back to article Are you an open-sorcerer or free software warrior? Let us do battle

The Open Source Initiative, a non-profit that advocates for open-source software and coined the term, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. It's difficult to conceive of where the internet, indeed the world, would be today were it not for open-source software and, perhaps more importantly, the free software movement that …

  1. steelpillow Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Before the suits show up

    I have said it before and I will say it again.

    Open/Free/Libre licensing is about the business model, it is not a software thing. Go find the suits who are not in the software business and sell them the idea of taking back possession of their own business model, that proprietary licensing stole from them.

    Until that is done, this whole issue is just geek-vs-geek irrelevance to the rest of the world.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry...

    For me, Free means it costs nothing.

    Open Source means you can see the source code.

    Free can be propriety or open source and I would think that's how 99.9999% of regular people would also see it (not that many would have a clue what OS is)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Open Source means you can see the source code."

      To me, "open" source means one can copy, reuse the code, modify and republish it freely - within the license limitations.

      The availability of source code may not give you those rights - often, but not always, you can modify it only for internal needs, and you are usually bound to keep it more or less "secret".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry...

      Perhaps part of the perception problem in the UK/US is the English word "free" which has two basic meanings. There are two distinct words in French with different meanings "libre" which means free as in freedom (to do as you wish) and "gratuit" which means free as in beer. So the distinction is more apparent.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry...

        Particularly misleading is this:

        > free software is open-source software, but open-source software is not necessarily free software

        There is plenty of "free" (as in beer) software out there which is not open-source. You can download the binaries, use them, maybe even distribute them, at no cost; but the authors provide no source code.

    3. BobAllen

      Re: Sorry...

      Free means ‘without’; hence terms such as ‘bug-free’. So since unqualified ‘free’ might actually refer to:

      • free of charge,

      • free of restrictions,

      • free of wombats,

      • free of anything, really,

      those who use it so get what they deserve.

      1. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Sorry...

        You've been reading George Orwell's nineteen-eightyfour.

        1. Ole Juul Silver badge

          Re: Sorry...

          "You've been reading George Orwell's nineteen-eightyfour."

          There is a huge number of people in jails all over the world. Freedom is a thing.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Sorry...

        free of wombats

        Well that one at least usually doesn't apply to code, at least if "wombat" is taken in the Rossetti sense.

        I have seen code that is not obtuse, and I have seen code that is not furry; but only rarely, and almost never neither.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Sorry...

      "For me, Free means it costs nothing."

      As in free beer.

      The problem I have with 'Free', as defined by the FSF, isn't "free" at all. If something is truly "free" as in freedom, you'll be able to do whatever you want with it. GPL licenses, in the name of 'freedom', put a whole lot of restrictions on what you can do with something. I wouldn't call that "free".

      A proper "free as in freedom" license protects the author from getting sueballs thrown at him because his 'free' product didn't perform properly or allegedly broke something. Anything beyond that is too much.

      I'll avoid making the left vs right comparison on the concept of 'freedom'. I supposed you could call FSF vs OSI as "left vs right" though. And the obligatory civil war begins!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @bombastic bob - Re: Sorry...

        No, Bob. FSF is all about end-user freedom.

        You may very well charge the user for the software but you may not take away his freedom to use the software as he pleases (copy, modify etc.). However, in order to prevent him from taking an unfair advantage of your work, you request user does not impose any additional restrictions to those already in place. Like for instance if the software you develop is slurping my personal data and spying o me, free software will force you as a developer to allow me to extirpate the malware from your software and use it as I see fit.

        If you don't like this, there's a wide range of proprietary software you can use and nobody will stop you.

        See, no neural cells have been hurt during this exercise.

        1. JLV Silver badge

          Re: @bombastic bob - Sorry...

          >However, in order to prevent him from taking an unfair advantage of your work,

          As I see, that is the core difference between permissive licenses and GPL. It's a reasonable difference of opinion, but the people choosing permissive licenses are aware that they "can be taken advantage of".

          There are 3 possible actors in open source projects

          - the original developer(s) and contributors

          - end users, meaning anyone who will not release derivative works

          - other developers/corporates that want to base their offerings on the project

          End users who use a BSD project have the same abilities to play with the code as under the GPL. So do the original developers.

          The 3rd bunch is what irks the FSF. These are free-riders if they don't release the code back to the community.

          And that includes people just viewing the code, which by some interpretations would be a GPL violation if they then based a non-GPL product on what they had seen.

          Choosing BSD is a conscious decision by the first group that they give up the control to compel the third group to release code back. It may happen or it may not. To proponents of permissive licenses, lowering the barriers to code adoption is more compelling than preventing unfair advantage. There is a risk, and an opportunity, for group 1 in leaving group 3 unfettered.

          Going back to the FSF's cherished user freedoms, there is one additional risk, to the second, user group, in using BSD products. Anyone with sufficient influence can take un-BSD a project or a part of it. They can't stop forking, but they could easily stop publishing their future code and place paywalls or restrict code visibility from that point on. And that includes taking in any contributions that users make and incorporate them into their now restricted-source offering. Or the developers could easily build a freemium model where some of the stuff is open source, some is not. Yes, you can do that with GPL, but are more legal restrictions around that process.

