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GNU is Not Unix

Being Free is Hard to Do 659

ValourX writes "What is more important to you -- the four freedoms of Free Software, or the ability to maximize the value of your computer? It's a question that comes up on Slashdot often, but rarely is it so well argued as it is in this NewsForge article. How important are the FSF's four freedoms to you? What are you willing to sacrifice for those freedoms?" NewsForge and Slashdot are both part of OSTG.
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Being Free is Hard to Do

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  • Depends... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SealBeater ( 143912 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:17AM (#11295767) Homepage
    What is more important to you -- the four freedoms of Free Software, or the ability to maximize the value of your computer?

    I suppose that depends on how you define "value". Personally, having Free Software and using Free Software has done more to "maximize the value" of my computer far more than anything else I can think of.

    • Re:Depends... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kg_o.O ( 802342 )
      I suppose that depends on how you define "value". Personally, having Free Software and using Free Software has done more to "maximize the value" of my computer far more than anything else I can think of.

      My thoughts exactly. The only reason I'd need proprietary OS (ie. Windows) on my PC is to play games -- not having it saves a lot of my time :) Surely there are people who need software available only for Windows that is actually required to do their work, luckily I'm not one of them. Besides, I find Lin
    • I agree with that, but I also appreciate it when devices I buy work with Linux. I've been browsing for laser printers for a while and I find that the cheaper variants all use proprietary windows drivers... but that value loss comes from the manufacturer's choice. Many common components do work quite well with Linux these days though...
  • Freedom 0? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tektek ( 829733 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:18AM (#11295771) Homepage
    They start at zero -- how cute. :)

    The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

    The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

    The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    • Re:Freedom 0? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:44AM (#11295846)
      very important... and a lot of people don't really get why... anyone who bitches about his gpl'd program being used by the military to suppress indigenous tribes with fails to appreciate that vital freedom. It's double edged and you have to fully appreciate this. If your conscience can't cope with it, then don't release it under an open source license. Use your own license to tie it down so that you can deny them the use of your program.
      • Upon reading the article, I decided that it was based on a faulty premise--- that the choice is between certain features and freedom, and that these are the only two factors that count.

        I am a pragmatist, and I will generally use the best tool for the job. That being said, I have found that open source offers me unparalleled capabilities and value at low prices. This is because active open source projects turn these four freedoms into economic advantages. These include:

        1) Community support is generally
  • by theapodan ( 737488 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:19AM (#11295775)
    Personally, I'm willing to sacrifice the convenience of flash animations, or of photoshop, for a free (as in beer) solution. I'm cheap. The fact that the free (as in beer and in freedom) software often is excellent quality, FreeBSD being my favorite, doesn't hurt either.

    However, I can see it being an impediment to adoption of free software because of the sometimes unreasonable demands placed by restrictive licences. The GPL does prevent advances and progress in some cases, such as device drivers, that otherwise would be possible. Same with flash and other non-free media solutions, whether DRM or CSS on DVDs or what have you.

    I myself feel however, that sacrificing utility for the benefit of using a free software package, is only rational if the resulting loss in utility is no greater than the benefits. However, it is easy to quantify the benefit of free as in beer software, but harder to economically evalutate the benefits of free as in freedom software.

    • The GPL does prevent advances and progress in some cases, such as device drivers,

      The GPL is only half the issue. IIRC, the kernel developers intentionally and frequently break API/ABI compatibility between minor releases so as to "encourage" vendors to release drivers under non-proprietary licenses.

      I find that a bit extreme. Zealous even.
      • by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:58AM (#11295879) Homepage Journal
        kernel developers intentionally and frequently break API/ABI compatibility between minor releases so as to "encourage" vendors to release drivers under non-proprietary licenses.

        People keep saying that, but I have yet to see just a single case where it happened. Kernel interfaces do change, and they change for the better. But I have never seen a change, which happened just to encourage rease of driver sources.

