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Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before (wired.com)
383 points by hexis on Sept 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 275 comments



I (like many of us) have been reading and following RMS for many years now. It is fascinating how things that I used to feel were impractical about his ideas ("if proprietary software gets the job done, then why shun it? We live in a world where we must be practical, etc.") now seem imperative.

This point struck home with his mention of education: how frustrating it is that so much of it lives in, say, Matlab, as compared to any other numerical package!

How frustrating that we all depend on Microsoft Excel (or Google Docs) to do pivot tables!

How frustrating that we depend on github to store our code.

How frustrating that we depend on AWS for our servers.

I spend a lot of my professional life migrating from one closed system (eg, deployments on Rackspace to AWS; cc processing from PayPal to Braintree; accounting from Quickbooks to Netsuite) to another.

I wonder if, in practice, so many of these frustrations would have been alleviated if we, as an industry, had adopted the "impractical" view of insisting on using only free software.


A fundamental weakness in the free software argument is that it lacks a solid, broadly applicable proposal for remunerating the effort of software engineers.

A similar argument could be made for the abolition of copyright -- with the same weakness. It helps explain why the free software community has not yet delivered things like Google Docs, Github and AWS.

This does not necessarily invalidate Stallman's argument about the benefits of free software. But without a clear mechanism for producing free software it's little more than a letter to santa claus.

Here's a thought -- what about government support? My impression is that FSF tends to focus on volunteerism and heroics. But government support has produced a lot of the free and open core science in high tech (e.g. DARPA), and via procurement, even supported bringing it to market.

Why not steer the FSF troops towards advocating direct government funding for free software projects and services like a public cloud?


The problem, defined more concretely, is how to fund the creation of what economists call a "public good":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good#The_free_rider_prob...

Both copyright and government provisioning of the good are ways around the problem. Both are effective in some situations and of course have problems of their own.

I think the government has a role to play in software development in terms of 'basic research' types of stuff. The US government is responsible for the creation of the Internet, and CERN money created the web. But to leave all software development in the hands of the government does not sound like a great solution to me, either, to put it mildly.


Did you know Siri was developed with $150M of government funding?[1] The government sponsors a lot more than "basic" research. They also support the commercialization of technology through procurement, for example.

Why would government-sponsored software development be any worse than corporate-sponsored? Governments can sponsor multiple teams that compete with one another, after all. That's why "basic science" works even when the money comes from the government -- right?

I'd be interested to here from FSF folks on this. One of the biggest "problems" with our existing Silicon Valley model -- which despite what posturing Libertarians think is very, very heavily based on government support (DARPA, procurement, etc.) -- is basically that the public doesn't receive the full benefit of taxpayer-funded R&D. It's pretty much handed over to the private sector, who take all the profits.

This might possibly be a more profitable avenue for the Free Software movement to take. Advocate that taxpayer-funded research stay Free.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/siri-do-engine-appl...


I'm not a Libertarian, but still think that markets are the best way to provide a lot of things.

> Why would government-sponsored software development be any worse than corporate-sponsored?

Let's see:

* Free rider problem goes global: everyone hopes some other country pays for useful stuff.

* Governments are not going to be as focused or concerned about niche businesses.

* Corruption. It becomes worthwhile to pay off politicians to have them choose your team.

* Calculation problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_calculation_problem

* The NSA. Think they're bad now?

The current market has problems, but I just don't see any evidence that moving software production to the government would be much of an improvement, and it might be a whole lot worse.


I'm curious, how do these problems appear in the core sciences, if at all? Since that is almost entirely government funded.

The results are mostly free and open once published. It's incredibly nichey; many scientists dedicate their lives to a very narrow area of study. Nobody, DARPA and the NSF included, is great at predicating what is going to bear fruit years down the line.

And yet science happens.

It's not subject to a crippling "free rider problem", even though the whole world benefits. It's not massively corrupted by bribery.

Are these just what industry folks say when they want to be subsidized by taxpayers? It's ok for core R&D to be publicly funded, but all these problems will emerge suddenly if they bring it to market, so that last mile has to be left to us.. and the profits too?


Limited time to write, but I'm not sure you fully digested the 'economic calculation problem' entry, and perhaps some associated things.

How do you know how much of something to produce? Sure, science happens. Enough? It's very difficult to say.

With a market, outside of big market failures, you can be reasonably sure that, roughly, enough of the right kind of a given good is produced because of the feedback mechanisms involved: South Korea has abundant food - more than enough to feed everyone. North Korea does not.

If the government were the sole purveyor of software, sure, it would still get written, but I think that not enough would, and that it would turn into a big ugly mess.


Presumably you don't think modern science is a "big ugly mess", yet you've failed to explain why the planning problem hasn't caused that. We could go a step further and ask how science would fare under a market system.

Or for that matter, high tech. Oh, you thought high tech isn't a product of a planned state-controlled economy?


> Oh, you thought high tech isn't a product of a planned state-controlled economy?

It isn't. The government is one actor, and certainly has many contributions - the Internet is a big, obvious one - but there are certainly a lot of private actors that count for something too. Apple, IBM, and Microsoft come to mind. So "product of a planned state-controlled economy" is what I would call either "science fiction" or "wildly inaccurate", just as I would say that "high-tech is entirely the result of the free market" lunacy as well.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001C6MQA8/?tag=dedasys-20 is a good book to read for some of the history of Silicon Valley. Private companies figure prominently in it.

> Presumably you don't think modern science is a "big ugly mess"

Actually, my wife does research at a university, and I very much do think there is a lot of messiness in science, and think it likely that it's vastly underfunded - in part due to the fact that it's difficult to bring market mechanisms into play for things like basic research.


I think the ransom model can help a lot in cases like this. Develop closed until the software is good enough and then negotiate a pay-day based on the future discounted value of the software, upon receiving the cash the software gets open-sourced.

This could work for other creative efforts as well.


People tried this out years ago and it never really worked out very well, but perhaps with stuff like Kickstarter, things will change.

Part of the problem with it is that it involves a lot of "make me think" on behalf of the acquirer, rather than simply "ok, I need this, the price seems ok, I'll buy it".


Blender?


Not that I advocate it, but just for a slightly clearer picture of what that world would look like: a situation where lack of copying restrictions leads to the government being the only one paying for development of software for distribution is a very different one than where "all software development [is left] in the hands of the government" - people would still build on what's there, and may hire people to adapt those solutions to particular needs. And of course that's ignoring the fact that you'd probably have a comparable amount of volunteer FLOSS development going on in general.


> A fundamental weakness in the free software argument is that it lacks a solid, broadly applicable proposal for remunerating the effort of software engineers.

This is the main reason why after a period on my life, where I was a strong FOSS advocate, nowadays I don't care that much what license a software has. I was anyway already living from coding, before discovering the FSF back in 1994.

It is easy to be a FOSS advocate when still living at the parent's home or as an university student. The problem starts when you want to make a living out of it.

That is why in the end, most desktop software is closed source and the majority of FOSS friendly companies that sell software, have moved it behind a SaaS paywall.

Still one can see how few people are willing to support FOSS developers, when looking at how much money they donate, or how quick someone comes up with a fork when money is asked for.


> It is easy to be a FOSS advocate when still living at the parent's home

Not this ridiculous, childish argument again. Your personal issues have nothing to do with FOSS advocacy.

There are many people who are paid exclusively (and well) to write FOSS. There are many more who contribute back to the products they use. The FOSS economy is vast, but difficult to see, largely because so few people pay directly for it, but it makes possible things like Google, Facebook, most of the Top 500 supercomputers, Android phones, most network appliances and so on. The list is much larger than would fit here.


Not everyone can or wants to work for those companies.

An Indie dev Bryan Lunduke, actually tried opensourcing his software and it didn't work.

http://lunduke.com/?p=4581

If opensource is going to succeed, it can't just be driven by large corporations with tons of money.


That is a terrible, cherry-picked example. One man's personal failure at finding a good business model is not representative of the entire philosophy.


Well, it was the only example that I could think of where a dev wanted to make a living from their software and offer it up as opensource.

So what is a viable model then? I build a kick-ass TODO list app or a casual game. I open source it. How do I make money from my efforts if I want to try and make this full time? This is not a service. I can't charge for support. Donations don't work. What else???


FOSS lacks one key aspect of the traditional software industry - it's never scarce. Any business model based on artificial scarcity will fail. If game development is what you are into and you want your game to be free you may charge for the game while releasing the code and retaining copyright of all non-code assets (visuals, music, sound effects etc).


>Still one can see how few people are willing to support FOSS developers, when looking at how much money they donate, or how quick someone comes up with a fork when money is asked for

Do you have any examples of forks being made due to someone asking for donations?

As for the problem of people getting paid to write open source software, I really don't think that the 'hiding the source code and selling binaries' method is the only viable option.

I also don't think people are unwilling to support FOSS developers, I think it's mainly a problem of convenience (as in payment) and exposure.

Things like Kickstarter helps a great deal here and I think this is a much untapped resource for funding FOSS development. One very successful venture was Openshot, an open source video editor (GPL licenced) which had a goal of $20.000 but which reached $45.000.

Granted we aren't in a situation where it's possible to make a full-time career out of developing open source software through Kickstarter style donations, but I think it's not such a big step as one might think.

I would happily pay a small sum each month for someone (or someone's) to work on FOSS software I use a lot, and I think a large number of people out there would do the same, atleast enough for someone to make a decent living out of it.

Again I believe the key aspect is to make the payment convenient/safe and of course have a way for projects to gain exposure.

Paying a small lump sum each month for continued free open source development of software you use/rely on for your work is in my book a much better long term solution than to pay a larger sum for the latest update of 'proprietary software X' where you are solely dependant on that provider and have to accept their conditions in terms of price/licencing not to mention the intrusive DRM mechanism which are a de facto part of proprietary software today.

Compare that to the FOSS situation where, given that the source code is open (and due to copyleft any forks will also remain open), you will never be locked-in to one provider and their whims even if you are totally dependant on that specific piece of software.

Anyway I'm not pretending that this is the 'perfect solution', but I dare say proprietary software certainly isn't (and I make a living off writing proprietary software and have for the past 8 years) and I think that a shift from relying on proprietary to instead relying on open source code is of great importance for many of the reasons RMS outlined. YMMV and all that.


>I would happily pay a small sum each month for someone (or someone's) to work on FOSS software I use a lot[...]

You're in luck. Gittip is exactly the model you are describing, and it's already active and supporting (in part) the works of hundreds of FOSS developers:

https://www.gittip.com/


Thanks, yes I knew about this though last time I checked (back around when it was announced I think) it seemed pretty dead (that exposure thing again) but now it seems to be picking up.

I guess it's time to have a look around to see if there are any developers there working on things that I'm interested in/relying on.

I do hope that in the future we'll see more developers who will offer less abstract development plans even though I realise that gittip is not comparable to the project specific type funding as with Kickstarter etc.


> Do you have any examples of forks being made due to someone asking for donations?

CentOS and MariaDB come to mind as two possible examples, that started as a means not to pay for the original projects.

> Compare that to the FOSS situation where, given that the source code is open (and due to copyleft any forks will also remain open), you will never be locked-in to one provider and their whims even if you are totally dependant on that specific piece of software.

This is exactly the problem when trying to make a living out of it.

While it is very convenient for the users, it does not guarantee that you as the author will get paid to work on it.

Tomorrow another guy might come along, fork the project and start getting the money instead.

The Android market is a prime example of this, where lots of apps are just plain forks, with the original authors getting nothing in return.


"CentOS and MariaDB come to mind as two possible examples, that started as a means not to pay for the original projects."

It is a stretch to even call CentOS a fork, and it is even more of a stretch to claim that Red Hat asks for donations. Red Hat charges for services, which include things like:

1. Maintaining binary packages so you do not have to try to track down dependencies by hand or subscribe to ten thousand mailing lists just to make sure your software is up to date.

2. Taking action when you file bug reports (how much you pay determines how fast that action is taken).

3. Sending people to your data center to help you get everything configured.

4. Get official ratings e.g. EAL4+, for those people who need their software to have such ratings.


>CentOS and MariaDB come to mind as two possible examples, that started as a means not to pay for the original projects

Well neither CentOS or MariaDB came to be because of 'asking for donations'. CentOS was forked from RHEL to be a subscription-free enterprise alternative and IS actually being funded by donations, which they ask for.

MariaDB is a fork created by the same person who created and then sold MySQL to Sun for $1 billion (which he was able to do due to MySQL having copyright attribution from all contributors).

I think these were at best very poor examples to support your statement.

>While it is very convenient for the users, it does not guarantee that you as the author will get paid to work on it.

True, it will be a competitive situation, however it's not very different from proprietary commercial development as you will need to continue to add features and improve performance etc, else users will turn to another application which does.

