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Linux: Freedom or Freakdom?

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(khess)
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I was talking with my friend, Jason Perlow, yesterday and he told me that I should back off of the free software rants because he feels that I'm entering the gray edges of freakdom. We laughed about it but it made me think: When does a strong belief in something become extremism? I've had two conversations with Richard Stallman about free software specifically and freedom generally. My conclusion is that there's a fine line between freedom and freakdom. My goal is to find that line and explore its dimensions.

My first conversation with Richard Stallman (RMS) was a tentative discussion, lasting about 18 minutes, about the software and hardware that he uses. He did, in RMS fashion, climb aboard the free software train but I diverted him back to the interview focus as best I could under less than ideal circumstances (He was travelling by car in New Zealand during the interview).

The second conversation we had was about two weeks ago. He was home after travelling to New Zealand, Bali and who knows where else. It was more relaxed and I had two full pages of questions for an in-depth look at RMS and how he came to be the world's voice of free software and why people think he's a bit loony.

What I found was a man who is profoundly dedicated to a cause. RMS is the type of person you see on TV, mostly in shows about lawyers and crime-fighting who give the long, inspiring and fictitious* speeches in the courtroom spouting dialog about freedom, what it means to be free and our Founding Fathers' original purpose.
But RMS is different. He isn't so dramatic as the aforementioned attorney. His message and goal are specific: To promote free software. A lot of people see RMS as a total freak. I see him as a single point of failure in the free software movement. Though he named several people in his list of high profile free software advocates, he told me that he has no successor and I get the impression that he feels that the free software movement will die with him.

So, is RMS a freak? Is he crazy? I don't believe that he's either. I know that he is a person filled with passion for what he believes and his arguments are above reproach. It's impossible to counter his free software ideal and it's impossible to argue with his reasoning on why software should be free.

You may be wondering at this point exactly where I stand on the subject of free software and freedom. I believe in free software. I believe in freedom whether it's software or speech. I also believe that I am aware of human nature and its shortcomings to know that a softwarefreetopia will never exist in my lifetime. Proprietary software vendors assume that their software is special and that denying your freedom will somehow boost their profits--it won't.
I'm not the voice for free software or the free software movement, RMS has that exalted position. I feel passionate about freedoms and mourn the loss of any freedom--software or otherwise. Am I a freak for having these beliefs? I don't think so.
I'm no extremist nor would I take on the role of one to fight for the cause. The free software movement is not a holy war nor is it fodder for ridicule--it is a belief, an ideal and a just cause.

Believe in it or don't but don't assume that those who do are freaks, zealots or ready for the asylum.

What do you think of the free software movement, the FSF and the ideal? Write back and let me know.

*Fictitious because no judge would ever allow such dramatic diatribes in a courtroom unless it's in the closing arguments where attorneys have a bit more 'freedom' to carry on.

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veatnik
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I've been following the FSF and using GNU software since ~1986. From then until now I have seen many people berate RMS for a number of things. Most common examples: Being a communist, wanting to steal proprietary code from companies, and being (some style of) loon or extremist. In all these cases I have never seen any evidence that these claims hold any water whatsoever.

I can see that he is very committed to what he believes is ethical. He is certainly willing to speak out on his viewpoint. While there may be room to disagree with him, these two facts do not mean that he is an extremist (or a loon). If that was true than anyone that disagrees with him can be labeled an extremist (or loon) by the same (flawed) logic. (Those that have used this flawed logic may in fact be classified as loons due to their inability to have a rational discussion. But that is beyond the topic here. I have had a discussion with RMS once and although we disagreed each having a different conclusion I can say that he was extremely rational and to the point in the arguments he put forward. While we did not agree, it was obvious to me that he had very carefully thought through the issues in adopting his stance.)

The fact that he has created a community license for software does not make him a communist. If you think that then your grasp of political science is just a little flawed.
(This seems to be put forward by people that would like our government to step in and protect their potentially weak businesses from perceived competition from other peoples companies that like to use GPL licensed software. Here is the quiz.: What do you call a person that attempts to use a government in this manner? Hint , it will not be a complement. )

That leaves the accusation that he advocates stealing code. If the people putting this one forward would do a little research they would see in the FSF/GNU developer guidelines that RMS has consistently asked developers to not steal code and to go so far as doing things purposefully in a different manner so that it is clear that FSFs GNU code is clean and unencumbered. I guess some people would like us to think that writing compatible software is illegal. Well in point of fact reverse engineering is allowed (when done properly). In addition if having such functionality were illegal then why are all the complainers using Microsoft Word (insert software product of choice here....virtually all software strives for compatibility at some level). Good grief, it supports many other document formats not originated at Microsoft. If this were not true then it would have never taken any significant market share early on. Compatibility is something that helps society as a whole avoid waste and conserve resources. This is a good thing.