          But I would expect that BSD/MIT projects lacking transparency and fairness will lose mindshare rapidly so there is a natural community-driven limit to how much group 1 can "rip-off" group 2.

          I don't object to the GPL per se, but it aims to compel people to behave by its rules once the code is released under it. That's a totally valid and acceptable choice. And we should respect that when we interact with GPL code.

          But it's not something I am interested in doing with my own code, both because of the limits it puts on code adoption and on the limits it puts on how I can get paid for my work. That's a conscious decision on my part, not just some ethical oversight as some would have it.

    5. Ole Juul Silver badge

      Re: Sorry...

      "For me, Free means it costs nothing."

      How do you regard yourself? I like to think of myself as a free man. Seriously, what kind of greedy person thinks of freedom only in terms of money?

  3. Marco van de Voort

    blacklash against GPL viral clause

    I think this is an oversimplification. Open Source was mainly a backlash against the viral clause in the GPL advocated by the FSF, which was difficult to live with if you sold software for a living. The FSF had some story about a service related way of capitalizing on GPL software which always sounded like an afterthought excuse to deliver when GPL was called business-unfriendly.

    So people wanted to collaborate, just not on FSFs terms and vision.

    Yes, there was the LGPL, but it was weakly advocated in the beginning, and shared the name with the GPL which was considered a poison pill. (and not just by Microsoft, as revisionist freetard historians will want you to believe)

    And this was not just about the suits, it was for the self employed developer too. Even more so, since big business was more likely to have a service organisation in place. (queue IBM that promptly invested heavily in Linux)

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

      Meanwhile the FSF stayed still while the world moved on. Nowawadays the vast majority of open source code is permissely (BSD, MIT, Apache, etc.) licensed. Not only does this faciltate the use of such code in commercial products and services, it has also encouraged businesses to participate more actively in its development. Every restictive clause only means calling the laywers.

      I met Stallman once, briefly, and while he's committed to the cause, he's also unable to admit he lost the argument. I guess there's an argument to be had that the FSF and the GPL helped encourage open source for a while and Linux might be cited as a case in point. But, of course, Linux would probably have gone nowhere if AT&T hadn't sued over BSD so it's as much historical accident as licence.

      More important for everyone concerned is, I think, the potential aspect of liability despite what all the licences say.

      1. Adair

        Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

        @ Charlie Clark

        When someone is a slave, the meaning of freedom becomes important. Stallman didn't 'lose' the argument. The fact the argument exists is enough. The fact that the concept of 'software freedom' exists is enough, it's the irritant that constantly reminds the money grubbers and the wall builders that their ways are not the only ways, and they can never claim that they own the field of play.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

          The fact the argument exists is enough.

          I think you should look more carefully at the licences of modern software projects: the GPL is for many developers becoming an anachronism. Many young developers have grown up with open source and need no convincing of its value. There is an irony that the GPL undoubtedly contributed to this environment but is no longer considered desirable or perhaps even necessary.

          But these people also expect to be paid for their work: open source shouldn't hinder commerce, it should enable it.

          1. Adair

            Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

            @ Charlie clark - '...the GPL is for many developers becoming an anachronism.'

            That perfectly captures the complacency and lack of understanding of those who take for granted something they depend on, but have never given any thought to why it actually matters.

            The GPL isn't perfect -- nothing is -- but it does pretty well capture and uphold the principle of 'freedom' as applied to the generation, use, and transmission of software, in the same way that we all breathe air without anyone being able to lay claim to the lungful that I just breathed in, breathed out, and allowed someone else to draw on.

            If I am involved in research or development I might find proprietary code 'good enough', but I may easily find that I need to be free to build on someone else's work, but in a way they never needed to or thought of, and then someone else is free to do likewise with the code that I have passed on.

            The GPL is not a replacement for proprietary code, it's not even much of a competitor, but it fills a role that that proprietary code at best fills only partially and at worst fills in a toxic and destructive way. 'Open source' licences fall somewhere in between, but in the end they fall short in what they offer when it comes to 'freedom' to use, adapt, and pass on, but it requires a generosity of spirit that 'business' struggles to share.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Charlie Clark - Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

            GPL is (and always) was an anachronism. All the developers you mention are looking to lock-in the user in a way or another and GPL prevents that. It's by design.

            That's why open source licenses have been invented. The message for the big corporations was and still is, no panic, we can still lock-in the user to better monetize him.

            Remember when Canonical came up with that brilliant idea to send your search to Amazon ? GPL insured that you can say no thanks by offering a way to neuter the beast. Yes, open source allowed you the see the offending code but GPL granted you the freedom. On my Android phone I am not allowed to turn off notifications from weather app, the developer doesn't like me to do that. How's that for open source software ?

            You say that Canonical developers deserve to be paid for their work ? Sure, but they should come up with a proprietary software like Microsoft does and convince people to buy it.

            Your last paragraph reminds me of those constitutions that protect citizens right to own slaves.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: @Charlie Clark - blacklash against GPL viral clause

              Your last paragraph reminds me of those constitutions that protect citizens right to own slaves.

              Statements like that make me hate "free software" zealots for trying to make developing open source software an ideological crusade, which for the vast majority of us it isn't: peer review, forking, etc. all scratch different itches.

