25 votes

A word about RMS, GPL and the free software movement

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31 comments

  1. [5]
    skybrian
    Link
    I think it helps to distinguish between libraries and apps. Libraries aren’t directly useful to end users. The only people who care about them are other programmers who can build something using...

    I think it helps to distinguish between libraries and apps. Libraries aren’t directly useful to end users. The only people who care about them are other programmers who can build something using them.

    Programmers often write open source libraries for themselves first. Making them available to others is a nice side effect. Professional programmers would like to work on libraries that they can use both at work and home, where “work” means being able to use it both on your current job and any future jobs. It would suck to spend time writing a nice library to do some task, but on your next job, you can’t use it anymore at work because you don’t work on open source software at that job.

    So, they will tend to use licenses that are unlikely to get in the way of that. The distinction you make between “the hands of the people” and “proprietary companies” doesn’t really work for professional programmers because they wear both hats.

    Things are different for applications. You can use a GPLed app at work, because you’re just using it, not combining it with other code. The GPL places no restrictions on usage.

    28 votes
    1. [4]
      ButteredToast
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      To add to this, though it’s becoming more uncommon as MIT/BSD libraries proliferate, I think most developers at some point or another have experienced the frustration of not being able to use a...

      To add to this, though it’s becoming more uncommon as MIT/BSD libraries proliferate, I think most developers at some point or another have experienced the frustration of not being able to use a library that perfectly solves their problems at work because it’s GPL licensed which means the legal department isn’t going to let them so much as come within eyeshot’s distance of it. Not wanting to subject colleagues and peers to that frustration, these devs then avoid GPL for their own library projects (both personal and corporate).

      9 votes
      1. [3]
        HeroesJourneyMadness
        Link Parent
        Does this happen? I’ve never done dev work in a corporate environment. If so, that’s not so great. I mean I know there’s always the pressure to keep code proprietary, but does the GPL steer...

        Does this happen? I’ve never done dev work in a corporate environment. If so, that’s not so great. I mean I know there’s always the pressure to keep code proprietary, but does the GPL steer companies toward developing those BSD/MIT projects more?

        1. em-dash
          Link Parent
          Absolutely. My current job outright bans use of any library licensed under any of the *GPLs, to the point that we have a bot that checks the licenses of new dependencies added, and we once had to...

          Absolutely.

          My current job outright bans use of any library licensed under any of the *GPLs, to the point that we have a bot that checks the licenses of new dependencies added, and we once had to go explicitly ask a lawyer if it was okay to run a GPL'd third party daemon in a separate container from our main application. (It is, by the way, but people trust lawyers saying that more than they trust ex-software licensing nerds*.)

          We occasionally contribute fixes back to the libraries we use, as part of our work. Since we're not using any GPL'd dependencies, then obviously that isn't going to directly benefit any GPL-using projects.

          * I resisted the urge to bring up the fact that we run all our stuff on Linux.

          8 votes
        2. ButteredToast
          Link Parent
          Naturally it varies from company to company, but yes it can and does happen. While it’s possible to “safely” use libraries with stronger copyleft licenses in some circumstances, generally they’re...

          Naturally it varies from company to company, but yes it can and does happen. While it’s possible to “safely” use libraries with stronger copyleft licenses in some circumstances, generally they’re not considered viable due to potential for legal entanglements as a result of noncompliance (unintentional or otherwise) on top of desire to keep secret sauce proprietary.

  2. [4]
    donn
    Link
    Let me put another perspective on the table here: the GPL falling in popularity was in no small part due to the GPLv3 going too far. As a case study, Apple for one was a contributor and maintainer...

    Let me put another perspective on the table here: the GPL falling in popularity was in no small part due to the GPLv3 going too far.

    As a case study, Apple for one was a contributor and maintainer of GPLv2 software (they were also the first to be sued under the GPL in 1990ish, fun fact, but that's a whole other story). But the moment GNU projects all got relicensed under the GPLv3, LLVM suddenly was no longer just going to rely on the GCC frontend, and now one of the richest companies in the world was putting time and money into a permissive alternative to GCC, one that was more attractive for contributions from companies such as Intel, Nvidia, ARM, and others.