        Right now I can remember a single change between minor releases, somewhere in the 2.4 kernels the up_and_exit function was removed, and a new complete_and_exit was introduced. I don't know how many drivers where affected by that, but at least the USB driver had to be changed. Of course the change didn't happen to break compatibility. The purpose of up_and_exit was to avoid a race condition when removing a module which had a kernel thread running that needed to be stopped before removing the module. If the module had just called up to signal it was terminated, and afterwards called exit, the module code might have been removed before the up call returned and caused a kernel crash as it returned to an undefined address. Having the up_and_exit function solved that problem. But it turned out there was still a race condition. Though no code was accessed inside the module, the sempahore itself would be a part of the module, and it could be removed before up had finished accessing it. This is why completions were introduced, they are different from semaphores, and are designed exactly to avoid this problem. So every user of up_and_exit had to be changed to use complete_and_exit instead. Nothing would have prevented leaving up_and_exit in the kernel, but any user was known to have a race condition. Had the function been left in the kernel, a lot of those buggy users of it might not have been noticed. By removing up_and_exit all instances of the bug would be revealed, and could easilly be fixed.

        This was just one example, there might be more. The point here, is that the change did not happen to intentionally break binary compatibility. The change happened to fix a problem. And while you might think it broke the compatibility, it really just revealed all the modules, that were already broken. And kernel developers frequently make changes to make debuging easier, that is part of the reason the code is of such a good quality.

        The kernel developers don't intentionally break binary only modules, in fact it seems they ignore binary drivers as much as possible. If a change can improve the kernel, it happens. In stable branches such changes only happen if they are necesarry to fix a bug, or if they don't cause major breaking. If all drivers in the kernel can trivially be updated to the new interface, there is no reason not to make the change.
      • So you can find it whatever you want, but since they don't do it, you're kind of starting from the wrong place. ;-)

        (As someone else has said, APIs do change - but they change for reasons other than "let's break all the binary drivers".)
    • "Personally, I'm willing to sacrifice the convenience of flash animations, or of photoshop, for a free (as in beer) solution. I'm cheap. The fact that the free (as in beer and in freedom) software often is excellent quality,"

      Ugh. Any other pixel pushers out there wince at that comment? Heh.
  • Well argued? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:25AM (#11295791)
    It's barely argued at all. His line seems to be:
    A lot of people don't value freedom of software that much, therefore anyone who does should stop.

    He doesn't even try to actually make a connection between the apparent premise and the apparent conclusion.

    Direct quotes:
    "Perhaps it is time to let go of some of the high-moral ideals and remember why we started using computers in the first place."

    But he doesn't say WHY anyone with these high-moral ideals should let go of them.
    "none of us should ever be asked to make unfavorable sacrifices when it comes to turning our computer time into work or money"

    Again, why not? Because it makes him uncomfortable to be asked to make "unfavorable sacrifices"?
  • Depends, if I write free software, especially games, I tend to only use free software in the toolchain to make it easier for other people to contribute. Nothing sucks more to basically being locked out of a free software project just because you don't happen to have the newest version of some proprietary software that is a important component in the toolchain. So when it comes to free software I tend to go with only free software, since that ensures that everybody can help if he likes and it also shows bugs
    • Nothing sucks more to basically being locked out of a free software project just because you don't happen to have the newest version of some proprietary software that is a important component in the toolchain.

      this is what annoys the heck of me when people write GPL licensed java programs that depend on Sun's java runtime to run. And why RMS is so right to point out about the Java trap. [gnu.org]

  • the first thing they pick on is the Gimp UI. It's more of a personal taste IMO, since I dont find anything wrong with it and is easy to navigate.
    • I don't mean to pick on you; this seemed an ideal place to post this mini-rant.

      Just like "it works for me" is the biggest excuse for defects in software, "personal taste" is the biggest excuse in interfaces.

      Interface design may not be a completely solved problem yet, but we certainly know a lot of things not to do by now.

  • by Decaff ( 42676 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:32AM (#11295813)
    How important are the FSF's four freedoms to you?

    Not that important to be honest. I certainly like the cost aspects of 'free software', but what really concerns me is choice. I try to avoid relying on a product which has a single supplier or is not standards-compliant, even if it does meet the FSF's standards.
  • maybe.... balance? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ignorant_newbie ( 104175 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:33AM (#11295816) Homepage
    There are some areas which are well supplied by free software. in many of them, the free software is markedly better than the commercial competition. These seem to be things like Operating Systems and Web Servers.

