To GNU or not to GNU

Being not subscribed to GNOME’s foundation-list mailing list (and having no intention to subscribe to it), I tried to catch up a bit with the controversy of the last days. I might have missed stuff of course.

Trying to summarize:

Initially, Lucas brought up complaints received about content posted on Planet GNOME which triggered a discussion whether there should be rules on appropriate content, whether an annual reminder should be sent to blog authors aggregated to Planet GNOME (telling them that they can remove themselves if they don’t feel fine with it anymore), and whether GNOME has “lost” people because of reasons that could have been avoided.
RMS joined the discussion and Philip disagreed with him. RMS then wrote that people should not post about closed source on Planet GNOME and defined his “most minimal support for the free software movement” . Because of the obvious disagreement, Philip consequently proposed “to have a vote on GNOME’s membership to the GNU project”. Dave warned that such a vote “could cause a lot of harm & discord for the GNOME community” which was answered by Philip.

So far my summary.

Other folks may find other postings more important than the ones I’ve picked – feel free to read the entire thread yourself to get your own opinion.

Now some questions come up here:

Sorry if answers exist out there and I have been too lazy to search or have not found them yet.

With regard to my current personal opinion (which may of course change as I’m willing to learn), having read Richard M. Stallman’s recent posts on the foundation mailinglist, he remains a fascistic extremist to me, painting black & white, ignoring reality (with a bad impact on free software user experience if you cannot interact properly with closed source products that obviously do exist out there) and trying to exclude folks from the GNOME community (because they also work on VMWare stuff) because he knows better what’s good for the GNOME community.

RMS has done great work in the 80es and 90es that I really appreciate, but I prefer to forget about his last years (a bit similar to Michael Jackson actually), especially his GCDS keynote in 2009 (yes, I have to come up with this again, because it’s part of the picture). RMS was a non-funny comedian with jokes that can easily be interpreted as sexistic (to me they definitely were, though that most probably was not his intention), trying desperately to auction a GNU puppet by behaving like on a children’s birthday. Okay, one can probably discuss humor here. At least it was not my type of humor. If GNOME ever invites RMS again to a conference, I prefer to stay away and not go there. It’s simply not the community that I want to be part of and proud of.

I always tell myself that RMS does not speak on behalf of the entire FSF, as the FSF has good intentions. But good intentions don’t count if the actual acting and outcome is bad. Plus organizations normally are reflected quite well by the leaders that were elected to represent them.

So yes, the discussion might be definitely less heated if the request to not post about closed source on Planet GNOME had been posted by a different person than RMS, as he himself is controversial enough already. Plus for many people, FSF = RMS.

A general note at the end: “Freedom” to me is also the personal freedom to tolerate and even to use non-free software from time to time, without having a big issue if it fits my needs way better. (For potential “Then help the free software to become better!” comments: I talk about the present here, not about the future.)
And I have enough friends working on closed software. They are awesome people. They just have a different concept that I totally accept because I’m not in a position to say “My concept is the only right one and superior to any other concept”. I prefer to let history decide on that instead.

54 Responses to “To GNU or not to GNU”

  1. Lefty says:

    Thanks for posting this, André. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out, but I suspect that it won’t ultimately come down to a vote, which might be too bad, despite what Dave and Stormy think.

    Since Stallman is President(-for-Life) of the FSF, unless he clearly says otherwise (and in my experience, he never has), what he says represents the view of the FSF.

    I use both closed and open software, all the time. Everyone does: almost everything you paid more than $100 for is a computer of some sort these days. Hasn’t stopped me from using a digital camera, a DVD player, or a GPS unit.

    If the FSF would concentrate more on helping people understand and make informed choices about software, that’d be fine. Instead, they’d rather abuse Microsoft and attack people within the open source community. I personally think the attempt to dictate “policy” for Planet GNOME behind-the-scenes, rather than simply expressing the FSF’s views in a blog—the way everyone else on Planet does—to be extremely cowardly and underhanded.

  2. Gabriel says:

    You seem to be claiming non-free software is legitimate; obviously this post should be censored from Planet GNOME. ;)

  3. aklapper says:

    Clarifying, after a comment on IRC:
    Writing “he remains a fascistic extremist to me” is not meant as an insult, but as my impression of his behaviour. I had read again the definitions of these terms before using them. I do assume people mean well, and of course this also goes for RMS – He’s passionate about free software, and that’s great. But I extremely disagree with the opinions expressed by him on how to deal with the existing non-free software and with some blogging members of our community, and these opinions to me are examples for the terms I have used before.

