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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Gratis software being released as proprietary

From: Mike Gerwitz
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Gratis software being released as proprietary
Date: Fri, 07 Aug 2015 23:01:01 -0400
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On Fri, Aug 07, 2015 at 22:52:32 +0200, Pen-Yuan Hsing wrote:
> While I tried to emphasise the importance of the four freedoms, what
> really got them interested was (1) getting the community to help with
> development so they won't have to deal with a massive todo list of
> wishlisted features on their own, and (2) that as scientists the
> software should be open to peer review just like any other method.

As it tends to be.  If they don't care about users' freedoms, that is
unfortunate, but it is still beneficial to help them to liberate their
software.  I would stick with using the term "free software", even if
they consistently use "open source".  It may not change their
terminology (it doesn't where I work), but it'll hopefully keep it in
the foreground.

> Anyway, thanks again for your input thus far, from what I've gathered
> here's some points from what you've suggested:
> * Free Software will be of higher quality.

Be careful with this one.  While this can be true, this is one of the
arguments of open source.  When free software isn't of higher quality,
we still stand strong and can argue for its use, because free software
still respects our freedoms; however, if "open source" software fails to
be of higher quality than a proprietary alternative, there is no leg to
stand on.

> * Even if they one day want to sell this software, keeping it Free
> will actually make it easier.

I'm not sure about "easier".  I'm not an economist or business
strategist, and I'd be absolutely terrible at selling software; but
business models vary widly---some find great success in selling free
software, while others find great difficulty (support contracts are one
common option).

> * Free Software will avoid unmaintained software from permanently dying.

Free software will always be free, so someone can one day pick it up,
dust it off, and give it some love.  Proprietary software, barring one
or more of the four freedoms, is doomed to a desk drawer or archaic

> Has anyone here successfully helped convert a proprietary software
> project into a Free one?  How do you go about this while respecting
> the hard work and good intentions of the developers?

I haven't reached out very much until the past couple of years.  But I
do on occasion, with limited success.  I've had luck with my
employer, but communication on this level is fundamentally different
than the situation you're in.  I've had luck with liberating GitLab EE's
JavaScript[0], but Sytse was very receptive and didn't really need any
convincing.  I've made many other attempts---some of them even to
authors of papers in journals like Nature---with less than desirable
results in most circumstances.

You're in the excellent situation of having met the authors
face-to-face and have gotten them interested.

I'm a free software activist.  My opinions are firm and my words can be
harsh and unforgiving.  But that does not make for a constructive
dialog: you should discuss the fundamental freedoms and why free
software is important, but work initially within or just outside of
their comfort zone, helping them to gain a firm understanding.  Know
your audience---know how to make connections to the various topics in a
way they can relate to (as I did with some of the points previously in
this thread).  Be receptive, understanding, and accommodating.

But never falter.  Compromise is often necessary (sometimes initially,
sometimes period---that's life, and politics).  But you still need to
stand firm in your defense and push of and for software freedom.  They
may want to liberate only certain parts of their system---that's good
that they want to do that.  But never imply that it is okay that the
rest of their system remains proprietary.  Encourage them, and thank
them for their contributions, but don't make excuses for them, or allow
them to make excuses.  Make your stance clear, your disagreements clear,
and your goals clear.  In my experience, we can disagree wildly, but
still communicate those disagreements and respect one-another in a
constructive and powerful way.

Be mindful of certain limits.  It's not reasonable to push for the
liberation of software that they simply do not have control over---there
may be 3rd-party licensing issues, NDAs, grant terms, etc.

> What are some infamous examples of dead/graveyard technical
> proprietary software?

Consider GNU.  We are using and improving on tools that are more than
thirty years old---some before GNU existed.  The better question is:
what proprietary software can you think of that has stood this test of

Users are concerned about dying software all the time.  What if Apple
decided one day to simply stop developing its software?  What would
happen with all the data stored in proprietary formats, or software
using their proprietary APIs?  What would happen to all of the software
that runs only on their operating system?  Or what if they did it
intentionally, to force users to "upgrade" to something newer?

> Finally, I believe there will be great value in creating an extensive FAQ
> about Free Software to answer and rebut some of the issues I mentioned
> before. I think a thorough, empirical evidence-based issue-by-issue
> debunking of Free Software myths would be wonderful. I promise I don't mean
> to detract from the topic of this list, but here are two great examples of
> what I am talking about for another important topic:

That would be a good resource.

> P.S. I intentionally did not go into exactly what the science is since
> I don't think it is very relevant and would take a lot more space, but
> I can explain if you are curious.

Feel free to off-list if you'd like.  I might be able to provide more
specific examples, or alternatives they might be able to consider.

Thank you for your efforts!


- -- 
Mike Gerwitz
Free Software Hacker | GNU Maintainer
FSF Member #5804 | GPG Key ID: 0x8EE30EAB
Version: GnuPG v1


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