              1. Adair

                Re: @Charlie Clark - blacklash against GPL viral clause

                True, but then we get other 'zealots' jumping up and down on the GPL like it's the devil incarnate, when in fact it's just another way of 'doing software'. No one is forced to use it, and if they encounter it attached to software they really want to use in a way that denies the spirit of the GPL, well that's just tough -- the same as with any other licence when it doesn't suit a would be 'user' (abuser).

                There is never anything stopping someone going off and writing their own code, if it really matters that much to them, and then they can stick any licence they like on it.

          3. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

            Stallman "lost the argument"? Really? I find it thoroughly amusing to read this on a site where so many people apparently understand (and often fierily advocate) the need for privacy in spite of there not being much in the way of horror stories to illustrate their point. GPL is rather like that - it is very much needed in spite of remaining unnecessary most of the time; it protects against things that lie in wait on roads the proprietary software world simply ended up choosing not to walk down most of the time.

            That is not to say I believe any piece of software, no matter how modest, absolutely needs to be GPL. If all you care about is having your code used as widely as possible - by all means, go Apache / MIT / BSD / public domain / whatever. More power to you. Then again, when you go to all the trouble to freely donate a collectively ginormous amount of man-hours to build an operating system only to see a hardware manufacturer tack its proprietary stuff to it and sell it back to you as a black box you are not supposed to be able to mess with as you please, you might understandably get a bit miffed.

            Also, you may choose not to care what others might build and hoard from code they were given freely, but you only have that choice as long as you truly need nothing from the world outside. Out here in the real world that essentially never happens for any collectively developed project of any significant size; who else might try competing for whatever you need (whether it's visibility, donations, contributor support or something else) using your own work against you can easily become an issue you cannot afford to not deal with.

            GPL is that basic lock on your door - it might not keep someone with a bump key out of your home if they're devious and determined enough, but it does at least spell out where you stand, and should at least keep honest people honest...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

              > Stallman "lost the argument"? Really?

              Stallman lost his original argument when the LGPL was created.

              Personally I loathe the viral aspect of GPL: if I take 1000 lines of someone else's code and add 10 lines of my own then I'm perfectly happy to release my additions. But if I write 1000 lines of unique code but incorporate 10 lines of GPL I don't see why I should be *forced* to make mine free as well.

              So the result is I don't ever incorporate GPL code into anything I write - not quite what Stallman was hoping for, I assume. And, for the small items that I have made 'free' I've simply put them into the public domain.

              1. Adair

                Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

                @AC - 'But if I write 1000 lines of unique code but incorporate 10 lines of GPL I don't see why I should be *forced* to make mine free as well.'

                To be blunt, you're being a whiner. Why did you choose to incorporate 10 lines of GPL code - you knew the deal (and under the law ignorance is not an excuse). You deliberately chose to flout the intent and spirit of the GPL, and now you're complaining about the GPL!

                Attitudes like that are exactly what the GPL is designed to confront, expose, and defend against for the sake of people who put time and effort into creating code that offers genuine freedom to contribute and share.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

        "More important for everyone concerned is, I think, the potential aspect of liability despite what all the licences say."

        Exactly. Too many are more than willing to throw sueballs, in a "biting the hand" moment, because they are the same ones who would complain about a gift. "That gift horse has bad teeth, get me another".

        I think we've all seen enough well-written license disclaimers to pretty much know how to word them for our own personally contributed stuff. If it weren't for those "sewers" (sue-ers) the world would be a much better place, perhaps with a bit more "please" and "thank you" thrown in.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Marco - Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

      You are entitled as a developer to sell software for a living. Just sell your own software don't sell other people work you took for free at zero cost. If someone is offering free software doesn't mean you are free to plunder his work saying "yeah, that sucker is giving it for free anyway so why would he care what I'm doing with it".

    3. lleres

      Re: blacklash against GPL viral clause

      This is a dangerous, and false, re-imagining of the intentions behind the GPL. There has never been anything in any version of the GPL that prohibits authors of code to sell said code.

      The so-called 'copyleft' clause ensures that people other than the author must distribute derivative works of the code in question under the same license. There is always the option of obtaining a different license from the author by way of.. paying some money for a license.

      Without this clause, companies would be free to modify, distribute and sell derivative works with no obligation to contribute their changes back nor to seek permission to sell or distribute their derivative work. The clause, therefore, is solely intended to protect copyright owners, the authors of the code - ie, developers.

      Without the copyleft provisions in the GPL, no hardware manufacturer in the world would be putting resources into writing code for the Linux kernel - they'd just modify in house and force everyone to buy "Linux" from them if they want support for their hardware. This hurts both users and developers but hey, it means the hardware companies can charge whatever they feel like for hardware support like in the good ol' days of mainframes and proprietary human interaction devices. Yay for business, boo for collaboration, competition, and the free market.

      If "new" developers are less inclined to use copyleft licenses, it is most likely from a poor understanding of what it offers them. Worse still are examples of non-open source licenses like the EPL (Eclipse Public License) being used for "open source" projects, which are then used in derivative works licensed under an actual open source license which is explicitly not allowed by the EPL - https://www.eclipse.org/legal/eplfaq.php#USEINANOTHER

      These projects are lawsuits waiting to happen. Choose your license wisely and RTFM.

  4. Richard 12 Silver badge

    What's in it for the user?

