back to article Stallman warns open-sourcers on Javascript-browser trap

Free-software activist Richard Stallman has warned the open-source community against falling into the trap of downloading Javascript code that's not "free". Stallman said the spread of AJAX-based web services like Google Docs means you many be running Javascript code on your machine that's not free without realizing it. He …

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@AC

"Because if not, then he is naught but a hypocrite."

Actually, It'd be more accurate to say that "you are a retarded fuckwitt", because whatever you say about RMS, if he had the choice to do his stuff on hardware that had unencumbered IP, you can be fucking sure that he would. All he is concerned with is bringing more of those sort of freedoms to retentive puppies like you in his own field. If you don't want to throw things like your domestic router, set-top box, and maybe your mobile phone in the bin, just say thanks instead, you ingrate.

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Coat

He makes me cringe, but I think I see his point...

Yes, Javascript code is open in that you can see it, but it isn't free. I'm pretty sure every major tech company who has invested in developing AJAX platforms has every line of it patented to the high heavens. All of which is completely irrelevant to users.

The flipside of Javascript code being visible to all is that it tends to get 'borrowed' by other developers for their own purposes, without regard to whatever copyright claims and dire threats against misuse may be hidden away in the legal section of the original owner's website.

So your company rolls out its new Web 3.0 ultra-spiffy AJAX-fest of a website, nurtures a loyal following among users and amasses several billion in venture capital (OK, maybe not that last one in these harsh times). All is good until your legal dept. receives a none-too-friendly letter from Google/Amazon/whoever your developers 'borrowed' the code from, citing US Patent #289388494. The copyright was clearly stated in subsection 13.21 on page 9 of the legal section of their website and since they can also see your Javascript, they noticed your developers didn't even bother removing the original source comments when they did a cut-and-paste job.

Stallman tends to bluster a lot, but often his core ideas have some merit. Javascript is moving from a handy way to add functionality in plain old HTML towards a full-blown application layer. I don't believe every company writing Javascript should freely release their code for reuse without restriction, but having a large GPL-style library for developers to use rather than the code 'borrowing' that's widespread today seems a sound enough idea.

I'm happy enough to let Stallman rant about whatever has currently got his goat. Anything to keep him from singing that damn Free Software song again.

/mine's the gnu-suede jacket with a copy of the LGPL in the pocket

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Alien

Stallman Schmallman

Stallman's ideology is all very well, so long as someone is bankrolling you. It's essential to remember that Stallman has never had to work in a "real" job with deadlines, customers and products to ship. He's gone directly from university ivory tower, to isolated lab ivory tower, to LUG-supported ivory tower. There's a reason that the GNU Hurd never appeared, which is that the ivory-tower types spent all their time playing around the edges and never actually produced anything that worked.

Oh, and to the people above who say that open-source software wouldn't exist without Stallman - wrong. Just wrong. Since forever, coders have written stuff for their own purposes, and shared it with others. Sure, the GPL wouldn't exist - but most (if not all) of the code released under the GPL would. It just wouldn't come with a pretty semi-legal license.txt file.

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Re: Stallman can be an arse...

"We could do with a few more like him, then we would not be under the thumb with people like Wacky J and her cronies trying to take our freedoms away!"

At last, amongst the wailing of the Britards, a voice of reason.

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But for all the flak ...

Stallman is right.

As Grandcross said above, why should people worry about their software "as long as its safe and free to them"? Quite. It's because of the weirdy beardys sitting up late nights picking over the design of OS software that we can be reasonably sure that OS, at least, is "safe". When the source is secret, you just have to hope that it's trustworthy, no matter how free it may be in cash terms.

All the stuff we use is so damn complicated already that, if you're honest, you don't know very much detail about what *any* of your tech toys are doing, and it isn't about to get any simpler. Do mobile phones *really* spy on you at the behest of nameless dark forces? Only the OpenMoko crowd can be reasonably sure, one way or the other, 'cos they've seen what's in there. For the rest of us, like the police ad says, "trust no-one", and admit that you know bugger all about what the thing really can do.

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Re: rms

"No-one outside of seriously anal programming is going to look at a list of 4 items numbered 0,1,2,3 and think anything except "what a twat"."

Odd, then, that as I read your remark I find the same words appropriate to describe the impression of yourself you seem to want to leave for everyone. And I don't even need to make an easy joke about "anal programming".

