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Time for a Free Software Business Initiative

It is not enough to have Richard Stallman travel around the world endlessly giving standard Free Software speeches among other things repeating how Open Source is not the same thing as Free Software and how the operating system widely known as "Linux" is actually "GNU/Linux" (because GNU project in fact started that OS). It is not even enough to have Free Software supporters constantly keep pointing these things out and arguing why they believe so.

In my previous article I argued that the Open Source Initiative, founded as a reaction to the perceived unwillingness or ineffectiveness of the FSF to attract businesses to Free Software, was a bad solution because it was based on hiding of the most important part of what makes Free Software what it is, the user freedom. It emphasized business friendly aspects of Free Software at the expense of rather than in addition to its underlying political aspect - one largely based on bringing social and economic justice back to the software world.

This is the reason why FSF decided not to support the Open Source Initiative nor its apparently apolitical philosophy to this day. Their prime goal was promoting exactly what Open Source was essentially demoting.

However, neither FSF nor any of their supporters mounted an alternative campaign to Open Source. Noone offered to create a better solution to the problem that Open Source reacted to. In the meantime Open Source caught incredible traction as a buzzword applied to anything that was previously known as "Free Software", and today to even some software which is not actually Free Software. The latter is a problem that was expected exactly because of Open Source's incomplete, rather shallow, way of promoting Free Software.

And this is the basic point of this article. Why didn't anyone in the Free Software movement find it worthy to respond to Open Source with more than alienation of the "we are not with those guys" type? And why is Free Software Foundation still not doing much about it?

Open Source is losing its meaning, as I've mentioned numerous times previously, and because of that even suggested them to therefore drop the term and phase back to "Free Software". However, Free Software movement has the power to do something about it right now, no matter where Open Source Initiative decides to go. If it doesn't want to accept Open Source Initiative as its representer to the business world, why not create a representation of its own?

In my previous article I suggested (what is probably quite an outlandish idea), a renaming of "Open Source Initiative" to "Free Software Business Initiative", but considering the likelihood of that happening it might make more sense of the Free Software movement to found this kind of organization by itself.

What would its purpose be? It will do things that Free Software Foundation isn't exactly very good at doing: actually marketing Free Software, pushing its own labels and slogans and emphasizing the reasons why Free Software, not because it is technically better, but because of freedom it provides, is business friendly and can help the software market evolve. This kind of initiative would help the cause of spreading users freedom by encouraging business makers to pay more attention to that aspect of what they today mostly know as merely "Open Source".

Until this is done, businesses will still largely be attracted to Open Source and their initiative, while, because of lack of focus on what really matters, further diluting what it actually represents. SugarCRM already argues that it has the right to call its software Open Source even though it fits neither the Open Source definition nor the Free Software definition.

So, what are we as a Free Software movement (including the FSF) going to do about it? Are we to simply ignore what's happening to Open Source pretending that it somehow doesn't have anything to do with us, as if we aren't too often branded as "Open Source people" despite not being that? Or are we going to start a business related campaign of our own that will actually add a meaningful and strict representation of what it means to be a Free Software business? Open Source is failing to be meaningful and strict in that sense. Free Software movement can do better because it actually keeps to the original complete vision of what Free Software world should be.

It is time for "Free Software" to face the suits, and show them that there is more to what they now know as "Open Source" than Open Source!

Addendum: I mentioned Free Software marketing and slogans. Just to give you a taste of what a Free Software marketing could look like, here are some of the slogans that we could use, and you feel free to add yours:

  • "Free as in Customer Satisfaction"
  • "Take control. Use Free Software"
  • "Don't let software tell you what to do. Use Free Software."
  • "Freedom is not a privilege with Free Software."
  • "Free Software. You deserve it."
  • "Save Capitalism! Buy Free Software! (the argument behind this one is simple, Free Software actually restores what used to be a Free Market Capitalism - which makes Free Software movement essentially a true capitalist movement).

Cheers

Danijel Orsolic

Comments

Is scale an issue here? The

 

Is scale an issue here?

