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Free Software Integralism — Helping or causing trouble?

So today we have two main news that seem to interest the Free Software advocates and, to some lesser extent, developers:

  • Apple officially decided to shun Java as well as Flash for their own operating system, discontinuing the development of their own JRE for one, and declaring that the latter won’t be available as part of the base operating system install in the next release (10.7 Lion);
  • the Free Software Foundation published the criteria under which hardware can be endorsed by the FSF itself.

I’ll start with the second point, first pointing directly to the post by Wouter Verhelst of Debian fame; as he points out, basically the FSF is asking for hardware manufacturer to forget that, up to now, Linux is really a niche market, and push only their way. “My way or the highway”.

Now this could make sense for the ideas embedded into the FSF, although it definitely shows a lack of marketing (I’ll wait and see if there will be any serious hardware manufacturer going to take this way, I bet… none). What should really upset users and developers alike is the reason why that is “[other badges] would give an appearance of legitimacy to those products” … what? Are you now arguing that not only proprietary software is not legitimate at all? Well, let’s give a bit of thought on the meaning of the word from Wiktionary:

  1. In accordance with the law or established legal forms and requirements; lawful.
  2. Conforming to known principles, or established or accepted rules or standards; valid.
  3. Authentic, real, genuine.

If you can’t call that integralism, then I don’t even think I can argue with you on anything.

Now on the other issue, Apple has decided that neither Flash or Java suit their need; in particular they are working on a “Mac App Store” that is designed, obviously, to put the spotlight (sorry for the pun) on the applications they find more complacent for their requirements. Is that such a bad thing? I’m pretty sure that Free Software Foundation is doing the same by trying to strive for “100% Free GNU/Linux distributions”. We’re talking of different requirements for acceptance, does one side have to be totally wrong, unethical, unlawful, rapist and homicidal at all? (Yes, I’m forcefully exaggerating here, bear with me).

What I find very upsetting is that instead of simply putting light on the fact that the requirements of the Mac App Store might not be in the best interest of users but in those of Apple, Free Software Advocates seem to be siding with Adobe and Oracle… wha? Are we talking of the same Adobe whose Flash software we all so much despise, the same Oracle who’s blamed for killing OpenSolaris?

But it seems that somehow Apple is a bigger problem than Adobe and Oracle; why’s that? Well, because somehow they are eating in the numbers that, if better handled at many levels, starting from the FSF itself, would have been there for Linux (GNU or not, at this point): the hacky geeks, the tech-savvy average person who’s tired of Windows; the low-budget small office who doesn’t want to spend half their money on Windows licenses…

In-fighting, religious fights for “purity”, elitism, all these things have put Linux and FLOSS in a very bad light for many people. And rather than trying to solve that, we’re blaming the one actor that at the time looked much less palatable, and became instead the most common choice: Apple.

On the other hand, I’d like to point out that when properly managed, Free Software can become much better than proprietaryware: Amarok (of 1.4 apex) took iTunes full on and become something better – although right now it feels like iTunes caught up and hadn’t been cleared up just yet.

Comments 4
  1. You know what? The FSF could promote their cause much better by stopping screwing around with this crap and focusing on making their software usable.I am a geek; I program, I design hardware, I use my computer extensively daily. For the previous 5 years of my life I used Linux, in various forms.But, you know what? I recently moved away from it. Not because I wanted any particular software; in fact the package repositories normally satisfied my needs; but instead because I suffered, as Mark Shuttleworth once put it, the death of a thousand paper cuts.I, quite simply, got sick of having to fight Linux to do things. A few simple examples: * Setting up Bluetooth dial-up-networking should be something that I can do from a system preferences pane in a few clicks (maybe with some device specific info), not something that takes minutes of screwing with configuration files* The same kind of complaint goes for connecting to VPNs, for that matterI could bring up more examples (e.g. not automatically installing printer drivers), but you get the gist: Things that should be easy, aren’t.And, of course, if Linux can’t retain me, what chance does it have of converting the average joe?)(And yes, if you’re wondering: My main machine is now a MacBook. Running OS X. I continue to have a Linux server, because lets face it, Linux rocks at that, and a OpenSolaris (soon OpenIndiana) filer, because ZFS is awesome)