Enough addressing complaints...
As for the FSF I have found GNU code robust and useful. It has allowed me to use a set of solid software tools no matter which platform I have to move to next (I was using about 7 different OSes at one job. Using the GNU tools saved the company big $). Because of the GNU GPL authored by RMS, I know that I have the right to use this software and to share it with others that need it no matter where computer science goes tomorrow. I have the choice to continue using these tools in perpetuity. ( I may have to port them to my next OS but I am allowed to do so.) My investment in learning and useing them is protected, My data is secure and can be read in the future.

So Richard Stallman made a license that protects me as an end user. seems clear to me that anyone that finds much of an argument with that probably does not have my best interests at heart. Kind of makes it easy to know who I should want to work with and buy products from.

References (to see about protection of others Intellectual Property in GNU projects)
"GNU Coding Standard" see http://www.gnu.org/prep/standards/
"Information for maintainers of GNU software" see http://www.gnu.org/prep/maintain/

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khess
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@veatnik

Wow, thanks for your comments. That is an excellent analysis. Are you sure you aren't RMS himself?

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jsalsman
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I don't believe RMS thinks the free software movement will die with him. Not knowing who will step in to fill your shoes is similar but not the same feeling. It must appear the same. It's particularly easy to feel that way when you know you will be replaced by the multitudes you led towards the ideals, instead of one obvious person.

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sureronald
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@khess
I think the FSF will still go on even if RMS will no longer be there. What might happen is that there will be no powerful figure to stand out and fight for the FSF like RMS has always done when freedom is being snatched away from the free software community.
Another thing to note is that RMS has been very influential in spreading the free software message across the world as an individual. I wonder if there will be anyone big enough to fit in his boots to carry on with this work.
@veatnik
wonderful!

Personally I would say the FSF and RMS has helped me a great deal. Most software prices are too expensive, and being in Africa like I am simply means I can't use them.
Thanks to the FSF for their wonderful license that has allowed us to use great softwares and development tools whose proprietary equivalents are too expensive.

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Gilette
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This in a good debate. It concerns us in so many levels as well as layers in our society. I believe the technical discussion is a necessity as well as the usage level. When it all comes down to specifics, it is data that is denoted as proprietary and most effective to influence the future. But with intelligent code, data can give us another understanding when used differently and here lies one very important discussion about code and alternative versions of it. Basically, why should we change the internal of code, yet to do the same thing, just because of claims. The idea is to make different applications, not necessary different code.

Stepping up to usage level, the discussion should be whether it is useful or not for a user, and the user are always confined to a certain situation. If not, then the user are not asking for help by code and data run by the power of computers. Often we can see that coding is done for the computers, the best way to handle some calculation, data transformation, transport in communication and so on. Filling the gap in between computer accommodated code and code accede to the user is still one very big issue, a case for new type of approaching understandings.

Further more, we have an psychological understanding in computer usage, what is aggravating us, what time limits is there in waiting for responses, the different assessment we typical do and so on. The gap seems to be in between legal claims and psychological findings in the area of business. Using your computer and while trying to understand what command procedures are needed to reach a sensible result of your satisfaction is clearly a joint middle way not always possible. Another concurrent software can have a completely different procedure to reach the same goals. Legal matters don't always correlate with understandings of users, and of cause vice versa as the big debate has been for some time. Does the fails on one side legalize a misuse on the other side?

There seems to be a gap in between the political view on coding and the sociology side. We seem to manage the overall need by the means of our society of production. It speaks the clear words of generalization as we have developed the consent to obey to it, we now can see a regression in that area claiming a better understanding to each situation. Sociology, we all need to have better understandings and a richdom of knowledge in every side of our society, even coding, in order to make us a better future. Occasionally, people tell me that this is the idea, a master plan so to speak. They also say that we need education to maintain it and universities to produce it. In society, schools are regarded as home of fostering and experiences is the knowledge base for hire. It is an extracted understanding from the idea of improving yesterdays production, giving efficiency and profit. Question is if business hinders the more and more rapid need of software or is the "so called" natural way of competition sufficient enough. Clearly, software development is still in the early developing state. This can be seen from the different understandings about information, as information also denotes a certain consensus towards data and data can be related differently to make new possible understandings. Relations in between data called correlation, and association, is a masterpiece of software crafting just to handle in a sensible way.

Last but not at least, we have the area of information. And what is the information counterpart, making yet another gap in the discussion of coding. Well, what do we really understand and how can we possible understand it tomorrow. We have left understandings to its history many times, denoting former paradigms. Today we really do understand information in a certain way, maybe not that approval in the coming future, but for now, this is what we got. Internet is useless if we can not retrieve information from it. Usage level is a necessity as search engines are. Clearly, coding contributes data into information and the usage contributes to an understanding and possible new knowledge. Trying to assess data by categorize it makes it able to handle. At the same time, categorizing it makes data limited for searching by a wider range of understandings. This is an ongoing discussion amongst blog moderators. Question is, how can coding assist us in this area? If it was only up to business, would there be enough knowledge in that area to come up with a new study on that, or do we need to consult other people of knowledge, resided in different areas of the society, not necessary the business domain, but probably Universities and so on? Of cause, the discussion of business in the area of information, the needs and usages, involves coding.

