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GNU is Not Unix

Bertrand Meyer's "The Ethics of Free Software" 473

Jarle Stabell writes: "An interesting article titled "The Ethics of Free Software" by OO guru Bertrand Meyer is available online at Software Development (Meyer has IMHO written one of the best OO books. " Warning: Meyer questions some assumptions of open source, so if that's going to offend you, don't read it. *grin*
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Bertrand Meyer's "The Ethics of Free Software"

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  • I don't think it was his intention to say that CSS is better than OSS (hence the lack of evidence to support such an argument). He is, I gather, suggesting that on the point he considers, OSS is no better than CSS (which is false, because, all things being equal, having the source has to be better than not having it).
    Hmm. It could be said that CSS was praised by omission, but I think now I have reread it that you are right.

    Not me. I don't use VB :)
    Great - can I have your job? :+)

    This supports his point that on a reliability level, OSS and CSS come out the same. I didn't hear him arguing that CSS had less bugs, merely that the "OSS is more reliable" argument didn't hold in his experience.
    Unfortunately, this IS a example of praise by omission - he states that, due to fixes that were promised for a OSS package and didn't arrive, his project had to be scrapped. WTF? What bug could be so bad that it forces the discard of months of man-hours of work, so insoluble that the Dev team for the package *and* his own personal programmers couldn't come up with a fix or a workaround, even given the full code for the compiler, and why was his code so compiler-specific that the code couldn't be ported to another Commerical compiler to complete the project?

    and he is right - it is.
    Yes, of course he is - but he is judging the whole of the OSS based on RMS and the fact Eric likes guns - That is like judging the entire Christian body on the attitudes of one Religious Zealot and a Deacon that likes to go shooting.
    Personally, I believe that OSS is not automagically better than CSS by some innate nature, but feel that OSS is able to GET better faster and easier, as there is less incentive to hang onto patches to release them as a payware "upgrade"
    I also believe that to release a package as CSS is an equally moral choice - but it is more moral to support an OSS project on principle if it is as good as, or has the potential to be better than, a CSS equivilent. If the CSS is the perfect $50 package BM gave as an example though, then the OSS package would need to be pretty good to beat it - but equally, if an existing product has bugs (and they ALL do) and the OSS package has bugs (and THEY all do) then you are more likely to get a bugfix for the OSS then the CSS - as a normal user. I don't doubt that exceptional customers can get the undivided attention of the CSS development team - but this obviously cuts into the amount of attention they could pay to the rest of us.

    So, then from a users point of view, CSS is ethical. And if users are willing to chose a closed product over an open one, then I consider it ethical to produce CSS, and so the FSF argument that it is immoral to write closed software is shown to be false for me (since morality is to some extent subjective).
    I would argue that OSS is no less ethical, at a minimum - and that given you gain the "additional" advantages of open source and free software (maintainability, freedom to choose your own support structure, inability to find yourself "orphaned" if the manufacturer should go bust or just drop the product), it should be considered more ethical to support it - the quality of the product being equal. To state that CSS has no moral value at all ranks alongside the "property is theft" declaration - neither has even the smallest basis, and is almost guaranteed to lose you support from normal people.

    <snip "one gets you three" argument>
    Which interacts with ethics, only in the realm of business ethics. Which means, that it is up to the owner of the resource to decide whether releasing the source to their product is the right thing.
    That's what I said, yes :+)
    In ESRs essays, he says that on one occasion, he told a querient that Opening his product's source would be the WRONG thing to do - he would gain nothing from a business perspective and would probably lose customers he already had. RMS would have ranted for twenty minutes on how he had stolen the money from his current user base and should immediately release the code. Many companies now take the middle road - sell their software commercially for as long as it is viable, then release it to the open source community - and that opens a whole new moral can of worms.


    For an individual that's fine. For a corporate entity, the case can be made, and the representative of the corportation will make the decision. I'm not sure how it works with tax-payer funded software (ie universities). If the software was developed for an educational purpose, which is has served, then it should be release open-source, since that should deliver the most value back to the tax-payers.
    However when professors start writing software on work time because they want to, should the tax-payer be funding it?
    If it directly competes with his duties, then the University is entitled to see SOMETHING to compensate them for that loss - either monetary compensation, or prestige. It would be unusual for a professor NOT to research his own papers and publications on Paid time; Universities accept this, and indeed know that the prestige of their institution depends partly on the prestige of their staff, and that prestige depends on their output within their field. Such papers are freely cited by further papers once they are published, and a tree of documents can be built pointing from the latest, cutting edge discoveries right back to the earliest principles.
    In a university setting, I can't see any reason why such should be limited to dry paper, if a Professor can give theory, Practice and Proof in one tidy bundle anyone can download and admire.

    <Snip "pro-gun">
    Yes but that's not why his arguments were straw-men. ERS's arguments are so easy to push over because they are ridiculous. eg:
    1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch.
    WTF? Just because his personal project was a personal itch doesn't mean every piece of software is. A lot of good software scratches someone else's itch. ESR takes the features of his project and applies them as universal axioms of software development. It would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that OS advocates keep quoting it.

    Yep, it is a good example of ESR taking his own personal values and mapping them onto the OSS movement as a whole - a bit similar to the way BM took HIS personal values as a universal moral baseline, and used them like a hammer :+)
    However, BM didn't find this (I think largely because he didn't read any of the essays, his moral indignation over Gun Advocacy getting the better of him) so I can only repeat that BM made an unqualified, ad-hom attack on ESR.

    It attempts to argue for open, collaborative development processes, but spends half of the essay talking about some useful software engineering methods. eg Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around. Sure it's true, but it's as applicable to Cathedrals and Bazaars.
    Indeed - but these are essays, So wander a bit. they are not political manifestos for Bazaar mode OR Cathedral mode programming, or for OSS in general; no doubt if he knew they would be eventually held up as the Icons of the OSS movement, he would have been a bit tider :+)
    He is arguing for the sort of programming he would like to see - and quite a lot of OSS code is pretty shabby (so is CSS of course, but this is in the open where you can see it)

    <Snip "work in progress">
    This is all very well, but it's not what advocates argue. The argument is, "OSS is more reliable". "You can trust our code because its open". If it's buggy, then it's buggy. Most people don't care why, or how easy it is to fix, they just want to know when it will work. If OSS really can deliver better software, then great, but if it can't (and I don't believe that, on the whole, OSS is by definition better), then ESR (et al) should be honest about it.
    I agree - OSS is massively overhyped at the moment; many of the advocates heaping glowing praise on OSS software couldn't code if their lives depended on it, they have made a political commitment and can't miss an opportunity to wave the flag. Add to that the penchant of reporters to "simplify" statements down to soundbites, and such misrepresentations become a little more expected.

    Experienced coder says:
    "OSS can be more reliable, because when a bug IS found, you aren't forced to wait for the owners to sell you an update, but can look in the code and fix it yourself. If you do the responsible thing and pass that fix back to the maintainers, you have just improved the product as a whole; if two thousand people do this, then you have had two thousand developers work on your code, and what CSS project can afford that? A project's improvement ramps up the more people that join."

    Advocate hears this, and what *doesn't* go over his head is this:
    When I see projects go wrong, I fix them. When thousands of other people see it go wrong, they fix it too. Eventually we will run out of bugs to fix, and everything will be perfect"
    and thinks:
    all I have to do is wait

    Reporter hears Advocate's version, and finally writes:
    OSS software is free, and patches are free; thousands of people are giving you this free, there will soon be no bugs left. Get this now before they wake up and start charging!
    The reporter isn't going to write what the Coder said - even if he had heard it, it is far too Geekish. And just publishing "Project X is getting better faster for free than CSS product Y" isn't going to sell papers - he is a reporter, he has a duty to tell people the REAL meaning of his news, and if he jumps the gun a little, he will be eventually proved right - and will have got it in before $COMPETING_PAPER

    The only real difference between this process for CSS and OSS is that CSS pay their Advocates, and call them marketing executives.... OSS get them (like everything else it seems :+) for free - and sometimes you DO get what you pay for.
    --

  • 2) And then we have the nice "My company isn't big enough to make the changes in the code ourselves. If we have a commercial product then at least we can complain."
    Indeed - in fact, we have here an authority on OO programming, who apparently has a group of coders going so deep into something that they find the bugs lurking in the unexplored depths of the compiler. (I note the exact bugs aren't named though - not unreasonable for a non-technical piece, but it would have been nice)
    if they were so terrible, they should indeed have been assigned a higher priority by the core coders (but I can't judge, as I don't know what they were). If they were in some obscure area of a library, or in fact merely differed from how the MS compiler handled that function, then a reply of "work around it or fix it yourself" to such an obviously name-heavy development group might well have been in order. The only true strength of OSS is that with CSS, you can only recognise the bug; with OSS, you can recognise it, trace it to it's home, and either fix it yourself or at least give the coders a good idea of what is broken; and give we are STILL waiting for MS to fix Multiple Inheritance in their compilers.......
    --
  • We seem to have a pattern of semi-luminaries speaking out against OSS in a very public manner, starting somewhere around a year ago. One every few months, IIRC.

    It makes me wonder. Has OSS just come over these great thinkers' horizons, so that they feel the sudden inclination to express their views on it? Has the rising tide started to threaten the beachfront property of random members of the elite? Or is this just the highbrow variant of astroturfing [tuxedo.org]?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    --
  • by drivers ( 45076 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @11:45AM (#1058817)
    Hey Bowie,
    Nice to see you decided to stick around Slashdot. You wrote a few days ago:
    After submitting this post, I'll be nuking my Slashdot bookmark and switch over getting my daily fodder from GeekNews.net.

    (What can I say, after your tizzy with VA Linux you're famous now. Congratulations.) Anyways. :)


    Personally, I agree with most of what Meyer points out in his article. It's never been fully explained (at least to my satisfaction) why attempting to make money off your own work (and exclusively your own work) is taboo. I've heard people scream bloody murder at me for years for simply trying to sell various little odds and ends i've made, rather than just declare it public domain and give it out for free.


    The thing is Meyer misrepresents ESR and RMS's views. They never said trying to make money is wrong. In fact they say quite the opposite. (see www.gnu.org or www.tuxedo.org/~esr) He intentionally made his definition of free meaning free beer, then used that to attack our definition of free meaning free to improve are share with your neighbor.

    Ford isn't "depriving" people of transportation by demanding that you pay money for one of their cars.

    Once again, wrong "free." You fell for his redefinition of terms techniques. It is a common technique used often, oddly enough, by cults.

    For the record I don't think it is fair for anyone to ask that you release your work as public domain.

    Have a nice day.
  • C'mon Guys, This article is one man's attempt to excuse his own actions.

    My reasons for using free software are simple, I like it. If i didn't, I'd use something else. He should do the same.

    RMS may be an extreemist, but that shouldn't destroy his carefully reasoned opinions (which are often right). That seems to be the gist of the argument. This is like reading a Baptist tract writtenagainst the Mormons, If you know anything about the group being attacked, the arguments are obviously falsee and slanderous. (The same is true of tracts written to attack the Baptists, as soon as money is involved, truth goes out the window.) A clear example of this was the assertion by insinuation that ERS supports the murder of women and hcildren in third world countries. IIRC, ESR is a believer in capitol punmishment. You are responsible for your own actions. That is never acknoleged here. It just didn't fit in with the authors prejudices.
  • NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise .... surprise and fear .... fear and surprise .... Our two weapons are fear and surprise .... and ruthless efficiency .... Our three weapons are fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency .... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our four .... no ....

    ROTFLMAO!

    Who says that Monty Python quotes don't have practical value?

  • so? when it's cheapbytes selling it to you, then it's cheapbytes that's doing the act of selling. when RH sells it to you, it's RH that's selling it to you. can it really be any more obvious? I can't believe anyone would claim that what RH does is "not really selling". whatever other money sources RH may have makes no difference on the question of whether they are selling software or not. (and besides, they *do* make a sizable chunk of money from sales of official RH products). as for documentation and support, well, commercial software also comes with a book and some support usually, does that make it "not really selling"?
  • Wow, excellent response.

    You put it very elequently.
  • The author hiself villifies taxpayer-supported free software, but shouldn't something that's paid for by the public be freely available to the public?

    You'd think so, but that doesn't seem to be the way things are. Basically, universities have two policies -- either the University owns the software (the policy of the University of California, I believe), or the authors own it (as in the case of the University of Waterloo). In either case, the owners can freely release the software to the public, but there is no obligation to do so.
  • Arguments about alcoholism can be backed up with statistics, medical evidence, and other objective data. But ethics are slippery concepts must be considered in light of the reputation of the presenter. If John Wayne Gacy tells me that murder is wrong, I'm going to laugh at him even though he's right. However, if he tells me to destroy criminal evidence, not just hide it, I can consider him an authority on the matter. Maybe in the academic world of Rhetoric you are right, but in this argument, Bertrand Meyer does not have a reputation (with me) that makes his arguments persuasive.

    Besides, I read his article. He doesn't get it.

    Meyer's assertions about C versus OO programmers were not about using object-oriented languages; they were about discipline. If Meyer had said "avoid undisciplined programmers" I would have no beef with him, but he said "avoid C hackers" then offered up a bunch of unsubstantiated reasons why C hackers == undisciplined programmers. It was, as Robert Martin said, bigotry, and it was not ethical.

    --Jim
  • In 1988 or 89, Bertrand Meyer needed to test his Eiffel compiler on a VAX/VMS system running Eunice, Dave Kashtan's 4.2 BSD emulator. Folks in the UCSB CS department pointed him at the Physics department where I was the sysadmin. His people asked us for one or two weekend days on theory.ucsb.edu to build the Eiffel compiler and test it out. They offered us a copy of Eiffel for our trouble. I asked them if we could have the source instead. They seemed shocked, and eventually said "no". I wasn't suprised, and said "OK" anyway. (I wouldn't have gotten away with saying "no." Mr. Meyer had a lot of friends at UC Santa Barbara and that's how things get done in academia) I offer this not as a criticism of Mr. Meyer, but as proof that he's held similar views for a long time. Also it's an interesting sidelight in view of his evident resentment against "Taxpayer-funded software."

    Interesting article. Meyer points out some glaring problems with the extreme views of many in the free software camp. I found his own glaring problems pretty amusing however. He accuses Richard Stallman et.al. of blanket ad hominum attacks against purveyors of proprietary software, then goes on to his own personal attack on esr:
    Eric Raymond, another of the leaders of the free software movement (who
    prefers the term "open source") uses his Web page to proselytize for gun
    rights. Here we move from the politically naive to the revolting. Only one
    quote will suffice, although readers interested in this propaganda can find
    heaps of it at http//www.netaxs.com/~esr/guns/gun-e thics.html [slashdot.org] and
    neighboring pages. The title is Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun: What Bearing
    Weapons Teaches About the Good Life; note the reference to ethics. It starts:
    "There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are. Life or death in one twitch --- ultimate decision, with the ultimate price for carelessness or bad choices. It is a kind of acid test, an initiation, to know that there is lethal force in your hand and all the complexities and ambiguities of moral choice have fined down to a single action: fire or not?"
    Such balderdash would be easy to dismiss if it were not highly visible from the author's Open Source pages (I came across it when looking for Mr. Raymond's touted essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar") and didn't have any ethical implications.