    You can argue whether that this is working as intended (as it's still more preserving for user freedom), but I do believe abandoning whatever the crusade against Tivoization was would have ultimately helped more than it hurt. The average user doesn't have more freedom now, manufacturers are just using less GPL software.

    EDIT: The patent clause proved popular by the way- a lot of these companies use the Apache License 2.0 which has a similar patent clause to the GPLv3. It was just the Tivoization stuff that gave people alarm.

    20 votes
    1. [3]
      vord
      Link Parent
      Maybe, but neccessary. It wouldn't be neccessary if we could get a proper legal ruling that owners of devices can not be permanently locked out of applying their own customized updates to devices....

      Maybe, but neccessary. It wouldn't be neccessary if we could get a proper legal ruling that owners of devices can not be permanently locked out of applying their own customized updates to devices.

      Much how the AGPL tries to solve the loophole for remotely hosted services.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        imperialismus
        Link Parent
        You have to work within the currently existing legal framework though. You can concurrently work to modify existing laws, but you can't just act like the current laws will be irrelevant in short...

        You have to work within the currently existing legal framework though. You can concurrently work to modify existing laws, but you can't just act like the current laws will be irrelevant in short order (because they likely won't).

        4 votes
        1. vord
          Link Parent
          Spoken like a non-anarchist. :) The problem always becomes when the law becomes too easy to enforce.

          Spoken like a non-anarchist. :) The problem always becomes when the law becomes too easy to enforce.

          I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

          3 votes
  3. crdpa
    Link
    There is a quote by Chico Mendes, a Brazilian activist, that goes "Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening.". It's the same thing here. Without overcoming capitalism, this is...

    There is a quote by Chico Mendes, a Brazilian activist, that goes "Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening.".

    It's the same thing here. Without overcoming capitalism, this is just rolling a stone uphill.

    It doesn't mean it doesn't need to exist or we don't have to fight those battles. We really should, but we need to understand that this alone won't work. There is no end to this in capitalism.

    Folks won't "suddenly realize" the importance of free software. History never happened that way. It is a political struggle. The hand needs to be forced. The same way capitalism were and is being permanently forced upon the world.

    15 votes
  4. [21]
    unkz
    Link
    I really dislike the way the GPL brands itself as “free” when it’s the opposite. MIT/Apache/BSD/Artistic are far more free — I can basically do what I like with them, no strings attached aside...

    I really dislike the way the GPL brands itself as “free” when it’s the opposite. MIT/Apache/BSD/Artistic are far more free — I can basically do what I like with them, no strings attached aside from assigning credit. I would never release a piece of code I have written under the GPL, because when I give code away, I really give it away — because I believe in freedom.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      nosewings
      Link Parent
      "Freedom" always comes in pairs: my freedom, your restriction. I am free to say what I want, which is to say that the government is not free to restrict my speech. GPL software is "more free" in...

      "Freedom" always comes in pairs: my freedom, your restriction.

      I am free to say what I want, which is to say that the government is not free to restrict my speech.

      GPL software is "more free" in the sense that it cannot be made less free. My freedom to ensure that the code remains open, and users' freedom to always have source code access. Your restriction: you can't close the source.

      Also, if one believes that code being free is good, then it is a contradiction to suggest that the ability to close the source can be good.

      35 votes
      1. vord
        Link Parent
        GPL solves the user-freedom equivalent to the paradox of choice. Because I see closed source as an anathma, one that is primarily (and almost exclusively) for the benefit of business interests,...

        GPL solves the user-freedom equivalent to the paradox of choice.

        Because I see closed source as an anathma, one that is primarily (and almost exclusively) for the benefit of business interests, the GPL is a much-needed baseline for consumer rights.

        And because it's an anathma, things that enable creating more closed software are morally repugnant, especially under the guise of being 'free'.

        11 votes
    2. [17]
      Nemoder
      Link Parent
      I understand that reasoning but I also think it's great to have an ecosystem of software where the only restriction is that it remains free to alter and redistribute. Maybe it would be better to...

      I understand that reasoning but I also think it's great to have an ecosystem of software where the only restriction is that it remains free to alter and redistribute. Maybe it would be better to have called it something else but those restrictions do help convince more people to share their changes instead of everyone forking and selling their own altered versions.

