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GNU is Not Unix

Why Human Rights Requires Free Software 190

andyo writes "Why Human Rights Requires Free Software: Report on a practitioner's view of the critical role free software plays in the work of human rights activists around the globe."
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Why Human Rights Requires Free Software

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  • When we now consider the right to Free software a basic human right, I think we are all starting to take ourselves a little too seriously. It's not like someone is trying to outlaw the writing of Free software, or suppress the Free software movement (okay, maybe Microsoft is trying to talk trash about it, but they can't really do anything to stop it). Or is this the prelude to an argument that people should have access to source code for proprietary commercial apps, because not having it is a violation of their human rights?

    Free software is good. But that doesn't mean that all software should be Free. It's a big jump from intellectual openness to Stallmanism.
    • by theRhinoceros ( 201323 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:45AM (#4436829)
      No no no no no no, that's not what the article says at all!

      The point of the article is that in order to do Human Rights work, the all partions of your data collection and processing must be transparent and above reproach. Free Software facilitates this by letting all parties examine the code behind the data presented so that bias and obfuscation are minimized. Basically, the subject of the article wants to be able to show people human rights statistics and data without having to resort to expensive software where what's "going on under the hood" is not apparent to all. That's all. There's nothing about how Free Software is a basic human right. It's just a tool used by some of those who seek to protect and defend human rights, a means to an end.
      • Hmm. You're right. I went back and "re-skimmed" the article. Sorry. Someone go ahead and mod me down (OT).
      • by gargle ( 97883 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @11:25AM (#4437130) Homepage
        The argument made in the article is illogical and plain silly.

        Statistical software doesn't need to be open source for people to know whether it works right - the algorithms used are well-established and documented. e.g. Matlab has extensive documentation which describes the algorithms used for each function. Furthermore it's easy to check whether the software is works correctly by running it through test cases.

        The fact that a piece of software (e.g. matlab, excel,etc.) is used by scientists, financial engineers, etc. is a better assurance of reliability than its open sourceness.

        • by harvardian ( 140312 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @11:56AM (#4437244)
          In fact, it is a simple task to bias results from an open source product. Just change the source to bias your data, and you're pretty much guaranteed that nobody will find out.

          On the other hand, you can't change the source code of a commercial product, which as the parent post said, lots of people know how to interpret data from. This makes is significantly harder to dupe people with fudged data.
        • If you use Excel for statistics, you should be booed off the stage. You will never get an article through peer-review in a reputable scientific journal. If you try that, you will be given the following reference and be told to get a clue: B.D. McCullough and Berry Wilson. 1999. On the accuracy of
          statistical procedures in Microsoft Excel 97. Computational Statistics and
          Data Analysis, 31(1): 27-37


          The problems have not been corrected in an XP box I just tried.


          It is my firm belief that the code must be available for review for it to be good science, and closed source is one of the greatest problems in science today. You are expected to document every aspect of your research, except for the actual implementation, that doesn't make any sense.

          It doesn't need to be free as in speech or even Open Source in the OSI sense, but it sure helps.

        • With closed source, it's merely a gamble that the package isn't producing correct results. Sure, you can spot-check results. A clever malicious program, however, would only falsify data some of the time, to avoid detection.

          I used to work for an inventory company which would count stock at stores. At some stores, we would recount everything. At others, we would merely recount mabye 10% of the stock, or maybe do 2 checks per employee. Generally my company would guarantee a certain degree of accuracy, and would refund a certain amount if we exceeded that tolerance; however, there were also monetary benefits for the inventory company to finish within a specified time. We knew, however, what would and would not be checked closely. If we needed to, we knew how to setup our inventory procedure so that we were 'perceived' to be within tolerance and finishing within the allotted time.

          The point is that if there is determination to falsify the numbers, a way can be found. And it's much easier to do so with less transparency of the trusted unit.

        • The argument made in the article is illogical and plain silly. Statistical software doesn't need to be open source for people to know whether it works right - the algorithms used are well-established and documented.

          Best I can figure, the author's article simplified the point beyond optimal clarity, leaving an opening for this sort of inadvertent straw man.

          I doubt anyone is seriously suggesting that Bill Gates has directed the Excel Black Ops team to insert code that looks for data matching projected fatality patterns for an upcoming death squad action in Nicaragua, and subtly alters the data so it looks like Greenpeace did it.

          It is possible, however, that keywords found in data may trigger reporting to authorities. It's not that farfetched - only a step away from Carnivoire.

          It's also possible that various closed-source add-ons meant for incident-analysis purposes may actually be less reliable or trustworthy than they seem.

          None of these things are proven, but none are unproven either. Meanwhile an alternative exists that does plausibly allow them to be disproved.

          While I do think this issue - at least in the statistical world where (A) it's basically impossible for nefarious developers to anticipate which data they might want to confound and (B) datasets are often made available for independent corrobration - is not the strongest argument for open source in human rights work (cost, the potential for piracy-charge harassment, and a general preference for NGO's to avoid unnecessarily diverting precious financial resources to large American corporations being more compelling to my mind), it's not as silly as it's being made out to be.

    • It's not like someone is trying to outlaw the writing of Free software

      I'll just assume you havn't been paying attention, or are very naive.
      • I'll just assume you havn't been paying attention, or are very naive.

        Ohh come on, you cant post a comment like that without proof! You know that!

        So come on, give us some links.
        • Palladium, trusted computing, other DRM...

          It all has a common element, it cannot be accomplished with general purpose computer hardware and open source software.

          It is provable that at some point it must rely on security through obscurity, and/or though a hardware crippling of the general purpose computer.

          I defy you to describe a system of DRM that can work with 100% open software, and a general purpose computer.
    • by Gadzinka ( 256729 ) <rrw@hell.pl> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:51AM (#4436849) Journal
      It's not like someone is trying to outlaw the writing of Free software, or suppress the Free software movement.

      Unfortunatelly there are several initiatives (mandatory hadrware DRM in PC among them) that will render free software useless as non-interoperable with commercial one. This is as close as you can get without explicitly stating it to outlaw free software.

      Robert
    • by paul.dunne ( 5922 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:54AM (#4436855)
      We need a new acronym. RTFA: Read The Fine Article
    • by Hostile17 ( 415334 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:56AM (#4436858) Journal

      It's not like someone is trying to outlaw the writing of Free software, or suppress the Free software movement

      You might be wrong about this. The Senate currently considering a bill which would require all personal computers to have DRM built in and Microsoft holds the patent on DRM Operating Systems. If Microsoft refuses to license this to any other companies or prices the license out of reach, this would effectivly outlaw Linux and any other OSS/Free project that either doesn't have access to the license or can't afford the license.

      • That is false.

        The "Fritz" bill would create an industry group to define and create a system of mandatory DRM. If they couldn't do it Congress would handle it directly.

        The bottom line though is that the specifications and implementation would have to be done in a public manner. And for it to be pervassive, it'd have to be non-licensed, or else a whole manner of new issues are raised.

        Additionally, the bill you speak about is dead (for now). It may be re-introduced, but it died in committee, without coming to a floor vote.
      • But that wouldn't outlaw someone from writing a program on the Windows platform, or any other platform that supports DRM, and then releasing the program under a Free software license like BSD or GPL. I understand what you are saying, but it doesn't really outlaw Free software per se, though it may make it difficult to run Linux or other Free OS's within the confines of the US. Free software will always be around as long as someone is willing to write applications, and give away the source.