In open source it's extremely easy to fork (ie base upon existing code) however due to copyleft it won't be a fork with exclusive lock-in features as anything can be ported back, so in essence the payment will go to the person/persons who the end users think is providing the best value for their payment, again not unlike proprietary commercial development.

And in the tradition of open source software, I see no direct reason as for why developers can't consider sharing development and thus also the donations.

>The Android market is a prime example of this, where lots of apps are just plain forks, with the original authors getting nothing in return.

Well I think that is primarily a problem of original developers not creating Android versions of their open source applications to begin with, as such we are seeing opportunistic third-party developers creating quick ports of their software.

But is that really a bad thing? If the original programmers aren't interested in supporting the Android platform and someone else provides the service then I fail to see the harm (assuming of course that the licence is abided).

And I do think that when official projects enter the market place they will quickly gain the upper hand over third-party ports as not only are they again the 'official' version, but also I trust that they as core developers can typically adapt the original code better for Android use.

I also think we are slowly seeing more official Android ports of well known open source desktop software, VLC comes to mind.

Looking past whats already been discussed I'm sure there are viable venues which haven't yet been thought of, or at least given a fair chance.

One thing I forgot to highlight was the Valve Steam Workshop donation program which just recently resulted in enough money for two 6 month development contracts for working on Blender.

Again things like this makes me believe that exposure and ease of payment is the big hurdle, not that there's not enough people willing to donate for open software development.


> CentOS was forked from RHEL to be a subscription-free enterprise alternative and IS actually being funded by donations, which they ask for.

By people that did not want to pay RedHat for support.

> MariaDB is a fork created by the same person who created and then sold MySQL to Sun for $1 billion (which he was able to do due to MySQL having copyright attribution from all contributors).

Because they didn't want to pay Oracle for support.

> In open source it's extremely easy to fork (ie base upon existing code) however due to copyleft ...

Not all licenses require copyleft. With BSD, for example, I can take your work, modify it and sell it without giving you anything back.

> But is that really a bad thing? If the original programmers aren't interested in supporting the Android platform and someone else provides the service then I fail to see the harm (assuming of course that the licence is abided).

The forked applications were already in the Android market, they were mostly repacked and resold.

> One thing I forgot to highlight was the Valve Steam Workshop donation program which just recently resulted in enough money for two 6 month development contracts for working on Blender.

How many developers and what will they do after 6 months?

> Again things like this makes me believe that exposure and ease of payment is the big hurdle, not that there's not enough people willing to donate for open software development.

For example, to make a comfortable living in Germany, those donations need to be at least 40K € per year.


>By people that did not want to pay RedHat for support. >Because they didn't want to pay Oracle for support.

The reason MariaDB was started (according to the author, 'Monty') was because he didn't trust Oracle's intentions regarding the open source nature of MySQL once they bought it through their Sun acquisition.

This fear has been validated as Oracle is focusing on providing MySQL functionality through proprietary modules, with slow development of the open source part of Oracle's MySQL offering as a result.

Your original statement was about numerous forks made due to developers 'asking for donations'. Neither of these examples applies.

Not only that, but both your examples are actually funded through DONATIONS.

>Not all licenses require copyleft. With BSD, for example, I can take your work, modify it and sell it without giving you anything back.

Yes, the development model I described certainly lends itself best to copyleft style licencing.

>The forked applications were already in the Android market, they were mostly repacked and resold

Do you have any examples of Android ports done by the original developers which has then been repacked and resold, I'd like to compare the popularity between the official versions and the third-party versions.

>How many developers and what will they do after 6 months?

This is 2 developers, however their 6 month employment was entirely covered by the very first Valve donation payment so it's a good sign. Hopefully the donations will coninue which will allow for extension of the contracts and hopefully even more developers being contracted.

>For example, to make a comfortable living in Germany, those donations need to be at least 40K € per year

Again I'm not trying to portray this as a viable replacement for your typical commercial developer employment today, but as something which can hopefully be a viable way to fund full-time open source developers in a not too far off future.

I'm not blaming you for being negative, up until the rather recent explosion of crowd-funding through ventures like Kickstarter I was not particularly hopeful myself even though I've donated to successful projects like Blender which is entirely running on donations.

But now, slowly seeing more and more open source projects find funding on overall project or specific feature basis aswell as new venues of funding showing up like that of Valve's donation program and even smaller scope funding like gittip, the concept seems very promising to me.

Again, YMMV


> Do you have any examples of forks being made due to someone asking for donations?

Ubuntu


> Do you have any examples of forks being made due to someone asking for donations?

IIRC XChat / YChat is one off the top of my head


Must say I've never never heard of this issue.


I am a professional software engineer working full time and making quite a decent living at it. I believe quite a bit that the AGPL3 or other strong copyleft licenses are the moral high road and would be quite happy to work on products using AGPL3.

In terms of monetization, I believe hosted SaaS AGPL3 solutions where companies offer support and maintenance is a reasonably viable business model. I am reasonably sure that B2B "enterprise" sales could be AGPL3 without significantly impinging upon cash flow. Generally it seems that enterprises are buying business solutions, not software; they are paying for the assurance that stuff works.


exactly. this is the model I'm using, and while it's not quite making me a living yet, it seems to be heading that way. :-)


... has not yet delivered things like... Github

http://gitlab.org/

Open source software alone can't spin up hardware. It makes sense to pay someone for providing a physical service.

Github is getting paid already for developing what will someday influence a definitive open-source interface to git and collaboration.

Photoshop is really nice software. The GIMP is too, and perpetually improving. Closed-source programs are sometimes the vanguard to show the world that a particular idea is important and useful. Any sufficiently useful closed-source program will be cloned into open source in today's environment.

15-20 years ago, the world had a plethora of closed-source options for a gui-based OS. These days, open-source offerings compete on near-equal footing.

It's almost as easy as typing:

apt-get install debian

on any keyboard anywhere to get access to a functional GNU/Linux system. A lot of closed-source programmers earned a lot of money showing us what features of that system have mass appeal.

Is a government-funded public cloud not beholden to the government which funds it?


I think you are overly optimistic, LibreOffice remains less functional than Office 97 and GIMP is a study in bad GUI design - not to mention the rest of the Creative Suite being missing in action. I was recently shocked to learn that I can't rotate text inside a table. Also LibreOffice at one point included the full source code of Thunderbird, some OSS is well written but I am not convinced that it is better at the architecture level when compared to Microsoft's offerings.

After 15-20 years the OpenSource user-land remains confusingly fragmented. Multiple monitors are a pain and applications don't have the understanding of full-screen. Working with icons on the desktops was hard, so now we have launchers, and now we are doing away with the desktop all together - my theory being that drag-able icon interaction was too hard to implement. Distro's are fragmented by their philosophies on software rather then their GUI's - resulting in horrible user experiences. Why the hell does Linux mint come in so many flavors?

Drivers remain a problem, I recently had to recompile modify the kernel because my elan mouse was being detected incorrectly. Ubuntu has made large leaps but I have noticed that their GUI burns power and shutters on systems that are about 5 years old. Also, remember when computers could hibernate?

But, I use Gentoo for work, 'cause kcachegrind is good. I think OSS has delivered something unique to its users but it is whole different from a general purpose operating system like Windows.

I think the comparison between Latex and Word is a good comparison between he OpenSource and propriety world.

When people speak to highlight the progress of OSS I am tempted to ask:

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?

How many years do I have to wait?


> GIMP is a study in bad GUI design

Whenever I've asked people to provide concrete examples of this, their issue has been that they expect the UI to be a 1:1 clone of whatever application they're used to (usually Photoshop) and so they don't know how to do some things, or can't operate smoothly enough as they haven't taken the time to grow muscle memory comparable to what they have with Photoshop.

I'm not a big fan of GIMP, but I want to scream of frustration on the occassion that I have to work with Photoshop (which I don't know well at all).


I don't like the ideas of floating control panels everywhere. They tend to distract, I find myself constantly needing to open and close them and they also occupy a lot of space. The issue has existed for dozens of years, finally the folks at GIMP appear to have sobered up and are working on a single-window mode http://www.gimp.org/release-notes/gimp-2.8.html


Yes, the SDI vs. MDI debate has been a popular and flamy one. It's also a rather subjective issue, and preference depends on what you're used to, what window manager you run (and how you're using it's features), etc. GIMP used to get bashed a lot for this UI choice, but the haters often forget that Photoshop (originally Mac software) defaults (or at least used to, and I believe it still does?) to SDI in the Apple land.

I'm glad that those who want MDI have finally stepped up and implemented it. Recently I've been using a tiling window manager that doesn't deal particularly well with floating windows. Now I have the choice.


"what window manager you run (and how you're using it's features)"

Right, exactly. I've found that starting GIMP in ratpoison is a little glitchy - two windows spend time competing for a single frame until I pull one of them into another frame - but once I've done that I quite like the experience of using GIMP in ratpoison.


In the context of this discussion, GIMP wins. You (or a group of users) are "free" to create an alternative interface for GIMP. The rest of the features of GIMP are readily available to be integrated.

The GP on the other hand is forced to use the exact same interface that Adobe prescribes for Photoshop. Moreover, if Adobe shuts down tomorrow, it is the end of the road for Photoshop development.


One that I've hit recently is that an open colour picker window prevents quit from doing anything. It also doesn't show the colour picker window, so I don't know why GIMP isn't quitting, just that pressing a common key combination (cmd+q) doesn't work for no good reason (colour picking is not an operation that needs to block quitting).


What an appalling Gish gallop. Well, as usual, the only thing to do is point out the first wrong thing. Conveniently, everything you said was wrong, so I can just pick the first clear statement you made: you can rotate text within a table.


http://ask.libreoffice.org/en/question/3990/how-to-rotate-in...

also

https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=48804

--edit, not sure why links to the bugzilla describing the issue are giving me downvotes...

--edit 2 : I actually hit this bug when making a flyer, the bottom had little flaps with our groups email. It broke PowerPoint compatibility, and I had to reboot into Windows.

--edit 3: You made laugh when you mentioned that "You can't invert the text quite so easily, you have to draw a rectangle with text in which can then be rotated any arbitrary degree." That sums up whats wrong with many user side facing programs. Too bad LibreOffice doesn't support pipes :-)


Probably because both those links specifically say you can rotate text 90 and 270 degrees. You can't invert the text quite so easily, you have to draw a rectangle with text in which can then be rotated any arbitrary degree.

Next time you trawl bug reports looking for anti-Linux material, try reading them more carefully.


Did you just equate Linux with OSS?


No.


"I can't rotate text inside a table". My memory is perhaps wrong, but I thought it was possible earlier in openoffice than in word. For information, in the menu "Paragraph style", you have a tab "Position" where you can select the "Rotation / scaling" "90 degrees".


I think OSS has delivered a lot of excellent products but the issue that remains unsolved is the UX side. UX is critical in mobile devices. A bad designed interface makes you switch to another application beyond the product features included.


As for text acrobatics, I doubt anything can beat LaTeX, which is free as in freedom AND free beer.


LaTex is awesome, period. But the learning curve is too high for common documents, which is fine because it was designed to be a great typesetting, not a word processor.

On the other hand, Word is great too, I wouldn't write a book on it but most of the time I am not writing books, as for free alternatives to Word, I find them sufficient but I would rather pay 10$ per month to use word and excel than work around libre office and its limitations.


> Any sufficiently useful closed-source program will be cloned into open source in today's environment.

That is a parasitic and unsustainable model. Even if you could find enough volunteers to copy the work of every bit of successful commercial software, that original design and development work still needs to be funded.

Other commenters have noted the quality situation of many of the cloner projects out there. Even cloning takes work and sustainable, quality work needs remuneration.


"A fundamental weakness in the free software argument is that it lacks a solid, broadly applicable proposal for remunerating the effort of software engineers."

Quick counterexample: the many thousands of programmers whose job is to adapt or maintain free software for the organizations that use it. That includes people working for small companies, large companies, the government (civilian and military), non-profits, political campaigns, etc., etc., etc. It is almost never the case that any software package meets all its intended users' needs, and someone needs to adapt the software when that happens.

"without a clear mechanism for producing free software it's little more than a letter to santa claus"

Clearly such a mechanism exists, as free software is very important and widely used.

"My impression is that FSF tends to focus on volunteerism and heroics"

Hm...

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html


That bit from GNU on charging whatever you want for distribution of free software is, frankly, a disingenuous argument.

Ask any book or music publisher: you can't expect to profit much from distribution if you can always get the same thing for free next door. If you get anything, it pretty much amounts to a donation.

I think we all know that here.

Yes, you're right that there are organizations that subsidize free software development. But this is not a broadly applicable mechanism, in the commercial sector at least. Not every commercial company can pursue a leveraged approach.