A simple conclusion is that software development would be far to slow if it only was up to business. But then again, what is contradiction to what making another gap to be discussed?

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Traditional
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This started out it seems as a discussion on RMS as opposed to GNU or Open Source. Someone will step into RMS's shoes guaranteed so no problems there. There are literally hundreds ready to take over. Getting down to the real discussion of a need for GNU or should it be alowed is not worthy of discussion. GNU and Open Source are here to stay.

If not for Open Source and GNU, many small business owners such as myself would have never had the opportunity to join the online business community. Open source allows us to begin without a high dollar investment of making our web presence known. I have used SMF machines, Zencart, Mambo, Joomla and Drupal just to name a few and if not for these Open source programs my start up costs would have been throught the roof. GNU has given me the alternative to high cost programs until I could test with open source and really know what I need. It allowed me to build a network and a small income and now I can slowly buy the "paid" programs that I need. Has GNU kept from from buying the paid versions, no but it has allowed me the time to make a better decision and not buy paid programs that I did not need or want.

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pythagoric
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I was talking with my friend, Jason Perlow, yesterday and he told me that I should back off of the free software rants because he feels that I'm entering the gray edges of freakdom. We laughed about it but it made me think: When does a strong belief in something become extremism? I've had two conversations with Richard Stallman about free software specifically and freedom generally. My conclusion is that there's a fine line between freedom and freakdom. My goal is to find that line and explore its dimensions.

My first conversation with Richard Stallman (RMS) was a tentative discussion, lasting about 18 minutes, about the software and hardware that he uses. He did, in RMS fashion, climb aboard the free software train but I diverted him back to the interview focus as best I could under less than ideal circumstances (He was travelling by car in New Zealand during the interview).

The second conversation we had was about two weeks ago. He was home after travelling to New Zealand, Bali and who knows where else. It was more relaxed and I had two full pages of questions for an in-depth look at RMS and how he came to be the world's voice of free software and why people think he's a bit loony.

What I found was a man who is profoundly dedicated to a cause. RMS is the type of person you see on TV, mostly in shows about lawyers and crime-fighting who give the long, inspiring and fictitious* speeches in the courtroom spouting dialog about freedom, what it means to be free and our Founding Fathers' original purpose.
But RMS is different. He isn't so dramatic as the aforementioned attorney. His message and goal are specific: To promote free software. A lot of people see RMS as a total freak. I see him as a single point of failure in the free software movement. Though he named several people in his list of high profile free software advocates, he told me that he has no successor and I get the impression that he feels that the free software movement will die with him.

So, is RMS a freak? Is he crazy? I don't believe that he's either. I know that he is a person filled with passion for what he believes and his arguments are above reproach. It's impossible to counter his free software ideal and it's impossible to argue with his reasoning on why software should be free.

You may be wondering at this point exactly where I stand on the subject of free software and freedom. I believe in free software. I believe in freedom whether it's software or speech. I also believe that I am aware of human nature and its shortcomings to know that a softwarefreetopia will never exist in my lifetime. Proprietary software vendors assume that their software is special and that denying your freedom will somehow boost their profits--it won't.
I'm not the voice for free software or the free software movement, RMS has that exalted position. I feel passionate about freedoms and mourn the loss of any freedom--software or otherwise. Am I a freak for having these beliefs? I don't think so.
I'm no extremist nor would I take on the role of one to fight for the cause. The free software movement is not a holy war nor is it fodder for ridicule--it is a belief, an ideal and a just cause.

Believe in it or don't but don't assume that those who do are freaks, zealots or ready for the asylum.

What do you think of the free software movement, the FSF and the ideal? Write back and let me know.

*Fictitious because no judge would ever allow such dramatic diatribes in a courtroom unless it's in the closing arguments where attorneys have a bit more 'freedom' to carry on.

I am mostly an occasional programmer (even not a programmer), presently a generic user of useful software in non professional applications. Besides of a small number of specific commercial programmes purchased along the years, I use only free software with full satisfaction and confirm that the FSF is and will be a great idea for any foreseable future.
My (small) experience in this shows that FSF is source of professionally written programmes most often kept updated at no cost (contrarily to several commercial softw.) so that a full set of them can be utilized even by the infrequent user. This freedom is essential for the evolution and progress of programming at large since it gives free access to all the programming power anyone could dream of, therefore stimulating evolution and new ideas.
Kudos to GFS and immense thanks to so many professional programmers who work to produce the free software!

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sureronald
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@pythagoric

My (small) experience in this shows that FSF is source of professionally written programmes most often kept updated at no cost (contrarily to several commercial softw.) so that a full set of them can be utilized even by the infrequent user. This freedom is essential for the evolution and progress of programming at large since it gives free access to all the programming power anyone could dream of, therefore stimulating evolution and new ideas.

I like that! So when the FSF asks for donations from individuals and corporates , they surely deserve it

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