        As to the patent and the requirement for DRM-enabled computers, I think that if it ever passed Congress and was signed into law, the next stop would be the Supreme Court. They would likely find that either the law or the patent would have to go, since not doing so would result in a unconstitutional restriction of the right to freedom of expression (running the OS of your choice). If it came down to that, my bet would be that the patent would go under the axe, not the law.
      • The Senate currently considering a bill which would require all personal computers to have DRM built in and Microsoft holds the patent on DRM Operating Systems.

        I grew up in Louisiana. When I was a teenager, the state legislature considered a bill that would make marriages between first cousins legal.

        Just because a bill has been introduced in a legislative body doesn't mean it in any immediate danger of being passed. Slashdotters need to stop jumping to conclusions based on bills that never even made it out of committee.
        • The Senate currently considering a bill which would require all personal computers to have DRM built in and Microsoft holds the patent on DRM Operating Systems.

          I grew up in Louisiana. When I was a teenager, the state legislature considered a bill that would make marriages between first cousins legal.

          How are these two even remotely connected? The former is a bill restricting what you're allowed to do, in what is in today's technological society a pretty fundamental way. The latter is "allowing" something which, even if you consider it ill-advised, isn't properly the business of the state at all.

          The only way you could be connecting these proposals would be if you were saying that they are equally ridiculous. I suppose they are, but in diametrically opposite ways; 1) it is far from ridiculous that first cousins should be allowed to marry*, but a law allowing it is ridiculously unlikely to pass, and 2) it is ridiculous to mandate crippling the normal functions of computers in today's world, but the legislation required is very likely indeed to pass in one form or another. Some precursor legislation has already passed, viz. the DMCA.

          *Yes, I know I'm open to flaming here, but the ban on 'incest' between first cousins is not based on any solid genetic ground; it's a taboo, pure and simple. Even if there were any significant increased risk to offspring it isn't the place of the state to determine these things, any more than they should mandate sterilization of women over 38, or men with a family history of testicular cancer, or people with poor eyesight.

          • How are these two even remotely connected?

            They're both examples of legislation that was proposed, and that was opposed with great outrage and uproar. Ultimately the first-cousin marriage bill was defeated, and it simply evaporated with no ill effects. My point-- which really was pretty clearly made, I think-- is that proposed legislation is nothing to get excited about. The system works, and bills that shouldn't make it into law usually don't.

            I think you got a little too caught up in the details to understand the thrust of my argument. Give it another try, okay?
            • This reply makes your point clearer, it wasn't clear from your original post (at least not to me). I think you're overly optimistic, though; the system doesn't always work well, it is subject to manipulation by special interests.

              I suspect that DRM legislation has a better chance of being passed than you think, especially if it is *not* met with great outrage and uproar every time it raises its ugly head.

    • Actually the author doesn't make the point that "the right to Free software" is "a basic human right"--it might be inferred from the title, but that's an incomplete [and inaccurate] picture. The question more lies with human rights organizations--Amnesty International, various NGOs, etc.--and their use of nonfree software that hinders their effectiveness. I agree with the author's major points, but there are a few concessions even I as a free software enthusiast must make:

      1) RE: accountability & verification
      Sure, the scientific community at large relies on a gratuitous mix of free and nonfree software for research, analysis, publication, etc. The author's strongest point in this argument is the factor of openness in review: those scrutinizing the process of arriving at such and such results are able to clearly argue the methodology's weaker points. You can't usually do this with closed proprietary packages because you have to _assume_ that all that has already been accounted for (although all researchers have big fat disclaimers in their papers as to scientific and analysis error, etc.).

      I'm not quite sure of the non-openness being a "non-starter," however. I know of some human rights organizations that use nonfree software, and I don't think the verification of authenticity has ever been questioned.

      2) The basic premise in the author's argument seems to be that free software would be ideal _given that its developers have a healthy conscience and world view_. Anyone who has taken a sociology and/or anthropology class--or even read an article or review that presented a perspective "not normally accepted"--knows that this isn't always the case. I'm not going to try and pigeon-hole developers because we're all different, but software development follows a pragmatic roadmap. There are _very_ few of us doing this thing because a) we love it; b) we want to make the world a "better place" [and not just the crap you scrawl on resumes and applications]. Often people say this view is too "relativistic," but you have to consider that "human rights" in and of itself is _extremely_ relativistic: beyond the ones that _we_ feel are necessary, we're out there "improving the living conditions" on a very subjective basis.

      This is something the author should have emphasized as well: free software developers need to be passionate about world views that largely affect everyone, not just in isolated cases.

      All, in all, however, a very good presentation.
    • Heh pad're you did mean Stalinism ... didn't you ??
      • No, I meant Stallmanism. As in Richard M. Stallman, the father of GNU and the man who screams from the rooftops that "all software should be Free" at every available opportunity. He's the same guy that will turn his back to you in the middle of a conversation if you happen to slip up and say "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux".
    • I skimmed the article, misinterpreted the author's message, and posted a comment that was completely off-topic. Anyone modding the parent up obviously did not read the article thoroughly either. It got modded down to 0 earlier, but people keep modding it up again as Insightful. It wasn't Insightful, it was Illiterate. If you want to moderate the parent, MOD IT DOWN. Thank you.
    • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @11:21AM (#4437118) Homepage Journal
      When we now consider the right to Free software a basic human right, I think we are all starting to take ourselves a little too seriously
      Well...
      You begin a good "straw man" attack.

      The notion that software expressed in source code is a form of speech has been established in U.S. courts [com.com], at least. An attack on the "right" to free software is an attack against a category of free speech, and would represent an erosion of the entire category of free speech rights.

      It's not like someone is trying to outlaw the writing of Free software, or suppress the Free software movement
      No?
      Maybe not in the U.S.,
      maybe not right now.

      In the recent past, the idea of free software was seriously threatened by a number of high-profile cases, mostly around the topic of encryption. There are many pending and emerging cases involving patents, so-called 'intellectual property' and Digital Rights. All of these represent an effort by various established interests to classify free software as an infrigement on their rights.

      Nobody expected Habeus Corpus to come under attack in the United States, 18 months ago. Surprising and drastic things happen in a very short time.

      Free software is good. But that doesn't mean that all software should be Free.
      The artical in question does not even advance a claim like this.

      It is proposed that all software used by Human Rights workers in the field should be free software (Software Libre,) wherever it is at all possible.

      It is also advanced that there are inherent inequalities in the control and trust relationships with proprietary vendors - which might be acceptable parts of a social contract for home use or doing business. Nonetheless this is a repugnant situation and represent an unacceptable risk to the mission of the workers and the well-being of subjects in Human Rights field-work.

  • but (Score:3, Funny)

    by anonymous coword ( 615639 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:42AM (#4436824) Homepage Journal
    i don't want gnu/human gnu/rights.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And software most certainly is a tangible thing.

    The right to life. The right to live well. The right to die well. The right to voice one's opinion without fear of imprisonment or death.

    These are rights.

    Free software? Sure, it can help human rights workers. But is it a right?