This is exactly why I suggested a government-funded direction.

Free software is certainly widely used, but it pales in comparison to non-free software. Hence the previous poster's complaint about the lack of a competitive free Google Docs, AWS, etc.


"Ask any book or music publisher: you can't expect to profit much from distribution if you can always get the same thing for free next door. If you get anything, it pretty much amounts to a donation."

Lies. Using music as an example, look at Spotify (or Itunes or whatever) as an example vs. downloading mp3s for free.

I'm aware this is anecdotal evidence, but I haven't downloaded any music for years due to Spotify being so convenient to use. Neither have any of the people I know.

I strongly believe that given a superior distribution model, money will follow.


> "It helps explain why the free software community has not yet delivered things like Google Docs, Github and AWS."

I'd bet that each of those has benefitted hugely due to FOSS. I might even go so far as to say they wouldn't exit at all without it (though I don't know what underlies Google Docs).

FOSS is great for things 'under the hood' but very few things in the mainstream are FOSS throughout. I find that interesting, as it's indicative of the different pressures in open-source vs closed-commercial environments (remuneration is one such issue).


One reason would be that (particularly in light of some govt agendas revealed recently) that govt funding would inevitably steer and even corrupt the development of FOSS.

There's even talk about how the NSA, who contributes to open cryptography standards, may have been deliberately placing vulnerabilities in said standards.


> It lacks a solid, broadly applicable proposal for remunerating the effort of software engineers.

How about this: abolish capitalism. I mean, sure, I agree with you: under capitalism, where people are denied access to the necessities of life (food and shelter) unless they sell their labour to capitalists in exchange for money, it's difficult for people to find the time to fully commit to developing free software. The solution to this is to abolish the system that denies people access to the necessities of life. And this is not crazy: people already live in houses (and for the ones that don't, there are tonnes of empty houses that nobody is using). Food literally grows on trees (unlike money). There's no good reason why everybody couldn't automatically have a place to live and enough food to eat without having to pay rent to some capitalist. I wish more free software advocates understood the more radical implications of the free software argument (and as you say, the same goes for anti-copyright advocates) rather than pretending that it's ultimately compatible with capitalism. It isn't, and we shouldn't want it to be either.


a lot changes under a non-capitalist, socialist banner... a lot

societies don't do well with big change.. there should be something more gradual to aim for


Basic Income?


Why not steer the FSF troops towards advocating direct government funding for free software projects and services like a public cloud?

"Government funds" come out of people's paychecks. What you're asking for is that everyone be forced to contribute to projects that you approve of, regardless of whether those people value those projects or not. I can't see a valid reason why someone that doesn't know about, need or want "free" software should be obligated to pay for it. What about their own needs, desires, goals and concerns? People need to be left free to keep the money they earn so that they can better their lives and pursue the things that matter to them.

I really like sports cars - I like them a lot. I think they're inspiring to look at, fun to drive, and I could make the argument that there are a lot of people, ranging from children to the elderly, that feel the same way about them. Each of us would love to own, maintain, collect, restore and design new sport cars. Generally speaking, love of these things is connected with all sorts of other interests, including science, math and engineering, art (sculpting, photography, etc.) Just like software, albeit to a lesser extent, sports cars have have some arguable "public benefit" (i.e., a concrete benefit for a finite, delimited subset of individuals in society).

Now imagine that we came up with some kind of government program would shower sports cars on anyone that applied for them. Why should my aunt - who barely drives - be forced to subsidize my sports car hobby, at the expense of her own desire to travel on a cruise ship to Alaska while she still can? (She is 79 years old.)

At this point, maybe you'd say, "Well, software benefits everyone far more than cars do. After all, even people that don't use computers at all benefit from the improved efficiency (lower prices, increased quality, etc.) that computers bring to our economy. So all we're doing here is recouping costs from free riders."

I don't have the space to do much more than to hint at the answer. This is by no means exhaustive, but one fundamental issue is this:

When you say, "benefit," what do you mean? In my view, a thing is not ultimately beneficial to a person unless they come to see for themselves how it is a benefit to their lives, via their own independent judgement. Sure, identifying what's good for other people is fine. But then insisting that they agree with you if and when they do not actually agree subverts their independent judgement, which is the very thing required to produce and select the things needed to improve their own lives. No one should be compelled to eat a meal that wipes out their olfactory bulb and tastebuds.


> What you're asking for is that everyone be forced to contribute to projects that you approve of

That already happens. Such projects include the Internet, microprocessors, airplanes, voice recognition, robots, lasers, satellite view, highways, engines, the assembly line method of production, and many, many more. Except of course it's not projects I approve, it's projects the government approves.

The question is not whether the government should be funding things -- that's already the case.

The question is how much control should investors have over their investments. And in the case of our high tech economy, taxpayers are the biggest investors.


Absent copyright, developing things that are non-excludable is a collective action problem. Just about everyone agrees that government is an appropriate venue for some of these (frequently defense, policing, roads, schools). You can draw your particular line where you want, of course, but I reject the notion that there is a clear, morally motivated hard line that everyone should obviously subscribe to between any of these things and other projects. Government is how we coordinate certain kinds of efforts that won't permit individual opting out but which (hopefully) benefit us on the whole.


Our governments already pay for software. In fact, they already pay for custom software (you can imagine that large packages "off-the-shelf" need a lot of custom work.) Why couldn't a requirement be that that software be released as libre?

Could a government insist that, if they did fund a next-generation sports car (humvee, armored vehicle, sedan, motorcycle, bicycle) that the schematics and designs of that car be released in a libre fashion? Using libre formats?


They could certainly insist on that. The company would likely charge more in some cases because they'd know they could not recoup anything from selling whatever to others. With copyrights, sometimes you can say "ok, it's going to cost X", knowing that you can sell the exact same thing to others at X or close to it. Without that, you have to make all your money from the first sale.

Granted, this is not true in all cases, there are exceptions, and so on, but the logic of it makes sense to me.


> In my view, a thing is not ultimately beneficial to a person unless they come to see for themselves how it is a benefit to their lives, via their own independent judgement.

Vaccines.

Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about how they don't have polio.

Not having polio benefits you even if you don't think about it. Your being vaccinated against it benefits me even if neither of us think about it.

I'd argue not having polio is "ultimately beneficial to a person" regardless of their beliefs about value.


Jeebus, I jumped the shark by upvoting you after reading only the first three paragraphs (internet attention span, I know), but the last two make me want to double-downvote you. You seriously want government to spend even more, and on funding some people's hobbies FFS? Why not give handouts to, let's say, cabinet makers, to make beautiful furniture for everybody who wants it but doesn't want to pay for it? Talking about cognitive dissonance...


"A fundamental weakness in the free software argument is that it lacks a solid, broadly applicable proposal for remunerating the effort of software engineers."

I'm workin' on it...


It's not enough to earn money. Technology markets are a winner takes all market, so you have to make enough money to be the winner.


Frustrating? Are you fucking serious?

How god damned magical is it that not only do all of these things exist but that they are cheap and easy to access. The many, many, many orders of magnitude increase in productivity and possibilities enabled by software in the last 50 years is beyond astounding.

It's not frustrating. It's AMAZING.


I don't believe he said that the services themselves are frustrating, but rather the fact that we rely on individual providers (with proprietary implementations) of these services so much.


And my, how these golden handcuffs glitter!


False analogy. For the average person, these things add more freedom (freedom to tinker) while removing the freedom to look at the source. For example, most scientists don't care about the latter when it comes to using Matlab.

A honest analogy would be a golden rocket.


"I wonder if, in practice, so many of these frustrations would have been alleviated if we, as an industry, had adopted the "impractical" view of insisting on using only free software."

We'd live in a world with a lot less software and where computing was restricted to hobbyists. Propietary software exists for a reason, and its not because the world is run by the selfish and evil.

I love free software, too, but the thing to remember, and this is true for any discipline -- a massive amount of people will support something because they have the incentive to get money from it. A lot of people love programming, but a lot of people love money even more, and if the geniuses who went to Harvard and Stanford and UC Berkeley decided that they could make much more money in biotechnology or surgery, then that's one less Microsoft or Google in the world that's bad for us users. If these people loved programming more than money, their software wouldn't be proprietary. It's much much easier to make money off proprietary software than free software. Yes, there is dual-licensing and support and donations, but ultimately you cannot directly and legally charge users, your biggest market, to use your program; this logic is supported by some evidence: recently Red Hat reached a billion dollar valuation, making it the most valuable company to be majorly devoted to free software. That's amazing. Bill Gates on his own is worth $56B, though.

I think most people, and most people encompasses the people that make the proprietary software that we rely on most, look for money first and idealism next. We'd have RMS's work and some of the early MIT and UCB hacker's work without the incentive of money, but to get so far as multibillion dollar companies that produce programs 99% of us are reliant on? Impossible without the incentive of money.


Money isn't only incentive. It also measures the peoples needs. "Do my clients need XXX?" correlates with "Do my clients will pay $$$ for XXX?". For organisation, replacing the need by the money allow to take explainable decision. Fame, power, influence or passion are far less easier to measure than money.


I think you are looking at it wrongly. Most would look at this and say "How wonderful it is that we can use these things to do X."

Honestly, no one put a gun to your head to use Matlab. No one prevented anyone from creating libre free Matlab.

For some reason I think someone was incentivized with something, not sure what it was, to create such a useful system for doing numerical analysis.

You say you've spent your "professional" life doing these migrations ... Do you regret the money you've made? =)

I mean working with proprietary formats has issues but I don't think it is always intentional vendor lockin.

As far as the integrating payment systems and github etc etc ... It makes wonder if you're under the impression that there are no integration issues with free software systems??


You're forgetting that it may seem like no one put a gun to our heads to use Matlab, if you're in school - you're required to use it. The same goes for MS Office, Visio, and hundreds of other programs. Can you imagine how good Octave, LibreOffice or any other open source application would be, if instead of forcing users to buy proprietary versions of software schools and/or students were required to donate just 1% of the cost of proprietary software to open source alternative?


> Do you regret the money you've made? =)

I'm not the OP but I do these sort of grinding transitions from one proprietary system to another in project after project.

Yes it pays my salary but it is mind-numbing, soulless work that offers no intellectual stimulation or prospect for technical learning.

So I regret that it is what I have to do to make money.


So, do you think if these proprietary systems didn't exist, you would be able to do more interesting work, or not have a job at all, or just spend your time on writing scripts that convert file formats between version2.forka of database software x and version48.forkb of software x?

If you find your work mind-numbing, maybe you should have a look at yourself and find other work, rather than blaming others for the problems in your life. (ooh those evil software companies, they make me work a job where I get to sit on my ass in an office all day and still get paid double (/triple/ten times, depending on where you live) the median salary).


This point struck home with his mention of education: how frustrating it is that so much of it lives in, say, Matlab, as compared to any other numerical package!

Check out GNU Octave:

www.octave.org

It's not Matlab (particularly toolboxes), but for day-to-day work, it's fine, and it will run a lot of *.m files. All of my thesis data analysis is done in Octave. I could choose Matlab (we have a site license), but I want anyone in the world to be able to check my work exactly.


"but I want anyone in the world to be able to check my work exactly."

The problem is not that they can't, the problem is they don't want to. Solve the real problems first before worrying about imaginary ones. (this is one of the main flaws in most of GNU rhetoric, btw, and I say this as someone who 10 years ago made the 'access to source code is a moral right' argument and actually believed it).


Once you solved "real problems" you made a lot of choices you're going to regret. But it's too late.

We have enough solutions for real problems but few good ones. Good enough is not good enough. Time to think up front.


I've no illusion that most people will never be interested in my source. For the 2-10 people that are, being able to duplicate my working environment may be of great use.


I too believe that our civilization should be build on free software and I think the best existing financing solution is crowdfunding. The idea is based on free market capitalism and while it has been around for a while we now know that it works. Kickstarter has demonstrate that it can not only raise millions to finance hardware development and commercial games [2] but also substantial money for free software [3]. I truly believe that at this point, all we need is to propagate this idea and help FOSS developers to crowdfund their projects. Once a project has collected enough money for a first working version, subsequent development can be financed by donations, support or merchandizing. Major updates could again be financed over crowd funding.

[1] http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper... [2] http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/659943965/planetary-anni... [3] http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeyh/git-annex-assistan...


It's hard to get cheapskates to pay $.99 for an app, let alone donate -- at least not at a level to compensate for a company to make any money or even pay the bills. When clothing stores start operating as donationwear then maybe donationwaring the software industry could follow.

The problem is that many people fail to see software as an actual product that needs to be produced. Hopefully Ducati can lead the way with a donation-sponsored business model. Maybe that could illustrate the free-rider principle more clearly.


