Skip to content
Welcome guest. | Register | Login | Add
About | Wiki | Legacy

Facts and Friction on Open Source and Free Software

When generally talking about our community and software it builds and promotes, we use various differing terms and acronyms; "Free Software", "Open Source", "Linux", "GNU/Linux", "FOSS", "FLOSS" etc. To outsiders this may seem counterproductive because it confuses people, but in such an open and diverse community ecosystem this shouldn't come as a surprise. Various people hold various perspectives and hence form various views on issues that concern them. Some sort of a polarization is almost inevitable.

In our community this polarization is between people who promote the "Open Source" label and those who promote the "Free Software" label. The difference between views of these two "camps", as we often call them, is more in the way they prioritize certain issues than anything else. Motivations for supporting either of the labels can differ, but they usually come down to that fundamental difference.

The two do not necessarily disagree about any of the goals of the community. Both usually believe that software freedom is important just as they believe that developing superior software is important. Both think that software patents are a bad thing for the software industry. Both believe DRM and TCPA are a bad thing for consumers. There is in fact so little disagreement regarding specific issues that one would wonder what the whole fuss is all about, but there is still a minor difference which matters a lot.

The disagreement is about which of these issues is more important. It is a matter of priorities. Is software freedom more important than superior software? Is it more important than a greater market share, bigger profits, personal convenience or something else? The Free Software supporters, as represented by the Free Software Foundation, would say yes, software freedom is paramount. Open Source people, as represented by the Open Source Initiative, Linus Torvalds and some business entities would, having different priorities, say that other things can usually be more important than that. Sometimes an Open Source proponent would disagree with the definition FSF promotes for freedom or just the method which FSF uses to promote it.

If you would, based on the last sentence, assume that the Open Source is often about distancing from the FSF, you would be correct. The FSF is the founder of the GNU project and the Free Software movement and has obviously been present far earlier than the Open Source label and the Open Source Initiative (OSI) have been brought up, which was only in 1998. It wouldn't be far off to conclude that Open Source was founded in response to the FSF and in order to distance those parts of the community which disagreed with it, from the FSF. And that is exactly what Linus Torvalds has said in a recent LKML post:

Linus Torvalds wrote:

The whole "Open Source" renaming was done largely _exactly_ because people
wanted to distance themselves from the FSF. The fact that the FSF and it's
followers refused to accept the name "Open Source", and continued to call
Linux "Free Software" is not _our_ fault.

Obviously, there was a significant number of people who continued to support the views of the Free Software Foundation and hence continued to use the old term "Free Software", referring to freedom, not price, when they say "Free". Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, has his own take on Open Source which basically agrees with Linus as quoted above. This is what he said recently on a 5th international GPLv3 conference.

Richard Matthew Stallman wrote:

The term "open source" was coined to avoid ever mentioning ethical issues. Specifically the ethical issues which are the centre of the Free Software movement.

Since Free Software Foundation represents the Free Software movement with these ethical issues at the center, by distancing themselves from the FSF, Open Source founders distanced themselves from these issues as well. It is not really a secret that the Open Source Initiative was founded to appeal to businesses and the mainstream under the notion that business entities do not respond well to the talks about ideological, moral and ethical issues. They believed that what corporations and the general public are instead interested in was a development model that can produce superior software. In addition, the ambiguity of the term "free" in "Free Software" supported the idea of coming up with a different label, even though this different label has its own shortcomings.

In 1999, Bruce Perens, one of the co-founders of Open Source said the following:

Bruce Perens wrote:

About a year ago, I sent out a message announcing "Open Source". Eric Raymond and I founded the Open Source Initiative as a way of introducing the non-hacker world to Free Software. Well, thanks to Eric, the world noticed.

The "non-hacker world" pretty much represents the mainstream world of businesses and the general population who, according to Open Source supporters, need to hear about the superiority of the software developed in an Open Source way more than about the ideal of freedom of computer users promoted through Free Software. They were right that the mainstream wanted to hear this considering the reputation of everything that even smells as "politics". This is a world where most prominent politicians tend to be visibly corrupt causing people to perceive politics in whole as a bad thing and extending this perception further to politicians who are not corrupt. In order to shield the Free Software movement from this perception, Open Source tried to hide the political part and show off the practical part instead.