    This is followed by a blistering political attack on "gun nuts", a position I happen to agree with, but was embarrased to see put forward with such venom and vitrol. Bertrand Meyer seems to ignore his own lofty statement earlier in the article that
    ... bad people can defend good causes. A corrupt and dishonest politician may sincerely support principles of democracy and freedom. His personal failings do not disqualify the ideas of democracy and freedom any more than the Nazi regime's impressive building of autobahnen disqualifies the merits of freeways.
    Not that I necessarily agree that esr is a bad person. I do think that the connection between his ideas on guns and hos ideas on open source software was not well established by Mr. Meyer's article. In the absence of such a clear connection, this section of the article can only viewed as an example of the smear tactics Meyer accuses Stallman et al of engaging in.

    Some of Meyer's other criticisms hit closer to the mark in my opinion. The idea that anyone who engages in the production of proprietary software is evil is ludicrous and detracts from the effectiveness of free software evangelism. Fortunately, the world is not made up of black-and-white opposites as both Richard Stallman and Bertrand Meyer seem to think. These two stand near opposite poles of a continuous, complicated field of belief and practise. Software developers are free to choose from a variety of open source licenses for their wares, or to sell their time to commercial concerns. Many select several items from the menu presented, to the betterment of themselves, and yes, to the world in general.

    "Even if you are on the right track, you'll
    get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers

  • ... and ad hominim attacks.

    Meyers starts by saying ethics should be judged by acts, not attitudes. Then he spends almost the entire article attacking attitudes. RMS villifies "non-free" software; that's Bad. ESR villifies gun control; that's Bad. JMS villifies the Shadows ... oops, sorry, wrong TLA.

    In fact, most of his points in COURSE OF ACTION seem aimed at RMS; ESR already supports all but one (two if "moral premises" means his attitude on guns).

    The only "course of action" I think is silly is number 8: "Demand (in the spirit of faithful advertising) that the economic origin of 'free' software be clearly stated, and that the products be classified as one of 'donated', 'taxpayer-funded' and the other categories described in this article." He's asking the Free/Open movement to surrender the moral high ground (to him, naturally): he's saying, there is no such thing as "free" software, so stop using such a nice word for it! Well, tough.

    ("Taxpayer supported" ... I can almost hear William Proxmire, may he rest in peace having repented for his sins: "Do you mean to tell me, the American taxpayers paid for the development of this ... this ... this so-called 'free' software? Without any congressional oversight?")
  • on second thought, I agree with you to a point; to go on with the same example, the GNOME people should publicly be fair to KDE, and vice-versa. but what I want to point out is that people who are devoting their time and effort to a project tend to have a skewed view of the project's importance, on its own and in relationship to others... and that that is perfectly understandable, and even a significant factor in their motivation. so I think it's bad criticism to whine when they're not fair to other projects. the whole basis of the free software movement is that your worth is measured by what you contribute -- not by how nicely and reasonably you speak.
  • by Money__ ( 87045 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @09:45AM (#1058850)
    [Joke]
    A Father was explaining ethics to his son. "Ethics is about doing the right thing. Let's say someone comes into my store and I mistakenly over charge them by $20 for something they purchase. The question of Ethics is:

    Do you tell your partner?"

    [bada-boom-tssss]
    ___

  • First, he does acknowledge, right at the beginning, that availability of source code is a core element of free software.

    Second, the fact that the software has zero cost is much more than an artifact; while it's true that it's a result of source being freely distributable, it's one of the central elements of open source software.
  • Linux and GCC are widely praised by their users. Yet not all is rosy. Like commercial software, free software is --- surprise --- of very variable quality. You find the best and the worst. ISE's own experience with free software has included both kinds. Recently, we have had more than our share of the second; we have had to cancel one major project, and reengineer a product completely, after wasting many person-months and disappointing customers, because of the deficiencies of two separate GNU products (the GCC compiler for Windows and the editor under GTK). In both cases the scenario was the same: fixes to well-known bugs being promised and promised again; everyone waiting for months and months, until it becomes clear that nothing will happen; in the end, having to write off all the affected developments. Since no one is in charge, and you didn't pay for the products, there is no one to blame.

    No one to blame, but yourself. If you are free you must take responsibility for your own actions, not lay the blame of deficiencies in the world on others. Scratch your own frickin' itch, my hands are busy finding mine, in other words.

    He also misses the mark on the infinite nature of software argument. That photocopying a book example just doesn't hold. It's not only a matter of matter (the physical size of the book and paper) but of time (to make the copies) and effort (to make the copies). The LOVEBUG was a good example of infinite Free Software. Nobody wanted it, but it was free and travelled around the world a whole lot faster than a fat man on sled with a photocopier.

    Also....I watched the NRA's rally today on c-span (flipping back and forth to cartoons...) and their esteemed leader Mos^H^H^HCharlton Heston. [imdb.com] He ended his speech with the famous 5 words...(You'll get my gun when you pry it)"from my cold dead hands" while holding an antique rifle aloft.

    My take on the gun debate is this. After all the hand waving and screaming unresolved conflict comes down to force. If one side is screaming "No Guns, No guns!" and the other's motto is as above. I don't usually bet, but I would on that one.

    A community shouldn't be judged by the morals and actions of it's leaders (at least not solely). I'm proud to be an American. Clinton sucks. Enough said?

    And for the quality issue...

    Product F is free software. It comes with the standard no-warranty warranty.
    Product P is proprietary software. It costs $50 for the binary-only version. It uses the most advanced techniques of software engineering. It never crashes, or departs in any way from its (mathematically expressed) specification. The seller is, in fact, so sure of those qualities that he will commit in writing that any violation of the specification during execution will immediately lead to reimbursement of the purchase price and compensation for any damages incurred.


    That's called a "service contract" and is believed by many to be how they will eventually make money with Free software.

    That's enough of this guy for today, time to go out and play.
    --
  • You know, the same thing occurred to me. I may not be a Nobel-winning physicist but I do know AC flows through a capacitor. So I went wading through my unbelievably cluttered bookshelves and found the book in question: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman," Bantam Books, 1986. And here on page 261 (I looked up "talmud" in the index) is the quote itself:

    I even proposed a practical solution for eliminating the spark. "If that's what's bothering you, you can pit a condenser actross the switch, so the electricity will go on and off without any spark whatsoever - anywhere." But for some reason, they didn't like that idea either.

    Maybe he meant "in series with the switch" instead, and I'd guess that would work as intended too, but it is an unexpected pleasure for dumb old me to have caught the great Nobel Laureate in an error!

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • by volsung ( 378 )
    Sigh. It's sad to think that someday I'll be in a job where I'll have to play games like this. So, basically, if your project goes to hell, you might keep your job if you can say "He did it!" and point your finger.

    As a manager, I don't know if I would want to encourage that kind of mentality in my subordinates. But then again, I'm not in that position, so I don't know what other issues I'd be having to deal with.

  • ---
    Of course we know how the consequences of imposing slavery as a false property right led to devistation, do we really want to experience similar consequences with newer and more modern technologies?
    ---

    Are you seriously suggesting that the enslavement of human beings is in any way comparable to someone not letting you hack on their software?

    I'm not sure what's more appalling - the fact that you believe that access to code you didn't produce is a moral right is anything like the abolishment of slavery, or the fact that someone somewhere moderated you up as Insightful...

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews (http://www.velocinews.com [velocinews.com])
  • Hermiticism does not involve family. Preservation of life is not an absolute moral imperitive, either, as it is often morally acceptable to kill when defending your country or loved ones.


    self gratification is the goal behind every human action. Then again, that's just an absolute... :)

    First, there's two different senses of "absolute" you're mixing up -- "admits of no exceptions" and "true across cultures"; your examples speak only to the former, not the latter. Show me a society that doesn't place an extremely high value on life in general, even if (as seems plausible) all recognize that there are situations in which it is OK to kill someone else. And besides, the original poster was pointing out that it's unreasonable to simply *assume* moral relativism.

    Second point. OK, there's a smiley there, but ... There's just no way of construing that claim that doesn't make it completely vacuous or misleadingly false.

    Old story about Abe Lincoln, who stopped a stagecoach he was travelling in to (IIRC) pull some piglets out of the mud to reunite them with their mother. He had been arguing for the claim that no one acts out of anything other than self interest with someone else in the stagecoach (one of the little details that makes it likely apocryphal, but what the hey). Lincoln's opponent said "there, you just did that unselfish act, Abe" to which Lincoln replied "That was the soul of selfishness. Don't you see, I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't helped those piglets!"

    Lincoln's error lies in assuming that "this is a desire of mine" entails "this is a self-interested desire." He would have felt horrible precisely because he wished not to see the pigs suffer -- the object of his concern was the piglets.

  • by cybaea ( 79975 ) <allane&cybaea,com> on Saturday May 20, 2000 @12:01PM (#1058880) Homepage Journal

    Previously ([37] [slashdot.org], [118] [slashdot.org]) I thought his ethics was just confused, but as I read further through the article I realise that Bertrand has completely lost it.

    The free software advocates must recognize that some issues are more important than who owns software

    Eh, yes, but what does that have to do with anything? There are always more important issues, but that does not make all issues unimportant.

    And what does gun control have to do with free or open source software!? Beats me. But even if we try to follow his thread of thought we end up at:

    Given the choice between
    • a society where all software would be proprietary, and civilized measures would be in place preventing .. a disturbed ... [person] from buying a ... gun without any background check...;
    • a society where all software would be free and Mr. Raymond's views on gun "freedom" [netaxs.com] were fully realized,
    any ethically-conscious person would choose the former

    A couple of points are in order, lest anybody should be persuaded by Mr. Meyer's ravings:

    1. You sould always be very nervous when somebody claim they speak for "any ethically-conscious person". Not everybody will agree with the Law According to Bertrand, and to brand them all as un-ethical shows Mr. Meyer as a bigot [dictionary.com].
    2. The two choices offered are not the only ones. We can choose to free software and restrain the right to bear arms, if we want.
    3. I do not particularly care for Eric's views on guns, but, as the saying roughly goes (Voltaire again, I think), I will defend his right to express those views. That freedom is important, and it is sad that Bertrand does not recognise this.

    Enough! of this madness. Next subject, please!

  • So, although I bought a car, it still belongs to the manufacturer. Because they were the ones who created it, it's still up to them to decide what I'm allowed to do with it, or if I'm allowed to mess with its internals. In fact, if the owner of the car company is a fundamentalist Christian, it's perfectly right for them to forbid you to bring gay men into your car!

    (set! sarcasm #f)

    If you don't want to fix your car yourself, trusting the job instead to the manufacturer, that's your choice. It's nonetheless your car, and you get to do whatever the hell you want with it.

    Proprietary software companies, however, license their software to us. We're paying for the right to use it. Legally, then, the above does apply - it remains their software.

    That doesn't make it morally right, though. Say I'm well-versed in simulation software and an experienced programmer, and I find that my favourite simulation package has a horrendous bug in it, one which is easily repairable but will cost millions of dollars if not repaired. If the simulation software is proprietary, then I'm screwed - I have to pray to Kibo that the owners of said software are willing to fix it, although I could do it myself, for free, and save me - and them - a lot of trouble. (Note that car repair requires specialised equipment, but programming only requires a compiler and a few utilities.)

    Even leaving aside the question of free distribution, which entices the most moral opposition in the Free Software Movement (it means that sharing with your neighbour is wrong, which I personally find despicable), there still seems to be a case against closed-source software, and it should be recognised that the companies which, out of necessity (of protecting their investment - their years' worth of hard work), keep their software' source closed, are in doing so effecting a lot of potential harm on other people - their own consumers, no less! - and thus shouldn't do so lightly. Furthermore, that still shouldn't mean that the software is theirs in anyway, any more than my BMW car is BMW's. (My BMW car? I wish!) Keeping sources closed should serve only the same purpose as patents were designed to serve: to promote the progress of sciences and useful arts.
  • by Gurlia ( 110988 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @12:05PM (#1058885)

    OK, I wrote a long rant but deleted it on second thought :-) I just wanted to say a few things:

    1. The article makes the bad mistake of fitting all free software advocates into the stereotype of being blind followers of RMS and ESR. The free software advocate community is much more diverse than he seems to think. Even RMS and ESR don't agree with each other on mamy points.
    2. Free software is not about anti-commercialism. That is a purely RMS concept, and is emphatically NOT the universal outlook of every free software advocate. Free software also isn't about not charging for software products. The point of free software lies with source code availability. The economic/personal/whatever reaons he listed for why people write free software is probably true; but he misses what IMHO is the central issue of free software: free source code. Possessing the source code puts the consumer in the position of power. You can learn from the source code, you can tailor it to your own needs, you can add to it and make your contributions available to the original authors and everyone else. This is, IMHO, the major factor that drives free software advocates. All the other factors he mentions are certainly NOT universally accepted by free software advocates.
    3. Software has nothing to do with gun control. Just because someone supports free software doesn't make them gun fanatics. Who is so and naive as to imitate everything somebody does just because they happen to agree with you on one particular point? If you think that you cannot agree with somebody on one point without agreeing with everything else they say about every other issue, then you are a pathetic blind sheep who deserve what you get.

    ---
  • You fell for his redefinition of terms techniques.

    Not really. First, he includes "source code available" in his definition; this is a core and important point which differentiates his definition from "free beer". It's true that the definition does not include certain aspects of the GNU definition (unlimited redistribution, derivatives also GPLed), but all of its elements are part of the GNU definition.

    Everyone here has been saying that "free speech" software has only to do with freedom, not money. This is not true. Yes, the GPL supposedly permits you to sell software, but it doesn't really. Everything you sell can be redistributed by the purchaser. In other words, it's entirely possible and likely that you sell one copy of your software and then the buyer puts it on an FTP server and you never sell another copy. If your software is distributed under a "free speech" license, it must by common sense also be "free beer". So all of his arguments against "free beer" software are equally valid against "free speech" software.

    It is a common technique used often, oddly enough, by cults.

    That's not true: the Leader told me it wasn't.

    Actually, speaking of common techniques, using an extreme example of something and then damning by association is just as much of a ploy and logical fallacy as using an incorrect definition.

  • I read the whole article, and while it raises some worthwhile points (other than the random gun control thing - what has that got to do with anything?), I think Meyer has missed the fundamental link between Ethics and OpenSoftware (I'm going to reserve FreeSoftware for GPL'd stuff).

    Under the harsh light of analysis, Ethics are a set of socially pragmatic guidlines. They aren't rules (some are laws, some aren't). Instead, Ethics are social conventions that allow a given society to remain cohesive and functional. That's the extent of them. They aren't "God-given" or some other divinity-enforced, but rather religion has been used as a method of enforcement of Ethics for millenia. Something becomes Ethical in a society when a large majority of the population sees that such a rule/value is beneficial to the society. That's why Ethics change - it was highly ethical to own slaves for virtually the entire course of human history until the 19th Century, when most cultures decided that it suddenly was no longer worth the problems it caused. We now view slavery as unethical.