    No more than my inherent human right to own a porsche. Someone call someone else, cause I don't see one in my driveway yet.
    • And software most certainly is a tangible thing.

      really? you seriously think software is more tangible than say free speech?

      i assume you mean tangible the engilish word:
        1. Discernible by the touch; palpable: a tangible roughness of the skin.
        2. Possible to touch.
        3. Possible to be treated as fact; real or concrete: tangible evidence.
      1. Possible to understand or realize: the tangible benefits of the plan.
      2. Law. That can be valued monetarily: tangible property.


      if you look at the first definition, i doubt you could apply this more to software than speech. sure you can touch a tape wich contains speech or software. but you are not touching speech or software directly.

      wrt the second, i can reaize software, but i can also realize free speech. i was arrested a couple weeks ago in dc while realizeing free speech. the effects of free speech are quite evident on society, as are the effects of sofware. i would say they are equally tangible in this reguard.

      now lets look at the third. can software really be valued monetarily? say some company charges $30 for software X. if i make a copy of it is each copy worth $30 or is each worth half of the original ($15). say i email software X to 1000 people. how much are those copies worth? since it's sofware they can be exact copies, does it devalue the original in some way?

      take gnu sofware when considering the third definition. it can be obtained for free, and you are free to copy it. there is no monitary values associated with these transactions what so ever.

      more tangible than speech? i dont think so.
  • So... (Score:2, Funny)

    by infornogr ( 603568 )
    Does this mean that people who lived before the invention of free software were not really free? Someone should go write a letter to Locke about this.
    • Other way around (remember, free software came first). It wasn't until the invention of proprietary software that software started being used as a tool to remove people's freedoms.
  • Yes, Offtopic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @09:52AM (#4436852) Journal
    I'm sure this is quite offtopic, but what the hell.

    Is it just me, or does anyone else think it's overkill to give a spot on the front page to every article that expresses an opinion on how good/bad free software is?

    Sure, the first few discussions that reach the mainstream public... that makes sense. Now, /. is wasting a lot of space posting the transcripts of what some microsoft employee says, then the 20 rebuttles from the free softwar community. I think I could do without it. Any chance we can make "Free Software-Good/Bad" it into a category so it can be filtered out by everyone? Or maybe just throw it in with the "Jon Katz" category...
    • Re:Yes, Offtopic (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Hostile17 ( 415334 )

      Is it just me, or does anyone else think it's overkill to give a spot on the front page to every article that expresses an opinion on how good/ bad free software is?

      No more overkill than FoxNews running stories about the War on Terrorism every hour on the hour. Typicly, this subject tends to recieve alot of comments. Slashdot is simply providing stories on a subject its readers want.

    • Especially when the article is empty

      I like Human Rights organizations
      I like Free Software

      Therefore, Human Rights organizations should use free software.
    • yeah put all the stuff in the Jon Katz category. So I'll never ever see it. You know I almost forgot about Katz until you mentioned him. I think I've had his articles blocked for almost a year now. Dang.
    • You're absolutely right. I too am getting a little sick and tired of all this 'preaching to the converted'.

      I'd like to see this story on the front page, for example, if it originated in mainstream media; then, the topic of discussion would have been something more useful like reaching out and getting heard by the unwashed masses.

      These articles get posted and people are all "oh how wonderful it would be if Joe Sixpack read that and acknoeledged the truth in it". Bleh, spare me.

      Post these things again when the story pops up on NBS or CNN or the beeb.

      Just some flamebait here to complement your offtopic, Mr. evilviper.
      • I too am getting a little sick and tired of all this 'preaching to the converted

        What makes you think that the only people who read /. are already converted?

        "You can prevent your opponent from defeating you through defense, but you cannot defeat him without taking the offensive."
        - Sun Tzu

  • Was it just me, or did anyone else get the impression that this was going to be another salvo in the "free vs. open" holy war (possibly the stupidest holy war out there, by the way) when he opened up with the bit about how it's obvious in this context that the proper term to use is "free" and not "open source"? It seems to me that rigid adherence to some dogma or other is the worst thing you can do for the preservation of human rights; human rights are better protected by a sensitivity to human diginity, and a willingness to examine all the possible ways to preserve human diginity. Dogmatism and demagoguery ultimately limit your ability to see a problem from all different angles, and to find the best solution for the situation.

    And for the record, I think his arguments are bollocks too -- have you ever heard anyone say something like: "I'm sorry, I can't accept your statistical analysis -- it was done on MS Excel, which is non-free software". Maybe RMS would, but granting agencies and international organizations certainly wouldn't.

  • Contradictionary? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dfeist ( 615612 ) <mail@dankradfeist.de> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @10:18AM (#4436920) Homepage
    Doesn't he first state it should be "free" and not "open source" and later, he compares proprietary solution with open source?
  • A lot of people can see how the institutions that try to impose software and copying restrictions choke off freedom in the USA, but those economic forces and pressures will eventually reach China when they come into the information age too.

    China's government will not be so restrained, and it could easially lead to a brutal or even genocidal crackdown when it comes to billions of people and trillions of dollars in intellectual property controlls. For the USA to insist that China impose strong intellectual property controlls inspite of it's culture to the contrary is outright reckless and irresponsible. The freedom to copy is one of the last glimmers of freedom in an otherwise militant police state. IMHO we are setting ourselves up to swallow some bitter Chineese medicine.
    • There's a number of problems with this comment. I'll take them in order:

      A lot of people can see how the institutions that try to impose software and copying restrictions choke off freedom in the USA Actually, the jury is still out on this one. The debate over what is 'okay' to copy (grama's recipe for cookies, GPL software, shareware) and what is 'not okay' (copyrighted music, proprietary software) is still raging.

      but those economic forces and pressures will eventually reach China when they come into the information age too. It wouldn't be hard to argue that Southern and Coastal China are already there.

      China's government will not be so restrained, and it could easially lead to a brutal or even genocidal crackdown when it comes to billions of people and trillions of dollars in intellectual property controlls. No. You cannot have it both ways-- if China is so wreckless with their citizen's lives, then it is doubtful they will ever have 'control' over 'trillions' in IP. Conversely, if China ever does figure out schemes to tax/issue/control intelectual property within it's state, then those same institutions would force a certain level of transparency that would prevent human rights abuses. Granted, pirates, grafters, and extortionists are taken out and shot as examples once in a while-- but you have to put that in context: these guys were ususally stealing state property.

      For the USA to insist that China impose strong intellectual property controlls inspite of it's culture to the contrary is outright reckless and irresponsible. So, you're saying that it is reckless of the USA to demand IP controls on American IP-- just because China's "culture" likes to copy things? Since when? Is there a thousands-year tradition of copying things in China? Bullshit. The USG can demand whatever it wants from foreign companies handling US assets-- if those countries don't want to play by the rules coming from Washington, then the US can either 1) scream and not trade anymore, 2) complain to the WTO, 3) Impose sanctions, 4) send the gunboats.

      The freedom to copy is one of the last glimmers of freedom in an otherwise militant police state. IMHO we are setting ourselves up to swallow some bitter Chineese medicine. Aah, yes-- the Freedom to Copy. Where is that written down again? The US Constitution? The UN Charter? Or just RMS' bathroom wall? grow up. The freedom to copy is spurious at best (see above reference to the debate still raging).
      • ...The debate over what is 'okay' to copy (grama's recipe for cookies, GPL software, shareware) and what is 'not okay' (copyrighted music, proprietary software) is still raging.

        The debate might not be over for you, or the RIAA, but it doesn't change the fact that copying things is a letitimate and moral right.

        No. You cannot have it both ways-- if China is so wreckless with their citizen's lives, then it is doubtful they will ever have 'control' over 'trillions' in IP. Conversely, if China ever does figure out schemes to tax/issue/control intelectual property within it's state, then those same institutions would force a certain level of transparency that would prevent human rights abuses. Granted, pirates, grafters, and extortionists are taken out and shot as examples once in a while-- but you have to put that in context: these guys were ususally stealing state property.

        Ahem, you cant have it both ways. IP is a form of controll, not a form of free markets. It will do nothing to enhance transparency.

