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2009.04.15

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Cloud Computing and Grid Computing are certainly making prominent entry into the low level server segment. Nice post got to know a lot of details.

I'm happy to try to help, John.

Before we ask about the history of "open source" we ought to ask what "open source" stands for in the world and how that compares and contrasts to what "free software" stands for.

RMS' widely adopted working definition of "software freedom" is an expression of a set of values - some moral beliefs. It says:

"All users of software should have access to the source code of that software and the freedoms to run it as they see fit, study the source, modify the source, and share the source with and without modifications under these same conditions." -- free software in a nutshell.

"Open source" is also an expression of values. It says "*Some programs* should be available for anyone to run, copy, study, modify and share as part of a development method that solicits unpaid labor thus lowering costs while at the same time exploiting peer review to ensure higher quality results".

Notice how those are different: the free software movement aims to establish, protect, and defend the rights of all users. The open source branding campaign discards concern for users sets a very different goal of saving some money on software development.

You may wonder: "Yes, but if everyone does Open Source then don't all users have software freedom?"

The Open Source Initiative folks and Bruce Perens, the author of the Open Source Definition, and Eric Raymond can answer that for you: they *encourage* the use of Open Source development as a method for lowering the cost of developing non-open-source systems. They are often heard to argue that sometimes users should not enjoy their software freedom. Mr. Perens has said publicly that he sometimes consults with large firms to help them understand how they can legally develop proprietary systems using open source for parts of those systems, for example.

I see another example just in quite recent news: ESR arguing that the GNU Public License is a burden and that the Linux Kernel should embrace more proprietary software (software of which users are not free to study the source, etc.). See http://www.osnews.com/story/21192/ESR_GPL_No_Longer_Needed

Now, in that article you'll see ESR's argument that "the market will punish" people who develop proprietary software with Open Source parts but that is a wildly disingenuous argument: the industry is rife with counter-examples (think MySQL or of countless "network appliances" on the market). There are few examples in support of his position and they are on the margins. And he contradicts himself as in the interviews for this 2004 article in which, like Perens, he entertains a proper "role for proprietary software": http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-135953.html
though he confidently predicts that that will amount to "but 5% of the market". (On what basis this prediction is made with such confidence in the face of contradictory evidence is not explained.)

The difference in these two positions is critical in this way (among others):

If you believe in software freedom then you have nothing kind to say about mixed open/proprietary systems such as how MySQL was run for so long. You don't point to those guys and say "They are on our side. They are fighting for our cause." You instead say "It is good that they are doing some of that program in freedom but when they add the proprietary parts, just to make a buck at the expense of the freedom of their customers, they are behaving unethically."

If you believe in the open source method of cost savings you point to "MySQL" and say "See, those guys are doing the right thing!"

They are deeply different positions.

And so that brings us back to your history account. There are two points to consider:

First, as a matter of logic, "open source" is not simply an alternative brand for "free software". It is a deeply different position, as illustrated above.

Second, as to the matter of intent, we can only make reasonable inferences. The man who takes the unusual step of bringing a gun to a nightclub and then kills his estranged boyfriend there has a hard time arguing that the crime was committed in the heat of passion: it is by all reasonable standards a pre-meditated act.

Did the "open source" folks *intend* to suppress care for the freedom of users?

As circumstantial evidence, the days-later attack on RMS and the free software movement and the relentless continuation of such attacks ever since suggests that, yes, they did.

As further circumstantial evidence we can look at the various business models that were popular with investors at the time and increasingly over the next several years. Many-a-plan was funded with the model "open source part of this for development cost savings but also develop proprietary code for the benefit of the investors". In light of that circumstance, isn't it interesting that at that meeting were two darlings of the VC world, hosted by a board member of Foresight, with insider knowledge of the impending Netscape release, for the purpose of strategizing on the coordinated front that community would put up to marginalize RMS and the free software movement?

It was not a branding exercise, it was a political exercise using dirty-tricks tactics from an economically advantaged position in order to try to suppress a system of political beliefs that was growing (and that continues to grow) in popularity.

-t

Gee Thomas - I didn't mean to make you so angry. I can't be lying, since I wasn't there and as I admitted, I thought all this stuff was communism back then.

I'd rather not call people liars since it is implying a state of mind that we can't possibly know (although it seemed to work wonders for Al Franken ;) ). However, if there were any distortions or misunderstandings of the truth, please point me to the right sources. I will in turn dig up more from RMS's writings and try to contact him. I'm really more interested in accuracy.

Thanks for your comments,
John

The story as you tell it doesn't add up. Either you believed the lies of others or you lie yourself.

Beginning with Eric Raymond's letter that you link to but going far, far beyond that the society of influencers around that meeting aggressively attacked RMS, attempting to marginalize him, the Free Software Foundation, and the GNU project. That was no exercise in "brand creation" that was a coordinated political action.

Were it the case that they merely sought to make a business-friendly brand for free software, there would have been no reason to attack Stallman.

For what political reason would it be important to some clique to marginalize Stallman? Perhaps the answer is plain by looking at the "Open Source Initiative" which defines its mission around saving dollar costs of development and ownership of software vs the "Free Software Foundation" which defines itself around the freedom of software users.

The folks in that room were representatives of big-C Capital brainstorming on an aspect of how to put down a freedom movement arising within labor but threatening to win over consumers to its cause.

-t

Nice summary John.

John,

Nice article, its nice to know this information

Cheers,
Harold

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