      17 votes
      1. [16]
        unkz
        Link Parent
        The way I would frame this is innovation. The GPL doesn’t promote innovation. The tradeoff is similar to capitalism versus communism. In capitalism we don’t all have access to the same stuff, but...

        everyone forking and selling their own altered versions.

        The way I would frame this is innovation. The GPL doesn’t promote innovation.

        The tradeoff is similar to capitalism versus communism. In capitalism we don’t all have access to the same stuff, but the best stuff is higher quality. In communism we all have the same stuff, but it’s all low quality.

        2 votes
        1. [10]
          crdpa
          Link Parent
          There is no basis about what you are saying. First because communism never happened since communism does not have a central government state. Communism Is when there are no classes anymore. Second...

          There is no basis about what you are saying. First because communism never happened since communism does not have a central government state. Communism Is when there are no classes anymore.

          Second because socialism is not about having the same stuff nor about being low quality. There is a reason tech created in soviet union is still working and used today.

          For some people, iPhones and bleeding edge trinkets are quality, but it is unsustainable. The world is becoming unlivable because of this.

          For socialists quality is not needing to buy phones every 2 years. It's about being able to fix things and keep them working forever.

          Changing our cars to electric vehicles is worse than everyone keeping the same ones functioning until the end.

          Innovation for innovation's sake is a slippery slope. It is mostly just dangling a carrot in front of a horse.

          14 votes
          1. [8]
            unkz
            Link Parent
            I would say that the acceptance that communism has happened is what hasn’t happened, because any time any instantiation of it occurs, it will fail and people will immediately claim that “that...

            First because communism never happened

            I would say that the acceptance that communism has happened is what hasn’t happened, because any time any instantiation of it occurs, it will fail and people will immediately claim that “that wasn’t real communism”.

            I don’t think we are ever going to see successful “real communism” though, because it’s incompatible with human nature.

            Second because socialism is not about having the same stuff nor about being low quality.

            It’s not a tenet, it’s a consequence.

            Changing our cars to electric vehicles is worse than everyone keeping the same ones functioning until the end.

            Wait, what? How is continuing to drive ICEs forever a positive thing?

            4 votes
            1. [7]
              crdpa
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              You need to understand what communism is. In communism there is no state, no borders, no classes. It is the definition. No, we are not going to see communism in the next 10,000 years. Human nature...

              You need to understand what communism is. In communism there is no state, no borders, no classes. It is the definition.

              No, we are not going to see communism in the next 10,000 years.

              Human nature is part of a bigger picture that is nurtured in context. There is no such intrinsic human nature that we are born with it.

              What happened and exists is socialism. And yes, there was and there is real socialism today and probably there will be more in the future because the need to overcome capitalism is already here, but this is as far I'm willing to discuss this.

              Wait, what? How is continuing to drive ICEs forever a positive thing?

              Continuing to drive the same ICE until they break to the point of no repair. Then change it for something else.

              Building an electric car costs more for the environment than keeping the ICE you already have.

              The reality is that public electric mass transportation is the answer, as we see today in China, but will not happen in the USA nor (current) Brazil.

              Personal vehicles are an abomination, but in current context they are a necessity in most places. But this demand was created on purpose.

              8 votes
              1. [6]
                unkz
                Link Parent
                We are machines whose behaviours have been relentlessly optimized by evolution over at least 3.7 billion years — the idea of the blank slate psyche is incompatible with physical reality. This is...

                Human nature is part of a bigger picture that is nurtured in context. There is no such intrinsic human nature that we are born with it.

                We are machines whose behaviours have been relentlessly optimized by evolution over at least 3.7 billion years — the idea of the blank slate psyche is incompatible with physical reality.

                Building an electric car costs more for the environment than keeping the ICE you already have.

                This is not a generally true statement, unless one lives in an area where the grid is close to 100% fossil fuel. While the emissions are front loaded on an EV, the inefficiencies of carrying around an inefficient gas motor everywhere you go is eclipsed by purchasing a new EV typically within only a few years.

                look at the breakeven graph here

                https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmorris/2022/06/18/we-need-to-measure-total-lifecycle-emissions-for-cars--but-evs-still-win/?sh=433294d92747

                At almost any point in an ICE’s lifecycle, you are better off stopping driving it and getting an EV.