        ... So, you're saying that it is reckless of the USA to demand IP controls on American IP-- just because China's "culture" likes to copy things? Since when? Is there a thousands-year tradition of copying things in China? Bullshit. The USG can demand whatever it wants from foreign companies handling US assets-- if those countries don't want to play by the rules coming from Washington, then the US can either 1) scream and not trade anymore, 2) complain to the WTO, 3) Impose sanctions, 4) send the gunboats.

        Just because the US calls something a property right, does not mean that it is. By your logic, Canada wasn't playing by the 'rules' when it let people 'steal' slaves 'owned' by American plantation masters and set them free in Canadian territory. Bullshit. PS copying things is a 1000 year tradition in China

        Aah, yes-- the Freedom to Copy. Where is that written down again? The US Constitution? The UN Charter? Or just RMS' bathroom wall? grow up. The freedom to copy is spurious at best (see above reference to the debate still raging).

        Ahh, and there is the source of the problem. Rights don't come about because some important person wrote them down, or because a government says they're a right. People have rights, written down or not, and they often codify them into law and organize into government to secure those rights, but people still have rights either way, and the right to copy is one of those.

    • Since when do you have a right to copy something you don't own or intend to buy? People like you are the reason why there are few that take legitimate opposition to draconian copyright seriously. Instead of arguing "I have a right to use my IP in any way I choose for my own use (commercial or personal)" you argue, "I have a right to do anything with any IP I encounter for my own use." Tell me, which one sounds more mature and one like the rantings of some child who never grew up?
  • by PoiBoy ( 525770 ) <brian@poi h o l d ings.com> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @10:30AM (#4436944) Homepage
    From the article:

    Imagine an American scientist bringing a closed, proprietary encryption program or statistical package to political activists in a foreign country and saying, "Just use this; take my word that it works right."

    As someone who works for a company that produces statistical software I found this comment to be rather close-minded and wrong. My company, along with most others, goes through extensive certification testing to make sure that our software produces correct results. Our software is used by a broad range of academics, private sector researchers, government workers, and not-for-profit groups; and not once have I ever heard anyone even suggest that our program produces purposefully inaccurate results.

    Quite honestly, there are no open-source statistical software packages that even come close to offering the benefits of our package. Although R has shown some promise, the documentation that comes with our software alone is worth the price. I have yet to see an open-source package that comes with the same in-depth encyclopedic reference documentation that we produce.

    Just because it's closed-source doesn't mean we're evil.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Just because it's closed-source doesn't mean we're evil.

      True. It does, however, mean that it can be evil, and that it would be difficult to determine whether it is or not. That's the whole point of the article.
    • Right off that bat, you admit a bias. Since when is anyone who works for a corporation going to say "our product sucks"? Corporations and those who work for them (except in union issues) will do what is best for the corporation. Period. Thus, you cannot trust anything that someone working at a corporation says about their product, nor anything that the corporation says about their product.

      SPAM claims that their ham-like product tastes good. This, of course, is bullshit.

      Whether or not your product is good is a issue of debate; the fact that you didn't name your company or the product it makes hardly helps your case, though.

      No-one is implying that every corporation is evil. However, few if any corporations are "good". A corporation's only interest is to maximize profits using all legal means (indeed, that's its legal obligation). Thus, most corporations aren't moral or immoral, but amoral: they do whatever they can to maximize profits while obeying the law. Of corse, some corporations are "evil": Microsoft, Enron, and Global Crossing, for example. A very very few corporation are "good"; I'd suggest Google off-hand as an example.

      So, the point is, we can't trust what you say about your software product. You make a living based on that software product. This neither makes you good nor bad, but simply not credible in reference to that product.

      You also seem to have missed the point. The point is that scientists need to know how something does what it does. If they don't, there's an unknown variable. Scientists and human rights groups can't take your word that your product works right. They can't take your word that the product works right for the very reasons I mentioned above: you or your company will never say anything negative about your product.
      • It depends on your definition of good and evil.

        Jesus claims that it's very hard for a rich man to enter into heaven. The bible also states that the love of money is the root of all evil.

        If you buy this then all corporations are by definition evil. Why is a corporation formed except to pursue the accumulation of money? Why would you accumulate money if you did not love it?
        • Just because something is the root of all evil does not make it evil in and of itself. People do evil things to get more money.

          People also do evil things in the name of religion (refer to middle ages, the Isreal/Palistinian situation, and 9/11). Though I hate religion, that in itself doesn't make religion evil (I think there's plenty of other things which make religion evil; namely the fact that its all a big lie told to control people).
          • " Just because something is the root of all evil does not make it evil in and of itself."

            Yea that's what jesus said. He did not say money is the root of all evil, he said love of money is the root of all evil. You of course are entitled to your own opinion.

            "People do evil things to get more money."

            Jesus says simply wanting money is evil. He has said on more then one occasion that accumulating wealth is evil.

            Of course you may not buy that argument and may have your own belief system or like most christians simply ignore those parts of the bible that don't suit you. Like you I don't even believe in god. I am simply pointing out that there are belief systems out there (christianity being the foremost but budhism can be counted as well) that view accumulation of wealth as evil.

            "People also do evil things in the name of religion (refer to middle ages, the Isreal/Palistinian situation, and 9/11)."

            Absolutely. I don't know where I saw this but I am going to try to quote it. "Gods don't kill people, people with gods people kill people"

    • the documentation that comes with our software alone is worth the price

      Well, then you can give away the source and charge for the documentation, right? It seems it might get you a new part of the market. These guys seem to choose Free Software because it's open, not because it's free. Like the article said, these guys pay for Free Software.

      BTW: this is just an idea, not an attack on how your company chooses to do business...

      NachtVorst
    • Hehe, yeah, R [r-project.org] is going to kill your company, whoever you are! :-) (I'm not a statistician, but I used R for my thesis, and I loved it, but I also found some bugs, especially one in rpois was quite scary).

      The basic point of the article still stands, you can't verify things yourself. For any scientist, that should be bad. And for a Human Rights worker, who quite certainly has someone powerful who doesn't want him to do whatever he's doing, it is of paramount importance.

      Really, I find it strange that in science, you are supposed to openly document all you're doing except the software implementation of what you did... I don't think that can last.

  • I have been thinking, and talking with my co-workers about this: I wonder how many jobs have been lost in the "tech downturn" because of companies using Free/Open software instead of developing things themselves. This came to mind after hearing 2 suits sitting at a table next to me at lunch (who worked for a large insurance company) talking about how they reduced headcount in the database division. They said:
    • A: Yeah...I was able to reduce the IT headcount by 5 last month.
    • B: How?
    • A: Well, you know we were working on that claims system in house, well with the budget cut I scrapped the project. Instead I hired a couple kids from Purdue who wrote basically the same thing with Perl and Post-something or a another. I let the IT guys go, and just hired the kids part time, and we don't have to pay for the software. The budget is now about a 10th of what it was.
    • B: Good deal...I've heard that the web group is doing the same thing. ...


    That conversation snippit really got me thinking about this. What does everyone else think?
    • So? If you're working at a job that has been made effectively redundant by changes in technology or economics, then you're just doing "busy work". It's time to move on to greener pastures.

      Anyway, the money not spent in the IT budget doesn't just disappear. It is spent on something else more directly related to the company's business, thereby generating more jobs somewhere else in the economy.

    • Hey, every IT employee should expect that day to come: the day they can be replaced with technology. It's no different now than in the Industrial Revolution except that the people being replaced now are from the same group that built their replacement. But that's capitalism, and in the long run becoming obsolete is good for society.