    That's always been the fundamental question that Stallman never really answered in a way users could understand.

    Users understand "free as in beer". Free beer is easy to explain.

    However, why should the user care about the freedom to modify?

    Can you explain that to your CEO?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's in it for the user?

      @Richard_12 "However, why should the user care about the freedom to modify?"

      *

      The freedom to modify the software is attractive if the original software is not close enough to the user's needs. The availability of the source code is also attractive after years of software package vendors charging a fortune for customisation.

      *

      But my problem with "freedom to modify" is that the user who does this may also have taken on the burden of SUPPORTING the forked software. Of course, the modifications may be passed back to the originator, and may be included in the next release. But if they are not accepted, how many users want to accept the responsibility for supporting their fork? In many cases this might be a freedom too far!

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: What's in it for the user?

        All versions of the GPL grant the freedom to modify as well as the freedom to distribute the modified product (if you wish), but no obligation to support it. You have the freedom to obligate yourself to support the modified product you distribute, or not, just as do vendors of other open or closed source software.

        One thing "in it" for the user of GPL software that is not (required to be) there for users of proprietary software and a great deal of software derived from other open source projects is a somewhat enforceable right to obtain the source code and either take on maintenance yourself or hire a contractor to carry on maintenance when the provider no longer does so. That is possible of open source software generally, but not necessarily of products based on open source software that are not themselves open source. For closed source software, it generally is not possible even if the software is as fit for purpose now as it was when acquired years earlier.

    2. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Free beer is easy to explain

      Do you mean that I don't have to pay for a bottle/glass of beer? Or, do you mean that knowledge of the ingredients and brewing method is available for me to use as I wish?

    3. steelpillow Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: What's in it for the user?

      "why should the user care about the freedom to modify?

      "Can you explain that to your CEO?"

      >Sigh<

      Yes. The code forces its business model on you (Active Directories? Insecure mail client? Bwa-ha-ha-harr!) If it's a bad fit, you need to change it to the way you want to do your business. That is only possible if YOU have control of the code.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: What's in it for the user?

      "why should the user care about the freedom to modify"

      most users don't. however, a company that ties its success to others' efforts is going to want to be able to protect itself, should the author die or (worse) get sued out of existence. Open Source does a VERY good job in mitigating that kind of risk.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @bombastic bob - Re: What's in it for the user?

        Unlike Open Source, GPL provisions come into play only if that company tries to distribute the software.

        Oh, and a company that ties its success to other people efforts without any form of payback smells fishy to me.

    5. nijam Silver badge

      Re: What's in it for the user?

      > Can you explain that to your CEO?

      You cannot explain technical things to CEOs, in general.

    6. Zolko

      Re: What's in it for the user?

      @Richard 12 : However, why should the user care about the freedom to modify? Can you explain that to your CEO?

      Certainly: to avoid document lock-in. Look at Microsoft Wrod –vs– Open/Libre Office.

      Each new version of MS Office had/has a new document format, incompatible with the old one, and readable by no other software. On the other hand, when OpenOffice begun to suck, the code was forked and LibreOffice carried on. All ODT documents are easily readable by all Open/Libre Office variants, and also have many alternatives to switch-to.

  5. aaaa
    Unhappy

    Complete failure of stated objective

    From the article "The OSI wanted to make free software "more understandable to newcomers and to business". They felt the term "free software", with "its seeming focus on price", was distracting."

    Well - they are a complete failure are they not?

    Look at the funding shortfall for even the most popular OSI software like OpenSSL. It only got addressed as a 'once off' and only after a helluva lot of publicity.

    Free software has never been about price. It's like saying the Free Press is about having a free paper to read on the tube.

    Free Software is more valuable than non-Free Software, and you should be paying for it. Or you know, don't pay, and find the software stops being supported suddenly because the programmers which were maintaining it had to go and get jobs at Tesco because they were about to be evicted, whilst their software was being used in mission critical and customer facing systems in 9 out of 10 fortune 500 companies. I wish I was making this up.

    The Free Press is far more valuable than the non-Free Press. It's why we watch and PAY FOR the BBC for our international news, and not 'Russia Today'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "and you should be paying for it"

      And how do you pay for it? Buying unrelated product/services, which I may have no use for? Most open source code is the by-side product of other ways of making money.

      Very few, maybe only Linux, are products able to focused on the product itself.

      So instead of focusing on their customers need, they care about their patrons needs first. That's a bad model.

      Someone has to pay professional developers, and if the money don't come from the product itself, they have to come from other sources - but those sources will then dictate what developer should do - sometimes it can be aligned to other users needs, but sometimes it can't be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC - Re: "and you should be paying for it"

        Hey, if you can't pay the developers from the product itself, why don't you try some other kind of business. It's immoral to expect to make money from something nobody wants.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Complete failure of stated objective

      Free software has never been about price. It's like saying the Free Press is about having a free paper to read on the tube.

      The thing about the "free press" in the UK is that the commercial press is essentially controlled by oligarchs and the "impartial" media only exists because of government fiat so it isn't a form of freedom that shifts the balance of power between the many and the few.

      Free/open software has undoubtedly given a leg-up to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google, but the consequence of that has been to concentrate power/wealth in a smaller number of hands.

      "Free" is not necessarily a social benefit if it simply means "free-for-all".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "has undoubtedly given a leg-up to the likes of Facebook, [...]"

