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back to article Memo to open source moralists: Put a sock in it

Those who look to technology for their religious fix are going to be sorely disappointed, despite the fact that a recent article in The Economist highlights a range of priestly types who see Christian principles throughout the open-source software movement. Perhaps. The problem is that different people see these exact same …

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Anonymous Coward

"You can't be moral without religion"

I'm FED UP of people saying "love thy neighbour" or anything moral is a religious thing.

As an atheist, I KNOW I am much more moral than many Christians I know.

Just LOOK at the highly religious tea-party in America, and how they don't want things like healthcare for all.

Just look at some of the religious loony commentators on Fox "news" and their outrageous, selfish, and intolerant views.

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Stop

Thanks to your OVERUSE of ALL CAPS, I can't actually TELL if you're being SERIOUS. If you ARE, then I AGREE with your basic POINT, which is that MORALITY and RELIGION are not interdependent, but you come off sounding like a JACKASS. If you TROLLING by pretending to be an ATHEIST, then you actually ARE a jackass.

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Facepalm

What is this, BENEATH a steel SKY?

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Be Vigiliant...

...citizen.

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Anonymous Coward

@Tom Maddox

Geeze Tom, talk about pot/kettle.

I wasn't trolling - I was angered by remembering some of the things I've seen christians do in the name of christianity.

I was also angered by remembering someone telling me once I had great Christian values.

I'm not hiding - the only reason I posted anonymously was because I promised someone I wouldn't be online this week ;-)

Sorry Tom, you must have had a bad day, confusing *passion* [ there, I used * instead of CAPS just for you ] with trolling, and then coming off as a jackass in your reply.

Have a nice day

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FAIL

What the hell have you been smoking?

If it wasn't for the Stallman, we wouldn't have GNU, we wouldn't have free software and we wouldn't have the free software movement that we have. Linux distributions literally would not exist.

Richard Stallman can be a bit of an arse at times, but he is the idealist that we need to keep pushing at the proprietary evil that racks our industry. You might not like Richard Stallman's viewpoint, but for every Stallman there is a Ballmer, Jobs and Ellison at the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum.

We need a special double Fail icon for the Ultimate Fail this article is.

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Anonymous Coward

There is nothing inherently evil about proprietary software, get over it.

And there is nothing inherently good about open source software. I could write a virus or some malware for example and release it as open source, being open source doesn't suddenly make such software good.

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Fail again.

I didn't say there was anything evil about proprietary software, just the evil that comes from it.

A lot of what people don't like about MS and Oracle is their strong arm tactics leveraged by their closed source platform.

I would argue that the likes of Red Hat make a more honest living by providing services for cash rather than generating shonky software and banging it out by the million and still charging the earth for what is practically old rope.

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The problem with RMS...

The problem with RMS is that his ideals aren't just working in the English language. Free means both "free as in freedom" and "free as in no cost", so Free Software is usually interpreted as $0 software. Ironically, your RedHat exapmle is one that got slammed back when RedHat decided to go pay-only and turn the free RHL into Fedora... and it was slammed because they weren't giving RHEL for free.

Then there's the GNU/Linux debacle, which really puts off anyone outside the FOSS/FLOSS community. It's the IT version of Political Correctness gone mad:

A: I'm checking this cool OS called Linux

B: HERETIC! IT IS CALLED GNU/LINUX!

A: Err.. Okay, so this Linux..

B: GNOOOOOO LEEEENOOOKS! JOO SAY IT GNOO SLASH LINUX!

A: Um... Fuck it, if every Linux user is as demented as you, I'd rather suffer Windows.

Oh, and some people started using the unambiguous Spanish word "libre" instead of free; RMS still won't use Libre Software because he insists on using Free. This puritanism on terminology might be huting FOSS more than MS FUD.

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If "Free Software" were really "Free". . .

If "free software" were really "free" it would be in the public domain. But it isn't so it's not. "Free software" is encumbered with restrictions in just the same way as proprietary software is encumbered. That you might approve of those restrictions does not mean that it's free: the FOSS idea of freedom seems to be that "freedom" consists of being legally required to do what Richard Stallman thinks you should do.

