Giants fight

3:59 pm General

Reading the Miguel’s answer to RMS, I could not stop thinking Richard had a good point.

The last thing that convinced me was that footnote: “the “open source” vs “free software” non-issue”.

It is amazing that after all those years people still do not see the difference between ethics and technology. Or – even worse perhaps – consider that difference as “non-issue”. Richard explained that difference in many many ways – still noone listens. People oh people, where are your ears?

It is not a problem for the corporate world to fight open source. Actually, as a matter of fact, there is no immediate need to fight – these phenomena can collaborate[1]. No doubt. That’s how CodePlexish things appear (though, of course, let’s wait for the fruits before judging). Open source can be embraced by companies, as long as holes (big and small, as in BSD and GPL2) in open source licenses support ethically questionable business models.

I think that’s what RMS means when he say bad things about Miguel and Linus. The guys concentrate on the technical aspects, processual aspects of the open source idea. Listening to them, I got impression that keeping the source open is a formal requirement that guarantees that certain methods of development and maintenance would work – that’s it. I wonder, do Miguel and Linus always remember that open source is just a logical consequence of the higher level ethical requirements (and these requirements have some other consequences – like not supporting unfair business models)? If yes, RMS owes the lads apologies perhaps. If no, RMS is right, at least from the POV of the free software values.

[1] In terms of fighting… Open source development model is not a silver bullet, you we all can see proprietary products technically superior to the open source ones, and vice versa. Open source cannot decisevly win technical battle on all grounds – so, it will never be an unavoidable threat to the world of proprietary technologies.

21 Responses

  1. daniels Says:

    Hmm, I don’t really think that criticism is fair. Indeed they may concentrate on the technical aspects rather than the ethical fight of capital-F-Free Software, but isn’t that their choice?

    IOW, if I believe strongly in open source, participate in it and enjoy it, am I to be ostracised and vilified if I don’t actively fight for the goals of libre/Free software? If so, I think that’s deeply, deeply unfair.

    (Much the same way as I’m sympathetic to vegetarians and vegans and respect them and their choices, but all sympathy and respect vanishes once I get an ethics lecture for daring to eat cheese. Peoples’ choices are their own.)

  2. Adam Tauno Williams Says:

    “I think that’s what RMS means when he say bad things about Miguel and Linus”

    In short: whatever. RMS has lots of experience with public speaking. If that is what he “means when he” then that is what he should say when he means….

    Open source can be embraced by companies, as long as holes (big and small, as in BSD and GPL2) in open source licenses support ethically questionable business models.

    So Open Source cannot be embraced by companies if the licenses don’t allow questionable business models? All business models are apparently questionable [which is clearly implied here].

  3. phil Says:

    Thank you for the defense of RMS, I think the views on Planet Gnome have been unreasonably partisan in attacking him and defending Miguel. I believe what is being debated here is a question of intellectual honesty – RMS makes plainly obvious his politics, a defense of capital F Free software, and Miguel is acting with duplicity. Miguel is obviously interested in defending software that he has invested incredible time and effort in, but that does not mean that OOXML, .net and Silverlight have a place in capital F Free software ecosystems; they most certainly do not. They are proprietary formats that a private entity (Microsoft) only developed for profit. Free software is a design philosophy that is diametrically opposed to this development model – i thought we Free software people believed so anyway. I’m afraid I will have to side with RMS on this one, Miguel is certainly welcome to support his allies or the allies of his employer (Novell) but he speaks for them, not the Free software movement.

  4. Ramsees Says:

    There is nothing unethic with propieray software, the choise is always from the consumer to use it or not.

    Is up to them if they want to trade freedom for productivity.

  5. Nathan Nutter Says:

    I agree with daniels!

    Where are YOUR ears?

  6. Barra Says:

    Miguel and linus (and other like that) make the success of opensource, RMS actually remember me a priest of mountain village, closed in little world and very distant to linux user and especially to possible-linux-user who need usability.

    when was last time who RMS sat at the same table to listen opinion of big closed source company?