    Other things seem to be best supplied by the commercial market - Doom3 & the nvidia drivers that let me play it on my linux box, for example. These things are all good, and there is a place for all of them. Jumping up and down about whether they meet RMS's definition of 'Free' or not is a waste of time, imho.
  • Tertiary Education (Score:3, Interesting)

    by krumms ( 613921 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:37AM (#11295827) Journal
    "Being Free" is even harder to do if you're studying for a degree at my university. Visual Basic 6, .NET, simple Word documents that are incompatible with OpenOffice and are unavailable in any other format, PowerPoint presentations ... the list just goes on and on.

    Even with things like .NET, where there's an opportunity for them to demonstrate that building applications using .NET allows for potentially cross-platform solutions, they instead teach Windows Forms on MSVC.NET.

    I mean, what's the fucking deal? We're students. We're not all living in mummy and daddy's basement, having money freely thrown at us.
  • Free != zero cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:42AM (#11295839) Homepage
    A dozen posts & already many that confuse no-cost software with software that you can do anything with, including viewing & modifying the source & sharing it with others.

    A love for zero-cost software isn't bad. I see a lot of people coming to the F/OSS movement because of it. They could run a warez copy of Photoshop, but then they discover the GIMP. After a while, they may discover the fantastic quality of software available & may try more of it. They might discover how wonderfully helpful and intelligent the community is--they are eager to help & are eager to have you contribute back.

    I probably wouldn't have started to use F/OSS if it was priced unreasonably. But now I find the other parts of freedom to be much more important. It is frustrating to find commercial software that is stagnant. Bugs are always present in any software (some of which are security vulnerabilities, some of which are just annoyances that I have run into). But with F/OSS, I can usually see if a bug has already been reported, look for solutions, or report it & wait for insight from others. I'm not much of a programmer, but I can also sometimes discover a fix myself. The frustration of not being able to have this basic ability with some nonfree software is horrid.

    I recently started to contribute a small amount of money each month to software which I use every day--which I depend on for entertainment and to get my work done. Paying for free software?! Well, at least it is tax deductible & it does make me feel good.

    I would definitely say that the four freedoms are more important than zero-cost.
  • by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:43AM (#11295844) Homepage
    Lately, I've had problems that I thought could be solved by software I bought, but it simply let me down. Free as in beer is pretty important not only because of the software which is useful, but because there's no penalty when it's not.
  • by MikShapi ( 681808 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @06:49AM (#11295858) Journal
    At least as considered by any business who'd want to ingegrate anything, even as miniscule as a c file with 3 functions that calculate CRC.

    What's missing is just like "The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public" only the opposite -
    "The freedom to improve the program, and not release your improvements to the public" (or sell said improvements to the public for profit)"

    This is the issue commonly called copylefting.
    What it comes down to is "Free for anyone who's part of our [opensource] club" as set forth by the GPL (If you're a Checkpoint dev, a legal obligation to release all/parts-of the source code of the product makes whatever ran you into that obligation anything but free), or "Free to anyone. Period." as set forth by X11/modified-BSD licenses. The latter offer the fifth freedom.

    The obligation [e.g. lack of freedom] to integrate GPL code with [often immense] business-owned closed code serves on one hand to spur [few, IMHO] businesses to go opensource, while keeping a dark "obligation" cloud over Open Source that scares the rest away. I personally ran into this dillema at my former workplace. The result was us using BSD-licensed and commercial solutions, while [to my great dismay] avoiding GPL-code like the plague.
    The LGPL is a fair compromise, unfortunately few projects use it. Sometimes you need code from a GPL app, and you're willing to wrap it in a library yourself (and offer that library's code to the public) but since the original dev never considered this and just slapped the GPL on his work, and you can't use it (whereas had he done so with LGPL, you would be able to do so).

    The conclusion (which promptly earned me two flamebait mods last time I said this unliked piece of truth here) is that everything GPL is quite unfree to those [nice, evil, fill your own description] people who pay us coders our salaries and feed our families.

    I, personally, as a coder who wants to tap open source where I work, would definitely like it to be otherwise. For the GNU codebase to be as legal-obligation-free and accessible as the X11-ilcensed or mod-BSD-licensed codebase (and a big thank you to anyone altruistic enough to use those licenses on his donated code).