As for "North Carolina pastor Don Parris [arguing] that 'proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbor, one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith'", well, he can either spend his own, effort, money, and time learning how to program and *then* give it away for free, or let him spend his own money and buy the software that his neighbor needs. Whining that his desire to be "altruistic" is hindered by someone else's desire to "get paid for their work" is not moral, it is profoundly immoral. There is a verse in the Bible commanding that "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn". (Deut 25:4). And more verses admonishing that "The workman is worthy of his hire". But then again, the Bible was written in a world in which slavery was common; I suppose that Parris thinks that slavery is still acceptable.

To me, there is nothing "moral" about forcing people to do what is "moral". And personally, I have only contempt for any ideology which is against people getting paid for their work.

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@Daniel B.

Well, I think I already covered that bit with "...sometimes he can be an arse...".

I've never met the guy and I'm sure he switches people off with his arrogance (which is not great for his cause), but I agree with his ideals. More power to him I say.

Yes, the RedHat case is not helped by their stance. I think my point was more about the way they make their money (through effort, rather than minimal cost distribution) rather than their purity of morality :D

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@turtle

The GPL, which I guess is what you're referring to, is basically about preserving that freedom.

His idea about free software is not just about giving software to the community, it is also about stopping others taking it away from you. I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with that idea.

Apart from the viral bit, which we could debate about :D, the license basically goes FURTHER than public domain whereby you can do what you want with the code and you must not take the code out of the public domain.

Without these protections, the freedom granted with the code would quickly disappear, I suspect.

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Nor would you have iOS

While iOS code is not GNU-based, iOS is built with gnu tools and uses bash and friends.

Why no insistence on calling it GNU/BSD/iOS?

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Re: What the hell have you been smoking?

Did you actually bother to read the article or was a single, vaguely critical, reference to Stallman enough to light the blue touch paper and you just went off on one? The entire point of the article was that there is nothing about propriatory software that makes it evil. Indeed, as the article makes clear, Bill Gates has done far more for the poor and needy than Stallman ever will BECAUSE he made shit loads of money from selling Windows.

We really need a RTFA icon.

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@Turtle

"To me, there is nothing "moral" about forcing people to do what is "moral". And personally, I have only contempt for any ideology which is against people getting paid for their work."

It's a good thing that no-one is forcing you to use the GPL then.

The point about the GPL is that it is a voluntary licence that people who create code are *free* to use if they would like to make their work available for others to freely use. It allows the people who have chosen that license to place an important restriction on those who want to re-use it "You can do what you want with it, but if you create some more software based on it, the recipients of that software must be free to do what they want with it too - you can't snaffle my work and then close it down".

Yes, it is a fundamentally ideological license - it is designed to service a particularly ideology, but there is no coercion involved - people who like the free ideology can choose to publish their software under the GPL if they wish, and people who want to build software on that code can use it - or not if they don't like the license.

As for "an ideology which is against people getting paid for their work.", there is absolutely nothing to stop anyone publishing their original code under a dual license.

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The copyright protection is necessary

The GPL a temporary bodge to prevent anyone from locking up the Source Code.

This is something that non-programmers don't get. The Source Code is the human-readable form of a program, that you can make changes to, before it gets compiled into the binary form that only a particular model of computer can understand.

There was a ton of Public Domain software for the Amiga and Atari ST written in the late 80s / early 90s. And it's all useless today, because it was shipped in binary form only, with no Source Code and hence no possibility to do anything else with it. A phone book program that only worked with 10-digit numbers would be useless nowadays, even if there was an emulator capable of running it on a modern computer. Updating it to handle today's eleven-digit numbers would be a fairly trivial task with the aid of the Source Code, but next to impossible without. You might as well just rewrite it from scratch.

Even worse is the BSD licence, which allows anybody to redistribute your software, modified or unmodified and with or without the Source Code. There is a real risk that someone could modify it just enough to make it slightly incompatible with the original, release it without Source Code and the new version become more popular than your original.

By insisting for you to distribute the Source Code with your software, the GPL ensures that everybody has the freedom to enjoy, study, share and adapt the software they use, by ensuring that nobody has the power to deprive anybody of any of those freedoms. Until access to Source Code is recognised by governments as a fundamental human right, it's the best compromise.

Incidentally, no Free Software or Open Source licence forbids charging money for software (that would be against the accepted definitions) -- they just don't forbid other people from charging less than you, or even nothing. I believe that is called a free market.