"Freedom should be exactly that, freedom. So if MS want to hide their source code they should be entitled to do so, in fact rms et. al. should be fighting for their freedom to do so. And if I (or anyone else) chooses to use that software, under those conditions, then again my freedom to do so should be respected at the very least."

Read up on "freedom" before you choose one particular definition amongst many, restricted to one particular point of view. If anything, you're advocating the freeloading variant of "freedom": the privilege of treating other people's work as if it were your own; the privilege to deny others the same "freedom". Freedom for Stallman has always been about end-user freedoms, and I don't see MS fighting for those, somehow.

"However I am not in the least bit interested in looking at the source code as I don't care how it works"

Yes, apathy is rife in the kingdom of the Britards: can't see why you'd want to do something; can't see why anyone else would want it, either. And so it goes on: can't be bothered with end-user freedoms and civil liberties as long as there's shiny new stuff to buy; can't see why anyone else would be bothered, either.

My advice to you would be to leave the big questions to the grown-ups rather than making puerile jokes about people who have quite literally changed the world for the better.

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anyone have a clue?

@ al

"Does Stallman fly only the opensource airlines ?

Is he not worried about all the proprietary code running in the plane controls, communication systems etc ?"

Why? There's a shitload of *non-proprietary* stuff in FBW/Avionic systems as well, going waaaaayyyyyy back. I know this because it used to be my first job (a couple of decades ago) and I am told that a surprising amount of it (largely unchanged) still remains -- it's THAT ancient.

@ Graham Bartlett

"ivory-tower types spent all their time playing around the edges and never actually produced anything that worked."

Graham, I'll stick with Avionics. Most FBW systems derive from prior art dating back to *purely* academic research in the 70's from people like Stallman and AI projects (like so much else). Anything truly proprietary in that arena is a recent development (derived from mainly *military* research). Before that, though, as I am sure you know, the world's first computers were in fact built solely to perform real-world problem solving by "ivory-tower" academics. Ever heard of Bletchley, Enigma, etc?

Around the same time, similar "ivory-tower" academics were assembling the first atom bomb in America.

I usually find those who talk about "ivory tower academics" who "don't produce anything" comes from people who had trouble passing their GCSE's

@ Steen Hive:

Top rants. All of 'em.

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@ Lee

"So if MS want to hide their source code they should be entitled to do so, in fact rms et. al. should be fighting for their freedom to do so."

And, by that logic, if I own a knife that means I get to choose who I stab with it. If you concede that owning a knife does not give one the right to harm people willy-nilly by stabbing them, then why does writing a piece of software give one the right to harm people willy-nilly by restricting their use of it?

"However I am not in the least bit interested in looking at the source code as I don't care how it works and as I don't have a beard or wear white socks and sandals and I have actually had sex with more than just me present I would be unable to write any code to change anything anyway."

So, just because you aren't a programmer, you want to deny everyone who *is* a programmer the rights you are unable to exercise in practice? Argument from Limited Imagination is a logical fallacy.

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@Graham Bartlett

RMS and GNU have produced lots of useful stuff... but, as you point out, HURD is still very much GNU-fart. Much of the reason Hurd is not going anywhere is because Linux fills that slot (GPLd OS) and it is a lot easier dealing with a pragmatic Linus than a flower-powered RMS. Thus, HURD lacks drivers and all those other useful stuff that makes it actually work on a real machine.

RMS is an idealist and puts freedom (according to his definition) ahead of anything else. That's fine, but the rest of the world does not have to buy in to his ideas.

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@AJ Stiles, @@Lee

Stiles: Your logic astounds. Privacy is not the same as bad intent. They are not the same issue.

If you own a knife, you may choose whether to lend it out or not, give it away or keep it under lock and key. You may choose to never use it or might choose to cut bread or rocks with it (so long as it is your bread or rock or have permission), but just because it is yours does not mean you can stab someone with it.

MS, or anybody, should be allowed to keep their IP private if they wish.

But that does not mean that MS, or anybody, should be allowed to be malicious with their IP.

Even GPL does not take away those IP rights. All GPL muscle comes from copyright law. If copyright law was taken away then GPL would no longer have teeth.

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@Steen

I can't see how I am in any way "shackled" by downloading an MP3. It would only be a problem if I wanted to do anything with that mp3 which, by virtue of it's mp3-ness, I couldn;t do. And there isn't.

Note, that doesn't mean there is nothing I can't do to it - it means there is nothing I WANT TO which I can't do to it.