    Wishful thinking I guess...
    • by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:20AM (#11295917) Homepage
      "The freedom to improve the program, and not release your improvements to the public"
      The GPL allows this.
      (or sell said improvements to the public for profit)"
      But not this. What incentive do people who believe in the GPL for letting you get a jump-start on a closed commercial product. Strategically useful tools are often placed under an LGPL or BSD-type license if their wide-spread adoption will help the community. But for some things, GPL authors are rightfully greedy. If I developed a free end-user application, I would very much resent it if I couldn't take advantage of someone else's improvements. No one is writing GPLed software to make it easier for you to personally make a buck off it.
      The obligation [e.g. lack of freedom] to integrate GPL code with [often immense] business-owned closed code serves on one hand to spur [few, IMHO] businesses to go opensource
      If businesses have immense closed code, they have the resources to generate more of it themselves. How would GPLed code help both them and the F/OSS community?

      What you see as lack of freedom I see as freedom: users are GUARANTEED the improvements made by others!
      but since the original dev never considered this and just slapped the GPL on his work, and you can't use it (whereas had he done so with LGPL, you would be able to do so).
      Contact the developer. He may relicense it to you. Since you are selling it, you might want to/have to compensate him financially for a license.
    • Ridiculous (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phr1 ( 211689 )
      There is no fundamental right to prevent the public from sharing something that you've published. There's a body of law called copyright for doing that, but it's not a fundamental right, it's just an artificial government intervention that people decided to authorize in order to create an incentive for authors to publish. Some people with an overactive sense of entitlement think that copyright is a fundamental right, but that's simply not recognized by history by the law, and any theories grounded on assu
    • Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wirelessbuzzers ( 552513 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:21AM (#11295922)
      The goal of the GPL is to make all software free.

      The goal of the BSD license is to make all software better.
      • Wow. Great summary.
    • by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @08:19AM (#11296079) Homepage Journal

      So you want to take my GPL software, incorporate it into your closed source project and sell it back to me ?

      And because you can't to this you are complaing that the GPL is your enemy ?

      well thank fuck for the GPL !!!!!
  • ``Free software'' is a matter of liberty, not price.

    Liberty a word you dont hear often enough, reminds me of a qoute.

    No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session. - Judge Gideon J. Tucker

    Try applying those 4 rules of free software to your life, and realize how many freedoms you dont have.
    You cant spank a 12 year old, but you can sentance him to death.
  • ... that if some lowlife owns my box and turns it into a spam source, then the value of my PC is being maximised (it certainly isn't being underutilised).

    Please define the criteria for 'maximised' then we can talk about it.

    Personally, I don't mind that my linux partitions can't do everything (like run ActiveX ... something I err really need) or that I deliberately turn off Flash. Is a server sitting in the corner being 'maximised' if it isn't playing MP3s and showing DVD movies?

  • Sure, we can all debate the relative merits of GIMP and Photoshop's interfaces, the joys of flash and brew, but the article points why the current environment is unfavorable to free software. It's not so much that commercial software is superior; rather, the freedoms are, in the current environment, irrelevant. Free software only becomes viable when all users are forced to pay for commercial software; that is, when those freedoms (or at least the first three) are enforced across the board. Sticking with the
  • by hitmark ( 640295 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:09AM (#11295902) Journal
    a frind of mine would say that if you need more then a ascii text editor and a graphics app to make a webpage then your in deep trouble. but then he makes the pages useing php and a database for the backend and dynamicly changeing html and css for the frontend. no flash, no other stuff that needs a plugin, and those sites are damn nice ;)
  • Free as in... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burtonator ( 70115 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:13AM (#11295910)
    What about the 5th Freedom?

    Free as in $29.95 ....

    Seriously though.. I've made a lot of money selling (my) Free Software for $29.95...

    I just had the source in CVS. If you were smart enough to checkout via anoncvs and to the build yourself that was fine.

    If you needed help and wanted a really nice installer it cost you $29.95...

    This let me work on my little project full time which then turned into a company.