While this may seem like a noble goal it should be noted that this obviously results in delivering only a part of the picture, not the whole. And this is what Bruce Perens recognized in 1999, only a year after helping establish Open Source. This is what he said in the same email that the previous quote was taken from, which can be read in a February 18th 1999 Slashdot entry:

Bruce Perens wrote:

And now it's time for the second stage: Now that the world is watching, it's time for us to start teaching them about Free Software. Notice, I said Free Software, _not_ Open Source.

Most hackers know that Free Software and Open Source are just two words for the same thing. Unfortunately, though, Open Source has de-emphasized the importance of the freedoms involved in Free Software. It's time for us to fix that. We must make it clear to the world that those freedoms are still important, and that software such as Linux would not be around without them.

It makes sense to assume that the part that Open Source promotes is meaningless without the part that it de-emphasizes. It is this political ideal, the freedom promoted by the Free Software Foundation, that the superior software comes from. The whole software development methodology that Open Source promotes was created by the people whose goal was freedom. It was made the way it is in order to allow for this ideal to live. It was not created with superior software in mind, but superiority still came as a side-effect. If merely this superiority is what Open Source is all about than the central tenet of the Open Source campaign is the result, not a cause, and the Free Software is a cause.

As the most vocal supporter of the Open Source view today as well as the most prominent opposition of the new GPLv3 license being developed by the FSF, Linus Torvalds is unfortunately reverting to FUD in order to promote his view. This is what he claims in the recent LKML post:

Linus Torvalds wrote:

Similarly, the fact that rms and the FSF has tried to paint Linux as a GNU
project (going as far as trying to rename it "GNU/Linux" at every
opportunity they get) is their confusion, not ours.

Unfortunately, it is Linus who is spreading confusion by this statement. It is one of those verifiable facts that what RMS (Richard Matthew Stallman) and the FSF are insisting upon is not renaming the Linux kernel to the GNU/Linux, but calling the whole operating system which is not fundamentally consisted only of the Linux kernel, but the GNU system as well, as GNU/Linux. There is a great difference between the name of a kernel and the name of a whole operating system of which the kernel is only a part of.

I said it is a verifiable fact and here is the verification. This is what Richard Stallman, the accused here, said about this particular issue:

Richard Stallman wrote:

There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is not the operating system. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine's resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in a combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU, with Linux functioning as its kernel.

Be assured that you wont find any evidence supporting the claim that RMS has called to rename the kernel from "Linux" to GNU/Linux. And the quote above confirms that RMS respects the name of the kernel as just "Linux" even though he believes that the whole system should be called GNU/Linux because the GNU system can work with various different kernels making it meaningful to recognize which of the kernels a particular GNU system is running. The most popular free operating system is the one running the Linux kernel and is hence called GNU/Linux.

If Linus Torvalds was concerned about clarity as opposed to confusion he wouldn't be making such nonfactual claims. Disagreements are something to be respected, but deliberate misinforming is not a way to promote our views. By spreading misinformation, Linus Torvalds is doing no good to the promotion of the Open Source view and certainly no good to the community as a whole.

Despite holding fundamentally incompatible views, the Open Source and the Free Software movements can coexist in cooperation on developing and promoting Free Open Source Software, but coexistence is undermined by deliberate confusing and misinforming.

What view will you support is your own decision. It might be a good idea to base it on the result of an objective scientific test applied to the outcome of both views. Linus Torvalds would support you in this quest. Eye

Linus Torvalds wrote:

That's what open source is all about. It's about _scientific_ ideals.

As for me, I would argue that in the spirit of those scientific ideals, having freedom as a prime goal as FSF does, would be the best thing to support. This is exactly what produced the "Open Source" method Linus loves so much. Smiling

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic


Digg!

