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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 (, 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:

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 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:

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

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.

Danijel Orsolic



Welcome Kevin. I'm glad you

Welcome Kevin. I'm glad you joined us. Smiling

Reading your previous post about true success being when ordinary people everywhere start demanding freedom with software, you're right, that would be an awesome success. However, I am not sure if we can ever expect this to happen. We who are in the computer field and are intimately familiar with all the related issues probably find all this stuff incredibly more important than users who just use their computers to do whatever they want to do with it. They never even think about taking a look behind the scenes nor do they burden themselves with how this software is developed and even how is it licensed.

We can afford to care deeply about this stuff because that is what we are actively involved with. But instead of that, other people are actively involved with something else, which might even involve a good cause of some sort. If we were to require them to get actively involved in software freedom movement, we would basically be asking them to sacrifice their previous occupation, and we just can't expect them to do that.

So, I concluded that those who are active with Free Software and know and care about it are responsible for those who can't afford to be in that group. They let other "computer people" choose their computers and software for them. We have to get ourselves in a position to be the ones who choose the right things for them, instead of letting Microsoft do this choice.

But how do we replace Microsoft from this position, that seems to be the core question. Hence the whole discussion about strategies towards "world domination" or world prevalence.

Kevin Dean wrote:

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?

Actually the 3D situation isn't even as bad as many seem to think. Intel graphics chips (which are quite powerful as I hear) have free drivers. Many even modern and powerful ATI cards, like my own Radeon 9600XT, have a well working free driver as well. At this point the only brand that isn't so well supported is Nvidia, and maybe some really bleeding edge ATI cards, but Nouveaux project is already on its way to resolve some of the Nvidia problem.

Kevin Dean wrote:

So what we won't play patent encumbered media?

Actually, patent encumbered doesn't make it non-free per copyright. It just makes it risky for a provider because it could, potentially, get sued by the patent holder. But I don't see a problem with individually installing patent encumbered codecs in our machines personally. Not only is it highly unlikely patent holders would go against individual users, but software patents aren't even valid in many countries (most of Europe for example). The core issue for me is whether it is Free Software per the copyright license, not whether it is patent encumbered.

I understand though that patented formats are a bit bigger issue for providers, and I would even agree with some commercial entity licensing those patents for use to be able to distribute them, as long as the licensing goes for the entire GNU/Linux community, and the codecs code is Free Software.

So overall, indeed, there is so little that has to be compromised to make a perfectly fully capable system, almost nothing. A binary blob here and there maybe and this patent licensing. So why is going to sell whole proprietary applications to the masses of Ubuntu and Linspire users?

That's where I see the whole WD201 plan going very badly awry. It convinces people that a temporary compromise is necessary, but in the usual "open source" spirit (not *really* caring about it being temporary nor it being as small a compromise as possible), they go all out with proprietary software. Very bad. Not the way I was hoping for.

But we'll write more about it later. I've ranted enough for this comment. Smiling

Ubuntu resolution

kocio wrote:

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.

Ubuntu has indeed taken a pragmatical, yet carefully chosen path (in the sense of weighting the overall freedom against some technical aims). Here is their resolution: "desktop composite is something important, so we include it along with necessary drivers and let people choose it, but not by default, and we look at the nouveau project to mature. All the proprietary drivers are enabled only after case-by-case inspection concluded that they're really necessary."


I think people often


I think people often mis-understand RMS's strategy on taking a firm position.

I don't believe a man of his intellect and more importantly ethics would insist for example that a doctor in a third world village should refuse to use a phone running non-free software to request emergency medical assistance for a fatal disease outbreak, and let people die while waiting for a person to deliver the request on foot. It's your standard trade-off between competing principles.

He *has* said (in various interviews) that once you start compromising on a principle it quickly becomes a question of where you draw the line and before long the original message can be lost.

If some groups decide a temporary compromise is the wisest road and I can see how that strategy can overcome the colossal mainstream inertia in two steps rather than one, let them proceed with vigour, but let's not expect RMS to accept pollutants into the FSF wellspring of the pure principle or to stop asking people to be stronger, indeed, let's hope he keeps fulfilling this crucial role.

A metaphor if I may:
A few free-range chickens mostly have to find their own food while the battery-hens in the shed are well fed but have no freedom. The free-range chickens tell the battery-hens to come outside because when all of them become free-range the farmer will have to feed them outside if he wants any eggs, and they will at last be free.

But too few are leaving their comfort zone as they know the farmer doesn't feel the need to feed the free-range chickens enough. One day a group of hens decide to get out of their batteries yet remain inside the shed. The farmer still feeds them but now they taste a little freedom.

Seeing this, more leave their batteries but stay in the shed, while others venture outside as the farmer has begun to feed the increasing clutch of free-rangers a little more.

A trickle becomes a torrent until all chickens are outside. On this day the first free-range chicken is honoured for remaining true to his principles and proving to all chickens just how free they could be, for if he had not they might still all be in the shed.


That is a very good

That is a very good explanation Tom. That's exactly what I think about RMS. He just can't be the one making or advising a compromise. Simply, he would be the last person in the universe to do that, not among the first.

The rest of us do what we believe is best, and some of us consider what he is saying and why is he saying that and try to remain as uncompromising as possible as well.

Thank you

Ubuntu not solving the problem yet


"So the right solution could be what Ubuntu developers had finally crafted"

I don't think that this is a solution to the problem depicted in WD201.

ESR says the biggest problem is about preinstalled system.
The OEM could preinstall Ubuntu, but then he should wait for the user (buyer) to click on a button, read an information, make a choice and install the needed parts (BLOB, whatelse...)

This is not good for the OEM. He wants e.g. a demo workstation in his shop. The potential buyer has to see the machine in action, performing media playback. I think this is a no-go, especially in US.
Am I wrong?

I hope that some distro will follow the temporary-workaround approach as it is delineated in WD201.


Well, I don't see anything


Well, I don't see anything that would prevent shop owners from installing media codecs and other non free software on demo machines, and one sheet of paper with simple instructions on how to use CNR (or a message when user first logs in) is enough to inform the user how to install additional software.

Consumer Sheep


In the US, consumers are typically stupid sheep.

A shop owner selling a laptop, for instance, with media codecs installed would be expected to sell the EXACT same thing to buyers.

In the minds of buyers, a laptop unable to immediatly do something the demo unit could do would be a defective item, and likely to be returned.

The problem there is that putting those codecs on demos machines means they'd also have to be on the machines for sale, which is not only illegal in some cases, but is spreading non-Free software, and going AGAINST the cause rather than helping it.

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