9 votes

My Talk at Microsoft — Richard Stallman

13 comments

  1. [12]
    emdash
    Link
    I've always considered open source software to be important; but... sometimes I do question why I think that, and I'm actually even more averse to support free software whenever I read anything...

    I've always considered open source software to be important; but... sometimes I do question why I think that, and I'm actually even more averse to support free software whenever I read anything Stallman writes. His style of prose is so offputting to me.

    Why should something I develop, something I have invested intellectual thought into creating, not be something I control the distribution of? If I want to make it open source, I can do that, just as I can provide a SaaS solution where I keep the source code under my control to prevent blatant property infringement, if I'm in a highly competitive industry? In some ways, his constant push of this as being akin to a "war" almost feels like it's demeaning to me as a software engineer. Why shouldn't my work hold value?

    8 votes
    1. [5]
      ubergeek
      Link Parent
      I don't think he has ever said that. While your work holds value, if you do not make it libre, you are not granting user's freedoms. Stallman doesn't speak to software developers, but to users, to...

      Why shouldn't my work hold value?

      I don't think he has ever said that. While your work holds value, if you do not make it libre, you are not granting user's freedoms.

      Stallman doesn't speak to software developers, but to users, to demand libre software, that respects their rights. Because closed software cannot respect user's rights.

      8 votes
      1. [4]
        emdash
        Link Parent
        So in terms of practicality, how can a SaaS package ever possibly "respect user's freedoms"? The intellectual property upon which it operates often holds value because it's not available to...

        So in terms of practicality, how can a SaaS package ever possibly "respect user's freedoms"? The intellectual property upon which it operates often holds value because it's not available to others, just as Google search isn't available to Microsoft, just as Spotify's recommendation engine isn't available to Apple.

        I don't want to get too bogged down into the principles here, and I know I opened that can of worms with my opening comment, but I'm invested in the practical side of this argument in terms of its real world application.

        What choices do I have, if I, a small business owner & software developer, am building a SaaS package, and want to respect user privacy? I don't have infinite time or money.

        4 votes
        1. ubergeek
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          By disclosing the source code to the user that is running. Google search is probably a bad example to make your case, imo. Google needs to be transparent now, due to the damage they are doing to...

          So in terms of practicality, how can a SaaS package ever possibly "respect user's freedoms"?

          By disclosing the source code to the user that is running.

          he intellectual property upon which it operates often holds value because it's not available to others, just as Google search isn't available to Microsoft, just as Spotify's recommendation engine isn't available to Apple.

          Google search is probably a bad example to make your case, imo. Google needs to be transparent now, due to the damage they are doing to humanity with their algo.

          Spotify can release the source code powering it's recommendation engine, without having to release the DB holding the data powering that engine.

          I don't want to get too bogged down into the principles here, and I know I opened that can of worms with my opening comment, but I'm invested in the practical side of this argument in terms of its real world application.

          You can be invested in robbing freedoms from users, or granting freedoms to your users. Just don't expect sympathy from myself, if your plan to generate profit is nothing more than a way to use your users as products.

          But, I am pretty biased, personally. I see profits past a certain point to be excessive, and wasteful, to the economic system as a whole, and the vast majority of technology out there is being used for evil ends.

          What choices do I have, if I, a small business owner & software developer, am building a SaaS package, and want to respect user privacy? I don't have infinite time or money.

          Ask Nextcloud how they make money. They have neither, as well.

          7 votes
        2. [2]
          unknown user
          Link Parent
          This whole thread is kinda off-topic, but it holds value because something like Google search is a huge thing to operate, while relatively simple to program in principle. I can't start my Google...

