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

From: Jambunathan K
Subject: Re: Please don't refer to Emacs as "open source"
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2011 15:46:38 +0530
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/24.0.50 (windows-nt)

Summary: I take the example of "embedded companies" and argue that
"ability to build cheap, reliable and quick prototypes" is one of the
determining factors why these companies favor FLOSS kernels.

I seek clarification on "right to redistribute" against "contractual
obligation to redistribute modified source".

I close with a remark that Open Hardware would tilt the camp in favor of
FLOSS camp and that there is category-killer waiting to be made.

(I have enjoyed the discussions so far and understood few crucial
things. Thanks for your patience.)

Please read on.

> 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
> written.]
>  > 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.

Somehow I think that the last paragraph is incomplete.

Could you please clarify to what class "software freedom" rightfully
belongs in the way you see it?

>  > 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", 

While we are talking of practical aspects of FLOSS that appeal to
commercial vendor let me add this:

GNU/Linux is becoming particularly popular to build sophisticated
embedded systems like Ethernet Switches, Wireless Routers etc etc. Over
the course of the years I see that embedded hardware vendors have moved
from proprietary real-time environments to NetBSD/FreeBSD and lately to
GNU/Linux (as recent as 2.6.x).

Embedded market is a thriving market and venture capitalists are willing
to infuse huge sums of money in to the right startups.

To such enterprises, the "ability to build quick prototypes" (aka
"reference models") with minimal investments is quite appealing. These
companies use a stripped version of one of the stock linux distribution
as a base for the "firmware kernel".

These companies unabashedly tinker with the kernel in "in the face"
manner and build the firmware. 

They also provide drivers in the kernel and distribute it alongside the
vanilla kernel. The distribution of driver and their apparent upgrades
is a mere posturing by these companies to "express solidarity with the
GNU/Linux" system. In truth, these drivers do not exploit the full
funcitonality of the underlying hardware and are often very poor
substitutes for their "commercial" linux offerings (Think HP and IBM
here). They use such cheap techniques as limiting the hardware address
space etc etc.

(I am continuing the above argument in the next paragraph. Read on)

> once you unpack the requirements for "do-it-yourself improvements".
> (What's missing is the right to redistribute, of course.)  

I know for sure these companies do not make available their firmware -
remember the firmware contains fairly good portion of modified vanilla
Linux stack - in a publicly accessible manner. They are happy with
hypocritic posturing that making the drivers available suffices.

Now the crux of my question is:

Speaking only of companies (which are registered legally entities), I am
confused by whether these companies are doing the right thing (in a
legal sense). 

Does GPL lays emphasis on the right to distribute or a (mandatory
contractual) obligation to redistribute? Note the subtle difference -
the right to distribute would mean the right to not distribute as well.

Law could be lax on individual users should it also be lax on such
enterprises, which in my view, playi the devil and actually "hoard and
piggback" on community produce and accumulate humongous private fortune.

The onservation I am making above is not an imagined one. I am talking
of companies that I had earlier worked with. Consultants in this list
who closely work with the Silicon Valley companies can vouch also for
veracity of this statement.

> And of course this assumes that we concede to RMS the right to define
> "software freedom".  

Some one has to define it. Let us assume that RMS is playing the role of
"Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution". (I am
borrowing the term used widely in the Indian context)

> 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"!

I have highlighted aspects of "requiring redistributability" in the
above para and contrasted that against "right to redistributability".

> It seems likely to me that they are fairly easy to persuade to accept
> the full definition.  

I don't think the embedded companies with VC backings - in some sense,
this group represent far right wing of capitalist spectrum - would agree
to it and even actively oppose it. (By exposing the firmware they might
also be disclosing "key aspects" of how their hardware is designed and
functions. This is threat to life of these companies. The first thing
that these companies do is to register patents for their design even
before a prototype is built)

I believe Free Software makes for a stronger case in conjunction with
Free/Libre Hardware Designs. I think a "Category Killer" in the Open
Hardware is all that is needed to tilt most of the "Open Source" camp in
favor of "Free" camp.

> (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.
> Footnotes: 
> [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
> incomplete.
> [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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