        Unless someone setup scriptoria where code monks will churn out code in exchange for a bowl of rice, a cell where to sleep in, and other monks supplying directly that rice, money has to come from somewhere.

        You can exploit the never ending supply of university serfs students, and some amateurs who makes money in different business (lucky them) where nobody asks them to give their work away fro free.

        But many pros will want to be paid adequately, and only the big corporations have the resources to pay them, or maybe the startups burning money from VCs waiting to be acquired by some big corp - as long as they didn't open source too much IP up to the point of making it of no value.

        Thereby many projects are still the property of big corps. that can still kill them easily, sure, the code will be there for others to take on, but without the resources to do it, those projects are effectively dead.

        You're right in saying open source had helped actually many big monopolies to arise, reducing their investment, their need of developers, the pay for the lower ones as well, and letting them exploiting the work of others too.

        But of course all those who look at open source just a way to make a quick buck selling rebranded open source product to unaware customers - in in our security review we've spotted not a few of them, or avoiding to pay for their tools while having other to pay for what they sell, look it as a big gift - just a gift they'll never return.

        I would like to see what's the ratio between open source users and contributors...

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Complete failure of stated objective

        Free/open software has undoubtedly given a leg-up to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google, but the consequence of that has been to concentrate power/wealth in a smaller number of hands.

        "Free" is not necessarily a social benefit if it simply means "free-for-all".

        At least FSF free maintains the legal requirement to provide source on distribution, which is left to merely as an ethical and moral decision on some OSI compatible licences.

        Previous poster is right about english and it's indistinct and nebulous use of 'free'.

        I am often tempted to conclude that to many companies (including charities) 'Free' makes them think it's not worth having.

        I'd also be tempted to concluded that the 'Free Press' of today is a warped corruption down to badly managed control over the worst inclinations of the predatory corporation.

  6. find users who cut cat tail

    Sigh

    I did not even get to reading the article -- the title alone makes me want to strangle the author...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPL is not freedom at all.

    GPL fits only Stallman vision that you have to be forced to open source your code, and relinquish any copyright on it. It has a very restrictive meaning of "freedom". The only real freedom is you can avoid GPL at all.

    Just, not anybody is so lucky to be paid by some institution regardless of the results, and thereby having no issue in giving stuff away for free.

    That's returning to patronage - or state-owned economy - when you had to find someone willingly to pay for you at his whims and who owned your work, because you didn't have a market to sell you work. You were just a notch above a slave.

    Actually, whoever believes open source is the future, is just turning the clock back.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      You do not have to use the GPL. If you do use the GPL, you can retain the copyright. You can sell GPL software, but more common business models involve selling support or selling improvements.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "you can retain the copyright"

        Ask those who were required to relinquish their copyright to FSF - and "copyleft" is not real "copyright".

        Still, it is true that GPL tries to use copyright laws to achieve its copyright-less world. Just look at the anti-DRM clauses in v3.

      2. Marco van de Voort

        Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

        You can sell the software (and any later improvements) only once, since they can ask for the source and redistribute it. Or license it per ratio of usage. (number of copies)

        Such constructs do happen of course in custom software that is not to interesting for others, but it is too limited in most cases.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      "GPL fits only Stallman vision that you have to be forced to open source your code, and relinquish any copyright on it."

      The GPL depends on copyright. If you relinquish that, say by putting the code in the public domain, you can't apply the GPL.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Doctor Syntax - Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

        Nice try! However you're not the first one coming up with this idea. Public domain has its own licenses and GPL is not one of them.

    3. JimC Silver badge

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      Well, there's more nuance to it than that. The Stallman political vision of "freedom" for the end user necessarily takes away freedom from the developer, who is restricted in how she/he can reuse the code.

      I think the problem with Stallman's vision is that its all about the 60s / 70s world where there was no real boundary between developers and end users. Most IT users these days couldn't give a flying **** about modifying the application, nor could they if they wanted to, they only want the bloody stuff to work. Thus Mr Stallman's freedom to modify is essentially worthless to them. By contrast Mr Stallman's restrictions on reuse limit what fellow developers can do with the code.

      By contrast the much less restrictive licenses like NCSA are about payforward. You benefited from studying or reusing code other people made freely available, and where possible within your working environment you have a moral duty to pay forward by making your code freely available, but there are not the restrictions on what you can do with the code that there are from GPL. But the point is that because its pay forward you are not seeking to put restrictions on what your sister/brother coder does in the future. Your moral duty ended with the act of paying forward.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Jim C - Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

        Erm, no.

        For you, I'll put the GPL license as simple as is can be. What Stallman said is you as a developer can do whatever you want with the code but you can't add any restriction on top of those already in place when you decided to use the software unless you keep the code for your use only. Get it ?

        Sheesh! GPL restrictions are good when you take the software but are bad when you want to distribute it, don't you find this a little bit asymmetrical ?

        Your idea with moral duty is all fine and dandy but look at Apple. What did they offered in exchange for BSD ? Where's the act of paying forward ? They didn't even send a thank you postcard for the code they used. This is the kind of behavior that made Stallman pissed off. This is why lots of people in this discussion deeply hate GPL.

        1. nijam Silver badge

          Re: @Jim C - GPL is not freedom at all.