          This whole thread is kinda off-topic, but it holds value because something like Google search is a huge thing to operate, while relatively simple to program in principle. I can't start my Google at home, see, even DuckDuckGo can't. Similarly, most SaaS have a value because the service is they provide you with software that's a burden to set up yourself on physical hardware (hosted services, hosting services, &c). Things like Google, DigitalOcean, Stripe or AWS earn money not because they are doing something unique, but they are providing you with a good alternative to something which you don't really want to do (build huge DBs, serve stuff on metal + static IP, process payments from many different sources, &c).

          If someone can invest in Google-scale hardware and start a competitor using their code, well, who cares, the thing is already there, why go to something else that's identical. But if they add something onto it, that's for the better for the users and consumers, who are the most important party in this.

          4 votes
          1. emdash
            Link Parent
            But getting to this level of service requires a huge investment in time and money. This might be okay for someone like Elastic who can employee hundreds or thousands of people and provide their...

            Similarly, most SaaS have a value because the service is they provide you with software that's a burden to set up yourself on physical hardware [...] Things like Google, DigitalOcean, Stripe or AWS earn money not because they are doing something unique, but they are providing you with a good alternative to something which you don't really want to do

            But getting to this level of service requires a huge investment in time and money. This might be okay for someone like Elastic who can employee hundreds or thousands of people and provide their own instances of software, and afford to accept that some users will self-host and you can afford to lose some revenue there, but if you're a 1-5 person business, that's a significant additional extra of investment that simply more often than not isn't viable at that level that results in less revenue. It doesn't scale downwards evenly.

            Which is why I think this whole argument of free/libre software is flawed in a few respects, because it doesn't inherently map well onto the current operations of society.

            1 vote
    2. [5]
      unknown user
      Link Parent
      Your work holds value, the problems with it being closed source is: it infringes on users' privacy, security and their change (for some, including me, their right) to modify their software if you...

      Your work holds value, the problems with it being closed source is:

      • it infringes on users' privacy, security and their change (for some, including me, their right) to modify their software

      • if you don't write the machine code by hand, you're potentially using huge FOSS projects directly and indirectly, and there's a moral obligation to contribute back

      • and above all there simply isn't much use to hiding your code, the important part of a software project is the idea and the will to maintain and better it over time; the chore part of it, anybody can do

      • if by property you mean IP, intellectual property is a flawed idea that has stifled the development of civilisation; it's detrimental to competition, dissemination of knowledge and ideas, and advancement of humanity as a whole

      8 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        I want to push back on the privacy argument using Tildes as an example. Although we can download the source to Tildes, we can't just go and modify the code running on the Tildes server. Any...

        I want to push back on the privacy argument using Tildes as an example. Although we can download the source to Tildes, we can't just go and modify the code running on the Tildes server. Any contributed code needs to be reviewed and may be rejected. This is important for security and privacy - we can't have random people modifying the server. (There might theoretically be a way to support user-contributed code using careful sandboxing like browsers do, but this isn't the same as unrestricted access.)

        Users don't have this power, and that's essential to running any centralized social application, and it's fine.

        The freedom to modify the code is only relevant for people who want to run competitors to tildes.net. It's not directly relevant to us as users. So, withdrawing it wouldn't affect most of us at all. (We might want to read the code to verify what it does, but a source-available license could do that.)

        So I don't see how open source is necessary to protect users' privacy here. It has other benefits, though.

        4 votes
      2. [3]
        emdash
        Link Parent
        I'd say ideas are a dime a dozen, actually. Following through and providing an implementation, navigating the muddy waters along the way, that's the value, that's the invested effort that has...

        I'd say ideas are a dime a dozen, actually. Following through and providing an implementation, navigating the muddy waters along the way, that's the value, that's the invested effort that has resulted in a conversion of time to money. More often than not, money is a compensation for time invested, in this world.

        if by property you mean IP, intellectual property is a flawed idea that has stifled the development of civilisation; it's detrimental to competition, dissemination of knowledge and ideas, and advancement of humanity as a whole

        On principle, I agree with this, but I'm arguing from a practical standpoint of "I need to put food on the table"—currently the way the game is played means that IP holds value, so is it wrong of me, someone who cannot change the game, to feel invested in protecting something I'm developing and contributes to my livelihood?