    So how does this relate to OpenSoftware? OpenSoftware is all about pragmatism. There are differing degrees of how pragmatic one wants to be (just as there were degrees of zeal in the abolitionist movement), but the fundamental reason driving the OpenSoftware movement is pragmatism: OpenSoftware provides benefits and advantages to both the developers and users that are deemed to outweigh the disadvantages. In addition, the general viewpoint has come to the pragmatic conclusion that, for most items, closed software is inferior in features to OpenSoftware (by features, I mean advantages to the user/developer population, not bells-and-whistles).

    Now, the Ethical thing here is that we have come to realize that a promoter of OpenSoftware is Good. Thus, OpenSoftware developers have high Ethical status, which is a social advantage.

    The main point to all this is that OpenSoftware and Proprietary Software aren't opposed - they can co-exists. In fact, given the relative advantages of each, they both should occupy their market niche, and we should recognize that (and criticize those who engage in extremism for no socially-justifiable reason).

    This "my-shit-is-better-than-your-shit" absolutism rhetoric is exactly what is unEthical. Ethics is pragmatism, practiced on a cultural level. When we (as a society) decide that one is a clear wholesale detriment to society, then it will generally be deemed unEthical. As long as both methods have defined uses (ie. markets) where their overall contributions outweigh their overall liabilities, they both should survive, heated rhetoric aside.

    OpenSoftware is more about questioning the fundamental assumptions that have ruled the Software Industry than about some new large-scale societal revolution. Both sides would be well-advised to remember that.

    -Erik

  • by RatFink100 ( 189508 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @01:33PM (#1058894)

    There seem to have been several comments along the lines of "Meyer doesn't get it - it's free as in speech, not free as in beer".

    Actually I think he does get it - he's just addressing another issue. He's looking at whether it is a valid thing for a software developer to make money out of the software he develops.

    Whether we like it or not one of the most effective ways to make money out of software - is to make it closed source and sell it. Yes you can make money sell services - support etc. Yes you can make money distributing software. But you can also make money selling the software itself.

    There is a fundamental irony in the use of the word freedom in all the GNU/FSF advocacy texts. I am a programmer. They want to deny me the freedom to choose the way in which I make money from my skills. I can be paid for writing software provided it is Open Source, I can be paid for supporting/fixing Open Source software. But I cannot be paid for writing closed source software.

    Presumably the same people believe that no actor should receive payment unless his work will be free to view. Or that a writer can only receive money for his work if he writes for a free publication

    This attitude is even more remarkable when you consider that certain pieces of software are extremely unsusceptible to the Open Source model. Don't forget that much bespoke business software has in effect, business process logic embedded into the design. Such business processes might well be part of the competitive advantage one company has over another. Opening up your source in a case like this could be highly damaging. In short there are situations where Open Source is the wrong choice for software.

    Such a radical restriction of freedom - requiring that I only write OSS - requires very good justification. Unfortunately I do not believe that such a justification can be found. None of the benefits which come from Open Source Software are lost if it has to co-exist in a world which also allows Closed Source, Copyrighted software.

    Perhaps its because Copyright has always been the dominant model that OSS has had to assert it's opposite characteristics strongly in order to make itself heard. But hopefully this won't obscure the fact that both models can and should continue to live cheerfully side-by-side

    RatFink
  • Hm, yes, I missed that one. Well spotted!! He is not only confused in his ethics, he is also contradictory. You can make an obscene [dictionary.com] profit, as long as he is not loosing out on the cash.

    Sad.

  • First, attacking the author is not a valid way to attack an argument. The arguments in the article shouldbe considered independently of the author. (An ad hominem logical fallacy, if you want the details.)
    Of course, that is exactly what Mr Meyer did - he declared Eric Raymond's views on guns (and, by extension, himself) to be "repugnant", then turned around and criticized free software because Eric Raymond is associated with it. And that after criticizing the FSF for their "absence of rational justification for the extremist view"!
  • of course you "know". it's written in your e-mail address, even!

    Hey, sue me -- when there are tens of millions of people with Hotmail accounts, "Zico" is a little hard to come by, and "ZicoKnows" is a lot catchier than the AOLesque "Zico2398." :) Seriously, I think half of my flames come from people just annoyed at my choice of email address. If you notice, though, my account here isn't "ZicoKnows," it's just "Zico." C'mon folks, it's just an email address.

    does it ever occur to *you* that you might not be the ultimate holder of truth, knowledge and common sense?

    Well, yeah -- if I thought I knew everything, then I wouldn't qualify my remarks with things like "I think" or "I've heard from others" or "this isn't coming from experience," which I did earlier today [slashdot.org], or "if there's someone out there who can field these questions, please do," which I did just yesterday [slashdot.org]. See? If I don't know what I'm talking about, I don't flame on and pretend that I do. I'm definitely no role model, but if more people followed that one little example, the overall quality of posts in this forum would be greatly improved.

    your points of view might get a warmer welcome, and less down moderation, if you were just a little bit less cocky with them.

    Hey, I'd love to believe you, really, but it seems like a lot of posts around here get knocked down as flamebait or trolls when they don't conform to the politically correct view around here, no matter what the tone is. This [slashdot.org] and this [slashdot.org] are just two recent examples of that -- or do you think I sounded too cocky in them?

    Cheers,
    ZicoHopesThisReplyDidn'tSoundCocky@hotm ail.com :)

  • What I don't get is why Meyer makes such a big deal about ESR. RMS I can understand, and the first part of this essay was more or less pretty truthful. I can't see how someone can consider access to someone else's work a right rather than a privelege.

    But ESR? After Meyer spends a few paragraphs talking about how morality is completely subjective and that bad men can have 'good ideas', he rails against ESR for (of all things) his stance on guns.

    Excuse me? Regardless of your opinions on gun control, what does this have to do with open-source development? Absolutely nothing.

    Really, I don't get it. ESR's views on open-source/free software are completely pragmatic compared to that of many other open-source luminaries. He focuses on the less politically loaded and questionable aspects (ie. code reuse, peer review, external contributions, and so on).

    You'd think that, even if he didn't agree with the specifics of ESR's claims about open-source, he wouldn't feel so compelled to clump ESR and other pragmatists in with RMS and his believers. We're far too diverse a group for that.

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews (http://www.velocinews.com [velocinews.com])
  • by anonymous cowerd ( 73221 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @01:43PM (#1058906) Homepage

    You know, I've always wondered why open source software is always assumed to be free-gratuit, and why software sold for money has to be shipped bereft of source code. I suppose the argument is, if the developer ships his software with source code then users will be able to compile unauthorized copies. But obviously it is just as easy, no, far easier, to simply copy the binaries than to compile new binaries from source.

    Conversely, suppose I am a software developer and I want to release an application with the usual license restricting the buyer, if he wants to install my application on N computers, to pay me for N licenses. If, like the great majority of commercial PC software, my program is not "protected" by some elaborate copy-protection scheme, then basically the only thing that prevents a buyer from distributing "bootleg" copies of my program is his respect for the license agreement, or at least his fear of being caught violating it. The U.S. software industry is doing quite well, despite such a flimsy protection for its products. Why couldn't I rely on the same thing to protect my copyright and my profits if I released programs with source code?

    As a commercial product, software complete with source might, for some users at least, be a valuable convenience - one which might attract customers and win extra market share - if they had the ability to add site-specific hacks to my code, or if they could recompile it to work around bugs and security holes, or merely so they could see what is going on inside the program. In that last consideration, I'm thinking about end-users who generate data files in specific formats that are generated by proprietary programs, such as MS Word .DOC files or AutoCAD .DWG files. My employers have millions of dollars invested in AutoCAD .DWG files. Suppose Autodesk goes out of business five years from now, how are we supposed to get our information out of these files? As customers, we would be a lot happier if at least the .DWG format was specified somewhere, but it is not. So a competing CAD software vendor would have a selling point if he could say, "Our data format is openly documented, so your data can't be orphaned" - in fact, Bentley, which makes Microstation, does make such an argument in their sales pitch. And they'd have a yet better sales pitch if they could say, "Our software is open-source, so neither your data files nor your application itself can ever be completely orphaned. Even if the OS vendor somehow breaks something so our compiled code doesn't work any more," (but what OS vendor would ever do a screwed up thing like that? it's unthinkable, really ;-)) "you could still port our source code to the new OS of your choice."

    When you add something to a GPL program, the copyright holders retain their rights to your "derivative work." Similarly, if I were to sell a commercial, licensed application complete with source code, I shouldn't lose my copyright to my proprietary program just because an end-user has modified it and made his own "derivative work" from it. So why does everyone take it for granted that open source == zero cost?

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • They called slavery a property right, but it wasn't about ownership at all it was about controll. Today the same is true of intellectual 'property', it's not about property at all but controll. Then they said that america's great economeny rested on slavery - but that wasn't true nor did it justify slavery. Today they say it rests on 'intellectual property' dito. They said without slave 'property' they would have no incentive to grow cotton. Today they say that without 'intellectual property' we have no incentive to create and share knowledge. They said I put money effort into slave property - therefore I am entitled to own it, today they say the same thing about intellectual property.

    Of course we know how the consequences of imposing slavery as a false property right led to devistation, do we really want to experience similar consequences with newer and more modern technologies?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd like to preface this by saying, I write both free and commercial software. I see a place for both in this world, and in this (as in most matters) tend to steer clear of extremism.

    So I started this in good faith, evaluating carefully what Meyer had to say. But... jeez... it quickly started to look pretty rediculous. This guy has "issues". I started picking it apart in some detail, but, I gave up before reaching the end (I read to the end, just didn't bother commenting eventually. I have my limits.). Strangely, the last section is comparatively rational, but it feels somewhat hollow in the context of the rest of the article.

    Here we go:

    The author is making classic free beer / free speech mistakes. See, for instance, his "categories of free software" that is, really, an obsessive list of how the software was "paid for" (donated, taxpayer-funded, privately-funded, etc). The issue is not cost (acts of charity are nothing new) but freedom.

    A quote:

    Nowhere in the hundreds of pages of GNU and FSF literature is there any serious explanation of why it is legitimate, for example, to make a living selling cauliflowers, or lectures (as a professor does), or videotapes of your lectures, but criminal to peddle software that you have produced by working long hours, sweating your heart out, thinking brilliantly, and risking your livelihood and that of your family.

    Oops. Flawed analogy. Stallman doesn't label it "criminal" or forbid people from selling software products for money. He argues that they should not do so restrictively (ie in "proprietary" fashion). This appears to be more free beer / free speech confusion. The analogy falls down because i can take a cauliflower and do whatever I like with it. I can cook any meal I know how, give it to anyone I like, cut it up into bits and share it out, slice it up, mount it and place it under a microscope to examine its structure. True, I cannot give that individual cauliflower multiple times to multiple people without dividing it. But while I have no idea if cauliflowers can or not, many fruit and vegetables you buy can be planted and grown into new fruit and vegetables, and the same done to those (and I find so-called "Terminator Genes" that attempt to prevent this far more morally obnoxious than "copy protection").

    And it's even easier to replicate a lecture: Who honestly thinks it immoral for a student to tell someone about the content of a lecture? The whole point is to diseminate knowledge! The lecturer probably learnt much of the lecture material, not by research, but in lectures they themselves attended, or books they have read.

    These things take time and effort. We pay farmers, and lecturers, to take that time and effort. We could choose not to, though, and read the literature ourselves, grow our own plants in our own back gardens. Likewise, we can build our own Linux distributions if we wish -- but we may choose to buy one off-the-shelf, or even pay someone to install it for us.

    Another quote:

    We may grumble at having to pay for a mere wave in the ether, but is it immoral? Most people don't think so, accepting instead that it would be immoral to obtain the contents of the signals without economic compensation to the people--producers, actors, technicians--who worked on the programs they contain.

    Actually, I do have "issues" with that. WTF are adverts for if not to pay those producers, actors, and technicians? We're not talking about cheap-ass banner ads here, we're talking millions of advertising dollars. We're talking constant interruptions to the programs, we're talking adverter-influenced programs (check out the deal with anti-drugs messages in TV programming...) and schedules based around pulling in adverts. Think about that for a moment.

    That's a rather specific case, though. In general, I think people have the right to charge whatever they like for products (people can always choose not to buy them). There is a deeper issue though. Quote time again:

    In any case the idea that a low reproduction cost should imply a free product has no rational basis. In fact no known moral law implies that purchase cost should even be related to production cost. I may find ridiculous the idea of paying eight times as much for a BMW as for a Toyota Corolla if I guess that it costs far less than eight times as much to produce; but that doesn't make BMW guilty of moral horrors. The issue is economic (how much is prestige worth to the buyer?), with no ethical consequences.

    This is quite right. But it doesn't tell the whole story. Here's a list of things I can do with a BMW that I all-too-frequently can't do with proprietary software:

    Take it for a test-drive

    Get it fixed within days if it suffers a fault

    Poke around under the bonnet to see how it works

    Fix it myself if I have the tools and understanding

    Resell or loan it

    Charge people to take them from place to place in it

    If I really wanted to, caniballise the parts to use in some other machine

    (for some reason DeLoreans are favoured for that last one...)

    Some proprietary software lets me do some of those things, but none let me do all of them, and many let me do none of them. Yet they seem like pretty legitimate things to want to do.

    Until the 18th century, writers were ripped off by publishers. The gradual imposition of a copyright (due largely in France to Beaumarchais, author of the Barber of Seville and the Marriage of Figaro as well as smuggler of arms to the American revolution) was a major moral correction, re-establishing the rights of the creators.

    Sadly this has been peverted such that the artists are once more ripped off, and the consumer too. Makes me cringe with disgust every time the RIAA claims they're trying to kill MP3s "for the artists", while lobbying for artists' rights to their own work to be taken away from them...

    The extremist free-software view would have us return, for software, to a pre-eighteenth-century world: you can make money from selling CDs, but cannot protect the contents of those CDs!

    Of the entire article, this is the only point that appears to have any value at all. Depending on just how extreme a view one takes, this statement might be correct. Mainly because of the use of the word "protect". Free (speech) Software doesn't say you can't charge for software. It says that you can't protect that charge, ie, prevent people from distributing it openly. In practical terms, this may (or may not, depending on circumstances -- see below) be the same thing, but the ethical standpoint being held (and remember, this is an article on ethics, not practicalities -- or so it claims) is quite different.

    Discursion: I am working on a project. I intend to open-source it. I would still like to make money from it. I have precisely zero interest in doing "tech support" or "solutions" for people with it. I already have a day job I enjoy, I am writing the software to scratch a personal itch, want it to be open-source because it deals with security and I think a) people have a right to see for themselves if it is truly secure or not and b) it would be good if people spotted bugs in it, and c) would like to see it ported to other platforms than those I use. But since I have had to make a fairly huge investment of my so-called free time producing it, I would like to get something back for that.

    Currently, I see no way to do this; since I do have a day job (side note, I use none of my employer's facilities for the project) I will probably just throw it out into the world for people to use. But I may ask for "honour-system payment". I'd cheerfully have this be "means-tested", ie, if you have are a broke-ass student or whatever, you can have it for free, if you use it commercially, you should pay, but either way you can play with the source.