                3 votes
                1. [5]
                  gary
                  Link Parent
                  Good link; that taught me a lot and gave me something I'll have to chew on for a while. It skipped over two factors I would have liked to see though. The first is that it's comparing average cars...

                  Good link; that taught me a lot and gave me something I'll have to chew on for a while. It skipped over two factors I would have liked to see though.

                  The first is that it's comparing average cars on the road emissions to EV cars on the road emissions. For the latter, it calculates CO2 by taking average CO2/kwh and miles per kwh, but it doesn't include the fact that most EVs that exist right now are tackling the most efficient vehicle types first. If the average EV can get > 3 miles per kwh, that's awesome, but the Cybertruck gets < 2 miles per kwh. The Ford Lightning is 2.5 miles per kwh. These are estimates based on searches for "[cybertruck|ford lightning] real world range" and "[cybertruck|ford lightning] battery size". So it's a double whammy of inefficient car sizes are not calculated into current EV emissions, but they are calculated into ICE emissions. As more truck EVs become popular, this will become a fairer comparison.

                  The other factor is that, so far, people have been self selecting into EV usage based on their perception of range in their environment. My parents are not switching to an EV next year because they believe that the winters here will destroy their range. However, when I'm in the Bay Area, it feels like every other car is a Tesla.

                  These two things skew the results, but I'm not sure if it skews it enough to change the conclusion. At the end of the day, we're still going to make decisions based around our unique circumstances. I can't have an EV because I have nowhere to charge it. I'd have to drive to a charger and sit in my car for an hour every time I needed a charge.

                  3 votes
                  1. [4]
                    Akir
                    Link Parent
                    I think assuming heavy inefficient electric trucks will become popular is doing a lot of heavy lifting in this scenario.

                    I think assuming heavy inefficient electric trucks will become popular is doing a lot of heavy lifting in this scenario.

                    1 vote
                    1. [2]
                      XanIves
                      Link Parent
                      If the F150 was going to have been pried from the grips of the American population, it probably would have done that when it hit 4 bucks a gallon. I think it's safe to say that big...

                      If the F150 was going to have been pried from the grips of the American population, it probably would have done that when it hit 4 bucks a gallon.

                      I think it's safe to say that big child-annihilating pickup trucks are going to be happily sold and bought in the USA for the next 30 years, barring legislative intervention.

                      2 votes
                      1. Akir
                        Link Parent
                        My skepticism is less about the popularity of large trucks and more about them all being electric.

                        My skepticism is less about the popularity of large trucks and more about them all being electric.

                    2. gary
                      Link Parent
                      The point was whether the comparison of EV vs ICE CO2 pollution was comparable and I pointed out two factors that skewed the data. I don't care if heavy pickups ever become EV'd. The fact that...

                      The point was whether the comparison of EV vs ICE CO2 pollution was comparable and I pointed out two factors that skewed the data. I don't care if heavy pickups ever become EV'd. The fact that they currently aren't EV'd is not my endorsement that they become EV'd. Nor am I predicting that they become EV'd.

                      1 vote
          2. V17
            Link Parent
            This is just plain survivorship bias. The average quality of soviet tech in most fields was considerably lower than of western tech, and a lot of it was also better or worse copies of western tech...

            Second because socialism is not about having the same stuff nor about being low quality. There is a reason tech created in soviet union is still working and used today.

            This is just plain survivorship bias. The average quality of soviet tech in most fields was considerably lower than of western tech, and a lot of it was also better or worse copies of western tech that would not exist without other people's research and development. The availability for the average person was also much lower. The comparison with iPhones and "bleeding edge trinkets" as it that is the one or the most important thing that the west makes now is imo clearly disingenuous or short sighted.

            There is no basis about what you are saying. First because communism never happened since communism does not have a central government state. Communism Is when there are no classes anymore.

            Communism never happened, but attempts at communism did happen multiple times. How they ended is of course connected to the viability of the theoretical end goal.

            Innovation for innovation's sake is a slippery slope.