  7. Barra Says:


    sorry 4 my english but wine don’t helps 😀

  8. me Says:


  9. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    daniels, I understand your point, everyone has right of choice, but there are 2 things that IMHO important in that conflict:

    1. People often confuse open source and free software. And RMS wants to keep the distance, while Miguel distorts it by “not an issue” claims. I really decided to make that post when I read “not an issue” – I was totally amused!

    2. This confusion allows some companies, interested in OS but not FS to “mask” the latter as “uncomfortable”. It is very convenient to tell that these things are “basically same” (and actually use only OS part). RMS has to shout aloud in order to remind that FS is not the same thing, that it has higher purpose.

  10. Sergey Udaltsov Says:


    > So Open Source cannot be embraced by companies if the licenses don’t allow questionable business models?
    Sorry, I put it wrong. I meant “some companies”. The ones that practice unfair models.

  11. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    > when was last time who RMS sat at the same table to listen opinion of big closed source company?
    Does he need that? On what subject? 😉 I do not know, really… As far as I can see, all information he needs he gets from the publicly available sources, sooner or later… And with all fairness, I do not see the problems that could be resolved by RMS and big closed sources sitting at the same table. Please correct me if I am wrong

  12. Martin Langsjoen Says:

    RMS do ask for input when it is needed.

    GPLv3 is a example of a process where they needed input from the corporate users and contributors.

    Here are two lists of corporate contributors to the GPLv3 process:

  13. nate Says:

    Hmm, I don’t really think that criticism is fair. Indeed they may concentrate on the technical aspects rather than the ethical fight of capital-F-Free Software, but isn’t that their choice?

    Of course it’s their choice, just like anything else.

    And, of course, there is nothing wrong with having a opinion or commenting on other people’s choice.

    Over and over again Linus stated that he beleives in OSS because he beleives that it is the best development model for what he wants to accomplish, ethics does not enter into it at that point. This is just a fact.

    Having the ability and the right to make a choice does NOT mean that all choices are right ones.


    If you people want to have a useful discussion about ethics and values you are going to have to your moral relativism high-horse here were every choice is equal.

    If your stance is that ethics and morals have no place in software development and your professional life then say so. That profit and convienence is superior to any sort of ethics that can possibly be presented here.

    If your stance is that free software has no societal value above restrictive software then say so.

    Just come out and say what you want to say instead of trying to do lightly-veiled character assisnations of anybody that dissagrees with your position.

    This is the most irritating things about internet disccusions that somehow trying to look as ‘reasonable’ as possible while underhandly attacking a person on a personal level somehow lends itself to the superiority of your arguement.

    RMS and other people have a strong opinion. His view is very miopic and he cares passionately about his convictions. And when he feels that somebody is doing something wrong or is misleading people then he will call him out for it.

    These things are _NOT_ faults. They do not render his convictions mute nor do they undermind the position that Free software is ethically superior in any way. His personality traits are, frankly, very irrelevent. I wish people stop bringing that subject up like it does have a purpose.

    Now if you were thinking to hand over software copyrights to him or his orginization, or adopt his licensing with the ‘or later’ clause; then that matters. The guy in the past has proven that he can be sneaky and a bit dishonest about things if they can help his cause… nothing in a really big way that I can see.


    Personally I use Linux because it’s free software.

    I am a freedom loving person. I was that way before I ever started using computers and I will beleive that long after any trace of Linux or whatever is long gone, if it ever becomes irrelevent.

    I think that OSS is a better development model, also.

    Freedom is a end, not just a means. That is the goal. It’s not a process, it is not a means to a better future… Freedom IS the goal. That is the holy grail in itself.

    Thusly whether or not Free software is superior or inferior to closed source software on a practical level is, again, irrelevent. If I can’t use free software for some reason then that is just a nessicary evil I have to put up with.. I put up with a lot of negative things in my life and proprietary software is not a significant evil compared to many… but when I can I favor freedom.

    Beyond my own personal life I think that Free software (and OSS) is a essential thing for people.