      Free software will become increasingly valuable to companies because of economies of scale. If every company wrote their own web server in-house, none of them would approach the power of Apache. Now that they're realising the value, we've got to convince companies of two things:

      1. Open source the software that does get made in-house; because if every company did it, then they'd all benefit.
      2. Support open source projects that are valuable to them; because if they think they can get good stuff for free right now, they haven't seen anything yet. (Imagine if whenever software developer was made obsolete by free software the company donated 10% of their wage to the project!)
    • Just thinking about this? Free/Open Software is essentially a bunch of college kids doing for free, what professionals get paid to do. Of course people lose their jobs in tech! Hell, can you imagine if you were, say, a plumber, and all of a sudden these people with extra time and money on their hands decided to open a plumbing business that charged $0? That's *exactly* what's happening in tech, and I don't understand why people are putting up with this.
      • Of course people lose their jobs in tech! Hell, can you imagine if you were, say, a plumber, and all of a sudden these people with extra time and money on their hands decided to open a plumbing business that charged $0? That's *exactly* what's happening in tech, and I don't understand why people are putting up with this.

        It's more like a kid plumber charging $30 per hour because the work involves using standard parts and standard published techniques to do the work.

        When you go to an independent car mechanic, that's what the mechanic is doing as well. He is also using standard parts (not necessarily produced by the same manufacturer) and standard published techniques to do the work.

        This may make our jobs less secure, but it does increase exponentially our standard of living.

        Stephan

    • Heres how I react to conversations like this:
      1. The company was able to cut costs. The company wins.
      2. Free software writers get paid for supporting and customizing there code. Free software in general wins. The software writers win.
      3. IT workers that are not able to deliver as well as college students get fired. IT workers lose. Capatialism works as Adam Smith described it.


        1. In this case the College students were able to deliver better than the IT workers. This is in part due to reuse of old labor (code)as well as presumebly cheaper pay.

          As far as cheaper pay there are already systems of natural and artifical checks and balances to keep an equilibrium of pay for services releative to the cost of living.

          As far as free labor (code), the laborers have to feed themselves and therefore will have to dedicate resources to paid labor. Also, the "free" labor could have been part of an assignment for a class that would be bartered for college credits that would eventually be bartered for a degree.

          So in conclusion, yes free software is causing companies to fire experienced professionals and replace them with part time college students. However, this is not neccessarally a bad thing. If the professionals are really that damn good they will be able to get another job. If they can't then society probally has little need for their labor and they will learn new other skills or work for what the college students are working for. The obvisious conclusion of this is there will be less college students taking up computer science/CIS and less free software written. This will cause a greater demand for programmers and greater rates of pay. Hence capatialism will keep the market in check.
      • There is no way that profesional software developers, who who are real grown-ups, with bills to pay have to deal with a LOT more than college kids. There's no way to compete. Grown-ups have responsibilities outside of work, college kids don't. Grown-ups have bills to pay, college kids don't. There's just not enough time in the day for a professional developer to possibly try to keep up with some kid in college coding open source.

        One one hand, you've got a guy with a wife and kids at home, which he needs to spend time with daily, a mortgage, a car payment or two, and actual interestes *other* than computers. He can't even code all day at work, he has to go to meetings, socialize, etc. On the other hand, you got a college kid with nothing to do but code, jacked up on caffeine, no family in sight, and with incredible stamina.

        That's *not* capitalism, because labor is being provided for free based on some bizarre form of altruism/activism.
      • In this case the College students were able to deliver better than the IT workers.

        "Maybe" better than the IT workers.
        Next July, when the college kids are off biking through France, and the database needs some tuneup or added feature...One manager might find himself out looking for a new job.

        There is something to be said for onsite staff.
    • A bit much to complain about that when so many people have been made redundant by computers over the past thirty years. Go and talk to a former newspaper printer, for example.

      So they've found a more efficient way of doing the job without employing quite so many VB monkeys. That's exactly the right step. The IT department exists to serve the needs of the company, not to provide jobs for tech workers.

      And it's not as if any of the laid-off programmers are going to be unable to find a new job, even in today's market.
    • I have been thinking, and talking with my co-workers about this: I wonder how many jobs have been lost in the "tech downturn" because of companies using Free/Open software instead of developing things themselves. This came to mind after hearing 2 suits sitting at a table next to me at lunch (who worked for a large insurance company) talking about how they reduced headcount in the database division.

      A similar outrage occurred at our office the other day: Someone made a long-distance phone call!

      Now, not long ago, he would have had to hire someone who knew how to write, have them buy paper, ink, and a quill and write a letter, give it to a horse courier, have them ride across the country, stopping at several general stores for oats and saddlesore ointment, patronize the occasional saloon, and deliver the letter, whereupon the same process would be repeated for the response.

      But now, just because some unthinking bastard came up with a more efficient and less resource-intensive way of getting the same thing done, all those people are out of work.

      Something is seriously wrong in our society, and free software is clearly at the heart of it. Just imagine, people building on what others have done so they don't have to waste time re-inventing the wheel with each new project. What ever happened to morality?

    • I cry "TROLL!" Poster is missing the point, willfully I think.

      Q1) What stops the experienced IT staff (who understand the systems and the people using them) from using free software to cut the development time and/or licensing costs of the project?

      Q2) How do a "couple of kids" brought in at short notice put something usable together quicker than 5 experienced staff who were already working on it. (Unless the 5 staff were idiots ripe for firing anyway)?

      Answers: "Nothing" and "Not likely to happen".

      I am a programmer. I write software for use within the manufacturing industry where I work.
      I use free software to do so whenever possible.

      It often allows me to be more productive thereby increasing my job security.
      It also allows me to see inside it, and opens up options that would never be available with closed software. So I can be more creative, thereby increasing my job security.

      Those 5 IT staff (if they existed) should have been cruising freshmeat from day 1 of the project, eh?

  • absolute bullshit (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Pave Low ( 566880 )
    first you see where the author's agenda is when he writes "Whenever the United States attacks a country, diplomatically or physically, it cites human rights claims." Well, that's just not true, first of all, but he fills this article with all sorts of false statements like this to knock down.
    The same challenges arise when a human rights organization publicly presents its results. The politicians, generals, and other power-holders will dispute every step in reasoning. Well yea, but what does free software have to do with this? People who challenge results talk about the methodologies used, how they collect the data, and so forth. Nobody cares what software they use. Openness of code is meaningless if the process is closed. Look at the slashdot moderation system.

    Patrick finds the costs of proprietary software offensive. "It widens the imbalance between the rich and poor regions of the world," he says. Even worse, "It concentrates power in the hands of software owners." That's just bullshit. Where's the evidence for that? You don't want to pay for expensive software, don't buy it. If the costs are so offensive, then buy something cheaper. Oh wait, the cheap free solution often times isn't as good.

    • by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @12:35PM (#4437433)
      The thing about "it widens the imbalance between the rich and poor" is pretty typical Marxist rhetoric, but for one little thing. Marx would probably say that "widening the imbalance" between rich and poor is a good thing, because things have to get worse before they can get better. Only when the world has hit rock-bottom, economically and socially, will the working people of the world wake up to their circumstances and bring in the True Revolution.

      Or so Marx would say. It seems clear from history that Marx was wrong about just about everything. He seemed to base his reasoning on the assumption that the upper classes (the bourgeoisie-- cool, that's in my spell checker!) are inherently corrupt and that the working classes (the proletariat) are inherently noble. Thing is, though, that if you take somebody out of the working class and put him into the upper class, nine times out of ten he'll become a died-in-the-wool capitalist. Marx didn't count on this aspect of human nature.