> many people fail to see software as an actual product that needs to be produced

True, but many is not all, by far. Star Citizen (a software product) raised over 19 million dollars [1] in crowdfunding! Way more than .99$ per app and yes, it does make enough money to compensate for a company.

And FOSS is already developed today and will be in the future, based on donations in terms of money and time as well as other income sources like support and merchandise. Just like I stated in my post.

The difference between the traditional donation model and the newer crowd funding model, ala Kickstarter, is that there is a clear feedback to the supporter. To me this is a game changer. When I spend money on, say, git-annex (which raised over 25,000 USD!) I know that the project won't get build in the proposed form if the goal is not reached and there are clearly defined stretch goals as well. Depending on the amount I also get a corresponding rewards, e.g. my name in the credits or special merchandise articles. Its also great feedback for the developer. If they can't raise the money they know that there time might be better spend on something else.

I'm really surprised that seemingly every commercial business is getting crazy about Kickstarter now, but so few FOSS proponents see the appeal.

PS: What is Ducati? Google only shows the motorcycle brand.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_citizen


Here's the thing: Kickstarter is one of those SaaSS systems that RMS was arguing against.

Idealism gives you a target but not a roadmap. As others here have said without Propietary software much of what we have in software just wouldn't exist. Kickstarter wouldn't exist. If the whole world were full of enough people who shared RMS's Ideals then his Ideals would be workable. It's a bootstrapping problem. And RMS spends so much time complaining about the bootstrapping that it sounds like he'd rather not get there all if that's what it takes.

Maybe that's not what he actually thinks but that's how he comes across.

Me? I do want to get there and I'm willing to bootstrap to do so.


> Kickstarter is one of those SaaSS systems that RMS was arguing against.

I upvoted your post, but this statement misses the point. How does it matter if Kickstarter is SaaS? The hardware that RMS software runs on isn't free either, neither are his tea bags. Maybe, it would be good if these things were free as well, but I think thats not what we are discussing here.

> idealism gives you a target but not a roadmap

I thought I had spelled out quite a detailed and realistic road map in my last post, no?

> As others here have said without Propietary software much of what we have in software just wouldn't exist

True. Maybe it will always stay this way, maybe it would change if more FOSS was funded by 'crowds'. Git-annex for example is quite innovative I would say. But again, that misses the point a bit. We would like to have the software we rely on to be free. Where the original innovation came from is less important in my opinion - as long as it sustainable. Let me know, if one day innovation dies out because FOSS is eating the launch of commercial software. I can't imagine this ever happening.

I am not advocating that we should not pay for commercial software any more. Just saying we should do our best to fund more FOSS, especially for core technologies like kernels, developer tools, file sharing, communication etc. So for instance, you could pay Dropbox for their service but also donate to something like git-annex. In the long term git-annex might be cheaper and better so it would pay off.

In my opinion, crowdfunding with a pay-upfront mechanism (ala Kickstarter) is THE answer to one of THE major problems of the 21st century: How can we compensate creators for information that is no more under their control once released?^

This applies to software, hardware designs, movies, music records and books.

^ Note that an alternative solution that has been proposed is DRM and even police state like laws. That alone makes it a very important problem for everyone.


Nonsense, we don't depend on Excel for pivot tables, lots of other software can do that, likewise we don't depend on github, AWS or any of the other examples. This is total hogwash.


I don't think Github belongs on that list.


Last I checked Github itself is neither open source nor free.


It's a service designed around a free and open protocol, the other examples are binary software packages. You can use any local git repository as a drop-in replacement. Github is neither a dependency nor a walled garden for most people, but the other software on that list definitely is. Git is the tool people use, Github is just a public repository. There is no question that Github is itself closed source, but it doesn't really share key attributes with the other examples mentioned either.


People are getting very dependent on Github workflows beyond just the act of being a git repository. If all you need is a remote git repo, use gitorious, it is open source.

No, people use github for the social features, the wiki, the issue tracker, comments, etc. These features are not portable, and as a result if github went down, your entire workflow suffers.


Every single bit of which can be replaced with Gitlab, and in some cases, Gitlab has more and better features.


His point was that people could use bare git without github, but many use Github, which isn't free according to three of the four freedoms RMS lists in the essay [1], no matter how much we hackers might love it. Lots of people love Excel, too, but that doesn't make it free software.

[1] Github:

    (0) freedom to run the program as you wish - YUP
    (1) freedom to study & change the source - NOPE
    (2) freedom to make and distribute exact copies - NOT SO MUCH
    (3) freedom to make and distribute copies of your modified versions - NO


Sure, and I can eat Ramen noodles instead prime rib but I don't see how that's relevant. Github provides a service: hosting, a "community," etc.

This isn't the same kind tyranny as presumably binary distributed software. Right? That should be obvious, unless I am losing my mind.


It's actually worse: you don't heave the freedom to use old versions when they push out an update, and you may lose access to it completely for any number of reasons, including 'we don't like you'. Granted, part of this lack of freedom is fair due to hosted services being different from just plain software, but the power over the users are there nonetheless.


Again, and I mean this in a nice way, how are your complaints remotely relevant? I'm really trying to understand...?

So if someone builds me a house and I pay them ... Is it immoral for them to have built the house without being some kind indentured servant to me for the rest of their lives doing whatever I want for whatever reason ...

That seems like a weird thing to say, but what you're saying is just as silly. Should I have access to unlimited resources from this builder and if they do not consent to my demands then they tyrants?

It's a service that I pay for and I have agreed to conditions of said service and I can choose to stop paying if I am not happy or I can sue if I feel the terms have not been met. I don't see the problem but I do see clearly the alternative is charity.

Someone else responded, a user jszz on this thread and said something crazy about Germany and how we need become a self-sufficient commune. I'm not sure what it meant and I'm not sure that anyone that holds this view knows what they mean. =(


> how we need become a self-sufficient commune

Stallman always talks about community.

I don't really know anything about you, but I couldn't really understand the free software movement until I got that we are not advancing software as a community.

We are more like thousands of egotistical entities, the great majority in a "consumer" behavior, using software that someone (the "producer") writes and only he/she has the right and the capabilities to read and change.

In your house analogy, it was like someone (let's call her "Sarah") built a house for you, but in a way that you could not build a new room, fix the plumbing or even get your stuff out of it by yourself. Instead, you had to call Sarah, who would then decide if it was worth her time, and what should be the price.

You could just move to a new house with just your personal items and furnish it all over again, but as we inhabit bigger and bigger digital mansions, we can't escape the fate of always losing lots of things when we want to change. This situation may even coerce us to never change at all, even though there are so many fucking problems with this damn house.

I feel this is getting too metaphorical, so I'll end up here. When Stallman's point gets into your head, you see that this is just an instance of a more abstract class of problems with our societies (he has a wide range of controversial opinions outside software world). It really is about being part of a community.


In this analogy, they don't give you the blueprints for the house, and it's not available upon request. Wanna drill a hole in the wall to hang a picture? Better hire the same contractor or risk drilling into pipes or wires. Is the contractor no longer in the market? Well, tough luck!

Github provides an amazing service, but it's closed source SaaS.


But unlike many SaaS source-control sites, all your data on github is fairly easily available for bulk download via their APIs... It would of course be annoying to move to a different site, simply because any change in familiar tooling can be annoying, but it's quite doable to automatically migrate everything over.

I think github seems to have been fairly careful toeing the line, and I don't get the sense of being locked in the way I do with some other sites. They appear to be content to compete on the basis of usability and ease of collaboration, not lockin.


In what respect do you have more control with a service than with a binary?


Ummm why can't you just install your own git, wiki, etc from open source if you desire?


Ah yes, the 'I like these people's marketing, they must be good' method of lulling one's cognitive dissonance to sleep.


Isn't it weird to refer to Github or any other company providing a service as "not open source" or "not free" in a libre software sense?

What is the alternative for you all? Charity? I'm being serious.


Take a look at Newsblur: There's a free tier, or you can pay for hosting, but at the end of the day the sources[0] for the software you're using are freely available so if the service fails, or the author makes changes you don't like, or you find yourself needing customisations that aren't appropriate for the author to provide, you can keep using the software by hosting it yourself or finding someone else to host it for you.

[0]: https://github.com/samuelclay/NewsBlur

You might also find the Franklin Street Statement[1] to be an interesting read -- it tries to set out a useful collection of ideas for services that respect the users' freedoms.

[1]: http://autonomo.us/2008/07/14/franklin-street-statement/


The alternative is for the whole US to strive for actually being the alternative; the self sufficient decentralized yet United States. If Germany, Singapore, China and Japan provided alternatives, while we continue to hold on to old ways, like: not investing as much into energy efficiency, or thinking outside the box like Germany -> we will lose to white labeled and foreign hosted OSS. To solve this we would need a social market economy [0] or at least a mandate to tax for fractionally financed civic OSS, open hardware (self sufficient micro servers), data, and R&D.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_market_economy


I'm really struggling to understand what this means ... It doesn't makes sense. Can you help?

This thing you are talking about United States and this and that ... It is some kind of alternative to Github or hosted services?

I don't know if it makes sense ... Oh wait how would these governments get money to support all charity?


I knew I went too off topic...What I mean by Singapore is the mandated efficient renewable buildings, Germany: it's social market economy and how they are paying people for energy, China: it's investment in renewable energy, Japan: the same. The alternative of a centralized structure is a decentralized or hybrid one. The equipment for what I suggested in other terms would have to be treated as a public good, taxed by the services it provides or as a government subsidized one. Which as an efficient microserver: communication, entertainment, and the option to subscribe to private services. The ideology here is getting the most people to use a box by paying for them to maintain it. The box just happens to be energy efficient to the point where one can exchange selling their excess electricity or storage for private services / nodes / other microservers. Another form of continuing this route is to be able to use energy, storage, or cpu / gpu as a currency or collateral. Also if one decides to give up control of their servers for hosting, or scientific research one can. It's this idea we're trying to evangelize at r/Nucleus.

I believe freeing software will eventually free the regulation on transactions, energy, and communications. Something like a government subsidized team that controls a vagrant-mesos-docker for connecting CJDNS nodes (the SaaSS). Time Warner cable and all of these other companies who don't run OSS are stopping the digital divide and prohibiting peer communications. WebRTC and websockets are enough!

The topic should be on why BSD software is more important right now than GPL. Since we're talking about freedom.


Don't bother making sense of extremist blabbering. I used to try to reason with religious fanatics, people who believed in homeopathics or quackery like ear candles, socialists, etc., on the basis of 'everybody has their right to an opinion' and 'it might be true'. And those two are still true, but the right answer to those two assumptions is 'yes but not all of them are equal', and 'the onus of proof is on those with prima facie extraordinary claims'.

Don't get sucked into arguing on a rational basis with people whose sole method of conviction is appeal to emotion and looking profound through obscurity.


I'm here to disprove my convictions and find the correct answers if something is not possible. Not to boost my ego. You could have easily said don't waste your time: he doesn't know 100% what he's talking about.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_AGPL_web_applications

I am not saying Github should distribute their source, but Github and their fans should stop the "holier than thou" attitude.


It's a service, doesn't really fall into the same category as software you install on your machine (which you trust). You have no reason to trust their servers, but ultimately you're not giving them control over your hardware anyway.


I love github, but as it is not open source there's no point pretending it doesn't share some of the frustrations that closed-source software bring. Out of all the software I use day-to-day it is the only one that regularly has me thinking "I wish I could change this, or look for an issue or PR discussing changing it". I want mathjax support!


I would highly encourage anyone who hasn't heard Richard Stallman speak before to look up a few interviews with him before reading this article. This article is written exactly how he speaks, so the tone and cadence are much more dynamic if you have the proper background.

I have to say that Stallman very recently inspired me to start contributing to open source projects. A few weeks ago, I made my first (one word, lol) contribution to an open source project on Github. As minor of a fix as my code was, it felt really great to be part of something like that. It also caused me to do a lot of introspection: I found myself, up until that point, becoming flat-out bored with "consuming" content. I now find myself, rather than frequenting (ok, I still frequent) HN, looking for open questions on StackOverflow to answer or finding open source projects to contribute to. I wonder if that's a sign that, eventually, communities like Reddit and HN will be usurped by social media sites that focus less on consumption and more on contribution. Based on my recent experiences with contribution, I strongly encourage everyone else to do the same; it's really a much more rewarding way to procrastinate!


That is good to know RMS inspired you. Just a suggestion, instead of contributing to "open source" projects, look for "free software" projects.


I understand that "free software" is what RMS prefers, but why is it better to contribute projects using that terminology? Aren't most open source projects also free software projects, even if they don't call themselves that? Isn't contributing to free software a good thing, regardless of what it calls itself?