    As a president of a foundation that wants to be taken seriously (especially in a corporate world where you want to push your idea of free software) there are certain expectations on behavior, expression and style that I simply don’t see fulfilled by the president of the FSF.

  4. Simon says:

    Stallman is welcome to his views, but from reading that thread, he’s going too far pushing them. That proprietary software is in some way illegitimate doesn’t seem to be a view shared by the majority – unsurprising, given the number of OSS developers who also code proprietary software for a living. And for all that he avoids calling it that, he’s essentially calling for censorship of developer’s blogs. Not a good look, really…

  5. Hatem says:

    “Planet GNOME automatically reposts blog entries from the GNOME community. Entries on this page are owned by their authors. We do not edit, endorse or vouch for the contents of individual posts.”
    (quote from http://planet.gnome.org/#footer)

    Based on that, Stallman’s concern that aggregating such posts represents an endorsement of proprietary software by gnome is completely absurd.

  6. Jarral says:

    The problem is a) the tiny minority actively promoting a commercial product that is not appropriate on Planet Gnome, and b) the slightly larger, but still small, minority promoting their own closed-source activities by association with open-source.

    The rest is just Rumplestiltskin ripping himself in part over some imagined insult.

  7. Lefty says:

    Jarral, even Stallman says he has no idea whether there are actually any postings of the sort he claims need addressing on Planet. So what are we talking about? Got any examples?

    I’ve put together a very short survey over on SurveyMonkey to try to get some data on people’s thoughts about all this. Please take it, and encourage others to do so. It can be found at

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z7WHPDF

  8. Simon says:

    @Jarral – thing is, these are the personal blogs of Gnome developers, and Gnome developers aren’t *just* Gnome developers. For the most part, they’re not actively promoting commercial products, they’re usually just talking about their day jobs. If someone works for (e.g) VMWare, surely they’re not to be criticized for telling people that?

  9. aklapper says:

    As a follow-up, Andy Wingo has posted an insightful article answering some of my questions: http://wingolog.org/archives/2009/12/13/gnu-gnome-and-the-fsf .
    Thanks a lot, Andy!

  10. Markus says:

    Regarding KDE:
    No, KDE is not a GNU member. It has a friendly relationship with the FSF Europe these days. KDE is an Associate Organisation http://fsfe.org/associates/associates.en.html , http://kde.org/announcements/fsfe-associate-member.php and shares office space in Berlin with FSFE after Wikimedia Germany moved out.

    Regarding GNOME:
    GNOME became a GNU project when De Icaza and the FSF made it one.

  11. Simon says:

    @Markus – more precisely, Gnome pretty much started as a GNU project, rather than becoming one. The GNU Network Object Model Environment, for those remember that clumsy acronym.

  12. Lefty says:

    @Simon, as Andy Wingo has pointed out in his blog, the two projects have next-to-nothing to do with one another, and even the acronym on which the name is based is completely meaningless these days.

    According to the same entry, Mr. Stallman has little to do with GNU these days in spite of still being the nominal head (which apparently causes some problems).

    Andy is also at some pains to distinguish “GNU” on the one hand from “FSF” on the other, but such distinctions don’t seem to matter much to Mr. Stallman, at least based on his emails to the foundation-list…

  13. Jorge says:

    How is “membership to the GNU project” defined?

    G NU
    N etwork
    O bject
    M odel
    E nvironment

    The GNOME Foundation
    Introduction

    The GNOME Project is an effort to create a complete, free and easy-to-use desktop environment for users, as well as a powerful application development framework for software developers. GNOME is part of the GNU Project, is Free Software, and developed as Open Source software.

    http://foundation.gnome.org/

  14. Carlos says:

    @Lefty: Jarral, even Stallman says he has no idea whether there are actually any postings of the sort he claims need addressing on Planet. So what are we talking about? Got any examples?

    “Mini quotes”: http://www.kdedevelopers.org/node/4119

  15. [...] to the mailing list and on the blogs. Stallman is calm and composed while being called a “fascistic extremist“, and subjected to push polling. His critics as usual are condescending, twist his words, and [...]

  16. [...] Perhaps we will see some private correspondance revealed and some third-hand gossip in blog comments about RMS and college girls working on the GNU Project next? Perhaps someone might call RMS a “fascistic extremist“? [...]

  17. aklapper says:

    @jorge: Thanks for the Foundation website quote, but as written before, the acronym is outdated.

  18. Andy Wingo says:

    Lefty: Perhaps I was unclear, but RMS is the head of GNU as well as of FSF.