    We're 7 people now :)
    • Re:Free as in... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by anpe ( 217106 )
      Do you mind giving your soft name? I'm curious about what kind of product could be sold in such a way.
    • ...at least in Poland.
      Our IRS bastards decided to "calculate the value of Free Software as equal to commercial versions" so if you install free Open Office on free Linux, they want you to pay as much tax for increasing the value of equipment as if you purchased WinXP Pro and MS Office.
      With one exception. They are helpless if you actually -paid- for the software. You show them a bill from your newspapers stand where you purchased latest issue of "Linux Plus" gazette for equivalent of 2 euro and got 2 CDs wit
  • Sure... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Sure, I agree whole heartedly that GIMP in no way can compete with Photoshop's features, nor is there any HTML program that can compete with Dreamweaver (maybe HTML-Kit but even that is Windows-only, even though it's free).

    Those aside, I disagree because in most of my day to day activity, free, even open-source programs are not just cheaper (free) but better than the proprietary. Here's a few:

    Operating System: BSD and Linux, much better and secure than Windows. More features (bash, gcc), less "features" (
    • Re:Sure... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bulln-Bulln ( 659072 ) <bulln-bulln@netscape.net> on Saturday January 08, 2005 @08:39AM (#11296123)
      You are not comparing free software against proprietary software. You compare FOSS against MS apps (with the exception of AIM).

      Music - XMMS (WinAMP on Windows), is there even a comparison to Windows Media Player here?

      WinAMP ist not FOSS. It's a free (beer) closed source app.
      Both are just a joke comparing to iTunes [apple.com].

      Video - MPlayer, it even runs without X Window. Can Windows Media Player run video in MS-DOS?

      What kind of argument is this? Who cares about DOS? WMP is OK when you install the missing codecs. (I prefer VLC [videolan.org] though)

      Web Browser - Mozilla FireFox. Internet Exploder doesn't even compare.

      And Opera? [opera.com] Firefox is also my favourite browser, but Opera has many interesting features that you can't find anywhere else. Opera is commercial or free (beer) software, but not FOSS.

      File Browsing - Nautilus, Konqueror. They crash 100% less of the time that Windows Explorer crashes.

      What are you doing with Explorer? I didn't see it crash the last couple of... er... years.

      And no annoyingly built-in Internet Explorer that's available even if I denied access to iexplore.exe (which I do on spyware-infested clients' computers).

      How about blocking Explorer.exe and deleting iexplore.exe? (That's what I do when I have do mess with Windows.)

      And let's not mention the horrid Mac OS X versions of MS Office.

      Yeah, MS Office:mac is sooo bad when compared against GNUmeric and OpenOffice. OK, GNUmeric and OpenOffice only run in an X-Window, don't support drag&drop, looks ugly-as-hell, etc. while MS Office supports all that stuff. Wow, GNUmeric and OpenOffice are soooo superior.....
      (BTW: Yes, I know about NeoOffice/J [neooffice.org] - it's my main Office suite. But NeoOffice is != OpenOffice)
      Abiword compares to Wordpad, not Word (or OpenOffice Writer).

      Instant Messenger - Well, GAIM may be missing some features of proprietary AOL AIM, but one of those features missing is the spyware.

      Trillian? [trillian.cc] How about that?

      Programming - Do I even need to compare the long list of free, open-source and standardized Unix/Linux tools to the not-quite-as-affordable MS Visual Studio??

      A lot of developers say that VisualStudio is the best programming environment. Others say it's Xcode [apple.com]. Both aren't FOSS.

      PS: No, I'n not bashing FOSS. Most apps I use are FOSS like Firefox, Thunderbird, or Fire Messenger [sf.net], but theres more closed source software that's better than it's FOSS counterparts than just Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Opera is cool. Trillian is cool. MS Office:mac, Explorer (not IE), or Windows Media Player not so bad either.

  • by satch89450 ( 186046 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:37AM (#11295982) Homepage

    People tend to forget what launched Mr. Stallman on this road toward software freedom: he wanted to use a laser printer he had on hand with his word processing program. The software didn't have drivers, and as I recall the printer didn't have documentation, either.

    Big trees from little acorns grow.

  • by mabinogi ( 74033 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @07:49AM (#11296012) Homepage
    The thing that bugs me the most about a lot of the people that complain about a Free Software alternatve to a commerical program not being an effective replacement, is that often those people have not actually _paid_ for the commerical software that they say is so much better.

