Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “July, 2007”

Show us the Code bullied into silence

A few months ago there was a great online petition going on from people inviting Microsoft to sue them for alleged patent infringements. It was exactly the kind of thing you might expect from the blogosphere and perfectly suited for the digital world that is the communicationsbackbone of Linux and open source development.

Yesterday appeared a sad and shocking post on the Show us the Code blog. The man behind the initiative explains that he was bullied by his company to shut up or pack up.

They were professional and courteous and reassured they would not attempt to violate my freedom of speech. But the underlying message was clear even if it was never stated explicitly and I was not in a position to start bucking my place of employment over a political cause.

DigDuality is still quite gentle in his positioning.

My company didn’t “silence” me, i made the choice to shut up to not ruffle feathers at my place of employment.

He left the company, but also decided fold the cards on the petition and the campaign.

I want to express my appreciation for the initiative which was a call to arms at the right time. I also understand why the cards were folded after such bullying. And bullying it was. When you threaten one of your employees for something that is private and personal…… I have no decent words for it.

His managers and in fact the CIO of the company I was employed at had it brought to their attention that I had an “anti-microsoft” site. It was also brought to my attention the Fortune 1000 company I worked for was a direct partner with Microsoft. My manager was made to be under the impression that I was representing this company in my efforts to call a bluff on threatened litigation and that I, as an employee, did not have the right to use my place of employment as an endorsement of this cause.

This is a sad day.

I do endlessly thank everyone for their support and I do apologize I didn’t have this better thought out to function in a way that could keep going without me alone. But I guess the real world experience of me against multinationals taught me a thing or to about having an opinion.

Thank you DigDuality for sticking out your neck. Your opinion was and is sound and I have no doubt it will be carried along.

I happen to appreciate GPL v3

After a long discussion the new GNU General Public License was released. It would be safe to say that version 3 has met far more discussion than version 2. The Jem Report even claims that GPL 3 could be the end of GNU.

I’ve no doubt that this is the beginning of the end for GNU, and it will prove the strength of the larger free software world. The Free Software Foundation has dumped a load of restrictions on us with GPLv3 and told us that restrictions lead to freedom and that it is good for us. That’s a little too Bush administration-like for me. In fact I fully expect someone, somewhere, to claim that I “hate freedom” for speaking out about this abysmal license — that would make the irony complete. That a license as restrictive as the GPLv3 should be mostly written by and wholeheartedly supported by someone who speaks out against the Patriot Act puts it a step beyond irony, and into hypocrisy. Further mimicking Bush political rhetoric, Stallman even claimed recently that restrictive software licenses are evil. So does that make him an “evil doer” for promoting a license that attempts to restrict hardware, software, software licensing, and patent licensing choices that should remain in the hands of software developers, or does that make people who are against it “evil doers” and “freedom haters” for not supporting it? If we aren’t with you, Richard, are we against you?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols predicts an even worse fate for the GPL v3: to be ignored by most.

They need to work more on representing the needs of the majority of open source developers, not in following their own agenda and launching noisy pointless attacks on the iPhone.

This last statement kind of got my attention and I simply disagree with it. Why would the Free Software Foundation represent the needs of the open source developers? Maybe I am wrong but didn’t GPL v2 pre-date the release of the Linux kernel and lot’s and lot’s of free and open source software? Isn’t the GPL v2 not credited for setting down a vision of software development along the four freedoms?

When open source developers did and do not agree with the GPL v2 (or v3) they either designed or used other open source licenses. There are many different licenses from the very free MIT and BSD licenses to more limiting licenses, which could still be called open sources. Yet none of those licenses made a similar impact like that of the GPL. GPL never accomodated to the needs of the open source developers, it created the environment in which open source development could thrive.

GPL v2 is sixteen years old and it’s vision has held up for all that time. In fact, the core principles have not changed. The Free Software Foundation felt it necessary to update the license to adress modern developments that -according to the FSF- threaten the fabric of the developement of free software.

One of those developments is called “tivoization

One major danger that GPLv3 will block is tivoization. Tivoization means computers (called “appliances”) contain GPL-covered software that you can’t change, because the appliance shuts down if it detects modified software.

In my own terms, GPL v3 wants to prohibit you from using free software,  modify it, say you can use it anyway you like, but then locking it in a big vault without the keys. You can do anything you want with the software, but taking the keys is illegal.

Richard Stallman is not convinced by the argument that in a properly working market the amount of competition should be enough to offer the user the necessary choices and prevent the vaults from becoming too big.

Freedom means you control what your software does, not merely that you can beg or threaten someone else who decides for you.

The FSF wants the consumer, the user to control the software, not the market place. And I happen to agree with that. The market place has never been and will never be working in the way economic theory describes it. There are always factors that prohibit free competition like import/export legislations, trade barriers, monopolies and “confuse-opolies” etc. etc.

The GPL v3 also wants to deal with the patent threats and Richard Stallman is honest about his intentions:

The explicit patent license in GPLv3 does not go as far as we might have liked. Ideally, we would make everyone who redistributes GPL-covered code surrender all software patents, along with everyone who does not redistribute GPL-covered code. Software patents are a vicious and absurd system that puts all software developers in danger of being sued by companies they have never heard of, as well as by all the megacorporations in the field. Large programs typically combine thousands of ideas, so it is no surprise if they implement ideas covered by hundreds of patents. Megacorporations collect thousands of patents, and use those patents to bully smaller developers. Patents already obstruct free software development.

The only way to make software development safe is to abolish software patents, and we aim to achieve this some day. But we cannot do this through a software license. Any program, free or not, can be killed by a software patent in the hands of an unrelated party, and the program’s license cannot prevent that. Only court decisions or changes in patent law can make software development safe from patents. If we tried to do this with GPLv3, it would fail. (emphasis is mine)

Of course, the Free Software Foundation would like to have as many programs as possible to migrate to GPL v3, but won’t enforce it on anyone. GPL v2 still remains valid. All the other licenses remain valid and can be used side by side.

Fortunately, license incompatibility only matters when you want to link, merge or combine code from two different programs into a single program. There is no problem in having GPLv3-covered and GPLv2-covered programs side by side in an operating system. For instance, the TeX license and the Apache license are incompatible with GPLv2, but that doesn’t stop us from running TeX and Apache in the same system with Linux, Bash and GCC. This is because they are all separate programs. Likewise, if Bash and GCC move to GPLv3, while Linux remains under GPLv2, there is no conflict.

For the layman reader: Linux isn’t a monolithic system, it is a wide collection of larger and smaller pieces of software. All those pieces come with their own license and can happily co-exist on your box. It becomes a problem when you are a developers that wants to merge or link two different programs into a new program.

Back to this quote from the Jem Report:

So does that make him an “evil doer” for promoting a license that attempts to restrict hardware, software, software licensing, and patent licensing choices that should remain in the hands of software developers, or does that make people who are against it “evil doers” and “freedom haters” for not

supporting it?

What restriction is there? The vision to create a free software world is by definition restrictive to all attempts that block the realization of that vision. I was attracted to Linux about five years ago not because of it’s technological superiority, but because of the ideological underpinnings of the GPL v2.

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

  • – The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • – The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • –  The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • –The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

In a world that I feel is sorely lacking true visionaries when it comes to fighting injustice and inequality, I find it refreshing that Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation continue on their own course and promote software freedom in any way they can. Yes, the GPL v3 blocks the freedom to lock yourself up or lock yourself out, but that restriction I gladly accept in exchange for the other freedoms that I get in return.

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