  19. the says:

    R.M.Stallman was right when he insist on that free software is keep staying free. There is no extremism in that. Does M$ (or any else) letting to anybody talking on they sites about any FSF activities ? Of course they don’t. So why GnomePlanet must letting to do so ?

    I am in fury about all this what happen !

  20. aklapper says:

    @the: I think you miss the point. Yes, free software should stay free. But that was never the point of discussion. If it was, please show me the exact quote in that thread.

    Planet GNOME is different to for example http://www.gnome.org. Planet GNOME is about personal blogs, aggregated on one webpage.

    Of course Microsoft also positively mentions free software projects in their blogs, for example in http://blogs.msdn.com/rssteam/archive/2005/12/14/503778.aspx (and there are more examples for that).
    And of course Microsoft probably won’t positively mention FSF activities, after the FSF ran quite questionable campaigns against Microsoft products – so what did you expect here?
    And actually I don’t get it why you come up with Microsoft in your example as they were never mentioned in this topic before…

  21. In the Lucas’ message does not say the complain was about Planet GNOME. How did you get there?

    (The discussion later moved there, but that is a different story).

  22. aklapper says:

    @Germán: Uh, you’re totally right. I somehow implied it based on discussions in the last weeks. Not good. :-(

  23. Lefty says:

    In fact, Lucas’ message not only fails to specify where the offending activity took place, but what any of it was in the first place.

    Mr. Stallman’s taking the “Planet GNOME ball” and running with it came completely out of left field. He ultimately admitted that he had no idea whatsoever whether there was actually any sort of a problem on the Planet which needed to be addressed. (There’s not, in my opinion.)

  24. Considering the history of GNOME’s conception, I think that posts on non-free software be tagged as such. I think that RMS’ comments are correct.

  25. Dave Neary says:

    @Jorge: Re: how is membership of GNU defined:

    The goal of the GNU project was: to give people a complete free software operating system which would give them the choice not to use any proprietary software. Any components which did not already exist as free software needed to be written. All the components which were written initially had copyright assigned to the FSF. As time went on, elements of the GNU operating system (including, say, XFree86) were re-used rather than written. By 1998/99 graphical user interfaces and a consistent complete desktop environment were necessary parts of the operating system, and to prevent the KDE desktop environment from becoming a de facto standard (undesirable because of the dependency on the (at the time) non-free project Qt, the FSF launched GNOME, which was to be explicitly the GNU desktop environment.

    So how did GNOME become a part of GNU? By design. How do other projects become part of GNU? They get chosen by RMS, typically, essentially when there are a number of competing components to choose from.

    Dave.

  26. aklapper says:

    @Dave:
    > They get chosen by RMS,

    Uhm. There is no process, a membership vote, or a defined committee at least? My picture of the FSF becomes more and more a one-man-party.

  27. Lefty says:

    “…o give people a complete free software operating system…”

    Must’ve meant “free as in beer”. Clearly, you couldn’t have been talking about “free as in speech”. =/

  28. aklapper says:

    Damn, I should have learned that FSF is not GNU after reading Andy’s post. Sorry.
    So, seems like I should realize that GNU works “by the grace of the leader”.

  29. Lefty says:

    @Carlos, the quotes you provide don’t seem to be terribly relevant. The closest are Miguel’s, both of which talk about Moonlight which is, in fact, free software, available under the LGPL v2 license. So, what’s the issue?

  30. Lefty says:

    @André, someone sent me a comment saying, “Richard has always strongly supported the free exchange of ideas. His ideas.”

  31. stoffe says:

    If you say that you actually looked the words up(??!) then you may have reading comprehension problems. Grave such.

    Here’s some help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism

    Why don’t just throw the Nazi word in there as well if you are going to abuse language to make a point (as if the rest of the summary wasn’t enough? It did actually bring home a lot of points and then you just *poof* threw it all away).

  32. Paul Johnson says:

    Stallman is right on this. It’s inexcusable to give proprietary software so much as the time of day on official GNOME websites and blogs. Let the hypocrites go create their own blog far away from the Rest Of Us.

  33. aklapper says:

    @Paul Johnson: When exactly was the last time that proprietary software was given, quote, “so much as the time of day”, and which exact “official GNOME websites” do you talk about here? I more and more get the feeling that Stallman commented on a problem that simply does not exist in reality.

  34. aklapper says:

    @stoffe: Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, I should reflect my use of some words for the future. I definitely take that criticism.
    Also thanks for being fair and reading the rest of my posting too.

  35. Paul Johnson says:

    Today, 7:36AM, Dave Neary posting about Sun bullshit.

    Friday, 10:37PM, Miguel de Icaza posting about Apple vs Nokia.