Comments

Quite and interesting

Quite and interesting article. I still wonder what happens once GNU's Herd is released (stable and working that is), will there then be the 'GNU' operating system?

GNU/Hurd

 
dylunio wrote:

Quite and interesting article. I still wonder what happens once GNU's Herd is released (stable and working that is), will there then be the 'GNU' operating system?

1. It's Hurd, not Herd.
2. I'm pretty sure it will be called GNU/Hurd just to distinguish it from GNU/Linux.

Yeah, since GNU can form a

Yeah, since GNU can form a complete OS with a multitude of kernels it helps to make a naming distinction in the resulting operating systems.

Of course, if you throw GNU out of the name completely you end up using GNU on all these systems and yet giving no credit to it at all (while giving full credit to the mere kernel), and credit isn't even the most important reason for sticking with the "GNU" naming (association with GNU ideals is).

 

I think Linus said it best. Open-source is at its core just the application of the scientific method to programming: peer review, open publication, rewards to those who publish first, a strong ethos, and a commitment by those most experienced to pass on the lessons they have learned to those just starting out in the field.

Part of that ethos is to give credit where credit is due, especially to Linus Torvalds and the thousands of programmers who worked with him to create Linux, the core platform on which all open and free software is now developed.

dave

http://daveshields.wordpress.com

All of that is true Dave.

All of that is true Dave. However, what I also try to emphasize is that this method was developed by people who had software freedom as a prime goal (starting with Richard Stallman). This method was not developed with superior development model in mind, but with a social ideal of computer users freedom. The fact that the method which respects this ideal at the same time turns out to be a superior model is great, but was not the point.

In other words, it shows that by following the ideal, we can indeed end up creating some of the most practical methods possible. This goes against the common thinking that idealism and pragmatism don't go well together, that idealism can't produce better scientific methods and better products. It shows that by paying attention to social issues we are more fit to develop good working models to apply to the society. This is real science.

What Linus unfortunately proposes is farther from real science than he may think, because he deliberately chooses to ignore a certain part of the picture (branded as politics). Science is about looking at all the evidence, not just some of it.

Open Source didn't create anything new in terms of methodology. It merely uses the product created by the FSF (the methodology) while trying to distance themselves from that creator and reasons for which they created it. That has to be self defeating.

Linus has never cared about FSF

 
Quote:

Open Source didn't create anything new in terms of methodology. It merely uses the product created by the FSF (the methodology) while trying to distance themselves from that creator and reasons for which they created it. That has to be self defeating.

But Danijel, Linus never said he developed the kernel because he loved the FSF. He also never cared too much about the FSF priorities! Here is a quote from the recent Distrowatch Weekly:

Quote:

The fact that the FSF has tried to paint Linux as a GNU project (going as far as trying to rename it "GNU/Linux" at every opportunity they get) is their confusion, not ours. ... Linux from the very beginning was not about the FSF ideals, but about "Full source must be available". It also talked about "Free", but that very much was "Free as in beer, not as in freedom", and I decided to drop that later on. How much clearer can I be? I've actively tried to promote "Open Source" as an alternative to "Free Software", so the FSF only has itself to blame over the confusion.

What I wanted to say is that Linus has always believed in open-source, not free software. And the creation of OSI in 1998 was just a formal way to emphasize it. Thus, saying that Linus "owes" something to RMS is just gloryfying the latter without a good reason.

what about early UNIX?

 

You're giving RMS and Free Software credit for something they didn't do. The development methodoligy was used as standard in UNIX since the beginning. All RMS did was put a political angle on this development methodoligy. Lots of developers who did not think that closed source was a sin were alienated by RMS. The Open Source BSD devs for example.

Personally I support Open Source simply because I don't think there is anything wrong with propriority software, Microsoft style anti-competitive behavour is wrong but just selling some good quality software without source code is fine by me.

Another definition of the two movements

 

From A plea for relief from Microsoft's escalating anti-competitive tactics.