    Those that have forked over $1000+ for specialised proprietry software (Photoshop, Cubase etc) are the ones that have the right to say the features of the Free Software replacements are not up to scratch.
    Those who are using warezed versions and have no intention of ever purchasing the software, but say that the Gimp is no Photoshop aren't helping the cause, and show that they have no real interest in advancing the state of Free Software - they just want to get everything for nothing.
  • by bigberk ( 547360 ) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Saturday January 08, 2005 @08:00AM (#11296033)
    I take issue with the term "free software" being hijacked by what are, quite honestly, free/open source zealots. I'm posting free software on my site and keep getting inquiries about how I dare call it free, since it's not released under the GNU GPL, etc. Kind of insulting I think, because free software does not necessarily mean FOSS, and some people seem to be spitting on what I'm offering them.

    I've been interested in free software for a long time -- that is, software I can acquire today and use for the forseeable future without owing anyone money or other compensation, including requiring registration (even if no fee). To me that's the essential quality of free software. If the source code is there, and if modifications are permitted, that's fine of course and is icing on the cake. The BSD license is beautiful.

    But I think the time has come for GNU GPL zealots to realize that if they expect the world to call their brand of "free" the only type of "free", this is just being unrealistic and a bit obnoxious. If you are looking for free software, there is tons of it out there. Most of it you can't modify, sorry. Don't like it? Write your own GNU GPL'd free software. And if you are looking for only GNU GPL'd software, then go look for that exclusively, and stop bothering developers who go out of their way to make no-fee software of other (non-GPL) licenses.

    Of course I understand the philosophy behind free/open source software (FOSS) and it's very pretty and everything, but it is just one brand of "free".
  • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @08:02AM (#11296043) Homepage Journal

    Question: What are you willing to sacrifice for those freedoms?

  • by Henrik S. Hansen ( 775975 ) <hsh@member.fsf.org> on Saturday January 08, 2005 @08:26AM (#11296094) Homepage
    That article is not well argued at all. It is one long troll with the same old argument that convenience is more important than freedom.

    RMS has dealt with this argument time and time again, explaining why he thinks that freedom is the highest goals of all. And I agree with him.

    The world needs more thoughtful idealists like RMS, and even more people who listen to what they say.

  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @09:45AM (#11296324)
    Along with everyone who is not a developer, I'm not likely to have any interest in three of those freedoms: Studying the source, redistributing copies, or changing the program for the benefit of the community.

    So long as I can use the damn thing, those other 3 freedoms don't interest me.

    I'm interested in using computers. I am not interested in writing code. (It's a parallel to watching TV: We all watch TV, but very few of us are interested in learning how to build a television.) Studying the source is of not interest to me, as is changing it.

    As a corollary, I believe the only "community" that exists here is a small number of developers who support free software for ideological and political purposes. Otherwise, free software users are no more a community that are Windows users. (An analogy might the small number of vegetarians who actively lobby to for their dietary beliefs versus all the other folks who simply choose ti eat that way.)

    I'm interested in more and better software. If some of that can come from free software developers, fine. If some of that can come from proprietary developers, fine. Frankly, though, little new and innovative software has been coming from either source for several years.
  • what freedom is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikey573 ( 137933 ) * on Saturday January 08, 2005 @10:02AM (#11296385) Homepage
    Freedom is the ability to do something without the fear of punishment.

    For example, my ability to practise Judiasm in the US without fear of persecution typifies "freedom of religion" in the idealistic sense. But a more devout Jew is not necessilary free in a total sense. Employers might not allow days off for Jewish Holidays, or even more important Friday night/Saturdays for the sabbath. Someone may be ridiculed by a co-worker for wearing a kippah. Of course a more devout Jew (which I'm not) could work for a different employer, and only deal with people who accept the way he dresses. (Doesn't this sound familiar... RMS would say you shouldn't work for an employer who makes your write proprietary software.)

    The point here is freedom is not something that one person has, but rather is a state of mind between two or more people. If you are accidentially stuck alone on an island, freedom has no meaning. You may not have the *ability* to leave the island, but freedom itself has no context since you are not dealing with other people.

    Now taking the island concept further: if you live on an isolated (from the rest of the world) island with friends and family, you could copy / modify / distribute software all you want if its mutually agreed that that's okay. Many people have considered their personal and other friend's/family's computers to be such an island. With the internet though, you are in full contact at all times with people / government / etc. who are set on punishing for such acts.

