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Re: Please don't refer to Emacs as "open source"

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: Please don't refer to Emacs as "open source"
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2011 15:09:23 +0900

Executive summary:

I do not advocate changing the free software movement's message.  I
advocate knowing your audience, and tuning the presentation of the
message to the audience you are facing at any given time.

David Kastrup writes:
"Stephen J. Turnbull" <address@hidden> writes:

 >> That's the first time I've heard you refer to open source as "our
 >> community".  That is a welcome change!

[N.B. I corrected myself later; "our community" cannot be taken to
refer to all of the open source community, as implied by the phrasing
above.  David is not responsible for any misunderstanding my poor
phrasing may have caused, but I'm going to respond to his words as

 > RMS is not "most of our community", and most particularly not that part
 > of our community with bad labelling habits.

You're missing the point, which is that of all human beings not
currently in the free software movement, the most likely-to-join group
is probably the open source community.  Sure, some are openly anti-
free-software-movement, but most are not.  By injecting the free
software movement into that community, the goals and programs of the
movement get wider, more personal, and IMO more persuasive dissemination.

 > > This is not true of those who label themselves "open source" advocates
 > > who I personally mingle with.  For them, "open source" is simply "free
 > > software" that does not require advocacy of software freedom as the
 > > overriding goal, but rather admits many goals (including software
 > > freedom as such) in various mixtures of importance.
 > Appreciating the benefits of freedom is not a substitute for
 > appreciating freedom, it is a _reason_ for appreciating freedom.  The
 > benefits are tangible, freedom isn't.

What don't you understand about "software freedom as such"?

If what you mean is, "Give me software freedom, or give me death!",
OK, but the basic fact of life in any group larger than one is that
there are many rights, they conflict, and not everybody is going to
agree with that unidimensional philosophy as a solution.

There is a group in society (a subset of "hackers") for whom your
unidimensional philosophy is very attractive.  For most people, it is
not, because software freedom is not on their radar; software itself
is only barely perceived, in the form of "hardware upgradable by
internet".[1]  It greatly differs from the rights of the U.S.[2]
Declaration of Independence (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of
Happiness) -- these are universally desired (for oneself, anyway :-( ).

It also differs from the freedoms of the U.S. Bill of Rights (speech,
association, etc).  While not actually valued by *everybody*, a large
minority will insist on them because they are the essential foundation
of democratic politics, which is one (perhaps the only known) way to
reliably[3] achieve legitimate government, which is the only reliable
way known to protect individual rights and freedoms (though also known
to be reliably imperfect).

This is a serious philosophical problem for the movement.  The
movement's propaganda equates "software freedom" with "freedom of
speech", but in fact they belong to different classes.

 > The usual mantra for Open Source is "I like Open Source because it
 > leads to software with fewer bugs/more features."

That's only part of it.  "Avoids lock-in" is an essential part of the
mantra, and avoiding lock-in (in a general sense, including permitting
do-it-yourself improvements, which is what open source means by
"avoids lock-in") is close to "software freedom as such", once you
unpack the requirements for "do-it-yourself improvements".  (What's
missing is the right to redistribute, of course.)  And of course this
assumes that we concede to RMS the right to define "software freedom".
Many of my friends do not, and use less stringent definitions (ie, not
requiring redistributability).  It is fair for you to complain that
this is not "true" software freedom, but that misses the point.  These
folks are "almost there"!  It seems likely to me that they are fairly
easy to persuade to accept the full definition.  (And of course the
formal definition of "open source" is pretty much indistinguishable
from "free", although as Richard pointed out earlier the OSI and the
FSF have disgreed on the applicability to certain licenses.)

Please stop merely repeating the FSF propaganda about open source, and
deal with the phenomenon as it is: diverse.  You cannot win the hearts
of my friends otherwise.

So, is there anything that you still don't understand about "that is
not true of those whom I personally mingle with"?

 > If the metric is software with fewer bugs,

For the group I am talking about, for a non-negligible minority the
metric is availability of free software with required capabilities[4],
defined as "I can download it or build it myself[5], perhaps based on
an existing project."  For a larger, quite substantial, minority, the
caveat "and a specific product is not required by my employer and/or
clients" is added.

What you have written is considered a mortal insult by the group I am
talking about.  Do you really want to offend them?  They don't need a
wake-up call.  They know what the issue is, they just currently
disagree with the free software movement's stance.  It seems to me
that this group would be easily swayed by experiencing adversity
imposed by proprietary software, or possibly well-targeted persuasion
by the movement.

 > ["I want software with fewer bugs and will use, maybe contribute
 > to, software that gives me that" is] a valid stance, but not really
 > worth labelling as a philosophy,

Of course it's a philosophy, and worth labelling as such.  It's very
generally applicable, and it's called "(individual) utilitarianism" or
"economism" and similar.  However, I don't know anybody who actually
adheres to it outside of Ayn Rand novels, and I'm not sure any more
that even John Galt really did.

[1]  At least here in Japan, people talk about "turning on the
Internet" in lieu of "turning on the PC and connecting to the 'Net".

[2]  This is what I am familiar with; I am not going to pretend to
know about any further rights and freedoms that other cultures may
insist upon, although I acknowledge the near certainty that my list is

[3]  Though few engineers would recognize a 75% or so success rate as
"reliable". :-)

[4]  This is not a loophole for minor "nice features".  An example
requirement would be "httpd *that does SSL*."  YMMV, but people I know
are pretty strict about this.

[5]  For many this is a null set.  They're web designers, etc, and
can't build software at all outside of Javascript and CSS.

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