            I don't think "slippery slope" fits, but it has downsides for sure. But the reality is that this is how most important technological progress happens. Even with science, which greatly benefits from being state funded with results available to the public, most useful results happen either from innovating for innovation's sake or from cooperating with the private sector. Science itself is not enough to bring actually useful innovations to the people, somebody else has to solve the practical issues of manufacture, mass adoption, distribution etc. first, without which the research is nothing but a few pieces of paper in an archive - and this happens with regularity.

            For socialists quality is not needing to buy phones every 2 years.

            So buy a Fairphone? Most people don't buy Fairphones because they don't care enough to pay for the higher costs inevitably associated with avoiding some of the unsustainable methods used to manufacture cheap electronics. But the option is right here.

            I agree with your point on electric cars and intend to do just that... Though to be fair the decision is purely financial.

            3 votes
        2. skybrian
          Link Parent
          There's something to what you say, but I don't think this sort of analogy helps, since it's going from something specific that we have somewhat direct knowledge of and turning it into a much...

          There's something to what you say, but I don't think this sort of analogy helps, since it's going from something specific that we have somewhat direct knowledge of and turning it into a much broader, abstract, and more disputed topic. Why go there?

          "Innovation" is itself pretty abstract argument-fodder, but I'm comfortable saying that lots of good open source software either comes from or gets a lot of support from for-profit companies, and it wouldn't be hard to come up with examples.

          3 votes
        3. [4]
          Nemoder
          Link Parent
          Sharing software doesn't mean everyone uses the same software, everyone is free to fork something to fit their need and the best forks rise to the top in popularity. Discouraging sharing with...

          Sharing software doesn't mean everyone uses the same software, everyone is free to fork something to fit their need and the best forks rise to the top in popularity. Discouraging sharing with proprietary licenses just means more work for those who only want to make minor changes.

          3 votes
          1. [3]
            Johz
            Link Parent
            The problem with this argument is that not everyone is free to fork software. If you aren't able to program, if the software isn't written in a style you can do something with, if the problem...

            The problem with this argument is that not everyone is free to fork software. If you aren't able to program, if the software isn't written in a style you can do something with, if the problem domain isn't something you're familiar with, and most importantly, if you can't build up a community big enough to support your fork.

            Essentially, you're describing a meritocracy, but pure meritocracies don't exist. Popular things do not become popular on merit, and different people often have very different opinions on what is meritorious. If no-one else agrees with you about the software you need, and you can't create it yourself, then you're just out of luck.

            The value of proprietary licenses is that they make it easier to turn software into a market, and markets - assuming they are regulated and well-behaved - tend to do a good job of allocating resources such that most people's needs are met, and no central planning is required.

            I think there are really good arguments for FOSS, but the idea that it produces better software just isn't borne out in practice. On the other hand, FOSS makes sense for software that is a public good, which is why I think mandating governments and public institutions invest in FOSS, and use FOSS alternatives where available is good.

            4 votes
            1. [2]
              Nemoder
              Link Parent
              I think there is plenty of room for both methods of development. FOSS has been amazing when it comes to operating systems and proprietary software has been amazing at creating digital...

              I think there is plenty of room for both methods of development. FOSS has been amazing when it comes to operating systems and proprietary software has been amazing at creating digital entertainment. The reverse of that not so much.

              That said, I think there is value in having the freedom to alter and share code since even without the personal ability it's still possible to hire development that can build on available source rather than starting from scratch or being forced to adhere to an inflexible commercial offering. And yeah, if we lived in a world where the markets were well regulated and behaved then it might make more sense for individuals to create marketable software. And perhaps RMS would have been allowed to fix his printer and not have created the GPL in the first place.

              3 votes
              1. vord
                Link Parent
                I think RMS's core arguement is a sound one: Users need to be able to modify the software (they buy) to suit their needs. If all game binaries were mandated to have source released to purchasers,...

                I think RMS's core arguement is a sound one: Users need to be able to modify the software (they buy) to suit their needs.

                If all game binaries were mandated to have source released to purchasers, games would no longer 'die' with operating system updates so long as there was at least one copy archived.

                6 votes
    3. kovboydan
      Link Parent
      WTFPL is another - super - permissive license.

      WTFPL is another - super - permissive license.

      2 votes