    So keep in mind, you can fight for freedom all you want from a legalistic / systematic / technical / software-based way, but ultimately, freedom is a mutal agreement between people. Whenever someone is out there who is willing to punish you in some extent for what you are doing, you have a noticable reduction in your freedom. Of course, if value your freedom, you then must fight for it.

    The obsession to endow software with the concept of freedom is thus misleading. People have freedom, software does not. So GPL-licensed software is *freedom-enabling* software (to a certain extent). Its using copyright law to prevent other people from punishing you.

    So as we look towards a revised GPL 3.0, we should really keep in mind separate ideas of "freedom" and "ability". We need the ability to have source code availible in order to modify/understand software many years down the line (even after threat of copyright expires). Just as we need the freedom to create software without the threat of punishment by frivolous software patents.

    When looking at the GPL, thus imagine it in two ways:
    1) If I isolated, what abilities does the GPL ensure I still have? (access to source code, ability to modify, ability to copy, etc.)
    2) As I deal with other people, what punishments am I trying to prevent? (copyright hoops to jump thru, ridiculous licensing restrictions, patent lawsuits)
    • Re:what freedom is (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @03:57PM (#11298639) Homepage Journal
      Freedom is the ability to do something without the fear of punishment.

      Close, but not quite. Freedom is the absence of restriction. The difference is crucial. Your definition focuses on the consequences of an action, while the dictionary definition focuses on the ability to perform an action.

      To add a necessary clarifying point (with regards to that subset of freedom known as liberty), freedom ends where another's freedom begins. In other words, you cannot use freedom to restrict freedom. At the point where you ability begins to restrict another's ability, it ceases to be liberty and is called "privilege".

      Copyright infers upon an author many privileges. The only software that is truly free as in having a complete lack of privilege is public domain software. Licensed software is judged by how much privilege it retains (or additionally aquires through contractual agreements) or gives up. Unrestricted licenses like BSD or MIT have the fewest retained privileges, and conseqently the most liberty. Copyleft licenses like the GPL and LGPL enforce a few more privileges and have a bit less liberty. Both, however, are nearly equivalent with regards to most proprietary commercial software.
  • by wrook ( 134116 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @11:28AM (#11296734) Homepage
    Do I value the 4 freedoms more than free price. Damn yes! I've got a GNU/Linux box at home and a Windows box at work. In *no* way do I prefer my Windows box. Some of the apps are nice on it, but *every* time I have a problem with any of them I find myself screwed. If I phone the developer for "support" (which my company pays for) all I get is, "We're aware of the problem and may fix it in the next release". That's it! No other options! And notice, "may fix it". They don't even tell me if it's going to be fixed. And when a new release comes out, I've got to buy the damned upgrade *before I know if it's fixed my problem!* Not only that, I can't just get a patch for my old release with just my problem fixed.

    Do I value the 4 freedoms? Hell yeah. How much money would I pay to have those freedoms? Lots, I tell you. Those 4 freedoms are worth more than the cost of a support contract.

    Of course, I'm a programmer, so I'm biased. Some people aren't programmers and may not realize the benefits of freedom the way I do. But let's take the example of a friend of mine. She wanted to do some word processing for a report that she had to write. As I worked at Corel at the time, I happened to have a copy of Word Perfect which I gave to her (it's useless to me...). Well, it turns out it was useless to her too. First of all, it was too complicated and confusing for her (She's not a computer person and she didn't need all the features). Secondly the thing was full of bugs on the features that she did need. Constantly, I got calls of "Miiiikee!!!! Fiiiix it!!!!!". I tried to tell her I couldn't, but she didn't understand.

    Eventually I got sick of it and replaced it with Abiword. But not stock Abiword. I ripped everything out if it and gave her a stripped down version. Then any time she asked for a new feature, I added it back.

    Do I value the 4 freedoms? Hell yeah. Everyday, I program on a Windows box because the market for my latest companies product is Windows. However, I've been tasked with writing portable code (to port to *ix and Mac). To me this means POSIX. But many of the damn POSIX calls in Windows are broken. What the hell do I do? I'm not allowed to fix them. I have to completely rewrite them, or put endless #ifdefs in my code.

    But here's the irony of this whole thing. I understand the value of the 4 freedoms. As a consumer, I would never be stupid enough to purchase mission critical software without those freedoms. But....