          > What did they offered in exchange for BSD ?

          BSD is not under the GPL, but under the BSD licence (remarkable coincidence, don't you think). So using what Apple did to criticise the GPL (which would have stopped them at least partly) is really quite odd logic.

        2. JimC Silver badge

          Re:our idea with moral duty is all fine and dandy but look at Apple.

          Well, you see, I don't really care what other people do. That's down to them. If any of the snippets I've released under NCSA get included in a product that someone sells closed source for megabucks then good luck to them. I've chosen to give them the freedom to do that.

    4. JimC Silver badge

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      But be careful about copyright - copyright is essential to the Stallman vision. Without the copyright on the code the restrictions in the Stallman vision cannot be enforced. Copyright makes the GPL vision work, which is awfully ironic when you consider how ardently Google's anti copyright useful idiots trumpet open source. Yes, Stallman wants you to hand your copyright over to his foundation, but that's again about enforcement - we as individuals are virtually impotent to enforce restrictions on our copyright, which is why its more or less essential to have co-operative or support organisations like the FSF to enforce the restrictions by means of copyright. Or for another example of such an organisation (in order to get a lot more downvotes from Google's useful idiots) the RIAA.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      @AC "whoever believes open source is the future, is just turning the clock back"

      you almost had my upvote until I read that line...

      FSF is a good idea, but carries too much baggage.

      The point of the article is that OSI grew out of FSF's "restrictive" view on how to make software open. 'The Suits' made it more compatible with business. Hence, it has money and marketing behind it. And, it's all good.

      I've mentioned this before - I like to 'dual license' anything I consider to be a worth-while project. That way if you want a BSD-like license, you can do that. Or if you need GPL for some reason, you can do that. Or, in some cases, to make customers happy [when I copy/pasta code from an open source project I wrote into a customer project to save time] I add a 3rd option of "use without a license by author's permission". Everybody wins.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC - Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      You're right, mate! Freedom to plunder other people work. You take something for free and complain you can't make money out of it ?

      How about writing your own code and selling it under a proprietary license instead ?

    7. nijam Silver badge

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      > GPL fits only Stallman vision that you have to be forced to open source your code, and relinquish any copyright on it.

      No, you retain the copyright, obviously. So I deduce you have some other axe to grind.

    8. Dinsdale247

      Re: GPL is not freedom at all.

      I would go one step further and say that the GPL has the unintended consequence of supporting large businesses over small players because they don't have to innovate to stifle the market. They just have to ensure that nobody else can be more innovative than them and the GPL guarantees that. This forces the "communization" of all software and as pointed out, makes us dependent on large companies for our living.

      My preference is for FreeBSD and MIT licensed code. There are few things GPL that cannot be replaced with more "limited protection" licenses. Big businesses don't use BSD because that means a small company or employee that understands the system better can innovate and cut them off.

      Smart companies such as Sony and Nintendo (PS3&4 and Switch respectively) have used BSD license software to create fantastic new devices that are valuable to customers, and provide profitability to those that can innovate. I don't wear suites except to weddings so I like the sound of that.

  8. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Well... that was vague and woolly

    Open source has a wide range of meanings, including "You can read the source code, but if you do and later make money from software Microsoft can sue you for copyright and patent infringement" (I am not kidding, Microsoft really did make software available under license like that).

    Ignore what people call it at look at the license. The big two are:

    BSD: do what you want but mention us so we can demonstrate that we did something useful with our last funding and get another grant next year.

    GPL: do what you want, but if you distribute GPL software you must make the source code available to the recipients under the GPL license.

    The massive advantage to absolutely everyone is licenses like these prevent lock-in:

    Use our cheap backup software. You want to restore from backup encoded in our secret format? £££ (British gas fell for that one)

    Our software is cheap. Want it to do a little extra? £. and a bit more? ££ and something else: £££ ...

    Once you are locked in, the price of the most trivial change is just less than the cost of replacing the whole thing.

    If you have the source code _and_ the right to create derivative works, the cost of any change can be the lowest competent bidder.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Well... that was vague and woolly

      @ Flocke Kroes

      There's another aspect to lock in. Our S/W only cost £. But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got. You want to read the file someone just sent you? That's another £ for the latest version. In a couple of years it'll be another £ when someone else sends you a file.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got."

        And what's wrong with that? If the new version adds actual improvements that required a change in the format, how could you think it could work with the old one?

        Why my old camera doesn't take digital images, and I had to buy a new one? Why my old TV can't be upgraded to receive digital broadcasts? Why my old PC can't accept PCIe cards or NVMe disks? Why software should be different?

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got."

          "And what's wrong with that?"

          Thus speaks the Stockholm Syndrome.

          1. James O'Shea Silver badge

            Re: "But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got."

            Stockholm syndrome, eh? So, if new features require a new format, what should a dev do? They can’t put the new features into the old format... ooh, I know, they can be Apple and just ‘upgrade’ the old format the first time the user opens the filein the new version. Hmm... gee, what happens to users who don’t have or can’t use for some reason the new version? Well, that’s too bloody bad, ain’t it?

            So then users either must ‘upgrade’ or face not being able to use files from some other users, or devs must shoehorn new features into the old format... forever and ever, amen. Which works until the format is a huge kludgey mess (can you say MS Word .DOC format? I knew you could) and the competition delivers the same features is an easier-to-access format (ODT, anyone) and threatens to eat your lunch.