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Fundamental human right?

Please, are you serious? First let's solve the real issues around fundamental human rights, such as getting 5 bars everywhere on my phone, and having internet connectivity with 5 9s for less than £5 a month.

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I think the idea is that it's the *software* that has the freedom, not the *user*. Otherwise, like you say, it makes no sense.

It doesn't work anyway. Digium (creators of Asterisk) use the GPL to beat around the head anyone who tries to make money from value-add in their market without paying them a royalty. It's anti-competitive, in that case, and that has nothing to do with freedom. It also restricts the freedom of their users. Ironic that I can sell an Internet Explorer plugin without paying a dime to Microsoft, but I can't sell an Asterisk plugin without paying Digium their "GPL tax". And Digium are in no way unique. Go freedom!

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Don't be ridiculous

Don't be ridiculous. There are other free compilers, and other free UNIX toolsets (ever heard of BSD?). There are even, believe it or not, competing philsophies about open source.

Linux would be just fine without gcc, without the GNU toolset, and without Stallman's moralistic highground of bullshit - a platform you obviously subscribe to, seeing as you use the word "evil" in relation to the *software industry*, for God's sake.

To misuse the word "evil" in such a way is the absolute epitome of "first world problem" syndrome. The only issue I can see with the article is that the author fails to hit us with the double whammy of how ridiculous it is that someone dedicates their life to fighting a very very small point of personal preference regarding who gets to edit source code, as if it had some deep moral aspect or even appreciable impact on the average person. Stallman isn't an idealist, he's a self-righteous prick with a disturbing tendency towards absolutism, and a following that can only be described as cultish.

Meanwhile, the "evil" Gates tackles real problems, such as poverty, poor sanitation, poor education, and so on, with the mountain of money he's made fighting this philosophical bullshit with practical reality and actual useful software. Which is kind of the point the article is making.

We need a special triple-fail icon for people who still think Stallman is sane.

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Not quite

If your Asterisk plugin needs to be compiled against the Source Code of Asterisk itself (and hence can be considered to contain code derived from Asterisk) then you are making a Derived Work, and so you run up against copyright. GPL says you can do this as long as you release it under the GPL, so that other people can benefit from your hard work exactly as you have benefitted from Digium's hard work. To release it other than under the GPL, you need a separate licence from Digium.

If your Asterisk plugin interacts with Asterisk *only* through published APIs (so-called "arms' length" interaction), then it is not a Derived Work and you can distribute it under whatever licence you like.

Of course, since the published API documentation often *is* the Source Code, you might have to have some intermediary paraphrase the description of the interface, just to be sure you were not in inadvertent breach of copyright. This "clean room" technique might still be cheaper than a licence from Digium.

If you wrote an IE plugin *that needed to be compiled against the IE Source Code*, Microsoft would most certainly be wanting money from you.

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Anonymous Coward

Get better informed.

You extoll Gates and his foundation for giving money to needy causes. You assume that he acquired that money legally and morally.

http://billparish.com/msftfraudfacts.html

You and I, with our taxes, paid his programmers to write Win95, and we weren't even asked if we wanted to. Gates got reimbursed by your taxes for every dollars worth of stock options he printed to "pay" the coders. While other companies were deducting employee expenses from their profits, thus reducing the amount they could spend on advertising and R&D, Gates didn't have such coder expenses, giving Microsoft a decided advantage and dramtically tilted the playing field in its favor. You've probably forgot about the fiasco DR DOBS Journal uncovered when they discovered that Microsoft specifically coded windows not to boot on top of any DOS except MSDOS. And, no doubt, you were not aware that the LA Times uncovered Microsoft's Astroturf campaign to flood Washington politicians with letters demanding that Congress and the DOJ stop "persecuting" Microsoft for "being successful". MS would probably gotten away with it if they hadn't used the names of dead people as signatories. It was that even that gave rise to the term "Astroturf". You certainly can't be so short of memory that you can't remeber the ISO Stadards Committee fiasco, or the offer to sell patents to folks willing to sue Linux, along with instructions on how to do so.