      So yeah, I agree with you. This is, in fact, just bullshit, but I think so for a slightly different reason. See, the capitalist thinks that inequity is a good thing because it creates a slope of upward mobility that all people can aspire to climb, thereby inspiring all sorts of good things that make the world a better place. And the socialist or communist thinks that inequity is a good thing because it will, sooner or later, bring about the Revolution that will make the world a better place. I don't know of a rationalized political philosophy that argues that inequity between classes is something you should oppose directly.

      I think the author of this article was probably an amateur.
      • For Fuck's sake, I know it's in vogue to bash Marxism, which is fine, but don't spout off about what Marx said or didn't say when it's patently obvious you haven't read a word of his work. He never said widening the imbalance between rich and poor was good, and in fact he wrote in Capital that capitalism was revolutionary in that it allowed for the development of the very concept of human equality. And while your absolutely correct that his belief that the industrialized countries would experience benign socialist revolutions was flat wrong, his analysis of the commodity system under capitalism still reads as quite salient.

        As for your argument that capitalism embraces inequality, you're right about its effects, but you're dead wrong about its theoretical base. For Marx the very notion of human equality arises because capitalism taught us to see people as possessors of commodities (rather than as "free," "slave," "serf," or whatever). While capitalism inevitably creates inequality, it does make possible the idea of equality. So Marx did think some good came from capitalism, in spite of what many (including many Marxists) believe.

        Disclaimer: IANAM
  • Creating free and open source software for scientists and human rights workers would be an excellent move for any company.

    Though I have never heard of any scientific results being questioned because the source of the software used to calculate them is closed to scrutiny, the concept of supporting results by noting the program used (so that the source can be examined, if desired) means that the company automatically gets a degree of 'free' advertising. It wouldn't be quite as blatant as "These results were brought to you by Micro$oft," but it would get the company name out there. Make some reliable, free, open source software to donate to organizations, and sell the other products when richer organizations seek you out with money to spend.

    In addition, the company gets karma points for helping in humanitarian and scientific causes. 'If you oppose killing babies in such-and-such country, use XXXXX's software!' 'Want to save the rainforest? Help support the cause by buying XXXXX's software.' This may not be the 'ideal' motivation for donating to these organizations, but capitalism does drive charity in a lot of cases.

    Free software is not by any means a right (nor did I get the impression that the article claims this), but it could improve the lot of humanity as well as bringing benefits to the company who develops it.

    -KD
  • Ok... so he throws out the idea that we can't trust closed source statistical software and yet defends non-standard (basically closed) approaches to statistical analysis. Where's the transparency there?

    "On the other hand, Patrick does not anticipate that XML will make a big difference to the human rights community. This is because very few traits of their data are standardized, while the strength of XML lies in its facilitating the exchange of standardized data. Most of the time, the individual statistician imposes his or her own structure on the data gathered, and another statistician who starts another project will structure the data differently. "

    • "On the other hand, Patrick does not anticipate that XML will make a big difference to the human rights community. This is because very few traits of their data are standardized, while the strength of XML lies in its facilitating the exchange of standardized data. Most of the time, the individual statistician imposes his or her own structure on the data gathered, and another statistician who starts another project will structure the data differently. "
      Ok... so he throws out the idea that we can't trust closed source statistical software and yet defends non-standard (basically closed) approaches to statistical analysis. Where's the transparency there?

      You're glossing over a whole lot with your "basically closed" quip.

      XML is useful for something like exchanging purchase order data, because the transactions take a defined form that will remain relatively constant over the lifetime of the relationship between the entities trading data. You paid me $X for Y units of product Z. We set up a DTD, and presto, our computers are talking.

      When you're doing statistical analysis of human rights data, you have to quantify data that few if any information-rich parties have an interest in exchanging. The secret police are not going to write an output handler that conforms to your DTD. Therefore you have to adapt your strategy to the information that's available. Hospital records? Interviews with witnesses? Army documents? The form is different every time, as are the specific types of data and their mapping to the phenomena you're actually trying to analyze. That's why it's tough to have a standard data definition.

      Leaping from that to an insinuation that the data format is somehow then "closed" is absurd. Any statistician who wants to be taken seriously will publish as much detail as possible about the methods used for data collection and coding.

  • by DuctTape ( 101304 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @11:22AM (#4437121)
    I'm not exactly sure that what I read in the article (yes, I read the article) makes sense to me. Where Oram tries to make a case for where a human rights organization publicly presents its results, and it needs to be beyond dispute, he tries to say that the software has to be as trustworthy as the method used to collect the data.

    As well as it should be, but I believe that the effort to "prove" that the program used to process the data is trustworthy is going to be as difficult as "proving" that the collected raw data is trustworthy. One could, perhaps not easily, take the data that was collected and plug and chug it into another statistical program to see if the results were anywhere close to what the first presented results where. That could be considered one way to "prove" that the processing was legitimate, as long as the programs were not from the same software house.

    But just go ahead and try to prove that the data were correct. But that's not the argument here.

    I'm wondering if Oram's argument was more of an idealogical one rather than a practical one. I don't see why someone should be disbelieved just because they used a Microsoft product or a SAS product. I would also think it highly unlikely that a maker of shrink-wrap software would somehow be at fault, except perhaps through their own stupidity, for erroneous results, especially since their credibility is on the line.

    On top of all that, wouldn't an open software package created mostly by, or presumed created by, a group of a particular nationality (KDE presumably made mostly by Germans, for one) come under more criticism if that particular nationality was related to the question that the(ir) software was being used to solve? Hmmm....

    I'm starting to think that this article was an excercise in political correctness since I would highly doubt that someone would want to go through the effort in taking apart the program used to prove that it was correct. It would instead have to be an assumption that it was correct because it was Open Source. And how often have we had perfect Open Source programs that never needed patching?

    Disclaimer: I use Open Source software, except for Quicken (sorry).

    • That article seems to be nothing more than another chapter in the OSS/Non-OSS Jihad. The author's arguements are loosly tied together by sweeping generalisms. This piece reminds me of the anti-nuclear power folks I ran into in the late '70s- They'd ask me: "Please sign our petition" (come to our demonstration/whatever).. I'd respond "Why?" Their response was invariably: "Well because Nuclear power is BAD" Only very few people could ever get beyond the statement and support the opinion with actual facts. Puppets no more... I believe that access to computing/software can be an important tool in helping the parts of the world that are less fortunate than we in the first world are. It is imperative, IMHO, that we don't apply our values to someone elses culture. There are certainly more pressing issues impacting the developing world than which flavor of software is in use, e.g. an adaquate food supply, health care, and at least a semblance of basic human rights that we so easily take for granted.
  • News to Me. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @11:35AM (#4437159) Homepage Journal

    Why, whatever did the framers of the Magna Charta, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution ever do before the concept of Free Software?

    What a bunch of tripe. Human rights requires vigilance and dedication. Software systems are a non-sequitur--they can express freedom, but they cannot create it.

    • They risked their lives on the trust of their confederates. Sometimes they died.

      Consider the case of Mary Queen of Scots, accused of treason, and trusting her life to the strength of a cipher. [Simon Singh, The Code Book]
  • Nasty comments (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheViewFromTheGround ( 607422 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @12:04PM (#4437283) Homepage

    The level of nastiness that this post has generated is very disappointing. There are some silly comments in the slapdash story, especially the comment about closed and non-free software being inferior because it is less transparent. Mathematica, MatLab and the like should all be independently verifable simply by the inputs and results and also by the inclusion of results of those programs in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

    The point of the article, which would be a better point of debate, is that data collection and analysis by human rights organizations benefits from free software.

    What free software provides human rights folks is a platform for doing specific kinds of work and letting a community improve that platform.