    Of course, most people won't send any money. I know this.

    But the problem here is not an ideological one with free software. The lack of ethics is entirely with those people who break the trust by using-but-not-paying. This is another cute sophist trick Meyer uses: He claims to be dealing with ethics, but is actually talking about technology. To clarify, his reasoning seems to be, "Free software says you should open the source and let anyone copy it. There's no way to force people to pay up if you do that. So free software is saying you should not charge for it." This logic doesn't hold up.

    This distortion--the hijacking for private purposes of a word that holds such a sacred aura for most people--is highly unethical.

    And yet distortion of the free-software philosophy for magazine articles is OK?

    Extreme analogies are another dubious rhetorical device.

    I find this extremely amusing considering Meyer himself uses analogies with Nazism earlier in this same essay! He continues:

    ...the best way to counter the sometimes outrageous attacks of the most extreme "freedom" advocates may be to keep a cool- headed, rational attitude, and not try to match their antics.

    Good advice, Bertrand! ;-)

    It would all the same be a mistake to portray that group as slightly eccentric do-gooders. Their propaganda is a campaign of hatred against people whose only "crime" is to want to make a living out of the wares they produce.

    Wow. Hate crime! Remind me again, do I file this under "extreme analogy" or "outrageous attacks"?

    I have no idea if the anecdote that follows (that I won't quote here) about RMS is true or not. It doesn't ring true to me, but, since I wasn't at the dinner table, I can't really comment. But if it is true, it is still only one person and not the movement which is at fault. In Meyer's own words, "Bad people can defend good causes." Oddly, considering this statement, a large part of the essay appears to be a character assassination of Richard Stallman.

    I also find Meyer's comments about the Japanese scientists offensive. He seems to feel that because atrocities were committed during the war, that this invalidates any good or humane act done by them? Surely we should look at each individual person and their own behaviour? Is he trying to suggest those self-same scientists were responsible for the atrocities? If not, how are those atrocities at all relevant to the conversation in hand?

    We then proceed to another character assassination of ESR ("gun nut", "lunatic ravings" -- where I live, we don't have guns, and I think guns should not be freely available, but I don't consider ESR a nut for holding a different viewpoint) and a huge rambling rant upon gun control. Can we get back to software, please, Mr. Meyer? Apparently, the fact that Stallman has never "strongly and publically disavowed" ESRs views (Why should he? They're not the same person or even in the same organisation, why would anyone assume they share it?)

    Anyway. I've run out of energy for dealing with this. I have better things to do.

  • By selling, I mean what the author of this article means: earning money from your own software. Yes, of course, if the most basic definition of "selling" is used, then anything offered in exchange for money is sold.

    But the author's point was that the GNU people believe that making (non-trivial) money by selling one's own software is wrong. This is true because the GPL prevents you from selling your software in any seriousness.
  • I guess we should be glad that we have been strightended out about this issue.

    And here I thought that when I was paid to do a specific job, I owned the skills that I used to do that job, even if it meant building new tools, or buying new clothes, to do that job.

    So I guess every professor at every university does not own the papers that s/he publishes, but rather the university owns them.

    I guess that bar owners own the novells that their waitresses write during their breaks (it happens), because "she wrote it on MY counter".

    You can see where this is going.

    And no, ethics is not about "right and wrong". Ethics is about finding an optimal way to apply an ordered value system to an action in the real world. (where resources are limited and competition for them exists. Thus the distinction between "Act Utilitarianism" and "Rule Utilitarianism". Ethics is about systems of decision making.

    Morality is where people get their ordered values. Values like "Pain is Bad", "Freedom is Good", values which cannot all be satisfied all the time, and so we must order them (for me, "Freedom is Good" comes before "Pain is Bad"). Only after we know what we value, can we apply an ethical theory to it, and decide what actions are appropriate TO BEST SERVE OUR VALUES. So ethics is NOT about right and wrong.

    And anyone who claims any bullsh*t about "Universal Ethics" either dosn't understand this, or is trying to confuse you to serve the things s/he values.

    ---
    "Elegant, Commented, On Time; Pick any Two"
  • > > Bob Metcalfe, in a recent InfoWorld column, did
    > > not hesitate to write that "Richard Stallman
    > > is a communist". I do not actually think such comments
    > > are particularly useful...

    Then why the f*ck did you not hesitate to carefully quote such a "un-useful" comment, Meyer? Fact is, this f*cker Meyer is blatantly red-baiting Stallman, and what's worse, he did it in such a way as to deflect his own personal responsibility for red-baiting him by quoting another guy, and then wig-wagging his finger at him! Christ, tactics like that make Rush Limbaugh seem like an honorable debater.

    Also note the obligatory slam in his article against the Soviet Union. Got to bring the old dead Soviet Union into any red-baiting discussion, just for background color (red), even if the subject is half the globe away from that nation and utterly unrelated to that regime. Yeah, yeah, you couldn't get a chicken in Brezhnev's Moscow, yeah, the GPU were bad bad bad, but I'm sick to death of this cliche, this one-sided story about how fanatically, consistently and irrationally awful the Russian Communists always were.

    As long as some people are waving the word "Communist" around in the air like a slapjack, let's go ahead and talk about the old Soviet Union. For the entirety of the Soviet regime they had a total of maybe ten years max when they weren't either under active ground attack by merciless invading foreign armies or face-to-face with a coalition of enemy nations, devoted, in the fullest extent of their industrial capacity, to the literal genocide of the Russian race. I am using the words "literal" and "genocide" in their precise meanings. Hitler specifically intended to annihilate the entire Slavic race and he made no secret of his ambitions, instead published them worldwide in his 1924 book Mein Kampf. Go read it; it's online. You owe it to yourself to know history. Go read Toland "Rise and Fall"; the deliberate starvation of all Western Russia was a war goal acknowledged in the formal secret plans for Operation Barbarossa.

    Then, no sooner did Russia practically singlehandedly cleanse this ungrateful world of that ultimate maniac Hitler, at a cost of a third of their adult population, than it faced a new enemy, their former ally, the U.S.A., in the person of Curtis LeMay and his "nation-killing," H-bomb-armed SAC. Did you know we buzzed Russian cities with strategic bombers on a regular basis throughout the fifties? Did you know that Kennedy put seven thousand megatons in the air during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Did you know Nixon did it again in the Six-Day War? Did anybody reading this pay any attention at all when Reagan joked on camera about having just ordered an all-out attack against the SU?

    The Soviet Union was under seige for seventy years. Now my country, the U.S.A., is the richest nation in the history of mankind, with no military enemies anywhere worth considering, and we've got two million people behind bars today. Scratch the first, fourth, fifth and seventh amendments for the "drug war"; go ask ESR about what happened to that second one. What do you think would happen to what's left of our so-called "freedoms" if the U.S.A. were under seige for one year, much less seventy years?

    Damn, I know this rant I just wrote might have got a bit off topic. Sorry. Mod me down if you feel you must. But this endless mindless f*cking red-baiting drives me nuts. You know, this is on-topic here at /. - anybody reading this, if you advocate or use open-source/free/GNU software, these f*cking guys, they're red-baiting you.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • I'd be curious to know what its costs to get the writers of a proprietary program to fix deficiencies in their product? If Joe Schmoe buys Borland C++ and finds a deficiency in the compiler, does he wait months and months for the problem to get fixed in the bug release? Does he annoy their tech support lines and get told to reinstall it six times or use some cheezy workaround?

    I agree that being stuck with software that doesn't do what you want is a pain. But does having someone to blame get you out of your hole any faster? I know you can pay a software house (i.e. Oracle and friends) to give you the kind of support that Meyer would have liked in the cases he refers to, but how much is that compared to paying a contract programmer to fix a problem? Borland or Microsoft aren't even going to blink if you just went to Best Buy, bought their compiler and found out it was broken 10 months down the road. Do you have to site license for 25 seats before they care? 100 seats? Pay $10,000 per year for a support contract?

    Frankly, I'd like to know. If it costs as much to get personal programming attention from a big corp as I think it does, I see a big business in the future for programmer houses doing contract-based improvements to free software.

    And, for the economic theorists in the audience, you could actually have competition for software improvement contracts. Sure, the people who wrote it would be better at fixing it, but if they decide to be jerky and charge too much, some one else can charge less. Competition == lower prices for everyone. Now the software houses can't treat you like garbage because you aren't enslaved to them for software support.

    Perhaps I'm just dreaming, but I think I can get paid just fine in a system like that.

  • That moral values are subjective? Well, Duh!

    I believe in the principles of the FSF and have put my software under the GPL because I believe that this is the right thing to do and is congruent with my desire to help build a better world. I am aware that not everybody feels this way -- many people I know feel that they owe the world nothing and openly declare that they simply want to maximize their income. Fine. I have a right to consider such people shallow and short-sighted, and they have the right to consider me a dewey-eyed idealist.
  • Are you seriously suggesting that the enslavement of human beings is in any way comparable to someone not letting you hack on their software?

    Give the original poster some credit: he was arguing that intellectual property right is an outdated concept.

    His argument seems to be that there are some things you can not own. Humans being one of them (and hence the reference to slavery). In current law ideas is another example: you can own the expression of an idea (copyright) and the application of an idea (patent), but not the idea itself.

    The original poster suggests that intelectual property is such an un-ownable thing.

    I'm not sure what's more appalling - the fact that you believe that access to code you didn't produce is a moral right is anything like the abolishment of slavery, or the fact that someone somewhere moderated you up as Insightful...

    I'm glad it was moderated up [thanks moderator]! It is an interesting point, and an interesting question:

    What things should it be possible to own? What ethics or principles determines "ownability"?

  • From Stephen's Guide [intrepidsoftware.com]:

    • False Dilemna: several instances, including the comparison of "Stallman's world" vs. the O.K. corral.
    • Slippery Slope: all over the place
    • Prejudicial Language. (Not, of course, that Meyer is the only practitioner of this one!)
    • Illicit Minor: Not all free software proponents are RMS or ESR.
    • Attacking the Person: both ESR and RMS. (An interesting one-two combination here: attack the people, then extrapolate their characteristics to the entire group.)
    I could go on, but I'm just too weary.

    I don't necessarily disagree with everything Meyer said, but he's just so sloppy...

  • Meyer's article contains a collection of pot shots aimed at RMS and his tactics. He as much as says so, several times. It's easy to take such shots, but not terribly useful.

    A far more worthwhile yet difficult study would be to see how free software has actually impacted the state of the art. After all, it's one thing to act based on faith (since such longitudinal studies don't exist), and something quite different to act with some factual basis for an expected result. I'll spare you a long list of examples, but consider Perl or gcc.

  • That's good to hear.

    I'm not convinced either that telling your boss that the problem will be fixed in 30 days by Microsoft will be okay if he wants the job done in 10 days. You'll be screwed either way. I suppose if you really like your job, at least you can spend nights and weekends fixing free software instead of sweating over whether some programmer far away is going to deliver on time. His pay doesn't depend on you, so why should he rush?

    It sounds like a scary predicament to be in.

  • by Zico ( 14255 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @09:50AM (#1058938)

    Trust me, I know. :) Meyer's sixth recommendation:

    • Call the extremists' bluff by questioning their moral premises. Re-establish ethical priorities.

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • I can't say it!! I just can't bring myself to say it! Bleh. Programmers have no ethics - they have heuristics and algorithms...

    if(bigmoney){
    printf("Go to hell %s!\n",&bigcorp);
    } else {
    rms->sing();
    }

    There's also a known bug in the random number generator - when used inside subvert_society() it generates larger values than normal. We're not sure why this is...

  • Forgive me if this is redundant, but even if this thought has been previously expressed, it bears repeating, if for no other reason than to show that many people feel this way.

    I love the free software movement. I love the idea, but I do not demonize the commercial software vendors merely for being commercial. What Microsoft has done with Kerberos and other free standards is completely unrelated to being commercial - unlike what the FUD from GNU would have you think, one does not follow the other.

    I gladly donate my time to develop/bug hunt/etc. on projects for free because I believe in the free propogation of knowledge because I choose to, but I do not relish the thought of another person forcing it on me.

    I have long felt identically to the article's author. The best way I describe my feelings about RMS/the GNU website is this analogy - I am basically conservative, but Pat Buchannan gives me the willies. =)

  • Ford isn't "depriving" people of transportation by demanding that you pay money for one of their cars. If you can't afford it, that's your problem, not Ford's.

    The difference with software is the "Network effect". The software that other people use affects the software that you can use. E.g. a lot of companies interchange information in Winword's .doc format. If I don't have compatible software I won't be able to communicate effectively with these companies.


    So you see that Microsoft has more ability to "force" me to use their product than Ford does. Anyone who "owns" a popular communication standard has far more power than could have been envisaged when copyright law was invented. People are deprived of some ability to communicate with *third parties*.

  • I learned that Bertrand Meyer has strong differences with Richard Stallman. Many people do.

    I learned that Bertrand Meyer thinks people have a right to be paid for their work. Many people feel the same way.

    Then he got off on a long, long rant about Eric Raymond's statements about guns and made a demand that Stallman and Torvalds distance themselves from someone who writes about and supports the right to bear arms. Oh, and made political rant about the NRA.

    Am I missing something? Since when did Raymond's love of guns and support of gun rights have -anything- to do with Open Source or GNU/FSF/Linux?

    I guess I was okay up to that point, but then BM's message was clearly lost in his rant...kinda like when you tell Stallman that you're a commercial software developer....

  • The GNU and FSF view is that it is OK to sell anything except software.

    Maybe I read different pages at the GNU's site but I was under impression that RMS is not against selling software per se. It's just that in most cases commercial software directly leads to proprietary software -- the one that restricts your ability to make changes and/or share it.

    To give you an analogy.

    You bought a book. You read it, you liked it. You found a few mistakes/misspellings in it. You corrected them.

    Are you allowed to do it by law? Yes. Are you ethically justified to do so? Yes.

    Your friend asked you to read the book. You gave it to him (with corrections).

    Are you allowed to do so by law? Yes. Are to ethically justified? In most cases yes (unless we take a point of view of some authors/publishers who want your friend to buy a book).

    Let's get back to the software. Are you allowed to make changes (if you even can) in proprietary software? No (read disassembly clauses). Are you ethically justified to do so? In many people's opinion (my including), yes.

    Are you allowed to share the program with your friend? Neither by law nor by current ethical standards.

    Case closed.

    But if the work of your life is a great software package, trying to make a living out of selling it --- unless you also give it away, an immediate business-killer --- is a moral abomination.

    First of all, it's not necessarily a business killer. If it would be, most software companies would be in financial ruins caused by 'warez kids'.

    Second, nobody is saying that selling software is a "moral abomination" (with exception of some kids who have never developed anything worth mentioning). The question is, what right does the author of the software has to restrict modification and/or non-commercial modification of the product. I mentioned "non-commercial" clause because it's one point I disagree with RMS at.

    Such balderdash would be easy to dismiss if it were not highly visible from the author's Open Source pages (I came across it when looking for Mr. Raymond's touted essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar") and didn't have any ethical implications.

