideological advocacy and warfare...while day-to-day practicalities are dismissed and pass them by. Sure, one could spend 16 hours a day praying at the alter of a particular path, but then there's no time to eat.

Interestingly, highly intelligent ideologues often (not always) follow an interesting path of massive and early creativity and productivity, while trailing off quickly into years of chasing imaginary rabbits down imaginary holes -- when simply continuing to produce would have done a better job of getting their point across.

RMS is like this. Early on he produced absolutely amazing stuff at an astonishing rate -- pieces of software which are still being actively used and developed decades later. Many developers would give their left arm to have achieved this.

And then it suddenly stops. The creative outpouring and concrete contributions to the material world suddenly end and he focuses his energies almost entirely in ideological purity.

It's akin in some ways to Newton's deeper dive into Alchemy or Savonarola's switch from medical school to religion.

Don't forget, Savonarola, despite his desire to pitch the Western world back into the Dark Ages, also fought corruption and exploitation of the poor -- he was right some of the time.

The recent news of Stallman's laptop's theft makes me even sadder because of his ideological purity, the chances of him finding a replacement, and getting back to just making stuff are even further away.


"And then it suddenly stops. The creative outpouring and concrete contributions to the material world suddenly end"

Here's a more prosaic possibility: he got old and/or moved into management.


He also developed (had?) RSI. See http://oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/ch09.html#15416


We live in a free society, and Stallman is free to have an opinion, and to interpret things strictly or loosely.

He is a fanatic or an extremist? Absolutely. But he continues to attract interest, and his contributions to society are real and significant.

Society needs fanatics. We need someone to question that moral righteousness of things like copyright, or to set a boundary for the meaning of "open source". If he's personally difficult for Mr. Raymond to deal with, so what? How would the world improve if everyone sat around getting along with each other?

Raymond's post is self-serving, and more about reminding us about how important he is while criticizing someone else.


I find it often quite sad if people are called upon to change their behavior for public relations reasons. In many cases I feel people are asked to undermine their integrity.

I say screw public relations, stand up for what you believe is right! If free software needs a more agreeable head figure, why don't they hire Paris Hilton or whomever?


It was RMS in the beginning - he built the foundations: the software (GCC, the GNU-project, Emacs), the philosophy and the values (his essays and interviews), the organisation (FSF), the copyleft legal rights (GPL).

ESR wouldn't be as recognizable as he is if he had chosen to opine on something less important and influential than RMS and his contribution.


RMS is not a fanatic. People portray him as a fanatic. Is Gandhi a fanatic? But, it would be easy to portray him as a fanatic, as an enemy to corporations. We need more people like RMS.


ESR's quote of Santayana is not illuminating. He might have quoted Bernard Gert, who wrote that a fanatic is someone who violates a moral rule to follow a moral ideal. A religious fanatic violates a moral rule to follow a religious command. I am unaware that RMS is violating moral rules in the name of free software.


One of my commenters reports that he showed my essay on evaluating the harm from closed-source software to Richard Stallman, who became upset by it.

Anybody have a link to this comment? I couldn't find it.

[EDIT] After an hour nobody claims to have found it. Is there a real comment, or is ESR just fantasizing about RMS caring what ESR writes?


I suspect this is the reference:

http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4371&cpage=1#comment-381328

Luke Leighton writes:

i spoke to dr stallman about the assessment concepts presented here, because i think they’re fantastic and should be more formalised, and adopted more widely including by the FSF. unfortunately he was sufficiently upset by the personal references that he can’t possibly recommend that. what’s the best way to proceed?


Thanks!


> There are some advantages to this strategy. It taps into old, powerful emotional responses in human beings – the same responses that give messianic religions their power. As a way of recruiting a small hard core of dedicated followers it’s tough to beat, and sometimes – if you’re, say, the Gautama Buddha or Jesus or Mahavira – you can make it scale up. But I described it as a trap for a reason – most such attempts do not scale, remaining tiny marginal cults.

Is fanatism working for RMS? Well, the German Pirate Party regularly top 10% in the polls, which is rather better than you'd expect from a "tiny marginal cult", so one has to conclude that it is working.