    Here's a personal example: I'm developing a web based research and reporting system to track people who are kicked out of their HUD apartments for a drug or alcohol related arrest (not conviction) under the crazy One Strike law. We're both using free and open source tools and will, upon release in the near future, release this thing as quite modest free software.

    The advantage is pragmatic: I can create a sophisticated system that other people can use to gather their own data on this subject and share/compare with ours. Are there nationwide trends and implications for this law beyond Chicago, the city where I work? Are there methods for analyzing this data that we're missing? Do other locales have specific pieces of information that we don't need to worry about in Chicago? Free software makes these questions easier to answer than proprietary software. Most of the mathematics required is stuff that any undergrad with numerical methods and statistical analysis under his or her belt can easily code, so that isn't really any issue.

    It's a shame that the discussion on Slashdot thus far has been so hasty and angry, because even if it's a flawed article, it should really make people how they connect the "nerd" part of Slashdot with the "stuff that matters" part.

    • Re:Nasty comments (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jc42 ( 318812 )
      Mathematica, MatLab and the like should all be independently verifable simply by the inputs and results ...

      Well, yes, but as a programmer, I can tell you that I'd be able to do a much better job if I could look at the code. Verifying the correct functioning of something like Mathematica is a huge task. A set of expert eyes looking at the code can often find things quickly that would take years of testing.

      This isn't to say that such testing isn't valid. It is, of course. But hiding the code removes one very fast and effective metchod of validating the results.

      I'd have a lot more trust in software that had been tested thoroughly, AND whose code was open for inspection.

      Also, a nice thing about having the source available is that you can compile it yourself, and make sure that your binaries correspond to that code. You can never be too paranoid about such things when the subject is politics.

    • Mathematica, MatLab and the like should all be independently verifable simply by the inputs and results and also by the inclusion of results of those programs in peer-reviewed scientific journals

      Likewise, the universe is subected to the same black-box testing by experimental physicists and various other scientists.

      Yes, that's right. God wrote Universe 1.0 and released it as proprietary software. No source. Just a manual with lots of difficult rules like "thou shalt not commit adultry". Sure it works for the simple stuff, but a lotta good it does when you're trying to find a substance that will laze at 560 Angstroms, and if you wanna selectively negate the gravitational field you can just forget about it. He didn't even give His customers a chance to sign the EULA. He just squeezes 'em out through a fleshy tube and says "this is how it is".

      So, a bunch of enterprising Angels got together in the basement and tried to come up with an alternative to compete with this monopoly, and what happened? He turned up the heat.

      This little parable, at the very least, explains why RMS is an atheist. To choose any other path, we would have to cast himself in the role of Satan. It also explains why Free Software advocates inevitably become hyprocrites.

    • I agree with the general thrust of your post, however...

      Mathematica, MatLab and the like should all be independently verifable simply by the inputs and results and also by the inclusion of results of those programs in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

      Ask me what 2/2 is. I'll say 1. Ask me what 36/12 is. I'll say 3. Ask me what 2048/16 is. I'll say 128.

      Does that mean I'm verified for division? No - it means I have successfully passed certain questions. You don't know whether the methodology I used is correct or not. Now, if you were able see my working, you could tell whether I used the right method or not.

      Same with open/closed source. I have no religious attachment to either, but it is true that the open source program lends itself to analysis of method better than the closed source version does.

      Cheers,
      Ian

  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @12:10PM (#4437307) Journal
    It is one thing to argue that an author should offer his works of authorship to the world as public domain without limitations, or even with sufficient limitations to satisfy RMS that it is "free" as he defines the term. This debate is one thing, and I do not speak to that issue here.

    It is entirely another thing to claim that the failure of a society or individual to do so constitutes some form of Human Rights violation. Frankly, to do so is inanely naive and demeaning of the importance and significance of human rights. It is entirely different to argue that something is a Real Good Thing, and another to argue that it is essential to the survival of a decent human condition.

    If there is a case to be made for this proposition, the article doesn't set it forth. All it contains is a combination of turgid rhetoric, wild (perhaps false) overstatements and illogical rationalizations. The argument here is virtually indistinguishable from arguments that all property, real, personal and otherwise, likewise constitutes a violation of Human Rights. Fine, but that is a radically different debate -- and there are far more refined arguments to be made than are made here. This "argument," at end, is just sophomoric whining.
    • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <dh003iNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @01:21PM (#4437598) Homepage Journal
      Try reading the article next time. He never claimed that not releasing software under a Free Software or OSI-compliant license was a violation of human rights.

      He said that its criticial that human rights organizations use Free Software for their existence. Human rights oganizations are short on money and can't afford to pay the outrageous costs for proprietary packages, especially when they don't work as well or aren't as stable as Free packages.

      Compiling the financial issue, human rights organizations have serious problems keeping up to date with the draconian licenses imposed by software companies. EULA's can change at the companies whim, which is a serious problem for a human rights organization. Human rights organizations can't afford million dollar settlements with the BSA because they couldn't find licenses for every copy of Windows they own.

      To save costs and avoid these headaches, and to use a more stable solution, human rights organizations should use free software.

      The other issue is transparency. A fundamental thing for human rights is that processes be transparent. The first step to take away human rights -- as ICANN has showed us -- is to make a process non-transparent. Once something isn't transparent, you can do anything you want and no-one will know any better.

      Current events in software have shown us again and again that you can't trust corporations with non-transparent processes. Whenever a corporation stands to benefit from abusing its lack of transparency, it does. Look at Enron and Global Crossings, the executives of which made secret deals outside the sight of their investors eyes, selling all their stock and making billions off of insider trading while they're investors wen't broke. Look at some of MS' latest EULA terms, which (for example) prevent you from using MS products to write/publish documents critical of MS. Look at MS' auto-update 'features' which force more and more draconian DRM 'features' on you.

      Proprietary software does not necessarily mean human rights violations. However, its an excellent tool to use to disenfranchise voters. Its a great starting place for human-rights violations. Its a great weapon against human rights organizations. In short, because of its closed nature and the possibility of draconian EULA "agreements" there is a great potential for proprietary software to violate human rights.

      Furthermore, I think there is a very good argument that Free Software should be a fundamental human right. Human rights are an expanding concept, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be expanded into the metaphysical. We only have the rights which we can defend, and we can extend rights beyond previous boundaries. In a hundred years, Free Software might be considered as much a human right as Free Speech.

      Since when is wanting more freedom communism or stalinism? According to you, apparently, it is. What people like myelf and Richard Stallman want is more freedom in regards to software. That isn't a communistic ideal. That's an ideal of aspiring to freedom. I'd call it Libertarian.
      • Try reading the article next time. He never claimed that not releasing software under a Free Software or OSI-compliant license was a violation of human rights.

        If you say so. Although I think your statement is fair to some regard, I think the tenor went to both points and was taken by most who read it uncritically to be the same. Most demagoguing permits such retreats. Many examples can be extracted from the article, such as the following:


        Fitness for Users

        Patrick finds the costs of proprietary software offensive. "It widens the imbalance between the rich and poor regions of the world," he says. Even worse, "It concentrates power in the hands of software owners." The organizations that can afford the tools to collect and process data get to set the agenda.


        He said that its criticial that human rights organizations use Free Software for their existence. Human rights oganizations are short on money and can't afford to pay the outrageous costs for proprietary packages, especially when they don't work as well or aren't as stable as Free packages.