    Bertrand, Bertrand... We are talking feelings here :-) Didn't you ever write "balderdash" in your personal diary? If guns are what gets Eric high then let it be. It's his personal choice. Don't imply a link between Open Source and guns control issues.

    the US political system has a remarkable combination of checks and balances making the imposition of a dictatorship rather unlikely;

    Maybe that's partially due to the possibility of armed resistance that such political system was developed.

    the historical exceptions to this observation ... were not, if memory serves us well, met by armed resistance from an outraged citizenry;

    Just because there was no precedent doesn't mean that there is never going to be one.

    and a real aspiring dictator would have means of oppression, such as missiles, tanks and perhaps nuclear weapons, against which even the sophisticated guns on which Mr. Raymond roves ecstatic in his Web pages would be rather powerless.

    Well, I don't think that Stalin used any tanks or bombs or even an army in 1937 to whip the country. It was all about quite night visits by a few KGB agents.

    Also, why don't you look at guns as a weapon of self defense rather than a weapon of assault only?

    But the result of such lunatic ravings, supported by the indefatigable NRA, are clear to everyone: a murder rate higher than in any other first-world country, an endless race between police and criminals for ever more lethal weapons, free availability of murderous devices in the infamous and barely regulated "gun shows" of the Western US, 12-year-olds trained in weapons since kindergarten who go on shooting rampages with guns borrowed from the family cupboard.

    I just LOVED how you shifted attention from the FSF and Open Source. Stay on the subject, damn it! This is ad hominen!

    People who are callous about human life cannot and should not be hailed as moral examples, whatever the alleged generosity of their views on the far less momentous issue of software distribution.

    Assume I have a set of moral views. One of them is to cede my seat in a public transportation to an elderly person. Another one is to kill journalists who piss me off. Am I not allowed to encourage people to follow my first moral view? As far as the 'hailing' goes: nobody is creating idols here. It's perfectly understood that people have flaws. "Role model" game is something that is played in the grade school, not software world. We are not putting Raymond on a pedestal for his gun control views. Open Source has a different goal than NRA. I

    t is high time for Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds to state publicly that they do not endorse the views of the gun lunatics, and that their cherished notion of freedom has nothing to do with the freedom to kill children and other innocents.

    It's also time for both of our Gods (make it three, actually) to state publicly that they do not endorse the views or lifestyle of every single member of FSF, Open Source or tech community. :-) How fast we degraded to name calling. How fast we degraded to misrepresenting views.

    If you cared to read Linus's interviews, you should know that he sees technological advancement as the most important reason for writing open source software. All three of them publicly stated that neither of them shares all views of others. I think that's clear and sufficient. There is no reason to start a fight.

    if you find a bug in one of these products, you will have a much easier time reporting it and getting it fixed than if you try calling Sun or Microsoft customer support about a problem with their proprietary, binary-only products.

    Yes, but you forgot one more point: "or fixing it yourself" (there is no need to leave stuff out). And this point should be the answer to your next complain: I

    n both cases the scenario was the same: fixes to well-known bugs being promised and promised again; everyone waiting for months and months, until it becomes clear that nothing will happen; in the end, having to write off all the affected developments.

    Now assume that the two products differ as follows: ... Product P is proprietary software. It costs $50 for the binary-only version. It uses the most advanced techniques of software engineering. It never crashes, or departs in any way from its (mathematically expressed) specification. The seller is, in fact, so sure of those qualities that he will commit in writing that any violation of the specification during execution will immediately lead to reimbursement of the purchase price and compensation for any damages incurred.

    Hahahaha! ROFL. Wake me up when the Messiah comes. The only way you can get to this state (given a current commercial world situation) is by introducing a new competitor - your free product "F".

    Wanting to get rich is not morally reprehensible.

    In itself no. But when you do so but depriving others of their rights, yes. We are running in circles here.

    In general, I'm greatly disappointed by the article. The author thinks of open source/free software as of some kind of corporation that acts as one whole. In fact, it's a diverse group of individuals with different opinions. Too much misrepresentation for my likes.

  • The author questions why people would bother with writing OSS, but what I can't understand is why anyone would bother writing this article. We all know it's perfectly easy to lambast and go on at a system that you don't agree with, but unless there's a positive side to the debate there doesn't seem much point. If one wrote an article simply about 'Microsoft is bad: here's why', I would hope nobody would publish it. Slashdot occasionally gets ridiculed for it's anti-microsoft bias, but this isn't because they publish articles which are simply 'Microsoft is bad', rather than 'Microsoft fucks up again'.

    Does that make sense? Who spends their time wasting hours writing about something they really dislike? I can't see that the author actually has a 'passion' for attacking OSS - why doesn't he spend his time more productively writing about something he is passionate about?
  • Apples and oranges.

    Software is free to duplicate, cars are not.

    It's much different to give something away for free when it doesn't cost you anything than when you'd have to go collect the raw materials and build each copy manually.

    Until people understand this basic concept, they shouldn't be writing articles, or coming up with awkward metaphors. The only thing that is directly comparable to software is software, if you have to use a metaphor to make your point then it's because your argument is broken in the original context. If your argument was any good, you'd just make it.

  • Fundamentally I thought this was a naiive and rather peurile article. Bertrand Meyer may be an expert on object oriented software, but he is no ethicist.

    Illustration of this is precisely in his response to ESR's gun advocacy. As seen from this (Eastern) shore of the Atlantic, of course, he's perfectly right that ESR's views on guns are unethical to the verge of sociopathy - but this is precisely because he's wrong to claim that there are moral absolutes, ethical prinicples which are culturally independent. There aren't. Ethical views are at least to some extent culturally determined, and ESRs must be judged within the context of the culture of which he forms a part.

    Those people in the southern United States and in South Africa who in the early part of this century passed laws against 'miscegenation' did so for reasons which they viewed as moral - just as significantly moral as Meyer's (or Stallman's) view their arguments on free software.

    Whether or not one views ESRs advocacy of gun-ownership as repellent (and I, being a normal European, naturally do), they are logically independent of his views on free software. Of course one could argue that because ESR's ethical judgement on guns is unsound, therefore his ethical judgement on free software must be viewed as suspect. But in this argument 'unsound' simply means 'different from mine', and, more probably, 'different from my unexamined social prejudices'.

    However, the ad hominem argument against ESR falls for a more significant reason. Contrary to Meyer's assertion, ESR makes no claims regarding the ethicality or otherwise of free software, merely about its relative efficacy. Even if the argument that ESR was a poor judge of ethics succeeded, it has nothing to say about ESR as a judge of efficacy.

    Which leaves, centrally, Meyer's attack on Stahlman. I found this vituperative, spiteful, and full of half truths and distortions which seemed to me deliberate. The third hand, partial and unverifiable account of the dinner party demonstrates spite.

    For an example of half-truths, consider the passage in which Meyer states:

    It also criticizes many providers of free software such as Apple... the Berkeley Unix Software distribution ... and Netscape for not observing the exact GNU definition of "free", or using license terms different from those of GNU.

    This passage is, I believe, deliberately misleading. In the document to which Meyer refers [gnu.org], Stallman's only significant objection to the BSD licence is that if a software product makes use of many BSD-licensed modules from many different providers, the concatenation of the advertisement lines may becomes unwieldy; a simple, pragmatic objection, not, as Meyer implies, an ethical one.

    What Meyer demonstrates is that his ethical judgement is different from Stallman's, and, separately, from ESR's. That's fine. He is (like everyone else) entitled to his ethical judgement, and he is entitled to try to persuade us to agree with him. Having read his argument, however, the conclusion I reach is that his (Meyer's) arguments are intellectually wanting, his conclusions untenable, and his own intellectual stature (on this evidence) slight.

    I suspect (and hope) that he is by now ashamed of this piece. If he isn't, then I'm sorry fo him.

  • HY: Hmmm. Then tell me what you think about pirated software.

    RMS: I don't call this copying "piracy", because that is a propaganda word. I don't think it is wrong to copy and share information. Governments can pass laws against it, but that does not make it wrong, just illegal.

    An unauthorized copy of a proprietary program has the same drawbacks as an authorized copy. If you want to make more copies and share them, you have to do it in secret; and you cannot get the source code.

    So I think that unauthorized copies are not much better than authorized copies. The only good thing about the unauthorized copy is that you avoid giving money to the owner. This is good, because the owner does not deserve a reward for making software proprietary.

    However, I can achieve the same thing by *not using the program at all*. I use free software instead.

    HY: (!! Wow!!) Umm... now, you're ideas are really far-fetched. How do you evaluate your succe....

    RMS: (cuts in) I don't understand what you're saying. Far fetched? How can you say it's far fetched? Far fetched means that it can't be done, but I have been doing it for the last 15 years, which proves that it can be done. And the users of free software are increasing.

    HY: But...isn't that because you occupy just a very small fringe of the society? It can't be generalized, can it?

    RMS: You know, that's basically bull shit. Sheer speculation masquerading its knowledge. It's a cheap shot that someone may make. Of course, I don't have a time machine, so I can't tell if it's going to take over the world. But the free software movement was often claimed to be totally impossible, and yet we managed to continue and grow. This is positive evidence. And what do you have on the negative?

    So RMS thinks its alright to break laws because he doesn't like them? You know these murder laws are unjust, I should kill a few people to prove my point. Look how he interrupts the interview guy. Some guy write a little shareware program for windows that proves useful, according to RMS he should receive nothing for his work.
  • > Personally, I agree with most of what Meyer points out in his article. It's never been fully explained (at least to my satisfaction) why attempting to make money off your own work (and exclusively your own work) is taboo. I've heard people scream bloody murder at me for years for simply trying to sell various little odds and ends i've made, rather than just declare it public domain and give it out for free.

    People IMHO get overboard when they demand someones work be given away for free.
    I've writen a lot of software myself. Some for free some for liccens and some I never distributed at all.

    Right now a lot of screwed up things are happening in commertal software that shouldn't happen.
    Good products are shot down.. ports are killed....
    People put up with it becouse "Thats how it's done" but the truth is that is NOT how it's done.

    Open source is for authors who want to give software away but don't want someone else to repacage same under a commertal title.

    It's happend occasionally....

    Then suddenly some kids effort becomes some corperations product.

    It's not fair but it happends.

    Open source should not ever be about forcing software develupers to open source everything...

    I open source becouse for me it's easyer to proffit from open source than it is to proffit from closed.
    But thats my choice...
    If you sell something and I think it's worth what you ask for it I'll buy it. If I don't I won't. But I will not steal and I certenly won't ask you to open source it.

    I'm staying away from closed source myself simply becouse I don't want to deal with software distributors who want to distribute "Windows only" software titles....
    Don't want the mess of software companys that won't put non-Windows titles on the shelfs...
    Don't want the hassle...

    I'll make a proffit a diffrent way... But thats my choice... Not someone elses..
  • Hey! wow! I have another one.... propagation of the species, yeah, having children.

    Of course there were the wubbawubba people that abstained from all sex... 'course they were extinct in one generation.

    And hey, wolf packs don't randomly kill their own, they must be ethical!
    Termite colonies too!

    And I'm not exactly sure how you define "culture" and "its own", there are many tribes that share a common culture, but feel no compunction about killing each other, if you're defining "its own" as the people it's considered unacceptable (or undesirable) to kill, your argument is circular. For almost any other definition of members of a culture, I'm sure examples can be found. (presumably you're excluding euthenasia of deformed infants, female infants or even the elderly all of which have occured in some societies)

    But yes, there are no existing cultures that have belief structures conducive to the extinction of the culture. If you can come up with a set of behaviors that are common across all human cultures, that cannot be found in ant colonies, I'll consider discussing them as "ethical absolutes". Ones shared by ants I'm just going to write off as "necessary to the survival of any species with a social group larger than the individual".

    Unless you want to advance ants and termites as ethical creatures ;)

  • If I bought a product instead of at least evaluating the open source solutions out there, I'd be called to task for it, especially if it was an expensive product. And if it turns out I'd only done it to have someone to blame, with no idea of which product was really better, I'd be fired, justifiably so.

    The funny thing is that many of the best products around are the free ones. PERL is one of the best languages, Python too if you're not a PERL nut, but I challenge you to go buy the MS version.

    Many idiots will use VB and Active X, etc, where simpler, free, solutions would easily work, risking many unpublished bugs than MS can now (UCITA) sue you for making public... I'd rather investigate the options and choose. Any boss who won't let you is one you shouldn't work for. The market for tech type jobs is very good, don't work for morons who're stuck on blame games and corporate name power.
  • That's the claim he makes in the article. Well, it's hard to prove him wrong without a time machine. But the PC revolution was something waiting to happen. If it wasn't the IBM PC, it would have been the Apple Mac. If it wasn't Apple then it would have been Amiga. Etcetera.


    But I assume his claim is meant to extend to the following:


    If proprietory software had not been legally possible there would be no cheap hardware to run free operating systems on.

    Again, this is hard to refute, but I think it's false. As I said, the PC revolution was waiting to happen, Moore's Law ensured this. If proprietory software had not been legally possible then free software would have been written. As he points out, IBM et al were trying to sell hardware at the time and considered the software to be just a supporting tool for that.


    [Of course, just cos I've argued with this point it doesn't mean I don't think the rest of the article is a pile of bollocks too ;) ]

  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @06:15PM (#1058975) Homepage
    Perhaps not, but people will say that without a corporate vendor to fall back on, you could lose thousands waiting for the patch, if it ever comes...

    I've waited five years for MS to fix some bugs in Win95, they haven't. Likely never will. They're still in W-ME from what I've heard. That's not a great track record as far as product support goes. And I'm representing a company with over a hundred licenses who has complained many times, by email, fax, phone, and snail mail. I doubt any open project could ignore me more thoroughly.

    But, if we had the source, I'm sure in five years I could have tracked some of the bugs down, or, if nothing else, spent some of our budget to hire a consultant to do so. It'd be money we wasted writing our software to avoid the bugs, and in dealing with incompatibilities.

    I'd much rather spend a few bucks contributing to a worthy open source project than sitting on a phone, racking up the charges, waiting to talk to a tech who'll assure me that the next release will fix it, if I pay for the upgrade...
  • hypergeek writes: "The author himself villifies taxpayer-supported free software, but shouldn't something that's paid for by the public be freely available to the public?"

    Sure, and often is. For example, intellectual property created by many parts of the U.S. goverment is, by law, public domain. That's why Expect is free software but not GPL'ed.

    IMHO, though, that's not the game Meyer's playing. He doesn't want to trumpet the benefits of taxpayer-supported "free" software. He wants to say there's no such thing as free software, and that some "free beer" (and free speech!) software was "paid for by your tax dollars, even though you didn't say you wanted to pay for it!" That's pure propaganda, but it can play in Peoria.-(

    Jonathan's point (that not all university-supported software ends up free) is worth noting. Consider Spyglass Mosaic, the WATCOM compilers, UCSD Pascal, the X Windows System, and BSDI. But also consider FreeBSD, vi, TeX (Knuth was on Stanford's payroll at the time, wasn't he?), NSCA httpd, and many others.