The success of Linux and FOSS in general is due ENTIRELY to the GPL and Richard Stallman, not Matt Asay or any number of people with a proprietary mindset acquired while using Windows and retained after migrating to Linux. They just can't seem to get away from that binary lock-in paradigm as the only way to make money.

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@Skelband

What have YOU been smoking?

Without Stallman & GNU, we'd still have BSD. And remember, Linux was begat by Minix. True, the mostly-GNU-licensed tool chain (especially GCC) helped things along, but I think Linux & BSD would be pretty much where they are now without GNU. Alternative free tools were available (The Bourne Shell, vi and pcc come to mind; pretty much everything else can be created with those three) ... it's just that the GPL made it easier to include the GNU tools in the various "freeware" UNIX-like operating systems.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What the hell have you been smoking?

"Bill Gates has done far more for the poor and needy than Stallman ever will BECAUSE he made shit loads of money from selling Windows."

Correction: Gates made shitloads of money from coercing others to bundle Windows and other products. In addition, Stallman's ideas have been taken up by a lot of people worldwide to great effect, whereas Gates's charitable endeavours usually seem to play out against a backdrop of how various companies his foundation invests in might benefit somehow.

With Gates there are always strings attached.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The problem with RMS...

"Then there's the GNU/Linux debacle, which really puts off anyone outside the FOSS/FLOSS community. It's the IT version of Political Correctness gone mad:"

Way to sound like a foaming-at-the-mouth Telegraph reader!

In fact, the whole Android business proves RMS right yet again: you might be running Linux on your phone, but it isn't GNU/Linux, it's Android/Linux. You even get people acknowledging that your Android phone "isn't much of a Linux system" because it doesn't have all the usual user space tools and libraries.

By all means explain to people the difference between Android and "Desktop Linux" every time if you like, but I don't think you're in a position to criticise RMS somehow. Again, he's ahead of the curve. You, on the other hand, not so much.

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Regarding the Mother Theresa/Gates thing - it's an interesting question. I guess the difference is that Gates enriched himself in the process, whereas Mother Theresa didn't. He gave to others after his own wealth was assured, she spent a life picking people up out of the gutter.

That sounds more depricating of Gates than I intended. He is to be hugely commended for his generosity, and only he can know what it feels like to give so much away.

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Anonymous Coward

There is of course

the argument that Microsoft (and Apple to a lesser but significant degree, and likely a good number of other less prominent software companies) have held the computational technology sector back to be about 10-15 years behind where it would it could be today. Not deliberately, of course, but as a side-effect of common business practices in the field.

What effect that lag has (detrimental or otherwise) on the general human condition is likely unknowable, but certainly all that money spent on their shonky over-priced product could have otherwise been spent on things that directly benefit people, without them acting as highly inefficient middle-men eventually passing on a tiny tiny part of their gains to help others.

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There is of course.. a different argument to be made.

"The argument that Microsoft (and Apple to a lesser but significant degree, and likely a good number of other less prominent software companies) have held the computational technology sector back to be about 10-15 years behind where it would it could be today."

Let me try a different argument: the fact that Microsoft managed to unify the market for both hardware and software and impose a common standard was the single most important factor of the rise of computer technology, and has been of immense value to the world.

Here's why:

01) By creating a standard platform, "Wintel", a huge market was created for a specific kind of hardware.

Microsoft, by forcing the *concentration of resources* on a single platform (Wintel), is the single biggest reason and pretty much the only reason why there are many hundreds of millions of computer users today: the dominance of the Wintel platform lead to constantly expanding markets which enabled a technological and economic bootstrapping process in which each technological innovation could generate enough income to generate a succeeding technological innovation along with the economies of scale needed to make that innovation affordable - which further expanded the market. (I.e. we buy progressively more capability for progressively less money, in a continuing process).

Beyond the amortization of physical capital, economies of scale also include the intellectual efforts invested on a single platform, as opposed to being scattered over a variety of platforms. It should be clear to anyone that if the engineering talent invested in x86 were scattered over a large variety of incompatible cpus, then that talent would have been less effective and would have accomplished far less, expressing itself in a large number of more primitive but higher-priced processors. Computers would be far less capable, and far more expensive, than they are today.

(This process eventually effected all computer components and lead to the creation of new components; as the size of the existing market increased, investment become more economically sound, and invention and innovation increased as the probability of returns on the effort invested in invention and innovation increased.)

