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Richard Stallman on "World Domination 201"

The "World Domination 201" writing made an impact on some parts of the Free Software community, including myself as I found myself in agreement. However, as I believe in Free Software and hence tend to prioritize the issue of freedom I was interested in hearing what Richard Stallman, the head of the FSF, has to say about it. So I fired up the following email. Please excuse the length, I was eager to explain what WD201 means and how I understand it.

libervisco wrote:

Greetings Richard

I am Danijel Orsolic of Libervis.com (http://www.libervis.com), a commercially supported website dedicated to the promotion of digital freedoms. I have spoken to you long time ago (around the end of 2004 I believe) via email and also when you visited Croatia in March last year when I participated in an interview you gave.

I love what you are doing and find freedom an increasingly important issue. It is disgusting to see how far the mindset behind proprietary software can go (DRM, Windows Vista, case in point). I am afraid of the dystopian future where creativity and cooperation on the internet cannot flourish like it does today.

Because of these fears and seeing how DRM and this anti-freedom front is advancing it seems to me that we should be progressing with our cause much faster than we are. We should be able to influence a greater number of people than we are and free a much more massive number of systems and their users than we are today. In short, we need to gain the power to shift the world towards a better path ourselves. We need influence.

And the only way it seems we can climb to this sort of a position is for our Free Software to be used by the majority of the world, although at least half would do as well. It needs to be used by an amount of people so big that it would effectively have the economic power to disasseminate all the remaining anti-freedom movements.

This is what Eric Raymond and Rob Landley called "World Domination". They have written a paper which is basically a layed out plan for World Domination by GNU/Linux. Here is it: http://catb.org/~esr/writings/world-domination/world-domination-201.html

While I usually disagree (and continue to disagree philosophically) with ESR and Open Source in general, this paper strikes me as something even a Free Software supporter who cares about freedom universally, not just for themselves, should consider. The point of this "world domination" is not world domination itself. The goal is not an end to itself. The goal is to gain enough power to influence the world and effectively free the world of proprietary software.

Case in point, ATI and Nvidia don't seem all that willing to release Free drivers and specifications unless not doing so really starts hurting their wallets. If they persist with this long enough (and Noveau and R200/R300 projects don't manage to produce free drivers for the latest cards they keep releasing) we'd be stuck with people using non-free drivers on GNU/Linux for a long time or, if we abandon those drivers (like gNewSense or BLAG GNU/Linux for example) end up never supporting latest ATI and Nvidia cards hence making it much more difficult for GNU/Linux to rise to a necessary dominant position.

This is why the paper essentially advises a compromise, a *temporary* one. Distributions like Ubuntu would then put in proprietary components where Free Software replacements do not yet exist in order to produce a system that is competitive enough to beat Windows and Mac OS X on the switch to 64bit computing and essentially assume a dominant position on the market.

Then, once we are in this position, Free Software organizations would have much greater power of influence and economic power which can be leveraged to make corporations like AMD and Nvidia to release free drivers, for existing proprietary file formats to be freed and many of the existing proprietary software to become free. In essence, our rise to dominant position would present a major and deliberately executed shift towards a world free of proprietary software and of course DRM.

I found myself in agreement with the conclusions of the paper as long as we don't lose sight of the goal, which is essentially domination of freedom and as long as we don't forget that compromises made to reach this dominant position are just *temporary* solutions which have to be replaced with Free Software immediately once this is possible.

So my question is simply what do you think about this approach? What would you say about the "World Domination 201" paper? Do you agree that Free Software needs to dominate soon if we hope to spread freedom to a large enough number of people to matter for undoing the path towards a dystopian future?

I am extremely interested in your opinions on this because I haven't seen, heard or read you commenting it yet so far. Also I would like to ask for permission to publish your response on Libervis.com for others to see and discuss as well.

Thank you very much for your time.