    Freely sharing information (and software) is a very natural mindset in academia. It's certainly where Stallman's ethics appear to have been nurtured.
  • Yup. The first clue. And maybe one or two others. And after that, enough clues to describe it to a consultant who specializes in that sort of thing.

    I was writing some complex recursive code using DJGPP a few years back, it was doing really odd stuff, and it was debugger dependant, breakpoints and stuff, or running it in the debugger would change how it worked. I eventually tracked it down to alloca() which I had been using because its features seemed handy. Turns out it had 'features', that undocumented kind. I grabbed the code and narrowed down the likely offending library code to a small segment, then contacted someone involved in the project. Turns out my 'bug' was halfway between a bug and a feature and just undocumented. But yes, I did manage to track down what to me was a compiler bug.

    And had I had to fix it, I either could have dove into the library code, or I could have gotten someone else to do it. Were this a business situation, I could have hired someone to do it, at a cost of a few thousand dollars. Much better than submitted a bug report to MS or Borland and waiting a few weeks, possibly only to be told that it's a feature and I'm SOL...

    Had this little web project ever seen the light as a business project, 150 people at the company I was working for at the time would have all benefitted from open source even if most of them couldn't identifiy a compiler let alone debug one.
  • by DaveHowe ( 51510 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @02:29PM (#1058980)
    Obviously, he doesn't understand that free software isn't a gift from God, it's a collaborative process. Rather than cancelling his projects, he should have fixed whatever he perceived to be wrong with those tools and submitted the fixes to the free software community. Whatever he thought was wrong couldn't have taken his people more than than a few months.
    I agree entirely. He wants a world where nothing is free - well I hate to dissapoint him, but often, OSS is not free - and the price you pay is to fit the OSS product to fit your needs (a cost in programmer time) and preferably to fold those changes back into the pool. you do *not* stand about and snivel that the other developers haven't fixed the problem yet - they may have things they need to work more than whatever bugged you.

    The problem seems to be he is working from a set of preconcieved results as definite as the ones he claims for Eric and RS - who he immediately demolishes for their personal behavior (by anecdote for RS, though probably true, and because Eric is a self-confessed gun nut, and DARES to be pro-gun on his own, personal website, suddenly everything he has said about OSS is worthless....)
    He claims there exists an Absolute base moral code, when in fact all such things are established by the society they exist in (his main example is that killing a innocent man is morally wrong - and indeed, most acceptable societies agree with him; however, it all depends on who gets to define "innocent". if I am "guilty" of holding certain beliefs, refusing to do certain things *I* find morally unacceptable, having certain deformities or genetic abnormalities, I may well be sentenced to death in some societies, who would believe they were doing what was morally right). Second, he states the ONLY reasons free software is free: that it was developed at public expense, that it was given away by a company, or that it was developed by someone with no other monetary concerns. (I am forced to assume here he got so distracted by Eric's gun essay that he forgot to read the OSS stuff on that page). Apache is the prime example here - it was developed by a group of people who, individually, needed to write a webserver, and decided one really good one between them would be easier than one mediocre one each.

    ok, to get back to the plot. He then comes up with a mythical Closed Source product, so good that its manufacturer is willing to indemnify the users for loss due to its use, rather than the standard "loss limited to purchase price of goods" deal. Can I have one of those? All I can seem to find on MY shelves are products of the latter kind - whose bugs take months to fix, and often the newer, less bug-ridden package requires you repurchase, rather than get a free update. Most of the rest of this piece seems to be of the same quality - generate a straw-man that can be easily attacked, then attack it. I would be ashamed to have a piece of this quality on my own website, and can't imagine having it in a nationally-distributed magazine.......
    --

  • I'm not sure what you are getting at. A lot of the developers of free software have been poor college students, now they have a chance they would not otherwise have. Red Hat was started from Bob Young's credit card, now it's a giant dev house bumping noses with micro$oft.

    Participating in free software helps newbie programmers learn programming and cut their teeth, proving themselves in a practical way. It landed Linus a big job at Transmeta.

    Hmmm looks to me like free software is helping little guys succeed more than ever before...

  • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:08AM (#1058984) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure Bertrand Meyer is someone we should be listening to on matters of ethics. In his book Object Success Meyer expressed what I find to be an extremely unethical position when he expressed the opinion that C (and presumably C++) programmers, having learned too many bad habits, shouldn't be considered for "real" OO development projects. Hiring managers should look on them with suspicion, he suggested. In spite of his weasel words about "human betterment", I find this to be little more than an expression of prejudice about C/C++ programmers, and I find it unethical in the extreme.

    Robert Martin, of Object Mentor, wrote a nice rebuttal [uts.edu.au] to Bertrand Meyer, which he posted to comp.object and comp.lang.c++, among other Usenet groups.

    --Jim
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The GNU and FSF view is that it is OK to sell anything except software.

    His claim is wrong.

    See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.ht ml [gnu.org]

    Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU project is that you should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you should charge as little as possible -- just enough to cover the cost.

    Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.

  • Meyer makes a clear difference between C programmers and C hackers. He even states that he expects everyone to know C (at least back in '95, when they had that discussion), he knows C himself very well and he points to the fact that some C hackers are not well-suited for the creation of huge, complex systems that must be reliable because they (=the hackers) chase for runtime and memory efficiency and lose sight of the more important points maintainability, readability etc. I think he has a point there.

    He does not use the term 'C hacker' for someone who is a good programmer and uses C, as you might assume.
  • Well, personally, I don't think this guy deserves very much respect for this article. I wouldn't moderate it down unless it was overrated already, but I sure wouldn't moderate it up past 2.

    He brings up a few good obvious points.
    1) RMS is quite a bit screwy at times, and obviously not ALL proprietary software is evil.

    2) ESR is a gun nut, and uses his popularity to spread gun-loving propoganda. (Though that link may have been there before he became hype-king for Open Source.)

    3) Not all Open Source software is of a high quality. (duh! 90% of the stuff on Freshmeat isn't at 1.0 yet!)

    Unfortunately, he completely violates his own principles. He starts off pointing out that it would be wrong to judge an idea by it's supporters. He then does exactly that by skewering ESR and RMS and claiming an exeption to his aforementioned rule because

    But in the case at hand the connection is close, as Dr. Stallman is the living
    icon of the free software movement, widely admired, imitated and idolized
    (almost like a sect leader) by his followers

    Here's a hint, just because RMS or someone critisizing RMS might say so, doesn't make it so.

    Next, in skewering ESR's views on gun ownership, he himself uses his article to wage his personal, regurgitated, very weak war on gun ownership. I thought this was an article objectively looking at the free software movement?

    He then implies that since RMS doesn't publicly denounce ESR as a gun nut, therefore RMS is a gun nut and all Open Source "followers" (gag. It's NOT a religion to all of us.) are as well.

    He repeatedly refers to Microsoft as a company who's only crime is to try and make money off of its hard work. We can forgive him for this, since this article seems to have been written before Y2K and therefore he may not have been clued in on MicroSoft's business strategies.

    He brings up the old and very lame "There's nobody to blame" criticism of free software. First of all, you CAN blame the author(s) of the software. Their emails are probably somewhere in the code. Alternatively, you can send your complaint to the sales department at Microsoft. Yes, GPL'd software comes with no warranty of any kind unless otherwise specified. Neither does any shrink-wrap software that I know of. The only time in our industry that you get a warranty with your software is custom, made-to-order, high-price software. This warranty is really just insurance and nothing more (i.e. after the fact), and won't change the fact that a patient died due to a software bug. If RedHat sold you that software, even though you could have obtained it for free, then talk to them about it's fitness for a particular purpose.

    He decries anecdotal evidence, then uses it.

    He decries gross exagerations, then uses them.

    anyhow, enough of my rant.
  • I thought this was a semi-reasonable point by Bertrand Meyer. Through the scenario given, BM is attempting to show the absurdity of RMS's position -- but there's really a difference of fundamentals between the two: RMS has stated that free software is a matter of freedom, an intrinsic good, and that he would choose free software over proprietary software even if the free software were technically inferior ( I believe the analogy he gave was free press vs controlled press; even if the latter were superior, we still choose the former).
  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:14AM (#1059004)

    So what you are saying is that nobody should bother to write a criticism of something they don't like? The author of this piece has some excellent points to make on both sides of the argument and although he does seem to come down quite hard on RMS and the FSF notion of free software he has reasons which he states quite clearly.

    I personally found this a very interesting article with a lot of thought-provoking points. I don't really have much of a stake in free software myself at the moment, and not being biased in one way or the other I found this a worthwhile read about an issue which a lot of /.ers seem to think is already decided.

    And you'll be in luck soon - the UCITA will make it illegal to publish anything critical about software, so you won't be forced to listen to all of that negativity any more. Great, huh?

  • You are attacking a straw man; I made no claims about "the heart of the project" or "the majority of lines".

    But, if you are familiar with the cost structure of commercial software development, the long term cost of a software project is often in the testing, maintenance, and bug fixes, not in the initial writing of the bulk of the code.

    Of course, users also end up contributing lots of bug reports and suggestions for enhancements to commercial vendors. But that's only adding insult to injury, because they end up paying for intellectual property that they themselves, rather than the vendor, created.

  • Ayeee! I have already been moderated down for having an opinion.

    Look. Your post doesn't prove nothing. When you sell something, that is a product. The Hurd isn't sold and GNU isn't sold. But he has sold Emacs in the past so it was a product.

    But what does this say? Nothing. I think you were trying to show how RMS is against comercial software. But you didn't! You just choose an excerpt that shows RMS defining terms (mostly because he knows how carefully the naysayers pick apart his words). "News at 6: RMS defines the word product and establishes his Communist agenda!" PLEASE!

    And why does everyone pick on RMS anyway? If you have something against Free Software principles, fine. You don't like GNU, fine. That would make a fine discussion. But why must you people personalize everything. It's not just RMS, either. If you don't like Apple, bring up Steve Jobs; if you don't like Microsoft, make fun of Bill Gates. If Open Source is evil, so is Eric Raymond.

    I know *exactly* why people personalize the issues. Because it is easy. People are easy to pick on. And when you make an argument against a leader of a movement, your implication is with the movement. And then you feel your point has been made. But it is a fallacy.

    I would like you to know that there is more to GNU than RMS. Don't equate the two.

    I wish you the best.

  • > For the record I don't think it is fair for anyone
    > to ask that you release your work as public domain.

    Not even if they ask real nice and say "please"? Maybe you meant "demand" instead of "ask".

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • At best, this is a dubious reading of the GNU text you cite. What the text says is that if you can make money redistributing free software, go ahead. The text specifically distinguishes the redistribution of free software from the selling of software on a proprietary basis.
  • Huh? Writing an article which refutes someone else's point of view is a pretty standard practice. In fact, that's what critics and reviewers do for a living. Not to mention what most Slashdot comments do. A world in which only positive things were written would consist primarily of non-verbal fuzzy characters with televisions in their stomachs.

    Anyway, this post is an example of attacking the author rather than the argument. This is much like someone suggesting a new political policy but being drowned out by shouts of "Commie!" -- whether or not the person is a communist is irrelevant, just as the purpose of the author in writing this article has no bearing on the validity of the arguments.
  • You don't have to fix it yourself; you can contract out on an as-needed basis, or you can take out a maintenance and support contract.

    Overall, you are still a lot better off than with commercial software. If your need is pressing, you can pay the extra money and get the fix as soon as possible, an option you don't have with most commercial software (and if you do, you are at the mercy of a single company). If you go for a more leisurely maintenance contract, you'll still get the fix roughly at the same time as any commercial vendor would release an upgrade.

    And no matter which maintenance option you choose, you won't be paying for your own fix over and over and over again. Once your problem has been solved, you'll get future upgrades for free.

  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:17AM (#1059020)
    Well, as long as open-source should classify the support the programmers received how about proprietary software? Windows just used taxpayer-supported software when they rip^H^H^Hextended Kerberos. How many commercial products involve the taxpayer funded Internet in their production? Should businesses disclose their use of public highways?

    Why is it ok for corporations to use public resources, but when individuals do it, it is disingenuous? By definition, public resources are available as part of the context of life and business. You don't have to apologize for using them.
  • because he's wrong to claim that there are moral absolutes, ethical prinicples which are culturally independent. There aren't. Ethical views are at least to some extent culturally determined

    As an absolute, thats balderdash, and unfortunately your moderation belies the fact that very few moderators have a grounding in liberal thought.

    There are a number of ethics that are a fixed aspect of human cultures. The family. Preservation of life. Do you know of a culture that does not value the family structure in some sense? Do you know of a culture that encourages random killing of its own?

    It is nonsense to state relativism as a fact.

  • Hermiticism does not involve family. Preservation of life is not an absolute moral imperitive, either, as it is often morally acceptable to kill when defending your country or loved ones. Your arguments are flawed. There are no moral absolutes. Except perhaps that self gratification is the goal behind every human action. Then again, that's just an absolute... :)
  • by cybaea ( 79975 ) <allane&cybaea,com> on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:23AM (#1059024) Homepage Journal
    In an ideal world, there might be perfect identity between the legal and the moral.

    I guess this is the position taken by proponents of Islamic law: the relligious law is the whole of the law.

    I'd be interested to know if the readers of slashdot agree with this statement of Bertrand Meyer in the article.

  • I've never seen RMS use ad hominem attacks, either. What Meyer points out is that a lot of RMS's rhetoric contains implied 'ad homini" attacks. I'm not sure of my Latin grammer or spelling there. What I mean is "against the men" as opposed to "against the man." (NOT "against the grits!")
    Regarding ownership of software, RMS writes:
    But if a program has an owner, this very much affects what it is, and what you can do with a copy if you buy one. The difference is not just a matter of money. The system of owners of software encourages software owners to produce something---but not what society really needs. And it causes intangible ethical pollution that affects us all.

    Now, by implication, doesn't this make anyone who asserts proprietary rights to software an "ethical polluter?" Stallman is poisoning the rhetorical well by adopting a moral position that defines his opponents as unethical polluters. Jerry Falwell could learn a thing or two. Now, it's true that this is a far cry from Meyer's shaking his finger at esr's gun politics and crying "shame!"

    In any event, I didn't compare Meyer to Stallman so much as Meyer to Meyer's idea of Stallman.. The joke is that Meyer outdoes his own strawman!

    "Even if you are on the right track, you'll
    get run over if you just sit there." Will Rogers

  • Here is the general flow of Meyer's argument for the immorality of free software:
    • Premise: Eric Raymond is a gun nut.

    • Premise: Other members of the free software movement have not vocally "dissociated [themselves] from the gun propaganda."

    • Deduction: Therefore, other members of the free software movement must agree with Eric Raymond.

    • Dedution: Thus, all members of the free software movement are gun nuts.

    • Premise: Gun nuts are immoral people.

    • Deduction: The free software movement is immoral. "That [a denouncement of the gun movement] has not happened is a sign of the distortion of the moral values of the free software movement."

    Normally, I'd make a witty or snide remark here about such laughable logic, but I think that Meyer does more to discredit his own argument than anything I can say.

  • IANAR (I am not a Rabbi) but...