Bear in mind that the process and fabrication technology needed to actually manufacture the cpu also benefited from the increased market for computers, another extremely important factor in the commoditization of personal computing. When you buy, let's say, a new graphics card, you don't buy "photolithography" but it still needed to invented and sold at an affordable price, or that graphics card could not be fabricated in the first place.

Or, to put it another way, you wouldn't be able to run any FOSS on modern hardware if Wintel hadn't created the economic incentives that enabled modern hardware to exist in the first place.

02) Wintel's dominance enabled economies of scale in programming too! In much the same was as with hardware, it did so by concentrating immense intellectual investment on a specific platform, thereby making for more rapid progress than would have been the case with only a small number of people investing their effort. Had this same quantity of intellectual investment been scattered of many platforms, none of them would have progressed as far as they have.

****************

All of this should be familiar to anyone with a moderate degree of economic literacy, or who is familiar with the career of Cornelius Vanderbilt (a group of people probably to a large degree co-extensive with the first, now that I think about it.)

Other results:

03) The fact that computers were so affordable created a mass market for them, which encouraged the adaption of the technology to a mass market - what I have in mind here are GUI's, without which we would still be using the command line. The development of GUI's made computing far more accessible to a mass market .

04) The ubiquity of Windows enables computer skills learned at one enterprise to be transferred easily to another enterprise, if they both run Windows. (And most do.) This creates a more capable workforce, allowing for increased productivity. It also allows for greater employee mobility, from enterprise to enterprise, although such mobility is greatly effected by other factors too, of course.

(Of course, if you think that all of the foregoing is "evil", no one will stop you. But please pay careful attention to the following statement:)

What anyone thinks of Microsoft's business ethics is irrelevant. It is easy to moralistically examine anyone's behaviour in the real world and find it unacceptable. The actual outcome of Microsoft's behaviour has been immensely beneficial to the progress of personal computing, IT, and everything based on it, including all forms of consumer electronics such as smart phones, dvd players, mp3 players, digital cameras and so.

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Anonymous Coward

Mother Theresa was actually evil http://www.newstatesman.com/200508220019

http://www.facebook.com/missionariesofcharity

I'm still surprised she's still regarded as someone good.

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Gates/Theresa

...wish I was more like either of them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Gates/Theresa

Have you ever seen both of them in the same room at the same time?

No?

Ha! Busted.

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Anonymous Coward

Actually she was misguided

Mother Theresa actually did far more harm than good. As a conservative Catholic she not only helped to spread AIDS she actively encouraged it by teaching those she was 'helping' that contraception was against God. She preached that it is a womans duty to breed which lead to more mouths going unfed, less food to go around everyone and more deaths as a result. She thought more about getting the dying to Heaven than she did about caring for the sick and she has said so in her own words. It is also on record that one of her nurses left after Mother Theresa refused to help a child who would have lived with a course of antibiotics because he was going to meet God.

I am not saying she did this because she was an evil woman. She did it as she was deeply religious and thought she was doing good according to her faith. Even a logical argument about the hardship and suffering she was causing wouldn't have opened her eyes as she was blinded by 'The Truth'

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Um?

I'm a "born again" "fundamentalist" Christian (lovely labels) but I don't quite see the question existing which this article is replying to. Acting ethically is totally separate to whether you open up your source code or not, it's what you use it for and how you treat those you pay to create it, and pay to use it.

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Re: Um?

As a "born again" "fundamentalist" Aitheist (lovely labels) I totally agree with you. I won't tell your friends if you don't tell mine :-)

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Does this show that there really is one born again every minute?

I'll get me coat.

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Butt Shurley

did you mean Bourne Again Shelly?

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Linux

Follow your own advice

You really jumped the shark when you tried to elevate Bill gates above Mother Theresa.

RMS may be annoying at times but he's ultimately why there's any Android to begin with.

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Anonymous Coward

Please...

RMS did not invent free software, he didn't invent open source software and didn't couple the two together, he just happens to have formed one formalisation of how it works.

It's more than likely that we'd be using free open source software based on a different rule set (licence) had he never existed. I'd say that he probably does as much to hold back FOSS as he does to further it.

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Wow

A Matt Assay column I can almost agree with.