Best regards
Danijel Orsolic

This is how Richard Stallman replied, quoting a couple of sentences from my email:

Richard M. Stallman wrote:


libervisco wrote:

This is what Eric Raymond and Rob Landley called "World Domination". They have written a paper which is basically a layed out plan for World Domination by GNU/Linux. Here is it: http://catb.org/~esr/writings/world-domination/world-domination-201.html

I could send mail to fetch a copy.

libervisco wrote:

This is why the paper essentially advises a compromise, a *temporary* one.

I guess I don't need to fetch a copy.

I cannot agree to that compromise, and my experience teaches me that
it won't be temporary. I have never seen a case of a distro that has
intentionally included non-free software and later removed it.

My next email argued with the last point:

libervisco wrote:

Maybe no-one yet included non-free software as part of a long term plan to win users gaining enough power to later be able to replace this non-free software with Free Software.

What if FSF, or maybe some other entity representing the Free Software community would sign a contract with a certain GNU/Linux distro provider which would let that distro provider temporarily include non-free software, but only if they work on replacing this non-free software with Free Software and do it within a time of two years (for example). And if they fail to do this in two years the contract would require them to remove non-free software anyway and replace it with whatever they can come up with in the meantime.

So in a way, a contract would legally bind a distributor to making this compromise a temporary rather than a permanent one.

Just even if a compromise never happened to be a temporary one doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be done in the future, that a group of Free Software (not open source) supporters wouldn't make a compromise as part of a strategy of reaching a long term goal of prevalence of Free Software.

Thank you
Danijel

And RMS replied:

Richard M. Stallman wrote:

If some distro maker wants to do this, he can make a public commitment
such that failure to follow through would be embarrassing. Making it
a contract with the FSF would not really help. We would be in a
contradictory position if we endorsed the initial inclusion of the
non-free software.

What our community needs most is more spine in rejection of non-free
software. It has far too much willingness to compromise. So the FSF
will continue working to strengthen the commuity's firmness.

From this it seems to me that Stallman sees the possibility of someone making a contract that would bind a vendor to keep with the "temporary" part of a compromise as part of the WD201 strategy. However, he nor FSF will have any part in any strategies involving a compromise.

In my last email I simply acknowledged what he said and asked for a permission, and he replied specifically asking to also add the following for publishing:

Richard M. Stallman wrote:

To "argue" in favor of adding non-free software in GNU/Linux distros
is almost superfluous, since that's what nearly all of them have
already done. This reflects the general spinelessness of our
community. Most of its members have never heard the philosophy of
freedom and community which motivated the GNU Project to build the
community, and most care more about convenience than freedom.

As a result, we are in danger of heading for a big "success" in which
a non-free operating system that includes parts of GNU and Linux is as
popular as Microsoft Windows, and ethically no better.

People such as Raymond and Torvalds, who reject freedom as a goal,
might rejoice in that "success"--but as regards freedom, it would be a
failure. So count me out. I will keep on campaigning for freedom.

It is safe to conclude that RMS is not in favor of the conclusions set in the WD201 because he doesn't believe in a "temporary compromise". It is now up to us, and the community at large to decide for themselves.

Thanks
Danijel Orsolic


Digg!

Comments

Correct me if I'm wrong, but

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't GNU initially developed on proprietary UNIX, replacing it one part at a time? (of course multiple parts were in simultaneous development, but you know what I mean)

I think the video drivers are a very bad example of what compromises could be needed for. Vesa graphics may not be pretty, but at least they (kind of) work, so we don't really REALLY need drivers for each and every video card.

The real problem are non-free (and possibly patented) file formats. I think many people wouldn't use an OS if it meant they couldn't legally view the files their friends, family and colleagues sent them. If a (mostly) free OS has to become popular with the general public, it should include support for mp3, windows media and all that other **** by default. It should only read those formats and not write them, meaning every file that is edited is freed.

