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Wednesday housecleaning

October 19, 2011 1 comment

Someone asked me why I haven’t responded to some of the criticism hurled at me like monkey feces (his words, cleaned up, not mine) in the comments of my blog item about forking the Free Software Foundation.

It comes down to letting people who aren’t me speak their minds, since I’ve done that already in the blog item. As an aside, you can tell which person had read the blog all the way to the end, because there’s an addendum to it that only about 20 percent of the readers of the first item actually read. The lesson here? Read the whole thing before you respond.

To be honest, I tossed most of the juvenile and the libelous comments — those who posted the former, grow up; those who posted the latter, you’re welcome, and bear in mind others may not be so kind.

But to put this to rest, let me address some recurring themes here, like

You have an agenda: You’re right, I have an agenda: promote digital freedom. That’s it, in three words. So when roadblocks are thrown up to divert progress on this front, I advocate positions seeking to remove them. Am I suggesting Richard Stallman has become a roadblock to progress for the FSF? You think?

You’re appeasing your (corporate) sponsors: When you find any sponsors on this page, let me know. This blog is my own personal commentary on what’s going on in the FOSS realm. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m not. Either way, it’s my reporting on FOSS developments, and my opinion on FOSS issues, that you’ll find on this page.

You’re an attention whore: I was pretty happy just having the 200 or so daily views on this blog before the fork-the-FSF item. I have nothing to gain by having five-figure view stats here, and on the list of things that validate my life, this blog ranks fairly low. If you like the blog, thanks for reading it and I’m grateful for your subscription. If you don’t like the blog, I’m sorry it doesn’t appeal to you.

When are you going to start the fork? I said in the blog I thought it would be a good idea to fork the FSF. I didn’t say I’d be the one to start it, nor does having the idea mean I’m required to start it. I have much in the way of FOSS projects to keep me busy, and I wasn’t suggesting that I would be your “fearless leader.” On the contrary: As 20th century labor leader Eugene Debs once said, “I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out.” The moral of the story here is to think and act for yourself. If someone wants to act on this idea of a fork, by all means do.

What have you done for the FSF/Free Software? This is a bogus question, because even if I hadn’t lifted a finger to promote free software, I’d still have the right to express an opinion on this issue. But let’s entertain the question, with cookies and milk if need be. Here’s what I’ve done for the FSF/free software: While a student at Cabrillo College in 2007-2008, I founded the Cabrillo College GNU/Linux Users Group — not a LUG, a GNU/Linux users group; this GLUG brought RMS to speak on campus; over the last several years, I have purchased multiple copies of “Free Software, Free Society” and have given them to those folks I thought would benefit from reading it, including a donation of two copies to the Santa Cruz Public Library (which had it in stock, but they could always use more copies); I drive a car with this license plate (and, incidentally, RMS has ridden in this car from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz, and from Santa Cruz to San Francisco International Airport); I started a local business in 2009, a consultancy that promotes the use of Free/Open Source Software in the small business/home office environment; I’ve also done a lot of other things that are too trivial to mention. Obviously this matters more to some than it does to me, but for those who asked, there you go.

So, how about we all move forward now, once and for all?

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Sometimes the best response is a shrug

September 22, 2011 3 comments

This week there was a sort of back-and-forth starting with Brian Proffitt in one blog item about Richard Stallman’s somewhat verbose Guardian article and a response by Bruce Byfield in a blog item about how he notices that lately people are picking on the Free Software Foundation. This kind of tete-a-tete is normally custom made for my participation, and last night I had thought about jumping in with both feet and an arm.

But you know what? Never mind. Just never mind. I had a whole blog item written last night. I went to bed. I woke up this morning and read my item. Then I deleted it. It’s just another “fuel, meet fire” situation that, despite my standard-issue remarkable and compelling prose (ahem), would have just removed focus from more important issues and would have created ill feelings.

So I’m just going to shrug, say “Ho-kay,” and write about something else.

Before I do, however, I will say that I do think Brian is right when he says that the Guardian article is another FSF broadside against open source, and that I don’t agree with Bruce’s arguments that the FSF is being picked on. Let’s look more importantly at the latter: The FSF does a lot of great things on behalf of software freedom, and does so with remarkably few resources. For this we are truly thankful. On the other hand, the FSF tragically has made an exact science of cultivating a “my way or highway” attitude (bring up dissenting viewpoints, as I have, and see how far you go), which makes its prevalent dogmatic stance a formula for organizational rigor mortis. For this reason alone (though there are others I won’t go into here), the FSF hand-delivers invitations for criticism — some of it deserved, some not — rather than than being victims of attacks for whatever reason externally. For all the great things he has done, Richard Stallman is largely responsible for this culture of dogma and rigidity, and when some — not me, but others — equate the FSF to being the FOSS equivalent of the Taliban, I’d like to argue against that comparison but, honestly, I really can’t.