  2. I completely agree with Owen: on Linux things that should be easy aren’t; that is why I have recently decided to switch to Mac OS as soon as possible, leaving Linux and the other *nix in a “v-world” (just for testing my soft-wares portability).I’m getting tired of losing days of job due to FSF’s craziness and an Open Source Community which is mainly composed of retarded people who prefer to fragment the FLOSS ecosystem instead to improve it.Free Software Foundation must be renamed as Free Software Failure 🙂

  3. Fully agreed on the FSF’s position on other endorsements than theirs, that is a ridiculous and harmful stance to take. But no clue who these “free software advocates” are that side with Adobe and Oracle – almost all comments I saw so far were and remain very skeptical towards these companies. (PS: In Oracle’s case, it’s almost always just the overall outlook for technology which is still high-value such as Java and VirtualBox and MySQL – not the actual end of OpenSolaris in and by itself that has people worried. Solaris was near-dead for about 10 years now – and those few who cared seem to be happy enough to transition to Openindiana, MORE happy than before under either Sun or Oracle).As for Apple, uh, I do not think they’re eating much of “our” geek numbers, or taking over the budget PC crowd.For starters, Apple computers and phones _very_ expensive in Europe, most expensive of all where I live. Apple is very much hipster gear, a social status symbol. They eat up mainly some Windows market share, typically of upper middle-class who think they can show that they could afford to buy “easy” and “high end” and “the newest” thing, and part of the lower classes that can’t really afford it but need it anyhow. That has not been the Linux market and this segment also was not going to be the Desktop Linux market any time soon.To most current non-users, Linux would be about being free or cheap primarily, and libre / old hardware secondarily. Meaning in no way you’d have a chance to sell this image to the same people as buy Apple.On the other hand, Android and co. may have a chance, because it currently appears in massively succeeding to provide the “shiny” and “simple” image this segment of the market craves…And most current geek users who actually wanted Linux, they’ll not run for OS X. OS X is the least usable of all of Linux, Windows, BSD, Solaris for them… Within a few hours of touching that OS any geek will be pissed off at the absence of good sw raid, the annoyances associated with running an useful tiling window manager, setting up even font sizes in the default UI, or any number of other things that get in the way of actually making OSX more productive, safe and neat.

  4. I see a crucial difference between Apple and the FSF: The cause for which they act.The FSF says “unfree software enslaves its users. We fight for a world in which people accept only free software so there is no slavemaster anymore”.Apple says “We don’t want anyone but us enslaving the users. We fight for a world in which Apple is the sole slavemaster”.But the FSF doesn’t say “We own the device. You must not put unfree stuff on it.” Instead they say “You must not use our name to promote something with which you also promote unfree software”.There is already the Linux foundation which can give out brands for hardware which works with the linux kernel and thus with any free software which uses that. We don’t need any more of that, else we’d get brand splits.What was missing until now is a brand which says “we promote free software in the way the FSF considers right”.And who cares, if that brand won’t be used for years? The FSF just made a promise: “If you create and sell hardware which is a perfect fit for free software, we will support you.”So now you can take that into account in your business calculations, and once the numbers are sound (enough to sustain your business) you can use that. It’s an incentive for companies to further the goals of the FSF, fueled by the image the FSF rightfully has: the people who fight to abolish digital slavery by unfree software, even if that isn’t the fastest way to get rich and famous.Every action of the FSF (I know of) is driven by the goal to abolish unfree software and replace it with free software, so there won’t be anything which can take away the freedom of users.It’s not just about making free software successful, but about making sure people don’t get shackled by unfree software.The only reason for the FSF to port free software to unfree systems? To show people that free software is great and draw them towards a completely free system.

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