If that wasn't the case, I would simply download in another format. That's freedom. As in people.

As a matter of interest, do you RMS fanboiz believe that car makers should give away the full engineering drawings with every car? That jeans makers should include the paper pattern with every pair? That audiobooks should come with the printed version?

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@Grandcross

"But the average person surfing the web could care less how the software is produced..."

Actually I believe they couldn't.

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al
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@Greg Fleming

A cousin of mine has worked in Avionics s/w for 10+years. (as a developer; not a pilot).

Last I talked to him about Linux; he had no clue what GNU/GPL was. He had heard of linux and firefox though. For him open just means being able to communicate using a standard interface. I agree it might be using a keyhole view for the entire avionics s/w here; but I doubt if anyone here believes that planes fly using linux & OSS.

But by getting into nitty gritty of avionics, you are missing the point:

- (as most of us are aware that) the computers are everywhere: cellphones, telephony backend, cars, planes, medical systems, banks and we use these computers directly or indirectly. Sometimes you have a choice of running FSF approved OSS -eg: your desktop or cellphone. But if we are preaching others that they restrict their lives by not using non-FSF approved s/w; we ourselves must goto stone-age first.

Finally:

Apologies to RMS. I am too small a fish to talk without respect when referring to a great revolutionary and I am genuinely sorry for my comments which were not in best taste (given the stature of the person involved). I maintain that I no longer agree with RMS' philosophy or doctrine. I believe in business of technology. I believe it must be fair and square. There was a hoarding of information at one point which thanks to GNU has changed. But there were hobbyists passing shareware all along and this shift in power would have happened with or without GNU. Today we risk going overboard. But this is just my opinion and with my admittance I am just a small fry in a big pond. RMS deserves being addressed in more respectful tone than I used and I am sorry for that.

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@ Charles Manning

"MS, or anybody, should be allowed to keep their IP private if they wish. But that does not mean that MS, or anybody, should be allowed to be malicious with their IP."

No they shouldn't be allowed to keep it private, because keeping it private *is* being malicious. The fruits of all human endeavour rightfully belong to all of humanity. By concealing the Source Code from the users, Microsoft are preventing them from studying or altering it, and therefore imposing their will on the users. That is an act of violence.

You want to keep your Source Code a secret? Then do us all a favour, and keep the binary a secret too.

"All GPL muscle comes from copyright law. If copyright law was taken away then GPL would no longer have teeth."

I concede that. However, I would have absolutely no problem with a *different* law, mandating that every person who receives a copy of a computer program must be given the Source Code and build instructions.

Anyway, it will all be irrelevant soon. As soon as a decent decompiler exists, Freedoms One and Three will be available to take by force if required.

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@A J Stiles

"The fruits of all human endeavour rightfully belong to all of humanity."

Riiight. So, can I presume that you will give me free access to every fruit of your endeavour? Let's start with your diary, shall we? And I want a copy of every email message you have ever sent, or will ever send. Oh yes, and your medical records, please - they are the fruits of human endeavour and resent your doing violence to me by keeping them secret. Employment records too, of course.

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@Ian Johnston

"It would only be a problem if I wanted to do anything with that mp3 which, by virtue of it's mp3-ness, I couldn;t do. And there isn't."

Obviously you don't want to write audio software. Others do.

"As a matter of interest, do you RMS fanboiz believe that car makers should give away the full engineering drawings with every car?"

RMS Fanbois, really. Personally I think that getting the drawings would be great, but seeing as how we are talking about intangibles here with a marginal cost of zero and not cars, I won't go into how a consumer can't be bound by a contract not to find out how his car works, I'll just treat that as the straw-man argument it is. The damage to the both the consumer and end-user from proprietary software comes from the creation of markets of completely artificial scarcity. Fraud.

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@al

"I agree it might be using a keyhole view for the entire avionics s/w here; but I doubt if anyone here believes that planes fly using linux & OSS."

Did I say anything flew using Linux? Of course they don't. It isn't fault tolerant enough.

I am referring to the algorithms that allow standard interfaces to exist in the first place. In avionics, these are well-known, published and open standards, which allow hardware and software to communicate.

This is the point. None of this would be possible without published open standards. If everything were proprietary, very few things we take for granted in computing (far less specific areas like avionics) would be possible.

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RMS Visionary

The cantankerous personality of Stallman is what got us the wonderful freedoms of the GPL world in the first place. You have to fight for freedoms but most people posting here seem to be just noisy lambs.

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