But never mind.

Let’s go from one train wreck to another, shall we?

One of the items that is high on the tech radar today is the fact that Hewlett-Packard is about to push Leo Apotheker off the top of the building (the sentiments of some board members, it’s safe to say) and replace him with — I kid you not — Meg Whitman.

Meg Whitman. I would have prefered Slim Whitman — link to Wikipedia provided so the kids here don’t have to Google him. So while you read who he is, get off of my lawn.

This Whitman-for-Apotheker swap has been described as a “hangover solution” in one ZDNet blog item, a sort of “hair of the dog” after an all-night bender where the first question is, “I did . . . WHAT?!” And the best decisions are usually not made when you’re hung over. Hence we have Meg Whitman waiting in the wings when, according to people at HP, they have a very capable CEO choice in house with Ann Livermore.

While it would probably be best for HP to keep someone in house at the helm — that’s one vote for you, Ann, over Meg — whomever takes over hopefully will say, with one of their first utterances in charge, “Remember what we said about dumping our hardware and WebOS? We take that back.”

That would be nice, but on the whole that, too, probably deserves another shrug.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Shuttleworth: All your rights are belong to us

August 4, 2011 5 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

Before I open palm — make that palms — and insert face, let me say that the Ubuntu community’s general mantra of “haters gonna hate” never really works as a valid argument when someone disagrees with what the self-appointed Ubuntu/Canonical leader/founder/Grand Poobah, or any other Ubuntu/Canonical leader, says. It’s a profoundly weak argument that first and foremost makes you sound shallow and stupid. It also makes you sound like you don’t have a reasonable response, as well as sounding like you’re incapable of responding.

Whether or not that is the case, do yourself a favor: Debate issues or don’t, but either way, don’t bring that moronic phrase to the table.

Having said that, I read a blog item by Fabian Scherschel this morning about how Mark Shuttleworth blogged late last month — in way, way, WAY too many words — he would like the rights to your work, please, if you contribute to Ubuntu/Canonical. Just hand them over to him on your way out the door to write more code which, of course, you can turn over to him as well when you’re done with it.

Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and read Mark’s blog for yourself. Make sure you read all of it, and you might want to have a cup of coffee before you do.

I’ll wait.

While I wait, let me mention that the GPL V2 was established in 1991 — twenty years ago — and has withstood any and all legal challenges, both significant and frivolous, in the last two decades. Why do I bring that up? Ask me after you’re finished reading Mark’s blog.

Now, if you’re back from Mark’s blog and still awake, the item fails in a multiplicity of ways and, in a complex clause I’d like to be simpler, seems to seek to derive benefit from the licensed code work of others without compensation.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m just going to let Jef Spaleta drive here, reposting with his permission something he posted in the comments, in response to a discussion about maintenance (in the first paragraph) before outlining his difference of opinion with Mark Shuttleworth (Note: from the link you can scroll up to see the item he’s referring to about maintenance, if you wish):

“Clint,

“None of the maintenance arguments require copyright assignment. It’s completely hogwash. When an upstream project takes in a patch, they can do so on the same condition as it was given. There is no need for a copyright assignment on the grounds of any maintenance argument.

“Mark wants to mix the value inherent in owning the code with other things. He wants to mix it all together and guilt us into giving away our copyrights to corporations so he and other business leaders can then turn right around and make money proprietarzing the code we contributed. Not cool. Not cool at all in fact. If Canonical wants to go it alone and wants to staff the manpower necessary to build a platform that they can proprietarize without significant contribution or a healthy development community to help offset the costs, they are free to do that. But to suggest that is what the ecosystem needs to do more of is very damaging.