Of course we could also stay in our small free crowd and simply refuse to receive files in proprietary formats. I'm afraid that in the end that will mean we will be forced to have a completely proprietary system next to our free one, because sometimes we DO need to communicate with the rest of the world. Both banking and tax software often is only available for windows and mac, because GNU/Linux is "not popular enough to support"... how long will it be before we can't do banking and taxes on paper anymore? My guess is a decade at most.

Well, maybe I should have

Well, maybe I should have mentioned file formats instead of graphics card. I focused more on specific companies (ATI, Nvidia) and their (un)willingness to free their drivers and how could we affect that by becoming big. But I don't think that changing my example would result in a different answer from Stallman.

I think that his stance is that as someone who has been uncompromisingly leading the movement even if he ever thought that a compromising strategy *might* result in more freedom in the world, he wouldn't be the one playing the role of a compromiser. This is the sort of thing I tend to say about distros like gNewSense. They can't jump on the bandwagon in order to stay behind and serve us to reflect where have we compromised once we are able to undo those compromises.

I don't expect FSF nor Stallman to work with Canonical, Linspire nor ESR in their whole strategy. That's just the role they play and have to play. And that is good.

Did you notice the first couple of sentences in RMS's second reply? This in particular:

RMS wrote:

If some distro maker wants to do this, he can make a public commitment
such that failure to follow through would be embarrassing.

I might be wrong, but this shows me that Stallman doesn't outright reject the idea as terribly evil. He just can't be the one to give his "blessing" to it and has doubts about the possibility of a compromise being temporary. To be honest, I have some reservations there as well.

I think he's saying what he has to say. It's now really up to us to judge how best to act. If we compromise and it turns out that in a decade we have a 100% Free OS used by the majority of the world, I am sure RMS will be glad, no matter how we got there. BUT, he would have contributed to this last stage of the plan: *undoing* a compromise.

We all play a role in this "grand scheme". FSF's got to play their own. Smiling

I do Agree with RMS.

 

I think RMS is right, and yes GNU was started upon non-free Unix but that was then and now is "now" cause now we do have a platform to build from...
I support Free Software 100% and I think RMS is right on this, the more you compromise the less the people that is passive and reject freedom will do anything to make free software to substitute the non-free ones..

take a look a www.gnewsense.org
very good project.

Rather interesting, rms goes

Rather interesting, rms goes with "the end doesn't justify the means" agrument which is fair enough, though it's different to my oposition to WD201 where I wasn't convinced of the ungency that required non-free stuff.

I'm not sure what Mplayer etc do to alow us to play .mp3's etc. but it's not licenced, it seems to be under the GPL and it works, so I don't see a problem with using these (reverse-engineered?) solutions (though I understand there is a problem with this and the DMCA in the States).

That's why mplayer is not

That's why mplayer is not usually shipped with popular distros. In Ubuntu the repository in which it resides isn't even enabled by default (multiverse) even though mplayer is Free Software.

The issue aren't only copyright related (DMCA), but software patents (where they matter). And since these distros are usually distributed everywhere, including in big numbers the US (and are even US based), they don't want to include it by default.

But of course it's all BS, because we can't be absolutely sure the code that IS pre-installed doesn't violate some patents. So the risk of including mplayer seems rather exaggerated. Although I live in Croatia where software patents and DMCA don't reign yet, I'd include all the patented Free Software stuff necessary.

RMS is not 100% accurate

 

"I have never seen a case of a distro that has intentionally included non-free software and later removed it."

What about the move from Netscape to Mozilla and from different gratis *Offices you could find on old Linux CD's (Applixware, anybody?) to OpenOffice.org then? Do you usually see the Adobe Reader installed as a default PDF viewer? Don't know if Open Motif was included before the raise of LessTif, but this could also be the case. Even if I'm also not accurate about these examples, you can easily see the pattern I'm talking about.

OK, I agree that some of these replacements were actually almost no-brainers, but I'm pretty sure if Netscape still existed ;-) and StarOffice was freeware, that wouldn't change too much. They wouldn't be included in distros anyway (Open Motif and Adobe Reader are not - at least not by default).