The OSI is a who's who of IT titans, sure they want to gang up on the schoolyard bully from Redmond, but just so they can get that job for themselves, a job MS didn't always have (Apples Orwellian IBM Ad). Their boards of management have a fiduciary duty to maximise shareholder value and that inevitably drives a company to strive for monopoly.

An article in the Financial Times described Corporate Social Responsibility as potentially illegal, of course shareholders let it be, as this lick of paint on the brand translates to sales, dividends, and share price. Even if/when MS is contained I'd say Open Source will never escape the same category for OSI types, a branding exercise, I can't see them taking the four freedoms or any ethics really to heart.

I wouldn't personally highlight a pro-capitalist line, for me capitalist is to co-operative as proprietary software is to free software, it promotes elitism instead of egalitarianism. The free market however is another story, that needs to be made free again for the small guy, swpats are a bad problem there, and OSI members are bristling to the hilt with them.

How about an organisation for the smaller fry, say the free software business innovation network - FSBIN? This could bring together entrepreneurs, programmers, and business angels under the umbrella of free software.

Ideally for me it would focus on co-operatives of course and replace greed with social and environmentally defensible ethics, enterprises out to make a living, not a killing, and workers pension schemes buying bond issues instead of investors buying shareholdings.

Sadly such ideas are too far ahead of their time. For now in this dark age it makes sense to work with capitalism but at least try to tilt the market to give more help to the start-ups and small innovators struggling out there. Any reduction in general economic domination is a plus, and greater awareness of values may prep the way for further improvements.

As for the slogan brainstorm :
"The Future is Free"

"Free Software - Fuelling Innovation"
"Free Software = Innovation"
"Free Software - The Innovators Ally"
"Free Software - The Innovators Code"
"Free Software - The Natural Selection"
"Free Software - The Tao of Innovation" (Mandarin Translation anyone?)

"Free Software - Business Without Barriers"
"Free Software - No Bars Business"
"Free Software - In Business Together"
"Free Software - Doing the Business"
"Free Software - The Queen B in Business"

"Free Software - Startup Ignition"

"FSBIN - Business, by Free Software"
"FSBIN - Concept to Market with Free Software"
"FSBIN - Innovation by Free Association" (badly scraping now)

If it actually gets going I'll put my thinking cap on again. It should be easy to promote without making it about the goal of profit on the back of employee effort, but if it is to make capitalism a central theme perhaps the slogan "Capitalism For All" might be useful to get people thinking about wider economic freedoms.

Business is a very big part

Business is a very big part of this world, 'big business' based in wealthy developed nations connect the world. We cannot ignore it. One could argue that ESR and the OSI had a hand in promoting 'Linux' and a software development model to where it is today because business could engage with it. Neither side cared about freedom, one side cared about money the other cared about conquest via other's greed. But by now the name 'Open Source' has been muddied by far too many scandals and dilutions.

With the growth of 'Green' in the business world (probably for the reason of making money, not making the world better) we see companies interacting with the softer, more moral issues; I don't see why Free Software shouldn't have the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. I agree with what democraties says, in that companies are out there to make a profit for their shareholders, and they tend to use any legal (and sometimes not so legal) ways of doing so. Though this is the world we live in. Free software is about software, not about how the world works in the end (though its ideas can contribute). I think it would be a bad idea if the Free Software movement shunned the current world of business hoping for a fairer system; a fairer system might grow out of this new relationship, it may not: but we should not be fighting battles on all fronts at the same time.

FSBIN sounds like a good,

FSBIN sounds like a good, perhaps even more ambitious idea. I'm quite a strong believer at this point into the Free Market economy and when I mention capitalism I mean strictly Free Market based capitalism although I acknowledge that a Free Market could exist within a system which is perhaps a bit different from the original or capitalism as we know it.

The goal in the business world should be to strike a balance that has been lost. This balance may in the end improve the market for everyone and restore or accelerate inventiveness. Focusing too much on profit while disregarding the ethics ought to lead to a disaster sooner or later, even for the big money makers. Therefore promoting the ethical aspect to businesses is paramount, rather than hiding it as an undesirable subject.