First, I think it is great that you contribute to open source projects! However:

> Aren't most open source projects also free software projects, even if they don't call themselves that?

No, I don't think that would be correct --- if you agree that there is a difference between free software and open source (and I think there is).

Free software takes steps to protect the rights and freedom of [edit: all of] its users, both "first generation" (those you directly distribute software to), and "later generations" (those that might get a copy, or modified copy via one or more intermediaries).

So, a project can't be rightly called free software (as opposed to "just" open source) unless it is distributed under a licence that takes steps to protect its users (which in general would mean (A|L)GPL).

Now, there are probably a few projects that might call themselves "open source" (or not use the term free software), but still use such a licence -- but I don't think they are in the majority.

In particular, a lot of software that is free on the surface, isn't as free as it probably should be; namely server side software that is licensed under (L)GPL rather than AGPL. Or rather, it is licensed with the "user" being a server operator or business, not an "end user". This facilitates services that lock in your email, chats, blog posts, social relationships etc, without (necessarily) giving the end user a "way out".

I'm far from the point where I recommend everything should be AGPL -- but if we are talking about end user freedom, then there's a lot of software projects that do very little to protect that -- and in that sense, probably shouldn't be considered free software.


The FSF is happy to consider projects under permissive free licenses (MIT, BSD, APL, MPL) to be free software. Perhaps not ideally-licensed software, but they have no problem calling them free software.


True. I didn't really mean for my comment to be a normative standard for what is considered "free software", more to highlight how one might differentiate "open" and "free".

As for the licences you list, I'd say that MIT, BSD and APL belong together as "different" from GPL, while the MPL is much closer to the GPL.


Could you name any well-known open-source project that is not free in your view? I hope you won't suggest SQLite, which is in the public domain.


qmail and djbdns from before the public domain switch.


Minix? (Before v3)


That would actually be an example of something that is open, but does little to ensure end-user freedom.

Please note that I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that as such -- just that -- if we're talking about whether or not software is licensed in a way that ensures end user freedom or not, then putting software in the public domain is not an effective way to do that.

One could take the sqlite source, modify it (to break file format comparability) and build something like fossil[1] -- but where the client software depends on a server side component ("fossilhub"), and then keep both the client and server proprietary.

Now, anyone using this service would be locked in to using the proprietary clients and servers. It'd be difficult to modify the client, and difficult to migrate your data out -- and if the company that hosted the server shut down, it would take the data with it.

Obviously, sqlite being in the public domain, doesn't dictate this (see the actual fossil software for a counter example). But on a spectrum, if something is released under the (A)GPL, and the licence is followed, end user lock in as a result of building on that software is less likely. The licence does a better job of protecting end user freedom.

Would I say that sqlite, in general, isn't free software? Probably not. Would I call it "more free" if it was under the (L)GPL -- maybe. With libraries, how you define such things is tricky -- because the intended (end) user is different.

When you release something like sqlite, you want both the developer user, and the end user to have freedoms. You might want to enable the developer to restrict the end users freedoms -- and that is fine -- but calling such a licence "more free" just because it shifts which type of users' freedoms it protects, doesn't sit quite right with me.

As an example, one could take pretty much any software under the BSD licence, or say the whole of a BSD system. Because it facilitates closed systems. It's been suggested that the PS3 OS runs off a modified version of FreeBSD, for example.

Now, the console business is largely based on lock-in; subsidize the hardware for a while, make money from licences. If people could just run anything they wanted on the subsidized hardware, that wouldn't work very well -- you'd essentially be giving away hardware. It'd also be illegal dumping in most regulated free markets.

I'd love for things to be regulated so that selling such crippled hardware wasn't legal. That would probably mean a hike in console prices, however (well, at least in the previous generation of consoles -- it's a little less clear now that both Sony and Microsoft will be selling PCs).

Another example (well the same example) might be iOS/iphone vs Android devices. Android running the Linux kernel, lowers the bar considerably for companies like Canonical and Mozilla to develop new OSs that run on existing hardware. Yet another example would be various routers and switches running propietary software, leaving the owner stranded if the upstream source of the software stops development for some reason.

Free is a spectrum - my original response tried to highlight one difference between "open" and "free" -- and in that context, I wouldn't consider sqlite to be particularily free (nor entirely closed!). I do consider it do be (entirely) open.

[1] http://www.fossil-scm.org/


Your (and RMS's) definition of "freedom" and mine are different. I see software as "free" when it lets me do whatever with it, including modification and distribution with NO restrictions. GPL software adds restrictions, and even if those restrictions promote freedom, the restrictions themselves are the antithesis of free in my view.


Freedom is in the eye of the beholder, and often has many zero-sum components: the freedom you are requesting (to use someone else's work as part of your own without having to give anything in return) directly impinges on the freedom of others (as users do not have the freedom to modify the resulting binaries or devices that you are distributing, a freedom the GPL is designed to assure users have).

I encourage you to read this conversation I was in recently:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6209724 (edit: fixed link to include the actually-important comment...)


Thanks for that, I wouldn't have seen that (sub)thread otherwise. Basing an argument on the distribution of binaries seems sound -- even if some people seem to be able to look past the most well-structured and straightforward arguments no matter how things are formulated...


RMS writings tend to describe those extra features in your definition of freedow as power, because they give you control over others (with their consent when they accept the terms).


Of course, in a world where there was no proprietary software, the GPL's restrictions would not be very restrictive. That is kind of the point: to create such a world, or at least to create such an ecosystem.


tarsnap pretty already does what your example cites.

As for your overall point, I think it's artificial and only meaningful to someone who adopts a contorted definition of freedom. I don't follow how adding restrictions can make something more free.

> you'd essentially be giving away hardware. It'd also be illegal dumping in most regulated free markets.

What does this mean?


> you'd essentially be giving away hardware. It'd also be illegal dumping in most regulated free markets. >> What does this mean?

The various consoles (ps3, orignal xbox at the very least) -- were sold at a loss (for the hardware). Now if I sell a pc at a loss, that'd be considered dumping[1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumping_(pricing_policy)


> The various consoles (ps3, orignal xbox at the very least) -- were sold at a loss (for the hardware).

This isn't dumping at all. Cited from your citation: A standard technical definition of dumping is the act of charging a lower price for the like goods in a foreign market than one charges for the same good in a domestic market for consumption in the home market of the exporter.

The console were simply loss leaders, sold below cost in all markets with the assumption purchasing a console would result in more long term profit.

> Now if I sell a pc at a loss, that'd be considered dumping[1].

No, that would be considered poor business. If you were 100,000 PC's under cost in order to drive a competitor in a foreign market out of business that would be considered dumping.


The difference is one of values and principles...

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.e...


My apologies; that's what I meant. I tend to (incorrectly) use "open source" synonymously with "free software" when writing informally.

In this case, the project that I contributed to was distributed under the MIT (Expat) License, which, to my knowledge, is GPL compatible.


What? If they are GPL compatible, what does it matter?


I love how rms has been preaching for decades, while most of the tech community snidely ignored him. And yet, in the end, everything he warned about turned out to be right.


Such as? I've heard this said a lot but not heard any examples of non-obvious statements that he predicted, which have turned out to be true.


Sometimes the obvious needs to be said.

Most obvious: In 1997, Stallman wrote an essay in which the protagonist requires a copyright holder's permission to read a book. In 2009, Amazon remotely pulled "1984" out of Kindles.

From the beginning, Stallman has said that closed software holds users hostage. In 2003, Stallman started saying that Windows spies on users. Now, besides the features Stallman was complaining about, we find out that the NSA works to make software less secure, Microsoft actively gives vulnerabilities to the NSA, and Apple is tardy about applying security updates. Both Microsoft and Adobe are trying to get users to switch to unwanted annual subscriptions instead of traditional license ownership.

Stallman has also said that cell phones spy on users. That is increasingly apparent, with cell phone records available for the taking and fake cells to do individual stings.


> Stallman has also said that cell phones spy on users. That is increasingly apparent, with cell phone records available for the taking and fake cells to do individual stings.

I used to work for a phone company. They had a very simple to use web app that lets you input anyone's phone number and _instantly_ locate him on the map. None of that Hollywood "keep him on the line" bullshit.


He predicted eBook DRM in the 90s:

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html


This is said so often, but it's plain not true. In the late 1990's he was considered much more of a hero than nowadays, as in the first decade of the 21st century people (not coincidentally, imo, after the first dot com bust) people starting to realize that he's just a religious fanatic with no clue on how to effectuate meaningful, practical change.


I am for one ok with propriety software. A lot of people want to make money by writing closed binaries and a lot of people want to buy them. Arguable a lot of cool things came out of this model. In ideal world you could write your software, make it open source so advanced users could hack/verify security of it and still don't lose any (or many) customers, unfortunately it doesn't work that way in our world.

What I am not ok with though are monopolies, lock-ins and influencing education. There is no excuse to teach/use/promote any of the propriety software in schools. There is no reason to use any of that in government institutions. If one vendor has so prevalent position that there is no (or almost none) alternative then it's a monopoly and it's time to deal with it using antitrust laws (which by the way aren't nearly strong enough these days). If there is no free alternative developing it is great project for government to sponsor.

If people not force-feed Excel, Word, Photoshop, Matlab etc. during their education days still want to use that for convenience later in their career - let them. Just give them real choice by educating them with open tools.


"I am for one ok with propriety software... What I am not ok with though are monopolies, lock-ins and influencing education."

I think one important point is that closed-source proprietary software inherently implies lock-in. Some portion of proprietary file formats are crappy bags of bytes because the company wants a lock-in and some portion are that way because of simple laziness and you can't easily sort which.

The other thing about people using matlab is that society at large, the scientific community and such-and-such large groups pay the price of crap being caught within matlab and whoever writes the original code can just move on.


Actually no. Microsoft at least (this thread mainly targets them) doesn't lock you into any file formats. Why?

a) I've always been able to export/extract data at will.

b) All their protocols and formats are specified openly here: http://www.microsoft.com/openspecifications/en/us/default.as...


a) You only have been able to do it in the way they want you to: by clicking the File menu and saving as a different type.

b) Just because there's an "open" specification, it does not mean their implementation follows it, which is exactly the case for OOXML formats: there are a number of features which Microsoft Office treats differently from what the standard suggests/says, making interoperability/getting things to show up in Office hard as hell.

This is coming from someone who has to use the OOXML SDK daily.


> There is no excuse to teach/use/promote any of the propriety software in schools.

Of course there is, especially for vocational schools. If you're targeting a career, you want to learn the software that is most often used in that job capacity, so you can put that on your resume and improve your chances for landing a job.

It's somewhat different for primary and secondary schools. Generally these schools do not teach individual programs. Instead they teach concepts, and use the program as learning aids. From that perspective, the most important thing the software can do is to just work, and then get out of the way. It's more important that students learn mathematics, than it is for the educational programs to be open source.

> If people not force-feed Excel, Word, Photoshop, Matlab etc. during their education days still want to use that for convenience later in their career - let them. Just give them real choice by educating them with open tools.

The vast majority of Excel, Word, and Photoshop users cannot directly benefit from open-ness, because they are not programmers. Matlab may be an exception.


> Non-free software still makes the users surrender control over their computing to someone else, but now there is another way to lose it: Service as a Software Substitute, or SaaSS, which means letting someone else’s server do your own computing activities.

I have lots of respect for RMS and I very much agree with his stance against SaaS, but I feel creating FSF versions of terms is only harming the message he is trying to tell. It reminds me of 1984's newspeak in a way.


I was OK with "Digital Restrictions Management" because the original acronym is just as political, but when RMS says "iBad" and "iGroan" instead of "iPad" and "iPhone" I have to roll my eyes. I thought we grew out of that sort of thing after we left "Micro$oft" behind.


Micro$oft got left behind? When did that happen? ;)


Their ecosystem has made me £527,000 in the last 5 years. Does that make me $pongle?

It's just childish.


Taking it too seriously isn't very 'adult' either.


Gratis


Gratis is just another word for free. It's no less ambiguous.


It's libre vs gratis.

Libre is free as in speech. Free to adjust and modify. Gratis is free as in beer. Free to consume.


Yes, I think this is an English problem. In Portuguese, for example, there is "Gratis" and "Livre" which have too different meanings and there is no possible confusion between the two. Maybe they should say that the software should be "set free" instead.


It's not an English problem. The language already has tools to clarify.

Free (to modify)

Free (to use)

Free (to resell)

People just don't use them when they're trying to make a slogan, and it causes confusion. English is full of overloaded words.


That is kinda an English problem. If we need those qualifiers, the language could use some work. The whole purpose of language is to abstract complex thoughts into communicable ideas, and if we keep getting hung up on the fact that everyone using "free" slightly differently, the language has sorta failed at its job.