Once we have really competing (comparable) free solution, the urgency for using non-free counterparts suddenly disappears. Developers are more than happy to make the switch. After all, who's going to like maintaining non-free packages when he can't patch them when needed? The user crowd will follow their choice.

"Most of its members have never heard the philosophy of freedom and community which motivated the GNU Project to build the community, and most care more about convenience than freedom."

As I have told it right above, most of the distributors would like to make the switch from non-free to free, even if only for the sake of their own convenience. =} So I see this statement moot.

But when it comes to users, that's right - most of them simply don't even see all the burden the non-free solutions bring to the distros!

So the right solution could be what Ubuntu developers had finally crafted (AFAIK) after a long and not always balanced debate on -devel list: if people want listening MP3 files, allow them to do this with one click from the media player, but display a nice pop-up informing why primary it wasn't already here, waiting to serve them. If people really need a proprietary 3D drivers, let them easily pick them by the installation time, but (a) don't give it as the default action, and (b) again give them a hint what's wrong with that choice.

Simply speaking: if you can't offer them "a better mouse trap", give them an opportunity to get what they need right now, but start informing and educating in the very same moment they have to make this first choice. Some will never care for such things like general freedom and want only the freedom to do whatever they like, but many other people will get the message and we should start talking to them directly.

While I understand both (FS and OS) worlds, after 7 years spent with FLOSS I'm now 70% or 80% pro-Free Software. I don't like this ESR's "catch the train!" rallying call, because I believe it's all about keeping the steady progress, educating and creating solid social, technical, political and law ground by joining forces with open standards proponents, free culture geeks and other such movements, but I see that some small for-convenience steps should be made, because they're not hurting the long term goals, and maybe even helping them. Blame the 20-30% of Linus in me. ;-}

kocio

BTW: thanks for being one of the most vocal pro-FS sites (along with Free Software Magazine for example)! Hearing about freedom the way libervis speaks about it is really encouraging to me.

You make some great points I

You make some great points I would say.

It would probably be bad to take WD201 at face value and just jump on their bandwagon. We've got to think for ourselves. Those who do care about Free Software (that is, the freedom part) should serve as a conscience of the community even if they ever let any compromise go through, and even these compromises shouldn't happen in places where they're not absolutely needed for a fully usable system. So this definitely excludes applications like Opera and LinDVD for example, as well as many proprietary apps that are apparently going to be sold through this new CNR.com (which is something we'll be writing about later).

The final goal is prevalence of Free Software. We just need to be careful how we try to get there, and never lose sight of the issue of freedom and its importance (which is actually increasing as time goes by, considering all the new sophisticated threats).

But I'm ranting now.. you pretty much said everything.

kocio wrote:

BTW: thanks for being one of the most vocal pro-FS sites (along with Free Software Magazine for example)! Hearing about freedom the way libervis speaks about it is really encouraging to me.

I'm glad to hear that. Your comments are encouraging as well. Smiling

Thank you

I agree fully with RMS. Once

 

I agree fully with RMS.

Once we have really competing (comparable) free solution, the urgency for using non-free counterparts suddenly disappears. Developers are more than happy to make the switch.

This is quite true, when a Free solution is an option, people tend to replace it quickly. But going back to the binary 3D drivers as an example...

How many distros say "We don't support 3D acceleration because there's no Free driver?"

Other than gNewSense, or BLAG, which never included the non-Free to begin?

The "Open Source" crowd feels it is better to use a non-Free driver for the time, and move to a Free driver when it is there. Canonical has defaulted to the non-Free drivers to "enable" the distro.

Believers in Free Software feel it is better not to have 3D until it's Free.

Yes, in time the Nouveaux project will make that unneeded, or the Radeon driver. Until then, Ubuntu will be chained and JUST as unacceptable as MS Windows.

RMS Said:
I cannot agree to that compromise, and my experience teaches me that it won't be temporary.