    Because freedom is a end goal. So the more the better.

    Beyond that freedom is still a means.

    With the internet we have a massive democraziation of information and communication.

    Prior to that we depended on orginizations and governments to carry messages and provide knowledge to us. Now with the internet we have the ability to communication and spread information on a _individual_ level. This is something _I_ am sending to _you_. This was impossible a few years ago.

    Nowadays a poor child in Northern India has information, education, and communication possibilities avialable to them that previously only the richest people living in the richest portions of the richest countries.

    Look up anything about being a doctor, nutrition, manufacturing, desease control, etc etc. Everything is avialable. Knowledge is now free.

    This is a monumental change in human evolution.

    This is the most important thing to happen to people since the creation of the printing press.


    And there are a few tools you need. You need:


    and you need:

    Operating System

    and you need:

    Connection to the internet.

    The hardware is fairly passive. Internet connection is a local thing.. but the OS is critical especially.

    There are massive governmental powers in this world that wants to keep people controlled. You can’t control educated people.

    So by controlling the OS you control the individual. OSS and Free software is critical to maintaining free access to information and it is critical to expanding and improving access and ability of people to consume and process this information.

    Think about it.

  14. daniels Says:

    If your stance is that ethics and morals have no place in software development and your professional life then say so. That profit and convienence is superior to any sort of ethics that can possibly be presented here.

    No, that’s not my stance at all, but thanks for the smarmy putdown. I don’t stay up coding until 3am because it’s the most ethically pure thing I could possibly be doing: that it’s not my sole and primary motivator does not mean that everything I do in my life is fundamentally unethical.

    Anyhow, I guess you’ve demonstrated through your presumed eating of not only animal products but meat in general, that you feel ethics have absolutely no place in any part of your life whatsoever.

    See? This line of argument gets very stupid very quickly.

  15. Sean Says:

    It’s terminology. Most people who are talking about Open Source ARE talking about Free Software.

    The problem is that the term “Free Software” is idiotic from the very beginning, because any regular English-speaking user is going to _immediately_ interpret it as something other than what it means.

    Open Source is obvious in initial intent. Someone seeing “Open Source” for the first time is not going to confuse it with other terms. If they can’t figure out what it means, they at least are not lead to believe that it means something else.

    A lot of people who believe in Free Software use the term Open Source only because it gets very, very, very tiring to have to constantly reiterate over and over “Free Software (oh, I don’t mean Free as in free, I mean Free as in free, you know, the other free, not the one you naturally thought of first, and Free Software is totally different than free software which is another phonetically and literally identical term that means something else because 30 years ago some idiot decided that word games and puns were more interesting than picking names that clearly identify and drive his goals.”

    RMS is a horribly bad marketeer, and he has a very difficult time selling his ideas to regular people because his ideas are wrapped in unpalatable words. The Free Software Foundation needs to change its name. GNU needs to change its name. Instead of GNU — which is an ugly word and is nothing but a bad joke that not even most computer scientists laugh at — pick a name that people like the sound of. That is why everyone says “Linux” instead of “GNU/Linux” — it’s short, it needs neat, and you don’t have to understand goofy nerd humor to appreciate it. Open Source is more widely used because it isn’t ambiguous as hell like Free Software.

    The argument over terminology is meaningless because it’s an argument over words!

    If RMS wants to argue his ideology vs that of the Open Source Initiative, fine. The stupidest way to do that, however, is to tell people to use an ambiguous term that requires 3 paragraphs of explanation just to make sure it isn’t misinterpreted by everyone who encounters it for the first time.

    I refuse to advertise anything as Free Software — even if it’s under the GPL. There are plenty of people who also use the term Open Source to describe GPLd software either because they think the terminology is dumb or just because they don’t know any better… which is because the terminology is dumb.

    RMS stopped arguing about ethics a long time ago. All he argues about any more, it seems, it whether or not his poor terminology should be used to retard the marketability of the Free ecosystem further, or whether or not his made-up facts (OS X, CodePlex, etc.) are true.