I say this as someone who know English and a little bit of French.


The problem is that "free" is overloaded as you concluded. I didn't mean to offend any sensibilities, I was just saying that this discussion does not happen in some other languages because they have different words.


I feel similarly about this to the way I feel about vegetarianism: doesn't eating 95% less meat have virtually the same effect as eating 100% less? (Not that I've reduced my meat intake by that much.) I don't really believe that consequences are the only thing that matters (and RMS seems like someone who would agree with that). I guess I'm weak-willed.

How many people read his perspective, agree with it (or at least have it resonate deeply with them), and yet still use plenty of non-free software? Google Search, Gmail, virtually any iOS or Android app, .NET, Windows, Adobe, etc. I know I do.


RMS and the FSF have always talked about Free software as a moral and ethical issue, rather than achieving some measurable benefit, so saying "reducing proprietary-software usage by 95% is almost as good" is a different discussion than the one RMS is trying to have. Which is not to say that it's a Bad Thing To Discuss, just different.

Personally, I try to stick to Free software wherever I can, but there are definitely times where I say "screw it" and use something proprietary. For example, my government has an income-tax-filing application that's free-to-download but proprietary. Technically I could get a paper copy of the form, fill it out by hand and send it in, but in the long run I'd rather have the temporary safety of automatic form-validation over the essential liberty of tax-software autonomy. Maybe that's completely unjustified and I'm a terrible person, maybe it's the right decision for me but the wrong decision for society at large, I dunno. If I had an infinite lifespan and could take the time to re-implement all the proprietary software I encounter, I'd like to think I would, or at least contribute, but given I've got Stuff To Do...

Honestly, I think Step 1 of the Free software movement is just to encourage people to think about the consequences of their (software licensing) actions. Some people will agree, some people will disagree, some people will agree in principle but put "ensure software Freedom" at the bottom of their list, just underneath "learn Esperanto", and I think that's OK. As usual, the real problem is exploitation of the uninformed and uneducated, and the more people there are with informed, educated opinions the better off society will be.


I think there's an interesting sort of parallel between the differences between Stallman/FSF and those of the O'Reilly "open source" camp; and the differences between deontological and consequentialist ethics. In some ways, it seems like software consequentialism fits neatly into Gabriel's "Worse-is-Better" categorization. As a self-hating meat-eating OS X using Kantian, this is dismaying to me.


I know I'm not unique in being bugged by RMS's ideas but I do feel the need to attempt to articulate why. There has been, in the rarified world of tech commenters, an increasing number of people claiming Stallman has been proven correct by recent events. This seem to converge around the rise of iOS propriety "walled garden" (and similar systems) and the Snowden leaks.

I don't see it. The argument shouldn't be that systems have come to dominate that are closed.Stallman is making a moral argument, as such there need to be proportional harms being enabled by such closed systems.

Potential harms are not the same as actual and his arguments seem to focus on those. In the mean time the world goes about its business and people are happily using all sorts of software. Along with free (as in beer) software like that of Google, and relatively secure systems like those of the big tech companies, many are also use various flavors of "libre" and open source software.

An accounting of harms, potential or otherwise, needs to have benefits included, otherwise it remains an exercise in ideology.

This nags at me as well in hysterical discussions of NSA spying, which sometimes strike me as a sophisticated form of chicken littleism.

If one stubbornly sticks to an absolutist form of ideology for many years, eventually some of the predicted harms, or at least similar ones, might come to pass. But this didn't mean the ideology is correct. Without a more complete and balanced analysis it's hard to say.

I feel similarly about the absolute conviction displayed by some that NSA spying is an absolute wrong. While it does seem bad In some ways, it is not a slam dunk in my view. I can see some value in spying if it substitutes for more violent methods of control, and if it does actually lessen crime/terrorism.


I am constantly amazed by and grateful for free software. I write with vi, code in python, work with data in MySQL and Postgres, grapple with text with sed and awk and a host of utilities. I teach courses on MySQL, I think the Windows / closed approach has unnecessarily deadened the average user's ability to appreciate and explore and use their computers. Open source, as idea and software, is great.

But.

"When you use proprietary programs or SaaSS, first of all you do wrong to yourself, because it gives some entity unjust power over you. . . . It also wrongs others if you make a promise not to share."

Yeah, why? Because RMS says so? There is NO possibility of a closed source usage that is "just"? Is there anything like an argument for this, outside of some Marxist-derivative account of the inevitability of economic structures? That closed source might be bad is possible -- that it is so bad that no reasonable person of good will can possibly hold some other opinion really isn't.

Freedom is the right to make decisions, and some times bad decisions. Claiming authority to judge the bad, and thus invalid, decisions, really lays the foundations for some serious power moves. Maybe RMS thinks corporations and free contract and market forces are some kind of sham, and maybe he's right, but it isn't as if there isn't another point of view. Why do I have to sign up with a core ideology to be supportive of open source? Actually, why do I have to sign up with an ideology that sounds positively hostile to a lot of what I think and believe?

The technical arguments for open source are tremendous. The ethical arguments for it aren't bad. But setting the whole debate in terms agreement with one man's morality is a non-starter for me.

Now I can use and support open software without signing up for the whole ideology. And I do. But the two are so associated that I often feel my own integrity requires using some bandwidth expressing disagreement with large chunks of the "open source philosophy". That's a poor use of time, and it diffuses the best arguments. Insisting on open source as some moral imperative is poor philosphy, and poor rhetoric.


This seems like a strawman. You aren't disagreeing with the specific points, you're saying that because you don't agree with everything in the essay that you're ... somehow offended by it. And I understand that, because I lived for years in that same "RMS is a unrealistic pinko commie idealist whose ideas don't work in the real world" camp. The thing is, he was right. He was right about pretty much everything.

So sure: you don't like his tone, and I understand that. But I don't think you're completely clear on his points.


This isn't his tone, it is the foundation of his argument -- closed source is necessarily and fundamentally immoral, nay, evil. That's an extraordinary claim, which drives his thinking to absolutism. And its bases have implications far outside the field of software.


Right. So you reject his absolutism via an equally absolutist stance where you refuse to treat his arguments because you don't like their "implications". Shrug. I used to think like you. I was wrong. Read his points, not their "implications". I suspect you'll find more to agree with than you think.


Exactly wrong. Read the bit where I talk about agreeing with him, and finding ways to cooperate without agreeing with him everywhere?


"closed source is necessarily and fundamentally immoral, nay, evil"

Keep in mind that RMS is talking about the broader social impact of a proprietary software ecosystem, not any single proprietary software product. RMS is working against a model where people are divided by the restrictions imposed by proprietary licenses and by proprietary software itself. In a proprietary software ecosystem, people are divided not merely by their technical skills, but by the whims of software vendors.

The reason RMS' arguments seem to have implications outside the field of software is that proprietary software ecosystems have effects that go beyond software.


Maybe RMS thinks corporations and free contract and market forces are some kind of sham, and maybe he's right, but it isn't as if there isn't another point of view.

While RMS may be something of anarchist, I would also like to point out that here he is making a very kind of argument. That is, when someone uses proprietary, closed source software they are inherently signing a "mystery contract", meaning that since because they inherent don't know what the software will do, they inherently give away some of their knowledge. And moreover, given that software (in the form of browsers etc) is now used as people's "window on the world", people potentially give up a lot of their freedom (and the NSA revelations certainly show the potential here).

I think all of the argument for the efficiency and desirability of free markets hinge on full information availability to allow free choice. And so I actually think a libertarian could agree that proprietary soft is inherently undesirable just as they'd agree a "contract for slavery" would inherent undesirable.


Much of theory and thinking on markets recognizes information assymmetries. That's one reason trust, reputation and enforceability of contract matter. People buy stuff in functioning markets without full knowledge or transparency all the time.

And sure, some decisions are so clearly lousy that they can't be respected / enforced -- such as a contract for slavery. But they are few and far between. Saying an iPhone is the same thing as indentured servitude is a pretty long reach.


> People buy stuff in functioning markets without full knowledge or transparency all the time.

but just the threat of consumer reaction made possible by consumer watch dogs is enough to enforce good behaviour. Sure, the average consumer does not need to know the inner workings of their toaster, but if a manufacturer made a shoddy design, they will be soon found out.

This isn't true in SaaS(S). A security vulnerability can and would remain a secret but for public disclosure of various watch dogs (and even then, these things are hard to verify). ANd this is just one example.


"Freedom is the right to make decisions, and some times bad decisions. Claiming authority to judge the bad, and thus invalid, decisions, really lays the foundations for some serious power moves."

Uh, having the technical means to make unilateral decisions for someone else (often secretly) is what lays the basis for "serious power moves" as we've seen with the NSA. "Judging someone" is also known as "expressing your opinion". Stallman expressing his opinion hardly gives him the serious power that, say, NSA arrogates to itself by installing backdoors in people's computer, using secret laws to seize private keys from service providers and so-forth.


You might be interested to learn that out of your list (vi, Python, mySQL, Postgres, sed, and awk), only MySQL is released under a free software license (GPL). The others are released under BSD or BSD-like licenses.

> my own integrity requires using some bandwidth expressing disagreement with large chunks of the "open source philosophy".

You're looking for the distinction between "free software" and "open source." The FSF is very vocal about the difference, which is great, since it is important. See rms's article at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html .

"I love open source, but I don't buy into the free software ideology" is totally valid, and apparently a popular position, judging by the choice of licenses in software you listed!


> You might be interested to learn that out of your list (vi, Python, mySQL, Postgres, sed, and awk), only MySQL is released under a free software license (GPL). The others are released under BSD or BSD-like licenses.

The BSD license (and "BSD-like" licenses) are free software licenses. "Free" does not mean "copyleft".

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html


Thank you for the correction.


So, like I'm on your side but RMS view is more complex than that. But I think even if the criticism attacks somewhat of a strawman view, I think you are essentially right. However, I think it is simpler to just say regardless of whether or not RMS view is "morally right," which is a rather complex matter itself, I think it is enough to recognize the reality that it is an unworkable Utopia that virtually no one would really want to live in and certainly would not led us very far toward technological innovation ... And before anyone gets up in arms about, Stallman has freely admitted as much and remains principled and undaunted by that. I get it. Apparently, Kant wouldn't haves lied to the murderer either ... but let's get real here.


You do not have to "sign up with a core ideology to be supportive of open source".

If you feel morally obligated to express your opinions on the issue often, and is worried about the time it takes, I humbly suggest a blog post with a short-ish url.


Admire him for his dedication, and for his sacrifice, but his message is not getting through, and it's getting through less each day. Freedom is not an end to most people, it is a means (source: I'm one of those people). I'm not sure what tack he needs to take, but the current one is not going to suddenly start working after so many years of not.


Stallman does not need to change - either his message or his tack. He is, sadly, right. And the world will hit a confluence of circumstances where we must confront the choice between free/libre software and opaque surveillance.

If Mohammed waits long enough the mountain will move.


Well that's just ridiculous. You can't just hand wave and say Stallman's view is right or is the way things should be. Many would not really want to live in Stallman's Utopia.

Stallman freely admits that his view probably entails a certain destruction of programming as a profession that is worth more than ditch digging or deincentivizes a lot of innovation ... I like RMS as a person, and he was a brilliant programmer at one point, but let's be honest, he might as well be using a type writer with a telegraph system.

What is it that you think shows RMS as being clearly right?


Wait, are you seriously saying that programmers should create artificial scarcities and not share their work in order to ensure the value of their profession?

You seem to think the profession is parasitic rather than creating value


Not freely sharing the fruits of one's labors is hardly "parasitic". Rather, it would be more accurate to call it "not sharing", which is a very very different thing.

This whole style of argumentation is a hallmark of RMS' rhetorical style, and is something that turns off a lot of people to his message, even those who might otherwise agree with many of his principles.

If you have to use hyperbolic language to demonize those you disagree with (equating programmers of proprietary software as parasites), and putting those you agree with on a pedestal (equating programming of free software as the only way to create value), then people who are not already in the choir you're preaching to (which is what you're doing) will conclude that your beliefs are basically just you romanticizing the whole situation rather than something you came to through any sort of real intellectual process that holds any weight.

You could be 100% correct and no one would ever know it, because it's being expressed as a lot of kneejerk emotional reactions to a lot of things. RMS has always done the same thing, using his fundamental choice of words to smear and denigrate those he disagreed with by turning them all into strawmen, and elevating his own philosophy beyond simply espousing a particular virtue to presenting it as a stark moral choice to which any variation or disagreement is immoral. This automatically puts him into the category of people who are either wrong, or who have come to a correct conclusion through completely invalid means (pretty unlikely, but not impossible- broken clocks are right twice a day, etc.).