            I figure that MS Office 2019 will either be the first version with a new file format (may I suggest .DOCXYY, .DOCX is way too girly?) or the last hurrah of .DOCX. if only because .DOCX _started_ as a huge kludgey mess and got worse.

            1. Dinsdale247

              Re: "But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got."

              I can't agree enough with the "kludey mess" comment. SO many people that argue about software don't know the first thing about creating it.

              I'll also add to the discussion that if the format has changed, then hopefully the company has innovated the software and made it better. That means they spent time and effort to improve it. In the real world, developers must get paid (I know I like my paycheque) so yes, new features should cost money.

              Now if said seller of software is abusing the customers by forcing them to do things they don't want to do or add features they don't need, then it's up to us to create new software and sell it at a reasonable price. Thus the free market gets two great products and another small company gets a chance to make money.

              If it were based on GPL, then Google/IBM/Canonical/RedHat would give it away for free, then start making changes to the API so quickly that everyone had to use *their project* and they become the de-facto standard. Nobody but the big guy makes anything in GPL.

        2. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: "But the latest version is incompatible with the one you've got."

          The latest version of Word is, for probably 75% to 95% or more users, no more fit for purpose than the earliest version or, for that matter any Windows based version of Wordstar or WordPerfect.

          1. JimC Silver badge

            Re: Windows based version of Wordstar or WordPerfect.

            Now then, lets not spoil the argument with exaggeration. Do you not remember how appalling Wordstar for Windows and Wordperfect for Windows actually were? Its my contention that a really good Windows word processor is yet to appear, but MS Word, at least until MS lost the plot on usability, was at least bearably OK.

      2. JimC Silver badge

        Re: Lockin

        I wonder just how many non software companies have ever taken advantage of this wonderful way of avoiding lockin. I can just imagine the conversation on the lines of "hey, the xyz system is no longer being maintained, but we have the source code so all we need to do is to create our own project team and we can maintain it ourselves." Actually I can't imagine even bothering to start the conversation.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Flocke Kroes - Re: Well... that was vague and woolly

      Small but important correction.

      If you distribute GPL software, source code is only part of the obligation. On top of that you must not impose any additional restriction on what user can do with software. If I'm not mistaking it was TiVo who tried to circumvent GPL by distributing the source code while preventing the user from installing a modified version. This is where UEFI SecureBoot gives in my opinion a serious blow to GPL.

  9. Sam Adams the Dog

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"

    With apologies to Kris Kristofferson....

    I can't believe how many respondents are harping on the multiple meanings of "free." Stallman told us what he meant, and we all probably agree that "free" is a crummy word to describe it, because it's bound to be misunderstood if you haven't read Stallman's gloss. But enough already about that.

    Having said that, I don't subscribe to Stallman's social agenda, which is very obviously what his definition of "free" is about. He reluctantly accepted LGPL as a compromise, understanding that without such compromises the Free™ SW he espouses is unlikely to gain traction. LGPL is Free™ technically, but is in practice as usable in the commercial context as un-free open source.

    Stallman was already on the slippery slope with LGPL; from there it is only a small step to BSD, MIT, and Apache open-source licenses. But the earliest BSD license (1988) actually predated GPL (1989), so I would alter the author's remarks to rather state that Free™ is what open-source became after the ideologues showed up.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      what open-source became after the ideologues showed up

      deserves its own topic, I think.

      Agreed on BSD license, and MIT license. Both were conceived on college campi (pseudo-plural of campususes, and crymanthesums, and put 'em in a vase - gumby florist)

      Icon, because, BSD

    2. Dinsdale247

      Re: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"

      @Sam Adams the Dog: Good doggy. Was the puppy eating a computer history book? Yes he was! Yes he was!

      The groups supporting the BSD tapes specifically avoided GPL code because they wanted to be able to use the sources for business purposes. SUN Microsystems was started by Bill Joy by taking the BSD tapes and turning it into a proprietary product. Later, the FreeBSD license was created specifically in response to the GPL.

      The LGPL was created because the GNU realized to get traction they need developers in businesses to use their software. What good is libmicrohttpd if nobody is using it for anything important?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open xxx

    You think too narrowly. We now have open source software, open data and open algorithms/models.

    Non of these survive without a community, a critical mass.

    Having the source provides no guarantees it works, integrates with other stuff, performs appropriately to be useful.

    You undermine huge value in having open source and visibility. Encryption, machine learning, operating system kernels have all been benefits for the natural evaluation of OSS.

    Free or OSS licenses, what is your point? Does it matter, if it cures cancer?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC - Re: Open xxx

      It matters if you have to give your first born and your right arm to benefit from the cure. Remember the guy who increased the price of Epipen to insane level ? For your knowledge, that Epipen contains a fairly common drug with a method of administration known for a century. So why he did it ? Because of a lock-in, that's why. Now say again that it doesn't matter to you.

  11. rtb61

    Soverign Nations

    Want to pretend you are a Sovereign Nation, than free open source software is you only choice, end of story. Any other choice puts your not really Soverign digital Nation at the mercy of the corporations that own the licence, that is just the way it is, there is no denying it, not lie that can really cover that over.