    Thursday, 8:11AM, Paul Cutler posting reviews about proprietary ebook readers and formats.

    I could keep going on, but anybody who actually reads Planet Gnome can see a rather discouraging trend.

  36. Lefty says:

    Paul, when I pressed Stallman on this, he replied that he had no idea whether there actually was any “promotion of proprietary software” on Planet GNOME. Prior to this, both Dave Neary and Brian Cameron stated that neither of them were aware of any such problem. Nor am I.

    So what exactly is he so “right” about here? And why should Planet GNOME do anything about a non-issue?

    Do the Rest of You actually read Planet GNOME? Doesn’t seem that way.

  37. aklapper says:

    @Paul Johnson: Ah, thanks, now I understand your point way better, as I was thinking more in terms of “announcing non-free products” before when you wrote your initial comment.

    So yeah, it probably boils down to the question what Planet GNOME is and what it should be – strictly GNOME related, or about what GNOME contributors are interested in in general (that’s what it currently is).
    As I wrote before, GNOME News exists for strictly GNOME projects related stuff (I’m just describing the present here, no opinion included).

  38. Paul Johnson says:

    I’m not suggesting that the GNOME planet be strictly GNOME related, I don’t think anybody here is. I don’t believe that it should be a forum to promote or discuss concepts that are inherently contra to the project’s goals and ideals. While I can’t speak for RMS, I believe this is also what he meant.

  39. aklapper says:

    @Paul Johnson: Just to get this clear: Do you think that the three examples from today that you listed here before follow under the category of being “inherently contra to the project’s goals and ideals”?

  40. Paul Johnson says:

    Yes, I consider any and all discussion of proprietary or closed products to be.

  41. The whole subject area of GNU is so massive I wouldn’t blame you for being to lazy to research some of the things! I got lost in GNOME a long time ago!

  42. amd-linux says:

    “he remains a fascistic extremist to me”

    I really really hope you have the guts to apologize for this in public. Being from Germany, I know quite well what a “fascistic extremist” is. RMS is not.

    You reached the lowest level in any FOSS discussion I have seen so far in 20 yrs. of FOSS.

    I really really hope you have the guts to apologize, wihtout any “but, but…”.

    Merry Christmas.

  43. aklapper says:

    @amd-linux: Being from Germany is quite a non-argument if you’re not at least 80 years old or think that the current German school system is superior to other systems with regard to history lessons…

    I think people can apologize for *insults*, but I did *not* write that RMS is an idiot, because that is simply not what I think. The positions he has expressed in the thread that my posting is about remain extremistic to me, and you are free to disagree with me.

    And Merry Christmas to you too! (Thanks!) :-)

  44. Chinaman says:

    Stallman has principal to protect the interest of open source. Definate he is right.

    When a newcomer like me visit planet gnome, I expect it is all about open source. Since there are already so many other websites discuss/promote proprietary software, why need another GNU project to do the same thing?

    IMO, GNOME should not be polluted by proprietary.

  45. Jarral says:

    @Lefty: Yeah, I seen your survey. It is a bitter and twisted document that does not reflect well, if at all, the events which it claims to comment upon. It is like Churchill’s “How often do you beat your wife” and leaves zero room for moderate positions.

    Possibly it is true that the majority of people agree that commercial adverts on Planet Gnome are inappropriate, but they can not say so on your questionnaire.

    (Incidentally, I am a professional questionnaire designer, and there are far more elegant ways to influence the outcome than boxing the respondent into an “agree or don’t answer” position).

  46. aklapper says:

    @Jarral: Probably better to comment here with regard to the questionnaire instead: http://opensourcetogo.blogspot.com/2009/12/rules-for-planet-gnome.html

  47. Sysadm1n says:

    There’s so much straw in that post you’d think a strawman blew up.

  48. Mark Rosenstand says:

    Perhaps Planet GNOME would be a better place after all if non-GNOME/non-FOSS posts were ditched all together? I for one would love such a feed, and I guess there are others who like to follow GNOME closely but also do not care what people ate for dinner at what time.

    Personally I tend to just “Mark all as read” for Planet GNOME after skimming the first 10 subjects, then go to Planet FreeDesktop since there tends to be much less noise and most of the quality posts from Planet GNOME are also there.

  49. koolhead17 says:

    Andre!!

    Is lefty paid from M$ or his wife/g/f works for M$?

  50. Lefty says:

    No. And no.

    Is there no other reason that one might disagree on issues like this other than that one got paid to do so by Microsoft?

    Does André get money from Microsoft? Does his girlfriend?