I guess it's more exciting to think about these issues as being a bunch of stark, binary moral choices with no gray areas, and sorting everyone into those who are 100% on board with your cause one one side, and a bunch of sinners or heretics or whatever on the other side, but the historical track record for those sorts of philosophers and philosophies is not stellar, to say the least.


You're response is funny to me. It's funny because, and I know this sounds arrogant but I am 100%, 100% right and anyone that is both intelligent and honest can see this. I'm not right because I'm smart, I'm right because I have common sense.

You're making this typical naive morally indignant response about promoting scarcity blah blah blah.

You may be a person totally devoid of self interests but the fact is most people are not. I'm sorry Virginia. Now let us please recognize the fact that people were never stopped from following RMS moral truth throughout the history of technological innovation. Yet, many people have labored for you to have these fancy things like Teflon, integrated circuits, CT machines, all manner of strange, complicated things.

We don't have a lot of evidence of great technological innovation occurring under some sort of quasi Marxist (not meant derigatorily) paradigm that was not spurred because of some desire to win a nuclear arms race or equivalent. It's just horribly naive.

As far as the self-righteousness about like "we are to create value" and your strawman game ...

Are you seriously suggesting programmers are worthless. =)

No, I know you want donations or something and then will jibber jabber about how we all should learn to live with less, I'm not sure. I'll be honest I don't know what you're reaction but this response is hard to take seriously.

You think the modern world would really fell out of Stallman's world view? You think society would really work that way? If you do, I think you are seriously misguided about reality.

It may be true that Stallman is morally right, but, trust me, no one really wants to live in that world (well sure, if you've ever seen that show "Taboo" there are some out-there people, but keys get real).

I will say this, your position, if it were to take hold, would be an interesting and fun, if devastating, way to shut up all those people that blather on about how "everyone needs to learn to code" ... Although if this RMS moral view took hold in the past we wouldn't have to worry about that in the first place.


I think the literal falsity of your metaphor speaks for itself. Mohammed can wait as long as he wants. The mountain isn't going anywhere. Things don't have to end up a certain way because it's "right" for them to. And being "right" has failed to win many a time.


Mountains actually do move, you don't notice because your lifetime is too short.


I'd love to look at some numbers. I'd say that his message gets to more and more people and the current circumstances are making free software more relevant than ever.

I think the ratio of people caring (or not caring) is the same, but sheer numbers must have increased with time.

How are you trusting your Windows/Macos today? :)

Imo, his tack will not work any better because most people continue to not give a shit about their freedoms. Take away "convenience" or "entertainment" and you've got yourself a revolution.


Oh hogwash. RMS is principled but his "all or nothing" approach is less effective than PETA.

The reality is most people don't understand Stallman, neither his detractors or supporters. For most of you that "support" Stallman, he would deride your love of open source as little more being evil or masochistic.

To paint detractors or non-followers of Stallman as mindless entertainment watchers or whatever is very simplistic.


> trusting your Windows/Macos today

Well enough for day-to-day purposes. And therein lies the problem with Stallman's perspective, as it affects the common man.


Voilà. :)


I don't think Stallman needs to change his approach or message.

We do, however, need somebody to augment his arguments with ones that will reach people like you.


Rather than worrying about rhetoric, though, why don't we question whether Stallman is actually right or whether his Utopia is somewhere we really want to live?


What is his utopia? That all software would be free software?

I for one would love to live in such a world. Why? Because then I could trust and be free with my computing. Now I can't, and I value my trust and freedom over conveinience and entertainment, as such I haven't opted-in for many common usages of computers and computing. It would be nice, but no thanks.

Would the world be a better place if Firefox and GNU/Linux were proprietary? I doubt that. How could we trust Tor? How could we(as in the whole internet-connected world) have any form of secure communications which we could trust? In fact, I think we would see far more oppression and totalitariatism in such an alternative, I believe free software helps tremendously with this as it gives more freedom and makes it harder to take freedoms away and harder to enforce blind faith on authorities.


You say you would but I don't think you understand the implications of the his view and his Utopia. RMS is perfectly fine, he has admitted as such, if the implication is that we would have not had such a technical revolution that we have had. You talk about how great Firefox is and I agree but I don't think it would exist in this Utopia, or even have a reason to exist. I think we'd be to busy tilling the fields for our feudal lords. =)


I would rather live free with 80's technology and free software than live in a totalitarian surveillance state* of 2020's. I simply value free software and the ideologies behind it as a social movement more than I value capitalistic self-centered profit reaping at the expense of end-user freedoms. This also borders the issues with trusting authorities and the whole concept of trust especially with revelations earlier this year, but lets not get there.

Why are you making an assumption that progress couldn't happen without proprietary software? Are you also implying that without copyright we would not have entertainment to enjoy? If so, at all, then our mindsets are the polar opposite. :)

As I mentioned, I've had to opt-out from computer practices which are the norm these days because I disagree with the way they operate. This is a big pain, as I understand their value, however as I value my own freedoms more than I value the conveinience they bring, I am still acting in my best interests here. I wish more people would be willing to make such "sacrifices" to make a point and consider end-user freedom and user and civil freedoms as a more important social issue than what they are considered now. I would see such a world a better place than what we have now.

I see free software as promoting transparency and giving rights, and proprietary software as promoting shady practices without user consent and imposing limitations and reducing rights. This all boils down to reducing the amount of trust and having a cultural and social change to fight against abuse of power and corruption among others. First and foremost it is a social and a cultural thing.

*: Assuming that we get there with current progress and free software doesn't hinder it.


How about 1680s technology? As far as totalitarian surveillance state, oh pshaw. Try the Kamir Rouge. You think Free Software would protect you from a surveillance state? You're being hyperbolic.

Is it really this hard to see the direct implication of RMS' view? He certainly understands it and is quite OK with it but I don't think you would be. 80s tech? Really? That seems pretty posh compared to what would we would have achieved the RMS morality had been the order the day from the beginning.


What on earth are you arguing for here? You somehow seem to equate RMS' views with "no progress". Why is that? Why don't you explain your stance and view but make me ask for it explicitly?

I really don't see how free software would hinder any sort of progress, especially if free software adoption became more widespread now. Fill me in here.


Plenty of people do, for example, anyone who chooses to work at a SaaS or proprietary packaged software company. They may not question it with their words, but they do with their actions.


=) Well, right. But I mean, I feel like those that support RMS view should question whether he is right and not just how he can package his message better. There are many that fully understand RMS AND agree with him but there are MANY that think they agree with RMS but do not really understand him.

I always find it amusing when some Linux podcast has RMS on and the hosts are not very sophisticated on RMS and think "Oh, awesome, we love Linux and free software rocks and RMS is so cool and such a big name in free software, we love RMS"

And then RMS comes on the show and basically tells the hosts they are worse than Pol Pot or any NAZI you could ever imagine!


Good point!

Also, there are something pretty much uncovered right now, that is data, information, privacy, and rights concerning data itself.. its not just a matter of source code anymore.. in the age of the internet it also involves data..

We need a new powerful preacher to augment his message over new uncovered domains..

Thanks to Snowden, people pretty much wake up for it right now.. we lost our virginity, and we are learning the bitter price for our inocence


Granted. I was inappropriately treating Stallman as "the free software movement." He does not, himself, need to change.


Because it's so easily modified and distributed, free software has become the most common software in the world. Consumers might not care about licenses, but anyone who develops software has gained an enormous amount from free software. Without the FSF and others like them, we would likely be far behind in software development because exposure to source code might be a special privilege.


If freedom is a means then the question should be answered: to what?

A man could be free or otherwise he is bound to servitude.

→ If freedom is a means—possibly intermediately—to obtain freedom then freedom is still an end.

→ If freedom is not a means—possibly intermediately—to obtain freedom then one's end will be to serve someone else.


If freedom is not an end for you, but a means, in what respect is it a means?


Depends on what freedom you're talking about. To give one example, the freedom to vote is important to me because I think the world would get less fun if we had a monarchy or autarchy. But if there was evidence of some form of government where I didn't get to vote but I would be happier and more fulfilled? Happy to give democracy up if the evidence is convincing enough. Freedom of vote is not an end, it is a means to good governance. Similarly with most freedoms.


That is simply a fantasy though. No one can ever credibly make such a guarantee. Instead what we have to rely on is the principal that given adequate individual freedoms society is mostly self-correcting. You will never get the most ideal outcomes but you certainly will not live in the worst possible world either. Free software no is different.


Hypotheticals are all fantasy. Calling mine that is a non-criticism.

Also, there are some exemplars that make my view slightly less fantastic than you might say. Chinese governance is better than plenty of places that have universal suffrage, for example.

> Instead what we have to rely on is the principal that given adequate individual freedoms society is mostly self-correcting.

This principle has not been proved to my satisfaction.


I am fine with closed-source applications. For me, the most important thing is open file formats, protocols and codecs. Open formats, protocols and codecs should not be owned by any company.

Most programs manipulate data in some way. Open formats let you switch from one program to another without losing your data. It opens up opportunities for paid, free or SaaS solutions and users can choose whatever suits them best. For most people, their concern is about their data: what happens if they stop using program x which manipulates their data in a proprietary file format.

PDF is a good example of this - once a proprietary file format, it is now an open standard. There are dozens, if not hundreds of free and paid-for programs that let you create, edit, view or save PDF files. (Some of the Free Software viewers are better than Adobe's bloated Reader software.)

Just imagine what the state of graphics programs might be if Photoshop PSD files or Illustrator ai files were open formats? Or if everyone used a common word-processing or spreadsheet format?


As much as his core message is debatable, it's usually pretty coherent and logical. However, I'd like to criticize one specific part of this essay: the claim that Chrome auto-updates are a "universal backdoor". Although silent updates tend to viscerally feel a bit creepy, they differ little in practical consequence from regular click-through ones: it's not like most users verify the binaries of every package update on their system, so having the user click through just makes an attacker with a fake update wait a little longer. Note that Chrome auto-updates can be turned off, and both the updater and the updated software are (mostly) open source and you are free to compile your own version, so it's hard for me to see the problem.

(for the record - it would be nice to have a system to prevent one server from distributing malicious updates to one user, perhaps by verifying with multiple independently owned servers. However, I do not know of any mainstream software that does that, including free Linux distributions, so it's unfair to criticize Chrome for the lack.)


> updated software are (mostly) open source and you are free to compile your own version

The "mostly" part kills your argument. That means, the updates contain non-free parts and are hence unsafe. Chrome should be avoided if Chromium or Firefox works for you.


Any binary compiled by a third party could be malicious, whether it's supposed to be compiled from free source code or not, whether it's Google or Mozilla or Debian. Verifiable compilation would partially solve this and would indeed make the non-free parts a problem, but this is another thing that nobody is doing (yet).

edit: Of course this also has nothing to do with the silentness of the updates. :p


One of the benefits of having the four freedoms is you, the user, can choose who (if anybody) to trust.

Don't trust Mozilla to build a non-malicious binary from the Firefox source? Get somebody you do trust to build it. Or build it yourself.

Of course when you get down to it you have to trust that there exists a compiler that isn't malicious but I think the point still stands


One also has to trust the source code of the project. Given the sheer number of unintentional back doors in the form of exploitable bugs occuring in so many projects, this is a complete non-starter to me, even had I the time to completely review the source code of any given project. I will miss mistakes, and I will most definitely miss intentional "mistakes", even if I'm well versed in the programming language at hand and using it daily within a professional capacity.

Open source has some significant values to me, but security is not among them. It may raise the barrier to some very simple, basic, hobbyist style maliciousness going uncaught, but this is by and large not what I'm concerned about. I'm concerned by more sophisticated maliciousness. If I cannot trust your binaries to not contain it, I generally cannot trust your source code to not contain it either, even if I personally review it.


"All bugs are shallow given enough eyeballs". This can apply to intentional security exploits as well. Of course, a small free project may not have enough eyeballs, but at least in a bigger one that does generate some trust.


An oft repeated phrase, but I need only point to the Debian OpenSSL keygen debacle -- and how long it went uncaught -- to note just how easily extremely serious bugs in code known to be extremely security critical can go uncaught despite the "number of eyeballs".

Bigger projects lead to bigger attack surfaces -- I'd trust the small free project more than I would the bigger one. Less code to review, fewer contributors one must simultaneously trust (I'd model project trust as each contributor being a potential single point of failure) and -- all other things being equal -- the same number of eyeballs per LOC.

I'd qualify neither Firefox nor Chrome as small projects.


Oft repeated because it contains some truth. Also, overweighted. Availability of source code is not a substitute for security audit and good practices in development. It does help a little, directly. Indirectly, it helps a lot, because it means now you (or anyone else) can pay anyone to perform that audit. You can choose who you trust, beyond simple blind trust in the person providing the software.


