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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiation and problems - comments sought

From: Chris Croughton
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiation and problems - comments sought
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2006 13:09:41 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.3.28i

On Mon, Dec 18, 2006 at 09:12:00AM +0000, MJ Ray wrote:
> Chris Croughton <address@hidden> wrote:
> > On Fri, Dec 15, 2006 at 04:10:53PM +0000, Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> > > [...] Normally, when our software spreads, we gain
> > > more developers as some of the users will know how to program, and
> > > they will make small or large changes, and many will publish their
> > > improvements so that everyone, including the non-programmers, can
> > > benefit from the general ability of the community to modify the
> > > software.
> >
> > Out of interest, how many good programmers has that actually created?
> I don't know if I'm any good, but I've hacked everything from the
> kernel to desktop applications, via ghostscript drivers, apache
> add-ons and other stuff in between.  Myself and a lot of other
> non-computer-scientists wouldn't be programming on the scale we do now
> (far outside our original fields), if free software didn't exist.

Free as in freedom or as in beer?  I agree that many people wouldn't
have got started if they'd had to buy the software (that was one of my
main motivations for starting to use GCC, that it didn't cost me
anything), but how many of them actually go so far as to modify and
improve the code?  Your "a lot" could mean anything over about 10.

> I think some other statisticians are probably good programmers.  I
> know English teachers and former receptionists who produce pretty good
> software.  It was free software that made it easy and affordable for
> them to start dabbling, find they like it and start learning

Yes, note 'affordable'.   I know many programmers who got started with
zero-cost software on cover disks (Borland, for instance, and a load of
the older assemblers), and I don't know many of them who were the least
interested in taking that software apart, they just wanted to use it.
Having the source would just have been a pain, I remember how long it
used to take to even recompile the DJGPP libraries on a 486.

> [...]
> > I don't see the locking of an appliance so that unqualified people can't
> > monkey with it a a bad thing.
> I do.  If I can't buy servicing and spares on the open market, it
> limits the servicers and suppliers I can choose, reducing the
> incentives for workers to provide reliable service at reasonable cost.

You would buy your spares and servicing from unqualified people?  Remind
me not to travel in any vehicle you've had serviced!

> > I've seen too many 'faults' which were
> > caused by the user messing with things they didn't understand, and
> > wasted too much time trying to debug (or even reproduce) things caused
> > by a user who claims that "I didn't change anything!" (except, as they
> > admit later, for the things they changed "which made it better"),
> As with software, locking hardware doesn't stop those people.  They
> will still interfere, trying to bust the locks and so on, then claim
> it was a previous repairman who busted the locks.  To detect user
> changes, it is necessary to record the previous state of the system
> and run some tests that detect the changes.  As soon as the system is
> out of the supplier's control, it cannot be trusted as unmodified,
> regardless of whether the supplier tries to lock it.

If the warranty is based on "was it opened" then it doesn't matter
whether they did it themselves or someone else did it, they don't get
the support and servicing (or they pay through the nose for it).

Yes, some few people will break in anyway, that isn't the point, the
vast majority will say "I'm not touching it if it invalidates the
warrenty".  "Utopia is not an option", claiming that just because it
doesn't guarantee to stop 100% of bad guys is a strawman.  Thieves can
break the locks on your house, does that mean that you leave your door
unlocked because "they will ... try to bust the locks and so on"?

> The main casualty of locks are the people who know what they are doing
> and the people who are willing to take the risks in order to learn.
> Such locks should have no legal support and should be subject to the
> usual anti-competitiveness barriers.

It seems to me that banning locks is itself anticompetitive behaviour.
If someone wants to make a locked PC, I simply won't buy it, I'll buy
one which isn't locked.  As far as I have heard no one is passing a law
that there must be locks on all computer hardware.  If they did then
businesses would see such a rise in costs that it would quickly kill the
economy, because they gain by using 3rd-party software far more than
they'd lose by not having locks.

> > and in
> > many areas allowing unqualified (and unsupervised) people to mess with
> > them is downright dangerous and will get the manufacturer sued.  "No
> > user-servicable parts inside".
> How many appliances still say that?  None that I've in my office,
> as far as I can tell.  Even the shredder has exposed screws that
> invite one to pop the case and play with the blades if you think
> you're hard enough.

Read the manual.  And have a look at a PC power supply, the ones I have
still say it.  So does my fridge, and the bug zapper, and the flash for
my camera, and my external hard drives.  They all also say things like
"breaking the seal invalidates the warranty".  If your shredder really
doesn't come with that sort of warning they are laying themselves open
for a massive lawsuit (and please tell me which make and model it is, it
would be worth buying it just to get the compensation).  Heck, even
potted plants these days come with big labels saying "Do not eat!", and
coffee in cups labelled "Contents are hot!"

Having screws on the outside is not comparable to having the source of a
program.  The latter is equivalent to supplying the Haynes manual plus a
full box of spare parts...

Chris C

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