  16. Jeffrey Stedfast Says:

    So Open Source is unethical and proprietary software are unethical, but it is ethical for Richard Stallman to badmouth people and to fearmonger? Really?

    If you knew Miguel, you’d know that he aims for a Free Software world. But he knows that in order to get there, you can’t burn bridges and alienate people who aren’t yet sold on the idea.

    Richard Stallman’s approach to spreading his religion is badmouthing people and corporations for not doing things his way.

    On the contrary, Miguel’s approach is to explain to them the benefits, help them convert, etc. He lends an understanding ear and tries to help them overcome obstacles preventing them from embracing Free Software.

    Yes, this means that Miguel’s way is a multi-step process rather than Richard’s demand for a single-step conversion, but who’s way works better?

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which approach is more likely to win friends and influence people.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the people attacking Miguel realize that Miguel’s approach is the far better one and feel threatened for one reason or another. For some people, it is plainly obvious that they don’t /want/ Linux to become popular because they enjoy feeling like they are elite. For other people, they are upset with Miguel for having more influence than their “savior” and don’t like their hero worship to be challenged.

  17. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    OpenSource is not ethical or unethical. It takes one aspect of the Free Software idea, drops the rest and actually ignores the ethics as such. That’s what causes RMS to “badmouth” people who forget about the ethics of FS (well, may be not actually forget – at least act as if they’ve forgotten).
    I do not know Miguel personally. I just read his statement about “not an issue”. It obviously conflicts with your statement “he aims for a Free Software world”. How would you resolve that conflict?

  18. Torben Says:

    I feel at the end it is all about freedom. If you believe freedom means that you can do anything you want until it is not prohibited by law (or license here), you probably cannot understand moralists (read: philosophers) like RMS.

    Sad enough this misunderstanding of freedom is wide spread, there is no such freedom at all. Any act or behavior has to follow the morale law, this is the only way free human beeings can live together and respect each other as human beeings with equal rights vice versa. Remember, Liberty, equality, fraternity!

    My english is a bit lousy, so let me point you to Immanuel Kant on Wikipedia to get things clear:

    “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

    Miguel and Linus may ignore that, RMS may ignore they are talking cross purposes. I think RMS should not try to convince one-track specialist, especially under other technicians it makes him look poor and he will earn mockery, while the other side will come up with “I am not afraid of people writing code” campaigns, which may be a bit short-sighted and sarcastic.

    Thanks for the article, good point!

  19. Sergey Udaltsov Says:


    Your logic is flawed;)
    My eating is definitely affected by the ethics. I will not eat another human (even if it might be tasty). But my ethics allows me to eat other animals, no problem. And I am not afraid to articulate that (I am very brave, am I not?;)

    That’s what nata’s talking about. If you (well, not you – Miguel or Linus) do not care about Free Software ethics – say that aloud. But do not mix FS and OS, do not say “not an issue”. Because that’s a lie.

  20. martin Says:

    Microsoft’s market share is being squeezed by free / open replacements not just in Firefox vs MSIE but now also for Windows Mobile vs Maemo/Android/Moblin.

    When their cash flow is squeezed they will respond forcefully. Their efforts to cripple free / open solutions will only intensify as we go along. Even if they are not outright sueing FLOSS vendors over patent infringement right now they WILL be doing that soon enough.

    The more money / market share Microsoft looses, the more violent their attacks will be.

    It’s best to prepare for these attacks. A _solid_ maginot line is needed. Strategic alliances needs to be strengthened (i.e. corporations that are already Linux stakeholders needs to pool patents against the oppressors).

  21. Koss Says:

    If all of you love open source, you can see that the words of RMS didn’t help to improve the number of free (as in speech) OS’s installed. All of us we complain when we can’t see a web with silverlight, or a video encoded in propietary format. People as Linus and Miguel has helped a lot of more to expand free software than RMS. Without Linus And Miguel, we would still have a GNU Hurd only usable to 0,02% of technical users.

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