You don't have to trust a compiler. Even with Thompson's original presentation, you could (with sufficient care) audit the machine code - possible, just impractical without a seriously massive investment. More recently, though, someone figured out how to make sure a compiler is cleanly built from its source: http://www.dwheeler.com/trusting-trust


Nice article to point students at: software has less 'valence' for them than, say, clothing (c.f. No Logo, Naomi Klien) and so we might get a discussion going.

I'm surprised that noone has mentioned the recent restarting of the gNewSense project, version 3.0 is Debian Squeeze with blobs removed. I'm posting this using the live ISO from a USB stick with a USB wifi adaptor (Thinkpads have wifi cards that need closed firmware). Everything else works. The release announcement was posted on HN but only gathered 3 points...


I'm still not sure, after all these years of almost identical rants and writings, that I fully understand RMS's views. I don't see why freedoms 2 and 3 (distribution) have anything to do with freedoms 0 and 1 (control). If you want to know what's happening to your data, all you need to know is what's happening on your computer, which means you need to see the source. That's a cause I agree with 100%. I don't understand why you also need to be able to give a copy to your friend.


It goes with a moral value that RMS and FSF have been very persistent about: strengthening the community and helping your neighbour.

RMS even once gave a talk at one of 2600's HOPE conventions where he said that given a moral dilemma of having to give a copy of a proprietary program to a friend and violate the license versus not giving them a copy and sticking to the license, it would be best to go ahead and violate it.

Of course, he later went on to explain that free software would serve to get rid of this moral dilemma and that it would be optimal to not use proprietary software at all.

RMS' speeches always highlight the value of the community and the role free software plays in strengthening bonds. I believe he's right, as file sharing in general has become an invaluable part of daily life in the developed world.


Sure, but again, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rhetoric of freedom. It dilutes the message, and it's needlessly antagonistic. It alienates people like me who don't think the model of getting paid for what you build is a bad thing.

And of course, his scorched-earth, perfect-or-nothing style of morality doesn't help - open source should, even to RMS, be a lot better than Windows, but he never acknowledges it. When you have little enough public support to begin with, focusing on the things that separate you from potential allies isn't a good way to do business.

Of course, I'm not anywhere near as successful or accomplished as RMS, and probably never will be, so maybe I shouldn't tell him how to do his job. Maybe he just doesn't give a shit if anything actually changes, so long as he stays pure, and if that's what he needs to sleep at night, then fine. But that doesn't make it look any less counterproductive from where I'm sitting.


"open source should, even to RMS, be a lot better than Windows, but he never acknowledges it"

He does.

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.e...

"Nearly all open source software is free software, but there are exceptions."


RMS does not think that getting paid for what you wrote is a bad thing. His ideal makes it difficult or impractical for this to happen, but he has stressed repeatedly that being paid is not a problem.


Freedoms 2 and 3 are required so that the first freedoms work in practice. You don't want simply to be able to see and modify the source - you want as much people to see the source so that they as well can find the backdoors for your benefit; you want others to be able to make improvements and distribute them so that the improvements benefit you as well.

And given the nature of business, it is critically important that people are allowed to do this even against the wishes of the original creator/distributor, because it is the only way to prevent 'anti-features'. If your software vendor has intentionally inserted a backdoor, you need others to be able to legally distribute a fixed version; if your software vendor has intentionally not included some compatibility you need (say, with your own product file formats), you need to be able to distribute a fixed version of their product to your customers.


Sadly, the word "free" always has strings attached. For GNU, the GPL license disallows "The freedom to make and distribute copies of your modified versions, when you wish." You're not allowed to attach non-free code or remove the over-complex license agreement, which can make the whole software useless for many purposes. It's not right to call GPL software free, it should rather be "no cost and slightly restricted use".


I think the GPL is widely misunderstood by developers. The freedom the GPL is concerned with, and the reasoning behind it, is to preserve the rights and freedoms of the user.

That is, when you acquire a product (for free, or for a fee) -- it seeks to make sure that you can do use that product as you wish. And that if you re-sell it, or share it, those same rights are available for the next user down the line.

The GPL achieves this by bending copyright into copyleft. It is not concerned with allowing people to make money repackaging a piece of software and locking it down in various ways.

So, it is all about freedoms, just maybe not the freedoms that some developers thinks it is/should be about.


I would say that the GPL is instead primarily concerned with the freedom of the software, not the authors or users. GPL software can never be taken hostage, even if that inconveniences every human who might want to use it. It's appropriate for some things, but not for everything.


What specific rights and freedoms does the user have with libre software that they do not with open source software?


Free or "libre" software is software that obeys the Four Freedoms. Much "open source" software is also Free software, but not necessarily all of it.

I'm not sure if this is still the case, but for a while Microsoft would provide source-code to the Windows NT kernel to universities and academic institutions; the source was open (for some definition of "open") but because Microsoft did not allow redistribution and modification, and only allowed the code to be used for educational purposes, it was not Free software.


Developer A writes some code. Developer B makes device-specific alterations and puts it on a device. Consumer C buys the device.

If A GPL'd the software then C has a right to the exact code running on their device. This is not the case under other licenses that people like to call "more free".


Let's have a specific example. The Linux kernel. Technically, it's GPLv2, but in practice the copyright holders don't bother to enforce the copyright license. Linus Torvalds is the acme of "pragmatic" open source.

What right is missing: The ability to compile a new kernel for an embedded device. Qualcomm, Marvell, Broadcom, ARM, NVIDIA, and many others. They provide binary device drivers that work only with specific versions of the Linux kernel. Consequently, my home router has more computing power than my desktop 20 years ago, but my desktop was free to run any software and my router is just a router.

Also, Android devices almost never update, for the same reason.


Yes, it's good for end users, but it's not complete freedom so GNU shouldn't make that claim then in the fine print add "...but some kinds of use are restricted." They should be more open and say "freedom for end users but not free to modify and distribute".


But you are free to modify and distribute.

You just aren't free change the terms under which you distribute.

> "freedom for end users but not free to modify and distribute"

That would be: "freedom for end users, freedom to modify and distribute - but not freedom to change terms under which (re)distribution happens".

Which I think is pretty much what they are already saying?


http://dustycloud.org/blog/field-guide-to-copyleft/

Just read it. If you want total abolition of copyright and proprietary software, fine. If you think proprietary software is ok, you are a total hypocrite to criticize copyleft. Period.


This is discussed frequently.

The BSD license grants you the freedom to restrict the freedoms of others.

The GPL license restricts your freedom to restrict the freedoms of others.

> It's not right to call GPL software free, it should rather be "no cost and slightly restricted use".

Is there anything that meets this definition of free? The BSD license doesn't grant this; software under it can have unlimited cost and no source code available.


Sure: the GPL does not grant you the freedom to alter the license under which the software was given to you, nor to mix the software with other software under a conflicting license. To do either of those things would work against the freedoms that the GPL explicitly promotes.

Other licenses, such as the X11 license, let you embed the software into proprietary projects. So in that sense you are granted more freedom. But doing that denies other freedoms that the GPL explicitly grants.


You can absolutely mix GPL software and incompatably licensed software. What you cannot do is redistribute that combination.


Thank you! I was referring to redistribution, but was unclear.


I wish he'd stop using the word "free" and only use "libre." The FSF and Stallman's definition of "free" (as it pertains to freedom) is not mine, and I have found few that actually agree with it. Open source's definition of freedom is far more universal, I believe. And using "libre" also gets around the "free as in pizza" distinction.


Open source's definition is incomplete when it comes to protecting the freedom of users. And, libre doesn't imply "free as in pizza" to me.


> And, libre doesn't imply "free as in pizza" to me.

Probably because it is not suppose to....


That's because open source is not necessarily related to freedom. It's a purely pragmatic issue, though a core property of free software, but by itself it does not guarantee freedom.

Also, free beer > free pizza.


Gratis source once you've been (legitimately) given the binaries is a core property of free software. Gratis in general is a common but incidental property of free software.


I don't like "free" but I wouldn't want a new term to explain to a layperson either.


Libre. Liberty.

Done.


Yeah, but remember, as long as others don't agree, it's tough. There's "free" "libre" and "open". The only answer is to say: THOSE THINGS. So, use "free/libre/open" i.e. FLO


That's more of a problem with the English language.


Right, gratis = free, libre = free.


There is certainly a need for a radically simplified version of the GPL. The average person does not understand all of the ramifications of the license. Here's a scenario that hinders the distribution of open source software:

Teacher: Here, children. Here is some free software. Parent of child: Thanks. It is GPL. Give me the source. Teacher: Huh?

There needs to be a license that is similar to the GPL in scope but is readable and clear about what is required to a person who has never compiled software in their life and is not a lawyer. Open source projects need to realize that not everybody is a software engineer. Not everybody is up to date on the latest terminology. If they want laypeople to download and distribute code, make it easy to get. And above all, communicate clearly in language they can understand.


Have you read the GPL? It uses fairly simple language, no legal jargon, and it's a lot shorter than some EULAs I've seen. I imagine a lot of people just mentally file it under 'legalese' and skip over it, but even a "simplified" GPL wouldn't prevent that.


There are and continue to be wild disagreements over GPL and what it means. Is linking against a DLL considered a derived work? It depends on who you ask! Stallman thinks yes. Others think no.


Isn't that a vagueness in copyright law itself? You could avoid the vagueness by making the GPL stricter and more explicit, but that seems like the direct opposite of 'simplification'.


It tends to be considered so by the people that write the GPL'd software. That's why the LGPL exists.

If you're looking for a way to use someone's software components against their wishes, and just looking for a legal way of doing so, then you may be right.

If you actually want to respect the wishes of the author OTOH...


Making it more something regular people can read and understand would mean more arguments by lawyers (real and wannabe) over how far bits of it can be stretched.


I agree that it is better than many EULAs, but that doesn't make it simple. At roughly 5000 words with a reading ease grade level of about 15(Flesch-Kincaid) it is not a document for the average person.

Doesn't even mean I disagree with most of the license, but it is unreasonable to expect people to understand it.


That's a fun game to play. Go to a local Linux users group meeting. Borrow somebody's Debian DVD (someone always has one) and install on your laptop. Wait a year. Look that person up and demand they mail you the source for the exact binaries you installed a year ago.


They have no obligation to do that. They can just send you links to the source.

You would certainly be making their lives difficult for no reason, in terms of tracking down software revisions. I guess if that's fun to you then ... whatever.


There have been kerfluffles in the past where people (companies) did exactly that. Gave someone a binary, then told them to download the source from somebody else. People got angry.


Yes. But Debian wouldn't be angry if you pointed to them.

In the past, it's been business entities that have distributed considerable a number of binaries (I believe one case was with code running on a router?) -- and charged quite a bit for that (bundle) -- and yet been too cheap to host a copy of the code online.


Usually those companies were shipping modified versions, and/or it wasn't possible to build your own modifications for the device. I don't recall an instance - though it may well just be that I'm ill informed - where "people got angry" just because a company wasn't mirroring something.


I wonder if any LUG attendee has ever hesitated to give somebody else a Debian disc for fear of that happening.

I suspect not.


You as a recipient of software can never demand the source code. That right is reserved for the copyright authors. At most, you can go and complain to the copyright owner, and they in turn can demand that the distributor provide source code.


That's an odd example. In that case, im pretty sure the teacher, who apparently has no idea about programming, could simply direct the parent to the website of the creators of this GPL software, where the source is available.


Must be my age showing. When I was in school internet access wasn't common so if we needed to exchange software it was on floppy disks.


Me too. There was no software of I'm any school I attended, ever. We had Minecraft on cartridge for the IBM PcJr., Oregon Trail for the Apple IIe, and that's about it. Even if my parents had asked for the source code to the janky lemonade stand game we played, the answer would have been the same - write the company.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISC_license is as simple as it gets.


The author of the above comment do not understand software licenses, and the whole commented is constructed around that confusion.

> You're not allowed to ... or remove the license agreement

No license agreement allows you as a recipient to ignore the license. At best, you can redistribute a "all right reserved" copyrighted work, while you yourself follows the license. At no point can you actually remove a license and then use it in a way that require authorized permission under copyright law.

You would also have a hard time finding such copyright license. Both BSD and MIT requires that the license are kept in all copies. Removing the license there would be as illegal as it would be to remove the GPL.

Simply put: if you get sued for copyright violation, its the license that the accused must raise in defense. Removing it is guarantied to be illegal except in rare situations such as wtfpl.


I just discovered this is a popular political debate so shouldn't be in HN. I do understand how licenses work, just take issue with using the word "free" for something that has artificial restrictions. This comes from frustration of running up against brick walls of "no, you're not allowed to use our software for that" when I tried to use the so-called free software.

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