But well, I'm mostly paraphrasing what's already said.

Btw, I like some of your slogan suggestions. Thanks for coming up with them. Smiling

Well, actually, getting a

Well, actually, getting a representation of Free Software to businesses is not only due to the prevalence of business, acknowledging that it can't be ignored. It's much more than that. It is about affecting the business mentality and consequently changing the way businesses think about social and economic justice and ethics, starting with actually convincing them that it pays to care about it.

I think I see where you are

I think I see where you are coming from: if business understands the ideas behind free software it's interpretation of what software is will change. Currently software is thought of as a physical product like a bunch of bananas, you wish to introduce the idea that software can be made to help people thanks to the four freedoms, while still having the ability to make a profit etc?

Has anyone read this?

Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin suggests that we should respect Microsoft. How easy it must be to just dumb oneself down and simply forget history in a hip all in the name of reaching out and being friends with everybody. At the same time how freaking naive it must be!

I am at this point wondering what the heck is Linux Foundation supposed to do anyway? If this is the way they represent the interests of the whole "Linux" community then I'm beginning to wonder if I really want to be called a "Linux" or even GNU/Linux user.

If all we've been doing all these years was all just for the sake of inaugurating GNU/Linux into a duopoly with Windows then I could have just saved my breath and bought a Mac. But hey, wasn't this the goal of Open Source from the very beginning? According to their philosophy, talking about freedom too much is bad for business and bad for growing our market share. Yes, that's all that matters, market share, no matter what you sacrifice for it on the way. And then when we get that market share, what? Judging from what we are hearing from the Linux Foundation, even before we reached significant market share numbers, we would with respect to Microsoft just partner with them and rule the world together till the end of the fairytale.

What happened to justice? What happened to ethical business practices? Is Linux Foundation caring about these things at all? Or is all that matters that we enter into a duopoly with (sic) MS?

Incredible.

I think the OpenSolaris and BSD communities should really take the cue from this. There are organizations within the "Open Source" branded world which already see a world in which two operating systems are enough.

Ugh, I don't want a 'Linux'

Ugh, I don't want a 'Linux' - Microsoft duopoly. I don't care how many operating systems there are, as long as they are Free. I understand that the Linux Foundation want to promote an operating system based around the Linux kernel and thus they don't care about freedom but from this post they show no hunger to do this, that they will be willing for a duopoly. I do slightly agree with comments on respect, I don't think we should go around vilifying the company for no reason, I can't stand childish things like writing "Micro$oft" etc.

 

When speaking or writing in English, I usually use combination of terms ("Free and Open Souce Software"). When speaking or writing In Croatian I usually use only "Free Software" (Croatian language has different words for "free as in free beer" and "free as in free speech", so there can be no mistake).

And while I agree that term "Open Source" is often abused, I'm afraid that term "Free Software" is *much* more often abused. If you try googling for "Open Source", more than 90% of what you get is really Open Source (and Free) software related. But if you try googling for "Free Software" you'll get only 50% of Free Software related websites (and that's among first ten results, it gets worse after).

So, although I personally prefer term "Free Software", I don't believe that it has any chances. Especially in the world of business.

Sad

Welcome aboard fellow

Welcome aboard fellow Croatian! Dobro došli! Smiling

Let's see the results for "Free Software". Most of the results on the first page are about Free Software as in freedom and the first result (unpaid one at least) is actually FSF.org. It stands out quite a bit. Considering that most people pay attention only to the first or first few pages this is actually quite good.

So I don't think that what you mention is so much of a problem as it may seem. And for what confusion is left, we can work towards tilting the balance towards our side instead of just accepting "Open Source". We can work on making "Free Software" more often associated with "free as in freedom" than "free as in cost".

Cheers

I agree with a certain level

I agree with a certain level of decency with regards to how we are dealing with Microsoft, but within the context in which Linux Foundation is suggesting "respect" it feels like more than just "don't make fools of yourselves with childish hate expressions" kind of thing.. It's the kind of respect that leads to that duopoly. :S

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