        Except when the overall cost of ownership and functionality is better using proprietary packages. I use mostly free software in my environment, but I am a geek who can configure and manage all it can do. I can modify it to do what it can't. Most volunteer-based organizations cannot afford mega-geeks, or even mini-geeks, and "their existence" may well depend upon having software they can use that does what they need, than using software they can't that doesn't -- whether free or not -- and whether it can be used by others to that end or not.

        Total cost of ownership isn't the same as package price -- it depends upon a host of subtle factors. Free software comes with zero support -- this is an important fact lost on most people who can support themselves.

        On balance, it seems quite clear to me that a human rights organization could both exist and be publicly responsible by using either free or proprietary software, depending upon its respective needs and requirements.

        The accountability argument is signifcant to me -- I buy it for some functions. However, accountability does not require FSF-freedom. Rather, it requires the transparency that derives from open sources, whether proprietary, public domain, BSD or GPL. For things such as the monitoring and measuring electrions -- I would agree that they *DO* require open sourced -- but not necessarily FSF-free -- software. (However not every reasonable person would agree with us -- I could not even convince my local USA-based election board on that point). On the other hand, I see no reason why most automated functions could be responsibly performed by a human rights organization with any software that adequately provides the necessary functionality.

        Since when is wanting more freedom communism or stalinism? According to you, apparently, it is. What people like myelf and Richard Stallman want is more freedom in regards to software. That isn't a communistic ideal. That's an ideal of aspiring to freedom. I'd call it Libertarian.

        Interesting remark, since you criticized me for missing the point of the article, which you earlier said focused on "free" in the sense of price, not "free" in the sense of freedom. Now you seem to be suggesting that it was about freedom in the context of human rights after all.

        For the record, a libertarian might well prefer a public domain package to the constraints of the GPL, or per Ayn Rand, might expressly prefer a robust and strong copyright system. The debate about the merits of FSF-denominated free software doesn't require either pro-FSF-ers to be communists, or FSF-critics to be rabid right-wingers. (For my part, I'm a primarily libertarian leftie, but an FSF skeptic. I actively contribute a lot of open source code that is in my lights legitimately free, albeit not FSF-free.)

        Note that I agree with many of the ideals of free software, but only as something to be given by the creator, not as something of an entitlement of the user.
        • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <dh003iNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @04:31PM (#4438277) Homepage Journal
          Let me respond to a few misconceptions I believe you have.

          1. TCO, when the total cost of ownership is less for proprietary products than for Free Software.

          Firstly, I think it is very rare that the TCO for a proprietary package is less than that for a Free Software package.

          Secondly, off the bat, most Free Software is at an advantage over proprietary software in terms of TCO because most Free Software happens to be free as in beer; it is the nature of Free Software in an internet era, that Free Software will also tend to be economically free.

          Thirdly, considering the proprietary licensing issues, I think that proprietary software is never on average a better TCO solution than Free Software. It costs alot of money to maintain compliance with proprietary licensing which would sastify the BSA. And if the BSA raids your corporation and you can't prove you have lgally purchased a license for every copy of a proprietary product you're using, then you have to settle for a huge and outrageous price. So, with the BSA, any possible TCO advantage of proprietary software is gone.

          2. Free software comes with zero support -- this is an important fact lost on most people who can support themselves.

          Dead wrong.

          Firstly, Free Software comes with free support provided internet access in the form of thousands of helpful newsgroups, message boards, etc etc. Furthermore, most developers of products are happy to lend support.

          Secondly, one can purchase support for Free Software at a price better than one would have to pay for support for a proprietary product. Proprietary support isn't free; you either have to pay extra for it, or its built into the cost of the software you buy. So in most cases, if you want dedicated support, you'll get a better deal with Free Software since there's competition among support companies, unlike in the proprietary world.

          Thirdly, have you looked at technical support for proprietary products lately? Its total and complete CRAP. I have a copy of WinME on my system to play games on. On the few occasions I've had to call technical support, I've gotten idiots who didn't know half of what I know:

          ME: "WinME isn't working"

          IDIOT: "Well, what did you install last"

          ME: "JamCam for my digital camera"

          IDIOT: "Well, uninstall it"

          ME: "Ok, I uninstalled it. WinME still isn't workin"

          IDIOT: "Ok, reinstall Windows ME."

          This is basically the kind of support I got for one problem I called in with. Hence, my point. Technical support people for proprietary products don't know what the fuck they're doing or talking about. They're reading out of a cookbook, and they aren't authorized to help you if you don't have a "standard system" and they can only follow certain exact steps.

          But in terms of human rights organizations. They simply can't afford to be wasting time dealing with the BSA's bullshit. The only time that a proprietary product has a lower TCO than its Free Software equivalent is when you've conveniently discounted the cost of dealing with the BSA.
          • But in terms of human rights organizations. They simply can't afford to be wasting time dealing with the BSA's bullshit. The only time that a proprietary product has a lower TCO than its Free Software equivalent is when you've conveniently discounted the cost of dealing with the BSA.

            This is precisely the sort of demagoguery to which I earlier referred. Reasonable people may differ about the analysis in particular cases. Nobody can intelligently discuss these questions in such absolute terms as a general case.

            It is quite possible that the vast majority of businesses have hired professionals who made radically wrong-headed decisions in this regard, and have been pissing away their shareholder's money for decades without complaint. You might well be right -- but then again, the truth might be rather more interesting, and certainly at least a closer question.

            No doubt it is easy for us to put these freely available packages together to do what somebody wants them to do. And there is a modest community of related professionals in some locations who can assist to some extent to put that together for others who know where to find them and what to ask.

            However, asserting that the TCO is identical, without more, for each and every application for which an organization is needed is ludicrous. To suggest that Disney has anything to do with this is sillier. And the BSA gives no problem, so far as I can tell (and I have a great deal of experience with defending BSA cases) to those who don't infringe.

            All of this, of course, assumes that there exists open or free software that does everything that is required. This assumption, too, may be unwarranted. Open source is excellent for those who have substantial IT resources and capabilities, but may be of minimal benefit to those who cannot make use of the freely available code, or regularly hire those who would.

            In my old consulting days, I spent quite a bit of time fixing problems that were created by building software "on the cheap" from rag-tag resources not suitable for the needs of the owner. Often, I would quote the cost of meeting certain requirements, and be passed over by someone who bid more cheaply, only to be later hired to fix the nonsense they purchased for less -- only to charge more than my original estimate because of changed requirements of time and resources.

            My point is this -- these problems are complex, and cannot be reduced to a sound byte. Sure, "true believers" may assert, without more, whatever they want. Some may follow, to their benefit, while others may go under relying upon the preachings. The truth is far more interesting, and infintely more complex.
            • Defending the BSA? That right there's disturbing.

              Anyways, the BSA does present serious problems to "non-infringers". Whether or not you infringe, the BSA costs you money. Maintaining comprehensive proof of owning a license to use every copy of software packages in your organization. If you happen not to have proof of a valid license for every copy of the software packages you use -- even if you have purchased them all -- then you have to settle for huge and outrageous prices.

              And heaven forbid you actually have one unlicensed copy of a program in your organization, even if its just something an employee installed without authorization. Then you get to pay even larger multi-million dollar settlements to the greedy BSA along with obligational contracts which require you to buy MS-produced "intellectual property compliance" software.

              The simple fact of the matter is that dealing with the BSA is in all cases more expensive than not having to deal with the BSA. With Free Software, you have to spend a whopping $0 dealing with greedy intellectual property owners.

              I'm not, however, going to say that the TCO for Free Software is always lower than that for proprietary software. However, if we're at a point in our culture where freedom is sacrificed for a few dollars worth of savings or a little bit of convenience, that's pretty sad.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay

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