Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
Not getting it, Part 36.

Not getting it, Part 36.

My friend Christopher (possibly the de facto king of thoughtful geeky Christian libertarian blogging) asked me to blog this response to some email he sent me:

Wow, that article is one of the most prima facie ignorant pieces I’ve read on free software and open source in quite some time. It seems to ignore completely how much free software Microsoft has benefited from over the years (including the TCP/IP stack, for example, which is BSD-licensed). The author also speaks like there’s nothing wrong with the fact that Microsoft has consistently abused its market leading position to push technical inferiority on its customers, not to mention treat them like criminals with crappy DRM schemes.

The FSF frankly is not the only game in town, but the article makes the FOSS community sound a lot more fragmented than it is. I would say there are roughly two camps — the FSF tends to be the more zealous (and less attractive to non-hippies), while the open-source camp is happy to live with big business as a partner, *as long as they respect the licensing of the software produced by the FOSS community*. (Interestingly the article is so poorly-researched that the author is apparently ignorant of the schism between the “free software” camp and the “open source” camp.) I would say the community is roughly split, with the more pragmatic “open source” guys possibly holding a slight edge, but a declining one as we are slowly winning the large-scale war.

The GPL license, probably the most widely used free software license, was written by FSF principal Richard Stallman, and was designed to allow people to build service-based businesses on free software while respecting the rights of users to do what they want with the code itself. No one has yet been able to assault that license, and many people believe that the MS-Novell deal is only possible because it violates the terms of that license. FSF attorneys are looking into that possibility right now.

It’s unfair and misleading to say that FOSS people want to tear down all IP — what we don’t want is an intellectually vacuous system of software patents that is ignorant of the difference between ideas and implementation. Truly unique, patentable ideas in software are almost unheard of — or at least quite rare by volume. Rather, the software patent system that we currently have (and that the EU has been trying valiantly to shed) is one where a software vendor claims their unique (!) system of adding two and two and getting four should be protected from encroachment. As any programmer will tell you, there are only so many ways to code a system that adds two and two. The idea itself is not in any way novel, and given the limited ways to write an implementation of that idea, it’s very unreasonable to keep programmers from independently writing those implementations.

Anyway, the article is probably a gross oversimplification of some ongoing issues like the GPL v3 (now being drafted by the FSF), tossed in with some FUD about how free software people want to kill capitalism. I call bulls**t bovine poopy as usual. Cf. Red Hat, which has built a very successful business while remaining entirely true to FOSS principles.

The FSF’s changes to the GPL don’t automatically sweep the FOSS world — people have to elect to use the new license, and there are a *LOT* of people who don’t want anything to do with v3, including Linus Torvalds, who says that the Linux kernel won’t be using it as far as he can tell for the foreseeable future. That’s a pretty big “no” vote and carries a lot of weight in the FOSS community.

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