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Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- raya's research on "The Four Freedoms"

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- raya's research on "The Four Freedoms"
Date: Fri, 06 Oct 2006 10:53:23 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.0.50 (gnu/linux)

Alexander Terekhov <> writes:

> December 8th 1997... The Great Scientist and (only) three freedoms. LOL.

I'll add a few comments to the comments made here.

> When he started at the MIT, the Hacker mentality was at its
> apex. The information had to be free, and everyone shared it
> happily. Xerox had just donated one of the very first laser printers
> to the Institute. This printer used a driver for which source code
> was not available, which was a new notion at that time. Stallman
> once heard that someone at the CMU had these sources, so on his
> first trip to Pittsburgh, he visited the person and asked him the
> sources. To Stallman's great surprise, the person would not give
> them. RMS was shocked. Not only was this person concealing what he
> deemed a public information, but he was hurting the whole community
> by not helping him. This is what started his indisputable faith into
> "free software".

Uh, no.  That was what started his abhorrence of non-free software.
He had been _used_ to dealing with software as a free commodity
previously, like most academic knowledge is.

> From that day on, he set off on a quest to ban proprietary software
> and encourage the free sharing of source code by all means.

That was what started his unrest.  It did not set him off immediately,
and "by all means" is certainly exaggerated.  He did not, for example,
condone using guns in that respect.

> RMS was beginning to be successful with Emacs by that time, shipping
> more and more tapes. These tapes were sold $150 but, he insisted on
> that point, it was only the price of s&h. The software on it was
> both free from a pecuniary point of view, but more importantly, free
> of any intellectual rights. Fearing that these terms might change,
> RMS felt that he had to quit the MIT if he wanted to be sure that
> his subsequent works would belong to him completely. The Free
> Software Foundation was created and took over the distribution of
> tapes. RMS could now focus on his quest.

This is messing up the order of events.  Stallman quit MIT in January
1984.  The first versions of GNU Emacs were finished in 1985, and that
is when Stallman took up shipping the tapes at US$150 a pop.  Later
that year, the Free Software Foundation was founded and took over the

> [already at that point, I felt an urge to utter a "So what ?..." but
> refrained myself. RMS has obviously never been concerned about money
> while he was a student, or he would have at least shown some
> understanding for this decision].

Stallman did not lead an expensive life.  Students' work using public
computing facilities is not really the students' sole property, and
the idea of educational institutions is to enable an education, not
create software millionaires never finishing their degree.

> The PDP/10, which he was using, became obsolete and was replaced by
> a more efficient computer, whose OS was proprietary. NDA's became
> mandatory to be able to use the new material. RMS decided he
> couldn't stand this any longer and the idea of writing his own OS
> from scratch sparked in his mind. This OS would be free of charge
> and, more importantly, would make sure in its license that all users
> would all get an equal freedom to use and copy it.

Again, this messes up the order of events.  This part of history
happened before the parts related earlier.

> In Stallman's eyes, his GPL gives uses three freedoms :
>     * The freedom to help oneself, by being able to modify the source at
> will to fit one's needs [Stallman obviously overlooks the fact that 99%
> of the computer users are not programmers, and don't give a damn about
> having the source since they wouldn't know what to do with it. However,
> they would gladly pay a company (not necessarily the same that sold them
> the software) to help and assist them] ;

This comment actually renders itself absurd without me having to
bother myself: it points out that the source code is necessary for
maintenance on _behalf_ of the user regardless of who actually does
the servicing.

> Stallman then analyses the case of X Window. He remarks that many
> people (including himself) receive X Window as a non-free version
> because there are no available free versions for the hardware they
> are using. RMS took steps to avoid this : he stipulated in the GPL
> that anybody was allowed to modify the sources and, most of all,
> that nobody had the right to add conditions while redistributing the
> software
> [At this point, we enter a much more disputable view of the
> world. One of the main reasons why X is not distributed under the
> GPL is that it was deemed as much too restrictive, imposing any
> supplied software to be GPL itself.

The first licenses for X were established before the GPL.  While
Stallman made some input towards releasing X as a free system, the GPL
never was used for modeling the MIT license.

> This effect has been coined "the Midas syndrom", and has prevented a
> lot of code from from the FSF from being included in widespread
> programs. Instead, the X Consortium devised their own license, which
> relaxed the most stringent terms of the GPL and allowed for non-free
> parts of the software to be part of the whole distribution].

The MIT did no such thing.  They used the Berkeley BSD license as a
model, dropping the advertising clause.  At no point in time was the
GPL ever used as a license model, and the "X Consortium" came into
being much later, in 1988.  The first release of X under the MIT
license happened in 1985, as X9.

> In 1985, the FSF started to ship tapes and began to receive
> donations.  The GNU OS (to be known later as HURD) was progressing
> and most and more gaps were filled in its architecture. They chose X
> Window, TeX, etc...  but there was still a major part missing : the
> kernel. They chose MACH as a base for it, but at that time, the
> government was imposing export restrictions, so they had to wait,
> and the project grinded to a halt.