    I can't quite figure out a non-consulting business model that would allow me to give my customers these freedoms. My boss understands the benefit of freedom as well, but doesn't want to be a consultant. So for now, *I* deny my customers these freedoms which I value so highly.

    And here is where I disagree with RMS. He feels that it is immoral to continue the above situation. He recommends quitting and becoming a waiter, writing free software on the side. While it is *very* tempting to do this, I'm not going to. Free software will not move into all sectors of commercial development without finding a variety of business models. Michael Tiemann found one excellent and successful business model with Cygnus. Research needs to be done to find others.

    Working every day in this moronic proprietary world shows me the problems and gives me incentive to do something about them. Some day I hope everyone can realize the benefits of Free software. Until that day, I'm sure we'll get lots of delusional people who actually think that proprietary is somehow superior (what a bizarre thought). I'm not going to waste my effect trying to tell them they are wrong.

  • Well Argued? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pez ( 54 ) * on Saturday January 08, 2005 @11:30AM (#11296747) Journal
    ...I'm not so sure.

    If these freedoms are not important to the user, there is no disadvantage to using proprietary software and no clear advantage to using free software. In other words, we're talking about how we use software, not the freedom of the press or the right to bear arms, and convincing people that software rights and basic constitutional rights are on the same level is an exercise in futility.

    That's like saying that if buying a gun is not important to a particular citizen, then there is no disadvantage to not having a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that right.

    Just because fewer than 100% of society doesn't exercise a given right, that in and of itself doesn't make it any less important.
  • Not being... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JeffTL ( 667728 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @12:39PM (#11297165)
    ...a particularly effective programmer (I just know a spot of C++) or well-to-do enough to hire one on a whim, freedoms 1 and 3 are not useful to me at their full potential -- but if I ever wanted to improve my programming, an obvious first step would be to browse some free source code -- and I like the indirect benefits of those two freedoms, such as just about everything on Fink being as available on my Macs as it is on my Linux box, thanks to people out there who know what they are doing.

    But to me, freedoms zero and two save a lot of headaches. I do not at all like being restricted in terms of how the software can be used, and if I am truly to love my neighbor as myself, I need to be able to legally share software. What really gets under my skin about a lot of free-beer software that isn't free software is limited redistribution; you can't distribute the Flash plugin with an operating system, even though Macromedia always has and barring going out of business likely always will allow anyone to download it.

    That being said, as noted earlier I have compromised and mostly use Mac OS X. It's not free in either definition, and neither is Microsoft Office, but OS X has more free components in its base levels than does Windows, at least. Obviously a GNU-based Linux distro or some free version of BSD would be better in some ways, but on the other hand I like the ease of just being able to turn the bloody computer on and have a working Unix-like OS that can run the best office suite in the world (in terms of file compatibility and reliability).

    Barring a piece of nonfree software like CrossOver Office (based on Wine much as OS X is based on *BSD) you can't run Office or QuickTime on a Linux system -- these are nigh essential in the modern world, so I might as well use OS X which has native versions of the above.

    There is various other nonfree Windows and Mac software I use as well, but I try to use free software when it fills my needs -- but when it does not, ideology takes a back seat to praticality, and in comes proprietary software.
  • by kravlor ( 597242 ) on Saturday January 08, 2005 @02:40PM (#11298039) Homepage
    My first serious brush with Free software was when I took an operating systems course back in college. While many of the principles we discussed were universal (schedulers, filesystems, etc.) we turned to the Linux kernel to look at examples of how you would actually implement a scheduler, filesystem, etc.

    Another interest I had was in how P2P networks work. I had no experience in network programming, but a firm grasp of C/C++; downloading the source to a Gnutella client and poking around did wonders. When I later had to contribute to a network-based application in college, I found myself ahead thankful for being able to reference functioning, stable code.

    While the article makes the (valid) point that many people do not have the ability to easily modify the software they use, this ability doesn't just magically appear from nowhere; it's something that has to be learned. For me, seeing examples of how certain things are implemented is one of the most effective way to learn.

    Besides, there's always the allure of knowing that if you're not satisfied with a Free software product, you can pick it up, study the source, and fix it yourself if you're so inclined!

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.