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          unknown user
          Link Parent
          Well, for me myself, it is wrong and I wouldn't ever do it because I don't want to contribute to this secretive culture that's detrimental to a better world. If that's at the cost of some of my...

          Well, for me myself, it is wrong and I wouldn't ever do it because I don't want to contribute to this secretive culture that's detrimental to a better world. If that's at the cost of some of my income, so be it.

          A better economic model that's gaining ground is crowdsourced patronage, a la Patreon. I think that's the best way forward for creative stuff, maybe with some modifications along the way.

          Apart from that tho, there's nothing stopping you from putting your GPL'd app on Google Play or App Store w/ a price tag attached, or provide a paid SaaS. Yes, people may "steal" your code and/or idea, but is that that hard to reverse engineer somehting and make a similar app? If Evernote GPL'd their app, and I copied the code and released it merely changing the branding to Fevernote, would it catch up? Probably not, see the sea of dead forks of tonnes of FOSS projects that only make superficial changes.

          6 votes
          1. emdash
            Link Parent
            Often it's not some of your income though, it can be forgoing an income entirely. I think it's interesting you raise Patreon, because the open source community has tried that, and it often doesn't...

            Often it's not some of your income though, it can be forgoing an income entirely. I think it's interesting you raise Patreon, because the open source community has tried that, and it often doesn't generate enough money to make for a sustainable business. Right now Tildes isn't sustainable, for example. And when developers try to push a bit harder, there's absolutely huge outcry.

            It's a tough problem to solve, for sure. I'm sure you can absolutely see why some businesses are closed source as a result of this. I don't blame many for neglecting open source. It's okay to want to earn money and live your life.

            2 votes
    3. NeoTheFox
      Link Parent
      There are different types of software, and I think some types of software must be legally required to be open source, while others can be closed source as much as they want. Openning the software...

      There are different types of software, and I think some types of software must be legally required to be open source, while others can be closed source as much as they want. Openning the software that runs on your devices is absolutely essential to building a less wasteful and more secure society. Operating systems, device firmwares and bootloaders, medical equipment firmwares and such shouln never be closed. I think the consumers should always have a right to know what exactly runs on their devices, especially with companies profiting from device sales rather than software sales. But I also think you should be free to keep your photo editor or game closed if you wish - I can just avoid it as a customer if I take issue with it being closed. I can't, however, avoid using the firmware in my pacekeeper or my router.

      3 votes
  2. unknown user
    Link
    I'm glad that this happened, and hope that MS won't somehow fuck up this positive ways of things (which I think is unlikely because the genie is out of the bottle, hiding the code is not of much...

    I don't think Microsoft invited me with a view to seduction, or opposition research, or trickery, or misrepresention. I think some Microsoft executives are seriously interested in the ethical issues surrounding software. They may also be interested in carrying out some of the specific suggestions/requests I presented. I started with a list of actions that would help the free software community, and which I though Microsoft might be amenable to, before stating the free software philosophy in the usual way. I think there is a chance that Microsoft might change some practices in ways that would help the Free World practically, even if they do not support us overall.

    [...]

    That page describes some hostile things that Microsoft famously did. We should not forget them, but we should not maintain a burning grudge over actions that ended years ago. We should judge Microsoft in the future by what it does then.

    I'm glad that this happened, and hope that MS won't somehow fuck up this positive ways of things (which I think is unlikely because the genie is out of the bottle, hiding the code is not of much use at this point because for everything you close up behind obfuscated executables, there is a counterpart with its source code open and out there). It looks like the theme of future is that we all share the code and buy the services (and we're already listening to the preludes of this in many places, but especially the "sharing all the code" part isn't there yet). Not sharing code is simply a burden when you are outperformed by those who do.

    7 votes