I've read that some people feel he can't agree to it because he doesn't have the authority. This is similar to a man saying "I can't kill my child.". He's CAPABLE of doing it physically, but it is morally inexcusable.

And finally to libervisco. I think I understand your idea, that by accepting non-Free software for a moment, and then using that momentum to make Linux a force for Freedom we'll have a bigger impact.

Here's the problems I see with that. First, if you fight for Freedom, you never utter the word "Linux". And that's not a comment about GNU/Linux. But Freedom extends to FreeBSD, and Windows, and BeOS, and Symphony and all of the OSes unwritten. When "Linux" is a driving force, that is how the companies will respond, with LINUX drivers. That's not what we want. We want Free drivers, Free formats.

The "average user" doesn't yet know why Freedom is important, so has no problem with binaries. Until he has an understanding of WHY binaries are important, Freedom won't be advanced one bit. Even Windows has Free Software that runs on it, how much good has Free Software and non-Free software done in that mix? I feel it won't do any better in a mixed Linux.

What Free Software fanatics need to do is speak, and "vote with your dollars". Did you decide to buy an AMD processor over an Intel because of their support for a Free BIOS? Tell AMD, and let Intel know what they need to get YOUR business. I like to do this when sending back the CD with the drivers and executables on it.

Stop using non-Free software. Show the world that you'd rather have a "crippled" system that a chained one. If you can cope with non-Free software for a moment, you're not making a convincing enough arguement about the problems of non-Free Software.

Spread the word. This is important! Until your Grandmother is demanding the source, Free Software isn't "big" enough in the eyes of hardware makers. While this might not be as dramatic as I make it seem, it's pretty close. Hackers have been demanding source for a while, it's not going to happen. But when John Smith demands the iTunes source, and says without it, he's done buying music... Or when professional print shops tell Adobe to either "Give me the source, or remove me from your Adobe Partner list"... THEN we'll see Free Software come from these companies. But this won't happen until the idea of "Just accept the license and click okay" is seen by the majority as a very dangerous thing.

As Free Software users, we also have to be Free Software advocates. There are many, even in the Linux community, who think "Open Source" software means "You've got rights". As important as Grandma asking for source is, we need "Open Source" developers who write Free code to identify themselves as Free Software developers.

semantics

 
Quote:

Until he has an understanding of WHY binaries are important, Freedom won't be advanced one bit.

Remember that binary != nonfree. Every distro but Gentoo/Ututo is primarily distributed as binaries.

Quote:

Stop using non-Free software. Show the world that you'd rather have a "crippled" system that a chained one.

Chains are a form of crippling.

I was anonymous. :)

 

I was anonymous when I posted that above, but I've seen the rest of the site,and it's worth sticking around now. Smiling

a thing said:
Remember that binary != nonfree. Every distro but Gentoo/Ututo is primarily distributed as binaries.

My apologies. I actually interrupted myself. Began replying at work, but realized it was going to be longer than I intended, so took it home. 55 miles and 1.5 hours of traffic latter and I made a mistake. Eye Binary's are important, but access to the source and the right to do something with that source is more important. And that's the point I meant, even if I didn't say it. Eye

a thing said:
Chains are a form of crippling.

Certainly! I put crippled in quotes; I've heard that argued as a reason NOT to use Free Software, that a "crippled" system wasn't usable. A restricted system is more crippled, and more dangerous. You know the limitations of a Free Software system, but how many people can claim they know every facet of every license on a typical Windows install? Even non-Free GNU/Linux gets confusing when you add in the Adobe licenses, and the nVidia license, and ...

My point was that a lot of things people seem to find are limited by Free Software aren't but sometimes they refuse to see past it. Yeah, there aren't YET (Nouveaux, rock on) 3D drivers for nVidia's latest cards. Is 3D really that important? So what we won't play patent encumbered media? If you break it down to it, there's nothing on ANY computer system now that is impossible (word processing, music playing, web browsing, development...).

But should there be... I'd rather be "crippled" and not have it than restricted and have it.

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