The project stalled mostly because of internal problems: there was so
much work being done by volunteers on other fronts, that there was
missing the critical mass needed for kernel development.

> Meanwhile, a free Unix was slowly gaining momentum. Created by a
> unique person, Linus Torvalds, Linux was completely free and quickly
> gained a very wide acceptance. Stallman abandoned MACH and adopted
> Linux.
> [Now we go one more step into computer history revisionism. RMS has
> been very silent on his initial "misunderstandings" with
> Linus. Actually, the initial exchanges with Linus were more than
> heated, and many people thought that RMS and Linus would be enemies
> forever. RMS just couldn't admit that someone had written an OS
> faster and more successful that his own, and more generally,
> despises everything that is not originating from the FSF. See below
> for more]

Most of Stallman's complaints focused about two points:
a) users of GNU/Linux were usually not bothered in maintaining the
ideals of free software development.  They forked incompatible
versions, and developed software that ran only on Linux without good
reason, sabotaging much of the upstream work that the GNU project had
invested to make their software useful for everybody.

b) the contributions of the GNU project were downplayed, and in fact
GNU was downright ridiculed, the common tune being "The FSF is
unimportant since they never finished the Hurd, and so they should be
quiet", conveniently overlooking the fact that the GNU project is the
largest single contributor of code in any GNU/Linux system, including
practically all operating system components (file utilities, text
utilities, compiler, linker, runtime environment, debugger, main
libraries and so on) that are not either networking (those deriving
mostly from the BSDlite distribution) or kernel-specific.

Point b) was impeding further development even of those programs and
utilities necessary for GNU/Linux since it kept people from donating
work and money towards the utilities they were working with.

> Bottom line : RMS says "Don't Use SUSE" (for those interested, he
> recommends the Debian, which is one of the rare things him and I
> agree on :-)).

This bottom line keeps changing over time, depending on where the
policies of various distributions go.

> [This was the second place where I kept expecting a good reason for
> not using SUSE, but it was never voiced. My guess is that you must
> refuse to use SUSE on the base of ethics. It Is Not Well... sigh]

Since the whole point of free software from the start was to refuse
using restricted software based on ethics, this is hardly surprising.
Technical superiority never was a criterion: of course, a fresh
project started by a few volunteers would not hold up to longer
existing ones.

> - a desktop, to replace the existing (non-free) ones
> - translators for Guile
> - end users applications
> [Now something strikes me -- again. One of the main benefits of free
> coding, and often touted by Stallman, is that sharing source code
> allows reusing already existing works. It is crucial not to reinvent
> the wheel.  And then, he boldly claims they are implementing a
> desktop, and along, all its cohort of most complex features like
> drag and drop and multi-visual displays. I really can't grasp the
> logic behind all this.  Stallman despises Microsoft for their Not
> Invented Here syndrom, but he obviously suffers from the same
> disease]

The author still does not get that "non-free" rules out a program for
consideration since such code can _not_ be reused.  The party
prohibiting this reuse in a free system is not Stallman, but the
copyright holder.


> His response actually reinforced my point. He didn't need money to
> live, and he was lucky enough to have developed Emacs in
> - a place where his employer (the MIT) didn't care what the code he
> wrote would become
> - a time where it was possible for a single man to write a software
> that would revolutionize the whole computer industry

The question is what sense there is in thousands of programmers
writing software that doesn't revolutionize the computer industry, in
fact, that usually is not even up to the state of art.

> However, I reckon that even the first point is not quite true. I
> suspect that the MIT didn't oppose to Emacs going public simply
> because they didn't perceive the potential. Stallman also felt this,
> since he decided to leave the MIT to focus on his work. He probably
> knew that now that he had raised a few eyebrows in his direction,
> the MIT would probably want to take advantage of his work. I don't
> know for him, but I would have been very proud if such a famous
> institute as the MIT would endorse and distribute my work. He
> obviously perceived things differently.

The MIT at that time had a hacker culture from what I gather.  You had
to be good to get in, but once you were in, you were working in a
spirit of cooperation, not of elitism, and the administration did not
meddle too much with that.  People were proud of their work more than
being proud of MIT.  Of course, this is pure speculation on my part.

> Now, as a conclusion, I must say that I am not that negative about
> Stallman. I respect him as a Great Scientist who left a very
> profound footstep in the history of computer science. What I contend
> is religion and bigotry. Nobody should allow themselves to lean
> toward sentiment and pretend that their choice is technologically
> sound and should be blindly adopted by everyone. Stallman has abided
> to a very precise ethics, but he shouldn't try to talk everyone into
> joining him, because he is someone whose concerns are now very far
> from the rest of us.

Stallman never argued about the criterion of "technologically sound"
(that is an "Open Source" buzzphrase), so it is a red herring to blame
him on that base.  And why somebody with personal ethics should be
hindered from winning others for his goals is beyond me.

> Cedric Beust

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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