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Re: Release plans

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: Release plans
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 13:54:15 +0900

Alan Mackenzie writes:

 > Yes, we want software to be free, but no, we don't want people to
 > use this freedom in certain ways, ways which would inhibit the
 > progress of free software.

I'm not sure I agree with this formulation, but it's not what I'm
talking about in this thread.

I'm talking about a specific decision which is based not on observing
people misusing freedom, not on the likelihood of people misusing
freedom in foreseeable ways, but rather on the conceptual possibility
that in some as-yet unforeseeable way somehow someday somebody might
possibly misuse freedom to a disastrous end.  Granted, Richard points
out that Linux did have problems with binary modules, but, um, the
result is egg on NVIDIA's face and in ATI's beer, and Linus explicitly
was neutral on the practice.  As Richard is wont to say about patents
and copyright, the cases are completely different and shouldn't be
grouped together.

 > Eric Ludlam mentioned a product called Xrefactory a couple of days
 > ago.  It seems to be a refactoring tool based upon (X)Emacs.  Yes,
 > this is legitimate within the terms of the GPL, but isn't the sort
 > of thing we really want to encourage; it's not free, neither in the
 > speech nor beer sense.

The reductio is obvious, isn't it?  Since any free software program
can be abused as part of a non-free software product, we should stop
all distribution of free software to the heathen.  That way we can be
sure of providing the minimum encouragement to abuse freedom.

Personally, I agree with Tom: we should be going all-out to encourage
use of free software, using three main tactics: (1) emphasizing the
importance of software freedom (eg, from a code-is-law basis), (2)
emphasizing the costs both in freedom and economic value of non-free
software, and (3) providing kick-ass software that everybody wants to

Effectively discouraging non-free software is out of our control.
"Mr. Quixote, meet Mr. Windmill...."

 > I gladly accept the freedom guaranteed by professional soldiers.  Just as
 > those soldiers protect those "who don't give a damn", I feel we should
 > protect the (software) freedom of those who, for whatever reason,
 > wouldn't protect their own.

At the cost of the freedom of those who would *like* to use unfree
software: they have done the calculation on the costs of lock-in, and
like the answers they got.  I find your paternalism distasteful.

 > Again, with Eric's example of Xrefactory, any hackers who buy that
 > product and incorporate it into their development process thereby lose
 > some of their freedom - their process has become tied to a product they
 > can't control - to some extent.  This is another one of these
 > contradictions about software freedom - by exercising freedom you
 > diminish it.

This paradox has *nothing whatsoever* to do with software.  Freedom
means choice.  If everybody is free, everybody is making choices, and
this *imposes* uncertainty about those choices on others.  People
*dislike* uncertainty (eg, about when you're next going to have sex)
and so they *accept* constraints (marriage, to continue the metaphor).[1]

Some people are willing to accept the constraints of unfree software
constrained for commercial advantage.  Some people hate unfree
software so much that they impose constraints on the use of their
software by others, and claim that the net result is somehow an
increase in freedom when in fact there is a clear decrease in options
available to users.  I don't really see an ethical difference here.

[1]  Before you ask, and I have every reason to believe you will: No,
I do not believe that more regular sex is the only or even the main
reason people get married, nor do I believe that the strategy actually
works all that well.  I will assert that many of the reasons for
getting married do take the same form of a voluntary exchange of one's
own freedom for a commitment to stability from the partner.

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