The Open Source Evangelists do need to "Shut Up" sometimes. Theres a time and a place for open source, and there's a time and a place for closed.

And this seach for "Openness" perfection that Matt's highlighted does make them seem a little puratanical...

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Unhappy

Score 100%

That is, I don't think there is a single sentence here that I agree with

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Re: not a single sentence I agree with

"Open source is not Christian or atheistic. Technology is amoral and indifferent to religion; the people who use it need not be."

I found those fairly agreeable. Platitudes, even.

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Obvious statement is obvious.

Pretty well all technology can be used for good or evil. A frying pan can be used for cooking delicious, delicious bacon, or for splatting kittens. A searchable bible app can be used for spiritual enlightenment or for looking up inconsistencies for the next time Jehova's Witnesses show up. A grenade can be used for evil or for feeding a lakeside village really quickly. And so on.

Also, viewing things through a religious filter doesn't make the intent 'good' any more than a non-religious user is intrinsically evil. Quite the converse...many of the really horrible things in history have had a religious justification.

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Coat

Mmmm...

"A frying pan can be used for cooking delicious, delicious bacon, or for splatting kittens."

And you can use the frying pan for cooking the delicious, freshly splatted kittens. Have you any examples of bad things a frying pan can do?

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" A searchable bible app can be used for spiritual enlightenment or for looking up inconsistencies for the next time Jehova's Witnesses show up."

Sorry, which of those is evil?

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Close the Gates...

Stallman promotes free software (as in freedom). Open source is is not free software.

If Matt Asay had done even the smallest amount of research he would know the difference and know why Stallman takes the stance he does.

MS sponsored FUD.

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I assume you mean...

...open-source is not /inherently/ free software. As in: free is open by nature, but open is not always free.

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Pint

"Open source is not Free Software"

OK, then. Please point me to a licence (even a hypothetical one under which no software has ever actually been released) which *either* meets the definition of Open Source but not the definition of Free Software, *or* meets the definition of Free Software but not the definition of Open Source.

Beer, because I'm expecting to get thirsty during the wait.

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Of course Stallman

could be said to be the puritan's puritan if you like: no playing games on Sunday, no dancing, his women shrouded from head to to with not a millimetre of flesh visible...

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Anonymous Coward

Well done piece of FLAMEBAIT, matt

Now don your asbestos, you'll be needing them.

billy g. has quite a lot of dosh to help the poor and the needy, and what's he doing with it? Why, parcel it out piecemeal, of course! He's got no vision (never had; go read his books, I dare you), and even while he's hired the supposedly finest around, he can't do any better. He's started his own cult for every microsoftee still believes they're "helping the world" while utterly failing to do so. They do some mean marketeering though.

Where Mother Theresa is arguably ineffective in the big picture taken on her own, at least she's an example that plenty of people can aspire to. Getting filthy rich is a lot more work and a lot harder; there's more than a little luck involved. It's not something people expect to be able to do.

And all that information technology? He's mostly *withheld* it from the masses by, oh, ignoring the internet until he no longer could, by making things so "intuitive" people give up in frustration, by quelling innovation through destroying other people's good ideas, stealing them then breaking the implementations, buying up start-ups then having the implementations succumb to internal politics or just shelving them after ditching the exec supposedly doing something with it, and so on, and so forth. At least Mother Theresa isn't sitting on mountains of potential and denying them to the world, sharing only the excrement. She's a lot more honest that way.

This comparison, taken in the "open source is only free if your time is free" sense, then yes, it's true. It's also an impressive way to miss the point. If open source evangelists can be argued out the door that way they need to learn better arguments, starting by learning to understand how businesses use software. But then, that's something even software companies often don't understand. Or the companies themselves (cue description of software on trading desks) for that matter, all of whom use you-know-whose software.

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Perhaps other people would have given more to charity is they had not spent all their money renting Bill's software, or paying huge taxes so politicians can buy Bill's software.

I think whoever writes the software (or pays someone else to write software) gets to choose the license. I support Bill's right to rent out his third rate software at exorbitant rates. Google are Apple are welcome to spy on their customers who do not bother to read the terms and conditions that come with the products and services.

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Yes!

Just don't elevate them to saints for doing so. It's tacky.

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