You shouldn't mix up RMS with the Pirates. While there are obvious similitudes (particularly in terms of privacy, DRM, etc), RMS was initially opposed to their platform of reducing or killing copyright, since that would limit the effectiveness of the GPL without really fixing what he fights against - after all, lack of copyright doesn't mean you'll have access to the source, which is a precondition of freedoms 1 and 3 [1].

[1]: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html


> You shouldn't mix up RMS with the Pirates

Shouldn't I? RMS mixes with Pirates, seems to be broadly in favour of what they stand for, and comments a lot on internal Pirate Party mailing lists.


On a slightly related note, ESR is the mascot for my new static blog generating tool: https://bitbucket.org/anthonyb/shithead ;)


tl;dr Eric explains reasonably well why he thinks RMS is a fanatic, but fails utterly to explain why his opinion (on that or any other subject) matters.


What do you call it when the crank accuses the crank?


go back to work


The pure pragmatism of Torvalds and the "I won't use it unless it's 100% free software" attitude of RMS are both valid viewpoints. In practice most of us mere mortals accept some state of affairs in between those two poles.

Ignoring software freedom as an issue would IMHO be a major mistake given the overall direction in which contemporary society is going. In broad terms I think RMS was right in the sense that as software becomes ever more deeply embedded into all aspects of life, who owns and controls that software, and the ability to audit it, becomes an important question. Theoretically, in the long run it may not be possible to have a free society without some amount of free software infrastructure.


I am biased (I've dealt with both ESR and RMS, and had a much more personable time with the former), but I think this is one of the better things ESR has written, and it nails all of my major issues with RMS (almost: I know it gets made fun of a lot but I really find his personal hygiene utterly contemptible).


In my book, a fanatic is someone who unleashes diatribes on people with whom he/she is pretty much in the same camp, apart from minor differences that outsiders don't even understand. I am reminded of "The Life of Brian" and the People's Front of Judea vs. the Judean People's Front.


I find this debate so very tedious. From a libertarian perspective, RMS's arguments are just utter bs. He's basically saying two independent parties have no right to enter into a contract that involves keeping secrets. That's what happens when you agree to a EULA. If you don't like the contract, don't accept it.

People have no more right to "free software" in the RMS absolutist sense than they have right to free beer, free lunch, or free anything. (And yes, I know the 'free as in speech' slogan, but my point is that I have a right to enter into a contract, or offer someone a contract that limits their rights to share certain information I want to protect.) The fact that the thing in question is information rather than something more 'real' doesn't change the morality of the situation one bit -- it's merely a practical consideration, that bits are easy to copy, and cars and lunch are not.


The parties aren't independent.

People are utterly dependent on software.

Net effects mean that people aren't free to choose the software that has the agreements they agree with.

I think the question anyone should ask -- is what kind of society do we want to live in? One where everyone controls their computers and software, or one where the norm is to surrender control of this part of your life to third parties?


I think the open source movement (as opposed to the free software jihad of RMS) has worked exactly how the market should work. Some manufacturers are addicted to secrecy, DRM, draconian copy protection, and restrictive EULA's. The FOSS movement, responding to this reality, provides alternate versions of almost any type of software you care to use.

So why in the world would it be reasonable to force Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else to give you something they choose to withhold? Instead, speak with your pocketbook -- refuse to pay their tithe, and work with open software and/or with companies whose policies on this issue you accept and agree with.

TL; DR: Market forces are almost always more efficient and less prone to unintended consequences than top-down laws and regulations. Let the market work.


Firstly, claiming RMS is a jihadist is a silly ad-hominem. RMS presents a coherent principled position, and fights for it.

Secondly, you might be forced to use Microsoft products, because your government, industry standard, or other is using proprietary Microsoft formats.

I think the question to ask is what the big-picture-effect of allowing/disallowing withholding source code from users would be. We should not use a narrow benchmark of "minimal government interference" or "maximum personal rights", but a "yields best overall outcome" benchmark.


ESR needs to up his pageviews? That time of the year again? Same old "discussion" he tries to have since nsome 10 years. No new arguments, just warming up his sentiments again. RMS has ignored this for years and s should we :-)


I'd say he is very passionate but not sure fanatic is accurate.


Calling someone a "fanatic" and pointing out the fact that they don't fit in or that they make some people uncomfortable or angry does not in fact make them wrong. Raymond has no actual argument, so it comes across as a petty personal attack on RMS.




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