Quote:

In the last six years information technology vendors have adopted techniques and resources from two existing movements geared toward the construction of software. The newer open source movement, represented by the non-profit Open Source Initiative (OSI) corporation, emphasizes the licensing of software in a manner which encourages its collaborative development in an open environment. The older free software movement, represented by the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF), focuses on the ethical issues surrounding the licensing of software. The free software movement emphasizes freedoms which are often taken for granted outside of the field of software: the freedom to use, study how something works, improve or adapt it and redistribute.

The Free Software Foundation offers two software license schemes which are compatible with their own goals and those of the Open Source Initiative: The GNU General Public License (GPL) and the GNU Library General Public License (LGPL). Essentially, the GPL and LGPL licenses grant the recipient extra rights than that granted by copyright law. Both licenses insure that a contributer or distributer of a GPL or LGPL licensed work may not further impede downstream recipients the rights granted by the same license. Many developing software in an open source manner have realized that this benefit offered by the GPL and LGPL licenses outweigh any potential losses. The licensing also insures that no contributing or distributing vendor or group of vendors could potentially monopolize the market, insuring that real market competition dictates price. Just as the automotive industry can commonize on standards for the production of the mechanisms of seats, instrument panels and doors while providing brand and regional differentiation across a wide array of models, the information technology community can collaboratively develop works under free licenses. Both vendors and consumers benefit from the resulting development cost reductions and competition from use of the resulting commons.

The Linux operating system and many other opens source and free applications have been developed in an open source manner under free license terms. Despite free licensing and open source licensing requiring that the source code is freely available there are numerous profitable business models. Vendors can offer proprietary software for open source platforms and/or take a hybrid approach dual licensing the development of software. Vendors can select, customizing and configure free software, offering the bundled result. Vendors can offer support services. Vendors can also offer hardware which runs the freely available software. The resulting collection of hardware, software and services has been widely deployed as a server operating environment. Many vendors, from small one person operators to large multinational conglomerates, now compete to provide goods and services for the resulting platform. Linux has restored true free market competition to the server arena.

michuk wrote:But Danijel,

michuk wrote:

But Danijel, Linus never said he developed the kernel because he loved the FSF. He also never cared too much about the FSF priorities! Here is a quote from the recent Distrowatch Weekly:

I am aware of that. However that statement you are quoting is not merely a statement of different goals and priorities from those of FSF nor a statement of disagreement. It features a lie plus an attitude of disrespect. All that while using the license that FSF developed, a license which allowed the Linux kernel to be the success that it is and as part of a GNU system with which it thrived. Linus expects us to respect his point of view, why doesn't he respect FSFs? Why does he have to spread FUD against RMS and FSF every chance he gets?

michuk wrote:

What I wanted to say is that Linus has always believed in open-source, not free software. And the creation of OSI in 1998 was just a formal way to emphasize it. Thus, saying that Linus "owes" something to RMS is just gloryfying the latter without a good reason.

What exactly is open source without GPL and what is GPL without those who believed freedom is important strongly enough to write it? I think that both the Open Source Initiative and Linus do indeed owe it to FSF at the very least some respect. Linus doesn't appear to be showing much of it lately, but rather tries to misinform the public by statements which help neither Open Source nor Free Software.

anonymous wrote:

You're giving RMS and Free Software credit for something they didn't do. The development methodoligy was used as standard in UNIX since the beginning. All RMS did was put a political angle on this development methodoligy.

Actually, I'm not talking about the UNIX development method, but a method of cooperation as governed by the GPL: sharing of code, free derivates, peer review etc. These principles are something that Open Source promotes as a superior way of developing software while it was FSF who first promoted those principles and put it on paper via GPL.

In the end, I am not asking Linus or any Open Source people to suddenly change their priorities and views to something that fits the FSF. But I think we could use some perspective as to what exactly Open Source is in relation to the FSF. I think FSF deserves more credit and respect than many Open Source guys give to it. Again, there wouldn't be Open Source to talk about without FSF and there wouldn't be FSF without RMSs insistance on those software freedoms.