    I remeber something from one of Richard Feynman's autobiographical books where some extremely devout Orthodox Jews wanted to know if there was a spark released when you flip on a light switch; this spark would constitute "work" and was therefore taboo, whereas if there was no spark it would be OK. Feynman suggested putting a capacitor across the switch to suppress the spark, I think. By that rigid definition you should very carefully relax and remember not to breathe deep on the Sabbath (which you take to be Sunday). In fact, as programming is mainly mental work, you should not even think about it on Sunday; perhaps you should start knocking back whiskey first thing at sunup, just to forestall any sinful random work-oriented cogitations.

    But I think the intent of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath was a practical matter; first, it would help keep people from working themselves to exhaustion, and second, it was a higher authority you could invoke when your boss demanded that you work non-stop (thus making this the first recorded wage-and-hour law, yeah!). This is similar, I believe, to the Mosaic prohibition against eating pork or shellfish - no refrigeration and a middle-Eastern climate makes eating these a risky business. In that sense, my interpretation would be, "have fun, but don't knock yourself out." But of course this sort of interpretation is powered by practical, secular considerations, and you being a theist, I understand that you might find them lacking.

    The relevant scripture, if I am not mistaken, is Numbers 15:32 through 36:

    And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
    And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
    And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
    And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
    And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

    Now that, to me, despite the authority of Moses and the LORD, seems quite extreme. Insanely so. (I am an atheist, after all.) But the point here is that this poor guy was probably not gathering those sticks at his boss's command, nor did he intend to trade them for shekels; he was probably trying to gather some firewood for himself and his family. So are you writing this software for some practical use, or instead purely for your own regalement? If the former, and if you insist on following the Old Testament literally, then I'd have to suggest that for consistency's sake you should give it up.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • by jetson123 ( 13128 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:26AM (#1059053)
    Meyer's whole argument is based on the premise that free software is something cooked up by a bunch of people with a hatred of commercial software. And his attitude becomes crystal clear in his own dalliance with free software. What he doesn't get is that at the heart of free software is the contributions of lots of people. Users choose free software over commercial software, and users test that software and contribute bug fixes.

    I think the following paragraph sums it up; Meyer writes:

    ISE's own experience with free software has included both kinds. Recently, we have had more than our share of the second; we have had to cancel one major project, and reengineer a product completely, after wasting many person-months and disappointing customers, because of the deficiencies of two separate GNU products (the GCC compiler for Windows and the editor under GTK). In both cases the scenario was the same: fixes to well-known bugs being promised and promised again; everyone waiting for months and months, until it becomes clear that nothing will happen; in the end, having to write off all the affected developments. Since no one is in charge, and you didn't pay for the products, there is no one to blame.

    Obviously, he doesn't understand that free software isn't a gift from God, it's a collaborative process. Rather than cancelling his projects, he should have fixed whatever he perceived to be wrong with those tools and submitted the fixes to the free software community. Whatever he thought was wrong couldn't have taken his people more than than a few months.

    He says he is looking for someone to "blame". He gets that with commercial software. Other people, however, want to get a product out and are looking for an opportunity to fix things, and that's what open source software gives them.

  • I don't have anything against commercial software developers or commercial software development. And having dinner with Stallman is, well, an experience, but you might as well take it with a sense of humor. Jobs, Gates, Ellison, and Meyer don't exactly sound like pleasant, well-adjusted individuals to have dinner with either.

    My attitude towards open source software and proprietary, closed source software is that the proprietary software simply makes no sense in the long run in a free market. I believe that the cost structure for software is such that the only rational thing for end users is to collaborate and share development costs, cutting out the middlemen. There might be other vehicles for accomplishing that kind of collaboration, but open source software seems to work particularly well because of its low overhead and simple adoption.

    To me, all the current software empires are short term aberrations and market failures that have no place in a free market. The high profits they manage to make ("disequillibrium wages") are themselves evidence for that view.

    I think the sooner companies realize the basic facts about the economics of software, the better. In the long run, good, solid businesses to be in are software-related service businesses, hardware businesses that manage to increase their profits through software that is synergistic with what they sell, and entertainment/personal service businesses that use (free) software to drive customers to them. And I think, despite all the rhethoric, that's roughly what Stallman is saying as well.

    My economic analysis might, of course, be wrong. But, then, who knows, it might be right, too.

  • But Ford DOES sell technical manuals for cars as well as parts - you are free after buying a Ford to rebuild or customize as much of it as you like. In fact there are many interesting third party kits to enhance Fords and other cars - you can really think of car engines as almost mechanical API's. Few mechanical devices come this close to being a parallel of software.

    If you sell code without the source, it's like selling a car without the technical manuals and forbidding parts to be sold. It limits the potential usefullness to the end user.

    Imagine if you could not even change the oil in your car - that's a great metephor for the problem we have today with software, where a couple of OS upgrades may just render your old software useless just as driving a car for 100,000 miles without an oil change would render a car just as dead.

    I don't see why you couldn't sell the software you make, and also release the source for free. People who are going to buy the software will probably buy it from you anyway even if they can already get the source for free - especially if you offer any kind of support or tutorial materials (something extra) as part of the cost of the software. Possibly even if not!

    You can also think of it as free advertising, in that the wider your software spreads the more likely it is to be used and bought - the total number of people willing to spend money might be a lot higher that way even if you have a smaller percentage of people paying for the product, if you reach enough people.

    And the last argument for this is that releasing the software for free gives you a much earlier assesment of the software's usefullness. After all, if you can't even give it away what's the point of dumping a lot of money into trying to market it?

  • by gargle ( 97883 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @10:26AM (#1059057) Homepage
    An interesting essay, but he repeatedly (shall I say, deliberately) confuses ESR's views with RMS's views, and vice versa, to the effect of discrediting them both.

    "I expect to be quite wealthy once the dust from the Linux IPOs has settled." (http://www.netaxs.com/~esr/travelrules.htm)

    There is nothing wrong with this --- except when commercial developers trying to "make a living" are accused of moral perversion because what they are really supposed to want is ... to become wealthy


    From what I've read, ESR views open source development merely as a superior engineering method. I don't recall him having accused makers of proprietary software of "moral perversion" -- this is completely Stallman's point of view.

    It is high time for Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds to state publicly that they do not endorse the views of the gun lunatics, and that their cherished notion of freedom has nothing to do with the freedom to kill children and other innocents.

    It's quite clear that there's a lot of disagreement between RMS and ESR, and it's quite clear that ESR's views on guns is controversial even within the community. I know this, you know this, and he knows this. Associating ESR's views on guns with RMS and Linus Torvalds is just a lame pot shot.

  • Not really. If you sell free software, the person who buys it from you has the right to redistribute it themselves. That is, it's perfectly possible and likely that you sell one copy of a piece of software and then the recipient puts it up on an FTP server and you never sell another copy.

    This can't really be considered selling, and it's not economically feasible.
  • Mother Teresa and Dr. Kevorkian, what a hoot! A very nice post! Did you also notice that according to this Meyer character, not only Raymond's wacky gun fetish but also Stallman's table manners are telling arguments against open-source software? His f*cking table manners, for Christ's sake. That's really straining. Next thing we'll be hearing that Stallman's appaling singing voice demonstrates free software's moral inferiority, etc., etc. The nonsense level in Meyer's diatribe overwhelms any sensible point he might have made.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • I think most of the potential Eiffel users have already adopted Java: they are both safe, object-oriented languages. Each language has some features that the other lacks, but on balance, I think Java meets the needs of developers a lot better.

    I also think the Eiffel design contains some serious technical blunders. Within the Eiffel family, I'd say people are better off using GNU Sather [gnu.org].

  • by Stealth Dave ( 189726 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @03:42PM (#1059066) Homepage

    While I think the article had some good points (i.e. not all commercial software is bad), it was definitely skewed against the free software movement, beyond just being critical. One assumption that was made in particular sat wrong with me (and is conveniently quoted here):

    • Product F is free software. It comes with the standard no-warranty warranty.
    • Product P is proprietary software. It costs $50 for the binary-only version. It uses the most advanced techniques of software engineering. It never crashes, or departs in any way from its (mathematically expressed) specification. The seller is, in fact, so sure of those qualities that he will commit in writing that any violation of the specification during execution will immediately lead to reimbursement of the purchase price and compensation for any damages incurred.

    The problem is that not only does most software include a heavy caveat emptor clause, all software includes it. The author goes on to ask how much would be too much for a product that was sufficiently warranted, and my answer would be quite a bit. Unfortunately, the question is moot. Has the author read some of the EULAs that are required for most software? Caveat emptor only begins to describe the restrictions placed on the purchase. And if you disagree with the EULA, most software retailers won't take the software back because it's been opened, and at most will allow you to exchange it for the exact same product.

    When you start to add these factors into the argument, Product F starts looking a whole lot more appealing.

    - "Stealth" Dave

  • I find it quite ironic that in the middle of a diatribe that spends a lot of time complaining about Richard Stallman going off on moral tangents, Mr. Meyer finds time to dismiss my 2nd Amendment rights as "lunatic ravings", and further manages to do so based on deliberate failure to research the historical facts; the same crime of which he accuses Stallman et. al.

    Mr. Meyer, I quit reading your article at that point. I have no interest in further hearing what you have to say. Rather ironic that this occured within a few paragraphs of your complaint against Stallman having the same effect on a software executive, no?

    --
  • Here's some comments on the article, in true Usenet style made by interspersing quotations with responses to them.
    3. THE ECONOMICS OF FREE SOFTWARE

    ... In practice the only possible cases are the following:
    - The software developer may have a personal fortune ...
    - The software developer may have other sources of income, paid by an employer or client as compensation for services unrelated to the free software. ...
    - Many public institutions such as universities will release for general use most of the software developed by their employees (although, as universities around the world are being pressed by the purse-string holders to enhance their economic value, and recognize the economic potential of the software they develop, this generous attitude is not as universal as it used to be).

    Interesting mistake here - the economic potential of the software developed is usually _reduced_ if it is distributed in binary form, to only a small number of people. It would be more economically useful if everyone could use and improve it. There is the situation where a third party might have the money to improve the software and 'productize' it, but that does not require that the third party need be given a monopoly on the software. Economically, it would be more useful to release the software under a BSD-type licence and get some competition among the companies building on it.

    I expect that rather than 'economic value of the software', Bertrand Mayer means 'monetary value to the university', which is not the same thing. Anyway, let's go on:

    - Companies may find it beneficial to release some of their software products without asking for a fee. ...

    The categories identified here -- donated, taxpayer-funded, privately funded, taxpayer-sponsored and privately-sponsored -- seem to exhaust the economic possibilities;

    I think a category has been left out. This is the case where companies develop software and sell it for a fee, but decide to make it free software. There are plenty of people doing this - Red Hat is the most obvious example, they charge for their Linux distribution.

    Then there are the cases where the company makes money from technical support, rather than selling copies. Cygnus was for many years the prime example of this, now they're owned by Red Hat. People like AbiSource or Helix Code intend to make money from custom enhancements to the software they write.

    Many of the contributions of the free software community are admirable. Highly disturbing, however, is its widespread slander and hatred of the commercial software world.

    One man, however high-profile, is not the same as 'widespread'. Most free software advocates do not agree with RMS, as far as I can tell. Indeed Eric Raymond, mentioned at length later on in the article, explicitly rejects Stallman's views on this. But anyway, RMS would reject your view that free software is anti-commercial per se, eg in this LinuxWorld interview [linuxworld.com]:

    When people said, "Don't pour poison in the river," they were called communists. But they didn't want to abolish business. They wanted to abolish pouring poison into the river. The free software movement is a lot like that. It's a lot like the environmental movement because the goal is not to abolish business, the goal is to end a certain kind of pollution. But in this case, it's not pollution of the air or the water, it's pollution of our social relationships.

    Note again that when RMS says 'the free software movement', he doesn't refer to everyone who supports free software. Back to the article:

    Nowhere in the hundreds of pages of GNU and FSF literature is there any serious explanation of why it is legitimate, for example, to make a living selling cauliflowers, or lectures (as a professor does), or videotapes of your lectures, but criminal to peddle software that you have produced by working long hours, sweating your heart out, thinking brilliantly, and risking your livelihood and that of your family.

    There are plenty of explanations of the FSF's view on this. For example, see Selling Free Software [gnu.org]. The idea is that when selling cauliflowers, you don't impose restrictions on what the purchaser can do with those cauliflowers. You don't make them give up any freedom (in the GNU sense). If you buy potatoes, you can plant them and grow more potatoes. (The closest analogy to the way you're not allowed to copy proprietary software is a genetically modified crop where the farmer is forbidden from saving some and planting it next year.)

    To take your professor analogy, it would be okay (in FSF terms) to charge money for a lecture. But it would not be acceptable to stop your students passing on the knowledge they had learnt. RMS has said [gnu.org] as much:

    We see programmers as providing a service, much as doctors and lawyers now do--both medical and legal knowledge are freely redistributable entities for which the practitioners charge a distribution and service fee.

    So the objection is not to 'selling' but to stopping the purchaser from changing and sharing what he has bought. The question then becomes, what if copyright is the only way to ensure a reasonable selling price for the author? RMS would prefer that the software never be written at all (work as a waiter instead), but personally I cannot agree with that. More from the article...

    The only stated justification for the indictment of commercial software [apart from nostalgia] - is that software is different from other wares since it can be reproduced so easily. But this does not stand a minute's scrutiny. The difference is a matter of degree, not nature; software reproduction always costs something, even if it is as little as a dollar for a CD, ten cents of network connection time for an Internet download, or the marginal cost of using up more memory. With a good scanner or photocopier, you can reproduce a book, too, for very little money these days.

    As the FSF site says over and over again, price is not the issue. Of course zero marginal cost is not a good enough reason for zero price - not in a capitalist society anyway. Have you seen the prices that the FSF charges for its software? It's bloody expensive. The question is - does the extra benefit to users from copyright on software outweigh the disadvantages? Fifty years ago, copyright on books was not a major restriction on people's actions, since copying a book would be difficult anyway. But for something that is naturally easy to copy and change such as source code, the restrictions placed by copyright law are more onerous. I think the loss of freedom is worth it in order to get more software produced, but it's not an open and shut case.

    The article then goes on to criticize RMS for a 'skewed moral perspective', use of extreme analogies, and accusing the free software movement of hijacking the word 'free'. But this is a little unfair. Since the FSF concerns itself only with software, it's not surprising that the word 'freedom' on their pages is used only as it relates to computers. RMS is the first to admit that proprietary software is not the only problem the world has, or even the most serious. If every FSF page were prefixed with a disclaimer saying 'this is less important than other moral issues in the world', that would avoid accusations of a 'skewed moral perspective', but what would be the point? It's a mistake to assume that somebody concerned about one issue is a single issue proponent. It might just be that they don't have time to deal with everything, and have decided to focus on one specific area. (I do agree about the analogies getting a bit out of hand sometimes, but most of them work quite well.)