“And he continually gets the details wrong about the history of Qt assignment. Trolltech put some very important protections in place on their own behavior via some latching conditions if the open version of Qt ever stopped being developed that would allow the codebase to be released under BSD, pretty much nullifying the competitive advantage the controlling entity would get. He doesn’t like talking about that very important detail when he holds up Qt and Trolltech as good examples of assignment gone right. I know he’s aware of the history and the latching BSD release clauses. And yet, Canonical continues to refuse to put _any_ sort of protection in place. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t commit to the very strong protections the FSF provides in their assignment agreement. Mark expects Canonical to need to produce some proprietary products at some point, and so do I. So the strong FSF-like protections would be incompatible with Canonical’s business needs. But the Trolltech-like protections put on Qt when Qt required assignment? Completely possible for Canonical to commit to and provide some protections against the most egregious future behavior. And yet they still won’t commit to that either. That lack of interest in providing any protections with regard to egregious prioritization of contributed code and good-will is a real problem. I don’t see it changing as long as Shuttleworth remains in control of Canonical. That’s a real shame. I know there are people inside the fenceline who’d be more than happy to take a step towards a more comprehensible position, they just can’t.

“But on to the point about what it means to have a work for hire development culture in software. Indeed analogies never always fit. Just like all the hand wavy analogies Mark put forward in his blog post. So lets talk directly shall we.

“There is a reason why software companies hire developers. Part of any such contracting is invariably because of a need for ownership of the final creative work. Typically if you work for a software company anything you produce working for them is owned by them, its standard work for hire situations. You are paid a wage to produce creative works for someone else. Your wage is the compensation for the ownership of the work. If a software company (or any company really) wants to own the creative work being produced and be able to use the exclusivity of that ownership to then sell proprietary versions (without competitors being able to sell it as well) of the work in question they need to pay the developers of the work. It’s a simple as that.

“Any company that requires naked assignment (without protections against bad faith actions similar to what TrollTech or the FSF provide) is just trying to get the milk for free. And its shameful when they do it. Shameful.

“Apple gets that. Apple pays a fair wage to its developers and designers, and the end result is they own the stack. And crazier thing is, there are people are willing to pay non trivial amounts of money for the end result.

“Android, the other platform Mark is very concerned about now, doesn’t require an assignment. http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html and has the workings of an open development community styled around Apache.

“Let’s be very clear about that, Android.. the open platform that is kicking ass right now…does not require copyright assignment. Clearly if Google can make Android the juggernaut of OEM and user uptake that it is, there’s nothing stopping Canonical from following suit. Canonical does not need your copyright to compete. It’s a straight up falsehood meant entirely to encourage people to give up their copyrights so Canonical can proprietarize contributed code at some future date.

“In fact there’s nothing stopping Canonical from literally forking the Android codebase as it stands right now and building a competing product with differentiated interface bits and Canonical backed end services to replace the Google services. Again…all of this freedom to compete.. all done without an assignment requirement…just a contributors agreement which makes your attest its your code your contributing when you submit a patch for Android. And in reality, even that could probably be superceded with a signoff process which mimics the linux kernel’s sign off procedures to cut down on that paperwork. There’s some real benefits to keeping the redtape down to the bare minimum, but that’s another point, a point I think Micheal Meeks does a good job illustrating when he talks about libreoffice developer community growth. Anyways…

“Now does Google feel a higher maintenance burden for contributed Android code because they don’t own the copyrights? No of course not, that is absurd. The maintenance burden is what it is regardless of whether they own the rights to all the code. And the Android juggernaut keeps rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ along. This little side show about assignment is ultimately just a distraction for Mark and for Canonical, it’s not going to help them compete better in the marketplace its only going to serve to drain focus inside the company. It’s a real shame.”

I wish I had said that, Jef.

Oh, and GPLv2? I brought it up, oh, a year ago — or so it seems — because Mark makes my favorite misguided assumption in a plethora of misguided and invalid assumptions found in the lengthy blog: “I’d be willing to bet that, if some fatal legal flaw were discovered in the GPLv2, Linus would lead a process of review and discussion and debate about what to do about the Linux kernel, it would be testy and contentious, but in the end he would take a decision and most would follow to a new and better license.” Meanwhile, back on the planet Earth — a place I’ve never left, but Mark Shuttleworth has, literally and to his credit — in 20 years, there hasn’t been a “fatal legal flaw discovered,” let alone a case against the GPL challenged successfully in the courts. But if there were, I’m sure a better license would follow (this, of course, is not to say GPLv3 is that license, and I’m not going to field that here).

So, can we discuss or debate this, or are you just going to call me an idealogue or a hater and walk away? The choice is yours, but if you choose the latter, by all means please let the door hit you on the way out.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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