    Do not control your software stack and as a Nation, your are not longer sovereign but under the digital control of Multi-National corporations, who decide, what licence you get, what access to code you get, whether they decide to crash your end users computers or not, whether they decide to hack you infrastructure controlled by their software or not, whether you data is purposefully corrupted or not basically whether you once Soverign country is digitally crashed and I mean seriously put right out of business, extremely dangerous stuff, that no outside corporation should ever, ever have control over a Sovereign Country.

    Look at US behaviour and it's use of government and military power to gain economic advantage for corporations and empowering those corporations to make use of their leverage, it is extremely dangerous to the rest of the world, take that into computer hardware and software and you can see where they attacks are going.

  12. OzBob

    The problem with Open Source vs Free

    is that there is not an easily digested metaphor that resists it's definition being butchered or co-opted for a cause. So you actually have to understand the core concepts and their implications. The fact that so many people now resort to metaphor to explain it (and badly most of the time) shows half the problem.

    Stallman had a great idea (Free) but Torvalds wrapped the concepts in a model people mostly understood (Open Source).

  13. Bob 18
    Thumb Up

    Why OSS in R&D?

    In 20 years, the amount of OSS/FS available has exploded, to the point that it has become a norm of sorts. FS and its philosophy was founded in a time when source code was scarce and software was something written by one organization to be used by another. Copyleft licenses would entice others to share their work, rather than taking it proprietary. Such concerns are lessened today because there's always another project out there people can use instead, making it hard to profitably make anything proprietary. "Trade secret" software is more valuable today than proprietary software: software developed in one organization that is never released to anyone. In such cases, OSS vs. FS is a meaningless distinction.

    > so what's the motivation for the open-source user to go with open source over the same proprietary software?

    I'm speaking here from experience in science labs and finance companies. It is rare that one can buy a single piece of software, install it and use it. In 99% of cases, a significant amount of programming is needed to USE any software, and to INTEGRATE it with other software also being used in the firm. The cost of licensing proprietary software is often insignificant, at least within finance companies. But we prefer OSS because it usually has a lower cost of integration. It's easier to get exactly what you want / need, rather than trying to bend a pre-built piece of proprietary software to your needs, or integrating 5 pieces of proprietary software with baling wire. All these points apply to the science world; but also, we need to share our results, and any licensing issues get in the way of it. Not to mention tight science budgets where licensing fees ARE significant.

  14. Bob 18
    Thumb Up

    Why OSS in the Lab?

    In 20 years, the amount of OSS/FS available has exploded, to the point that it has become a norm of sorts. FS and its philosophy was founded in a time when source code was scarce and software was something written by one organization to be used by another. Copyleft licenses would entice others to share their work, rather than taking it proprietary. Such concerns are lessened today because there's always another project out there people can use instead, making it hard to profitably make anything proprietary. "Trade secret" software is more valuable today than proprietary software: software developed in one organization that is never released to anyone. In such cases, OSS vs. FS is a meaningless distinction.

    > so what's the motivation for the open-source user to go with open source over the same proprietary software?

    I'm speaking here from experience in science labs and finance companies. It is rare that one can buy a single piece of software, install it and use it. In 99% of cases, a significant amount of programming is needed to USE any software, and to INTEGRATE it with other software also being used in the firm. The cost of licensing proprietary software is often insignificant, at least within finance companies. But we prefer OSS because it usually has a lower cost of integration. It's easier to get exactly what you want / need, rather than trying to bend a pre-built piece of proprietary software to your needs, or integrating 5 pieces of proprietary software with baling wire. All these points apply to the science world; but also, we need to share our results, and any licensing issues get in the way of it. Not to mention tight science budgets where licensing fees ARE significant.

  15. sisk Silver badge

    Personally I fall into the open source camp. While I largely agree with the FSF in principal I find the specific assertion that proprietary software is somehow inherently evil to be ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the idea - prevalent in the free software side of things - that there's something wrong with the idea of selling software.

    I mean, really, if I make something and I want to sell it then what's immoral about that? It doesn't matter if the "something" in question is a book, an alarm clock, or a program. I made it, I own it, I can do what I want with it, and if I want to allow other people to use it in exchange for money, well that's the way human society has worked for thousands of years. The FSF's idea that wanting something in exchange for allowing other people to benefit from your work is somehow immoral is completely unfathomable to me. As is the idea that trade secrets protected behind precompiled binaries are inherently evil.

    Open source, on the other hand, is just another programming method without all the philosophical mumbo jumbo that comes from free software. It focuses on getting stuff done in the most efficient way possible. It doesn't worry about binary distribution because 99% of all users WANT binary distribution and wouldn't know what to do with the source code if you gave it to them.

    To be fair, most everything I write on my own time is out there in source code format for whoever wants it (and, of course, stuff NOT written on my own time is the property of whoever's paying me to write it, so I've no control over it, but some of that source code has been released as well). I believe in releasing source code whenever it's practical. And there's the main difference between the two camps (to my mind at least): Open source advocates recognize the fact that it's not always practical to release the source code. Free software folks fail to recognize that fact.

    1. Dinsdale247

      @sisk

      I do the same. The irony is that there is *so much code* out there in the wild now, nobody can even consume it all. Even if I did do something innovative, I don't think anybody would notice...

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