    And the use of Eric Raymond to try to criticize free software proponents as a whole is even sillier. He may be a bit of a nut, but remember that unlike RMS, ESR is _not_ in the business of making moral proclamations, at least not in the software area. He does his best to make a practical case for free software - or 'open source software' as he calls it to avoid frightening managers. Bertrand Meyer seems to be arguing:

    • Eric Raymond supports free software
    • Eric Raymond supports gun ownership
    • Gun ownership is a bad idea
    • Therefore, the whole free software movement is a bit wacky

    The article asks:

    Is it right, one might ask, to make a connection between Mr. Raymond, who is only one person, and the rest of the free software community? The answer is yes, for at least three reasons:

    - His propaganda is prominent in his Web pages ...

    And? That still doesn't mean that it represents the whole free software movement. ESR doesn't even claim that his 'Open Source' writings represent the whole free software movement, let alone his barrel-of-a-gun writings. Some free software advocates support gun ownership, some don't. (I don't.) The fact that one person has written a web page and managed to get a large number of hits on it is neither here nor there.

    - Eric Raymond has been one of the most visible proponents of the Open Source movement ... his views, unless disavowed strongly and publicly, inevitably commit the rest of the movement.

    That is a bizarre statement. This is not a political party where people are expected to follow the party line. It's not some corporation where any press release represents official company policy. The 'movement' is a lot looser and a lot harder to pin down that Mr Meyer seems to think. There is no requirement on somebody who supports free software to publicly disavow anything that ESR says. His gun ramblings should be treated as what they are, a quaint irrelevance.

    Given the choice between

    - a society where all software would be proprietary, and civilized measures would be in place preventing (for example) a disturbed white supremacist from buying a police gun ...
    - a society where all software would be free and Mr. Raymond's views on gun "freedom" were fully realized,
    any ethically-conscious person would choose the former.

    I don't see how this has any relevance. Especially since ESR does not want to remove copyright on software, and since the free software movement has nothing to do with gun advocacy - a couple of oddly-placed links on one guy's Web page notwithstanding.

    we have had to cancel one major project, and reengineer a product completely, after wasting many person-months and disappointing customers, because of the deficiencies of two separate GNU products (the GCC compiler for Windows and the editor under GTK). In both cases the scenario was the same: fixes to well-known bugs being promised and promised again; everyone waiting for months and months, until it becomes clear that nothing will happen; in the end, having to write off all the affected developments. Since no one is in charge, and you didn't pay for the products, there is no one to blame.

    But 'nobody in charge' and 'didn't pay' are not consequences of the software being free. There are companies more than willing to take your money in exchange for providing a guaranteed response to bug fixes. The difference is that with free software, you can shop around and get the best deal for such support, rather than being limited to the company which owns the copyright.

    Even though the GNU products are often good, the licenses which accompany them are no better, in the warranties (or rather absence thereof) they offer to the user, than commercial software.

    Of course not. Would you expect the FSF to become liable to warranty claims from someone who downloaded the software gratis from an FTP site? However, the GPL explicitly allows someone distributing the software to 'offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee'. It's up to the free market to provide this service for those who can pay for it.

    Warranty provision has nothing to do with 'freedom' - unless you count as 'freedom' being able to drag a software author through the courts because you downloaded his software and it didn't work. Again, if you want to provide a warranty for GCC as a profitmaking business, go ahead and do so. But saying 'use this at your own risk' is very different to saying 'you may not change the software; you may not copy the software'. One restricts what the user can do; the other is just an arse-covering legal measure - unfortunately necessary in today's litigious world.

    Product F is free software. It comes with the standard no-warranty warranty.

    Product P is proprietary software. It costs $50 for the binary-only version. [and comes with a full and comprehensive warranty]
    ... I would consider the second solution more ethical

    I don't see how the first is unethical, provided it is absolutely clear about there being no warranty. Making false claims would be unethical of course. I don't see how you can expect Product F to provide a warranty if you did not pay anything for it - the author could be bankrupted by lawsuits from users who downloaded a copy or got one from you. There is a third option of course, Product F for $50 _with_ a warranty provided by the author.

    I think the point is that the GPL doesn't _automatically_ grant a warranty. But it does provide a base on which you can provide warranties to specific individuals, if they pay for it. That seems sensible to me.

    The free software axioms hold, as we have seen, that although charging for software is wrong it is all right to charge for services associated with the software, such as maintenance and training. The risk here is that such an attitude may lead to products with known deficiencies, giving the provider a ready-made source of juicy service contracts.

    I don't think that any company could get away with this - how would the product establish itself in the market if it were broken? Don't forget that this problem exists with proprietary software too, if it has a support contract. Do you think that Oracle insert bugs so that their customers will subscribe to the most expensive support contracts for guaranteed fixes? It's all rather far-fetched. If you have the source, you'd probably be able to spot if something fishy were going on.

    The article continues by accusing free software advocates of character asassination towards proprietary software developers. Again it makes the mistake of equating RMS with 'the free software movement'. There is no collective view on such things, any more than on gun ownership.

    Finally, I think that most free software projects do indeed acknowledge where they have used ideas from other programs, free or proprietary. The GIMP's credits section describes it as a 'Photoshop-like' program, and that's about as clear as you could be. Similarly it is obvious where GNUstep, bison, less and so on got their inspiration.

  • Sigh.

    This is getting really old.

    If you look at the 2nd amendment you will see TWO clauses, not one.

    The first is: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State

    And the second is: the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Now. Look closely. It did not say "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state shall not be infringed." Nor did it say "...the right of well-regulated militias to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

    A good interpretation of the meaning would, however, be: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, and because of this the states rely on the availability of well-regulated militias."

    Remember that during the Revolutionary War, many of the military forces belonged to the STATES, not the Continental Congress. Similarly, while there was a federal military, the states still relied on their ability to muster troops internally (which is why you used to have things like the 11th Massachusetts Infantry. Around WWI, IIRC, units became mostly/entirely mixed wrt place of origin)

    Of course, what 2nd amendment debate would be complete without mentioning that in 18th century English, 'Well-Regulated' would basically mean in modern English 'Competent.' A militia that didn't know how to shoot is not all that necessary to the security of a free state. One that can, is. No significant command structure is needed, and none is implied.

    And lastly, bear in mind that these guys had just finished fighting a WAR in which they REBELLED against the government. They had no idea at the time that the Constitution would last one day, much less 200+ years. If (and this is still a possibility today) the US government loses it's legitimacy, the people are justified in overthrowing it. Hell, it's a moral imperative. People are supposed to be free.

    If the US is threatened by tyrannical forces from within or without, then it's a damn good thing that you'll have firearms to use to ensure your liberties. Placing them in the hands of a fallible government and trusting that they will never become corrupt nor be invaded is grossly irresponsible.

    But the reason that the Swiss are often held up as examples is because they are responsible and yet still heavily-armed. It's not all that common for people to go on shooting rampages there.

    If there were a way to assure responsibility in the US that didn't put the government or some other fallible, controllable entity, I'd probably go for it. But the way that preserves freedom has it's own dangers. That's the price you pay to be free.
  • but models don't just exist in a void, laws make them harder or easier. right now free software is discouraged by the legal IP framework, and I'd support the idea of making it more favorable. even if it's without going "all the way" like RMS would.
  • First, attacking the author is not a valid way to attack an argument. The arguments in the article should be considered independently of the author.

    Bullshit. The qualifications of the author to write about subject X are just as important as what the author says about subject X. If I think Bertand Meyer has expressed unethical positions in the past then I can hardly respect his present position on Ethics. What would you think of an essay entitled On Defending Faith and Fidelity in the Institution of Marriage when you learned that its author was named William Jefferson Clinton?

    Second, criticising a programming language, and by extension those who use those programming languages, is hardly a profoundly unethical thing to do.

    Meyer wasn't criticizing a programming language; he was criticizing the people who had used that language. There's a huge difference.

    --Jim
  • (Sorry about my other message. Let me try formatting that again.)

    His arguments are based on a skewed definition of free software. He defines free as available for free (as in free beer).

    Is available from at least one source without payment

    He says that they say it is immoral to sell software.

    The GNU and FSF view is that it is OK to sell anything except software.

    He uses this incorrect definition of free software (HIS definition, not the GNU definition which he is trying to discredit)


    In any case the idea that a low reproduction cost should imply a free product has no rational basis. In fact no known moral law implies that purchase cost should even be related to production cost.


    Either this guy is an idiot or he is intentionally misrepresenting free software. This is not surprising since he believes the ends justify the means:


    Aside from other reasons, limiting ourselves to judging deeds, not thoughts, is easy to justify on purely pragmatic grounds: you can observe my actions, or at least their results; you cannot tell whether my excuses are real or imagined.


    OMFG. This guy is just a raving hatchetman.

    [on ESR]It is high time for Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds to state publicly that they do not endorse the views of the gun lunatics, and that their cherished notion of freedom has nothing to do with the freedom to kill children and other innocents.

    Once again. Free speech not free beer.


    8.Demand (in the spirit of faithful advertising) that the economic origin of "free" software be clearly stated, and that the products be classified as one of "donated", "taxpayer-funded" and the other categories described in this article.


    This article was so close, yet so far, to being a good essay. I think it is great that there is a discussion going on about the "uncomfortable" issues of ethics of free software. (which RMS accuses ESR of avoiding). Yet his arguments rely so much on a misunderstanding of free software it misses the mark. His definitions change... his arguments are slippery as fish, which is typical of apologists.
  • First he rails about how narrow-minded Stallman's position is and how terrible it is that he draws comparisons between other moral issues and Free Software.

    Then he turns around and spends a quarter of the article railing about how terrible guns are and that we should immediately drop support for Eric Raymond and Open Source because Eric has the temerity to support the 2nd Amendment, as do a great many other Americans. WTF do guns have to do with Free Software (specifically GNU)?

    What a crock.

  • Ah, yes..another page is turned in the saga of Linux. People are beginning to catch on.

    Personally, I agree with most of what Meyer points out in his article. It's never been fully explained (at least to my satisfaction) why attempting to make money off your own work (and exclusively your own work) is taboo. I've heard people scream bloody murder at me for years for simply trying to sell various little odds and ends i've made, rather than just declare it public domain and give it out for free.

    Upon looking at Stallman's own views, I still fail to see how licensing your work "deprives" people. Ford isn't "depriving" people of transportation by demanding that you pay money for one of their cars. If you cant afford it, that's your problem, not Ford's. How is this evil? The whole thing smells a little weird. Quoting from the article:

    "..And so on (there are countless other examples). These are extremely strong indictments, based on moral terms. They are morally unjustifiable. Nowhere in the hundreds of pages of GNU and FSF literature is there any serious explanation of why it is legitimate, for example, to make a living selling cauliflowers, or lectures (as a professor does), or videotapes of your lectures, but criminal to peddle software that you have produced by working long hours, sweating your heart out, thinking brilliantly and risking your livelihood and that of your family.

    This absence of rational justification for the extremist view that all commercial software is evil is all the more striking given that some other parts of the GNU/FSF literature can be serious and reasoned. Its criticism of software patents, for example, is often cogent, and takes the trouble of presenting the opposite view to refute it. As soon as the discussion is about free software--and that's where it is much of the time--argument yields to irrational excommunication."


    In a nutshell, Stallman's point of view is only truly rational if you accept his assertion that Free Software is good, and software licensing is bad.. That sort of thing is purely subjective, and more a question of ideology than anything factual. People need to pay their rent. I need to pay mine. Selling what I've made by my own hand doesn't make me a criminal.

    My $0.02,



    Bowie J. Poag
  • It gets worse. He charges ESR and RMS with "lunatic raving" within a page-down of this sentence:

    "Perhaps the greatest tragedy of that country is that a minority of gun nuts [...] supported by an all-powerful lobby, the National Rifle Association, has managed to terrorize Congress into maintaining loose gun laws with no equivalent in the rest of the civilized world."

    If the words "sky-high rhetoric" weren't themselves sky-high rhetoric, that's what I'd call this. Might as well do a point-by-point on this one, since I'm bored.

    1) "greatest tragedy" -- The "perhaps" does nothing to modify a statement so outlandish. Supply your own list of greater tragedies. Mine would probably start with, oh, say, 70% functional illiteracy, or, uh, maybe slavery, or, er, the recent resurgence of parachute pants.

    2) "all-powerful" -- The NRA does not get what it wants. It wants laws based on an original-intent reading of the Second Amendment. We have no such laws in the US, no matter which interpretation of the founders' original intent you're talking about ("militia" vs. "people").

    Forget it. Can't go on.

    The sad thing is, the point the guy pretends he's making is valid: Leading open source/free software advocates aren't sufficiently reflective, and they make inconsistent and/or nonsensical statments sometimes. True. Pot-kettle-black.

  • Bertie also confuses commercial software with proprietary software. Redhat Linux is commercial software. They charge money for it. Nobody's upset with Redhat because they charge money for their distribution. Some people are upset because Redhat has too much market share. Some are upset because they think Redhat is technically flawed. In spite of this, Bertrand says that free software people hate commercial software. That's nonsense on stilts!
    -russ
  • by jetson123 ( 13128 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @11:11AM (#1059226)
    Meyer is really no different from a lot of other people who pushed technically interesting ideas that failed to catch on widely. When Java came out, lots of other people (Smalltalk, Inferno, etc.) stood up and said "why not us?". With Linux succeeding, the folks who developed AIX, AT&T Research UNIX, SCO UNIX, and others have been bellyaching. And with the success of Windows, there are some people who have been doing somthing about it (Linux, GTK, KDE, etc.), and there are others who have mainly been whining and marketing (OS/2, commercial UNIX vendors, etc.). The only difference is that, for some reason, Meyer gets more of a platform to speak from.

    Eiffel failed to catch on widely, and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Rather than insulting more and more people, it would be good for Meyer to go back and see where he didn't meet the needs of his potential user community. Unlike what he claims, people in industry are very concerned with quality and methodology. It's just that his tools and methodology failed to meet their needs.

    As for open source software, that does have something to do with the success of new tools and languages: most people who make these decisions are simply not going to build a product based on a language that comes from a small vendor. They would be betting many man-years of effort on the success of that one small vendor and be at the complete mercy of that company's future pricing policies and responsiveness.

    The two realistic options anybody wanting to popularize a new language has are to open source a usable implementation or to work early towards creating a standard and getting multiple vendors to provide implementations. Eiffel did neither, and so it wasn't a very attractive choice (the fact that many people perceived it to contain some real technical blunders didn't help either). That is perhaps the first lesson would-be language vendors should understand.

  • by Lumpish Scholar ( 17107 ) on Saturday May 20, 2000 @11:43AM (#1059273) Homepage Journal
    For example the GNU Eiffel compiler was developed at the University of Nancy by employees of that university who (in contrast with commercial Eiffel vendors, who need paying customers to survive) get every month a salary from the State, whether the users are happy or not with the product. This is a typical case of taxpayer-funded software.

    The "commercial Eiffel vendors" include Meyers' company. He's got to compete with free software.

    Ironically, a free Eiffel distribution is probably the best thing that ever happened to those vendors; it increases the population of Eiffel programmers, and thus, of the potential employees of projects that want to spend money on commercial Eiffel implementations.

    (I hit return instead of tab, and posted an empty article. Please moderate that one down. Sorry and TIA. --PSRC

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