Political ideals started it all, produced the model and then Open Source came, stripped the political ideals and promoted the mere result; a model. Fine by me if you will, but does it have to go as far as pro-actively blackpainting the FSF?

Thanks
Danijel

A different view

 

It is often said that Open Source is just a methodology but I don't think this is not justified. Just have a look at the Open Source definition. Two of its goals are

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

Now, are these moral principles or not? I'd say: Yes, they are! With this in mind, let's have a look at the following statement from the article:

Since Free Software Foundation represents the Free Software movement with these ethical issues at the center, by distancing themselves from the FSF, Open Source founders distanced themselves from these issues as well.

Did they? Or did they need to distance themselves because Richard Stallman and the FSF failed at understanding moral principles?

I understand this is a somewhat controversial idea since words like "freedom" and "ethics" are used so much by Richard Stallman and the GNU project. But who ever checked whether his claims are justified? Let's have a look at a simple example. The GNU definition of free software says:


The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

This sounds correct, doesn't it? However, if you're really looking hard, these two issues are completely unrelated to each other -- they are independent:

  1. Your computer may be full of free software but you can still act like a complete asshole and refused to help your neighbor. For example, you may have seen guys wearing a T-Shirt saying "No, I won't fix your computer!"
  2. Your computer may be full of proprietary software but you can still be a nice guy and donate a few hundred dollars to your neighbor so he can buy himself the software he needs.

In other words: The moral principle is "Help your neighbor when you can!" But its moral value does not transfer to some other actions automatically, just because one can glue two sentences into one by using the words "so you can".

Having the right to redistribute copies only makes helping your neighbor cheaper. It's not a feature that justifies to call free software or its usage moral.

As a result, proprietary software is not immoral or evil.

Sure, some vendors of proprietary software act immoral. Again, free software won't change that. Amazon, for example, uses Linux and the GNU tools since 2001 -- it reduced their technical costs by about 25% I've read. But did they refused to register strange software patents and stop suing people for implementing a similar idea? No, they didn't. This proves: Even users of free software can act evil. On the other hand, producers and users of proprietary software can act moral.

A very similar error is done when using the word "freedom" -- yes, proprietary software requires you to accept some restrictions. However, that's nothing unusual. You're not free to steal other people's stuff, either. Even if that would make you able to help your neighbor! Also, if you buy something, you also accept some restrictions: As soon as you've spend your money, you can't spend it on something else. This is a restriction, too.

Back on the Open Source definition, we should ask why its authors considered a statement of non-discrimination necessary? After all, to not discriminate people is such a basic moral principle that everybody should act according to it! Right?

Well, no. Unfortunately. Richard Stallman and the GNU project obviously forgot about the principle to not discriminate people. Starting from false assumptions (such as "free software is moral because it makes it cheaper to act moral"), they came to the false conclusion that proprietary software -- and thus everybody making or using it -- is immoral. Then, they used the false conclusion to justify discrimination against a certain group of people.

You may ask: How do they discriminate? First, they call a group of people immoral without having valid arguments, sometimes they even called them liars. Second, they designed the GPL to exclude users and producers of proprietary software by making it impossible to dynamically link against GPL code, creating chilling effects and acting immoral against other developers. Note dynamically linking constitutes no derived product according to the US copyright laws. Third, they try to talk people into using the GPL for libraries and applications that may be turned into libraries later.

If you have some background on history, you'll see this two step procedures is often used: First, discriminate a group of people as "inferior" or "bad". Second, refusing them the rights people on the 'right' side of the fense have and then doing them harm in the name of acting 'good'. See, for example, "Witches are controlled by Satan thus witches should be burned for their own good." or "Black people are not as smart as white people, thus black people should be slaves for their own good." Of course, these are extreme examples of the procedure.

This is also a matter of priorities: Defending software "freedom" for users does not justfy discrimination; especially since these so-called "freedoms" are not fundamental, anyway. They are features of the license that most users don't need, anyway.

I would thus argue that -- in the spirit of scientific ideals -- it's better to support the Open Source movement.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.