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Re: US court says software is owned, not licensed

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: US court says software is owned, not licensed
Date: Wed, 14 Oct 2009 10:27:41 +0000 (UTC)
User-agent: tin/1.6.2-20030910 ("Pabbay") (UNIX) (FreeBSD/4.11-RELEASE (i386))

In gnu.misc.discuss amicus_curious <> wrote:

> "Alan Mackenzie" <> wrote in message
> news:hav3va$1am9$
>> In gnu.misc.discuss amicus_curious <> wrote:

>>> "Alan Mackenzie" <> wrote in message
>>> news:hat7ab$2oop$

>>>> Well, what a comparison!  I wonder who would come top in a "get a
>>>> life" poll - There're people like David, who write and maintain
>>>> useful free software.

>>> Is that so?  What software ....

>> Emacs.  Possibly other bits I don't know about.

>>> .... and why do you think it useful?

>> It's self evident.  Note the aggressive way you put the second part of
>> that question; it seems you were so uninterested in finding out what
>> David actually does, that you prematurely fired off your
>> disparagement.

> You stated that it was "useful free software".  How is asking what and
> why such an agression?  I think that you are reading a lot into my
> words that was never there.  Why are you so defensive?

Because you are so aggressive.  The target of your aggression is this
mailing list/newsgroup, which is what I am trying to defend.

> And I do not consider Emacs all that useful either, but that would be
> another discussion entirely.

And that nasty remark kind of sums up what I so dislike about your
posting.  A slimy, put-down from somebody, you, who probably knows
little, if anything, about Emacs, and who by his own admission (near the
bottom of this post) doesn't actually do much helpful or constructive

I can imagine somebody telling you your aged aunt had moved to a nice new
house in the country.  Would your first reaction be "what's so nice about
it?"?  Or on hearing one of your pals had met a new girlfriend, asking
"what's so nice about her?".

[ .... ]

> Perhaps I will read it.  OTOH, do you suggest that his immediate
> reference to trolling is something nobel?  I didn't say he was an idiot
> at all, I said that his response was not useful.

No, of course not.  Implying somebody is unable to make intelligent
comments is not at all calling him an idiot?  And as for a Nobel prize
for trolling, whether or not you would win one is a legitimate matter for
discussion.  I say you might well do.

>>> He made the rather audacious and totally unsupported statement that
>>> the "GPL software market is worth billions by now" and he ducks and
>>> runs from the challenge that his notion is simply false.

>> Oh <insert your favourite deity here> help us all!  This continual
>> narky, itsy bitsy, mean spirited attacking on the exact meaning of
>> words we can well do without.  Everyone knows what he meant, and
>> everybody knows it's true.  If he'd said the world was round, you'd
>> find some way of attacking that.

> Why would I attack the notion that the world was round?

It seems likely, since you attack just about everything else.  It seems
part of your character, just attacking anything, always trying to
emphasise the negative in things, never seeking out the positive, the
useful, the virtuous.

> What is unsaid here is the notion that open source somehow is a plan
> for victory and the advocates have taken it as a postulate that it is
> already successful.  That is not at all true, I believe, and I think
> that it is worthy of being challenged.  The advocates do not seem to be
> able to justify their assumptions in so many words, so they resort to
> calling the challenger names.  Like you are doing here.

OK.  Now you've actually written something of substance, something worth
replying to.  Free software and open source software are successful, for
a very reasonable value of "successful".  For example, in the path
between my writing and your reading of this article, there is only free
software in use anywhere near my end.  I don't dispute you could construe
"successful" in a manner by which free software isn't successful, but I'm
not interested in such a silly distraction.

There are indeed rallying calls about the "victory" of free software, and
suchlike.  These are political expressions, and like all political
expressions, full of exaggeration and hyperbole.  To be honest, I find
much of them as embarrassing as you find them nauseating.  I think you've
got a picture of thousands of free software hackers goose-stepping in
time to Richard Stallman.  The reality could hardly be more different -
the last time the ideology of free software came up on the Emacs
development list, it was questioned and debated in a half-hearted way,
but not strongly supported by anybody other than RMS.  At the same time,
all this political activity has prompted the spread and uptake of free
software, so it's necessary and useful.

Personally, I doubt free software will ever fully supplant proprietary,
or come anywhere near it, and both will continue to be economically
important for the foreseeable future.

>> I can't recall you posting a single positive thing about the GPL or
>> free software.  Maybe my memory's a bit dim.  Perhaps you could cite
>> one of your recent posts where you've been positive about any of these
>> topics.

> There is nothing positive to say about the GPL, of course.

"Of course".  With all due respect, that's a moronic statement.  One of
many positive things about the GPL is that it has encouraged and
facilitated the writing of much good software, for example Linux.

> As to free software, I have often agreed that it is a fine thing to use
> as a sample implementation or even in the case of agreed upon system
> infrastructure as the only thing to use.  I have often said that open
> source software does not provide any opportunity to differentiate one's
> products, though, and that is the essence of both change and success.

Differentiating products (assuming you're not referring to a formula of
differential calculus ;-) is one way of achieving change and success, but
not the only one.  Many products are successful because they're cheaper
than their competitors, even though barely distinguishable from them
(cars, for example).  Free software is often markedly different from its
proprietary counterparts, and markedly different from other free
software.  Emacs is wholly unlike vim, and both are wholly unlike Eclipse
or Microsoft Visual Studio, but all are powerful source code tools.
Programmers choose whatever suits them best.  This is called "competition
in the marketplace".

> Right.  It is simply disparagement.  Are you affected in your thinking?
> No.  Anyone else?  No.

Yes.  This disparagement is like a loud unpleasant noise.  It inhibits
polite useful discussion on this mailing list.  It discourages thoughtful
people taking part in the conversation here.

> Do you have any credibility yourself?

Yes, I do.  Attached to my name is a reputation earned through many years
of solid, if unspectacular, work maintaining free software and supporting
its infrastructure.

> Is that your only measure of an idea?  You cannot apparently find any
> means to counter the opinion other than your hope that it is wrong
> because you hope that I lack any credentials.

Not at all.  I am objecting to your arrogant phrasing, that your ideas
are in some way "shown", as if they had the status of an established
scientific theory or the judgement of an expert.  They don't.

>> Would you care to tell us all what your interest in free software
>> actually is?

> I think that open source software is a great vehicle for studying how
> things might be made to work.  There is a lot of free software in the
> world.  Microsoft itself publishes billions of lines of code as samples
> and tutorials on how to do things or by way of explanation of how
> things work.  Many others do the same in countless articles on every
> subject imaginable in regard to computer programming.

OK, you see free software as a kind of learning exercise, a collection of
prototypes, but not as mature working software?  I find that a strange
attitude, given the success of programs such as Linux, GCC, Bash, ...

Of course, I could snidely remark that MS would do well to study free
software to find out how to make things work, but I won't.  ;-)

> The only blemish that I see in this is the rather snotty attitude of
> the GPL crowd who disparage anyone who wants to gain from their
> individual innovation and cleverness by coming up with something newer
> and more useful than what has gone before.

That's a serious point, and I admit to being ambivalent about it.  The
"GPL crowd" does not have a single uniform voice, rather a few leading
GPL advocates can be quite loud.  My view is that software innovators
should be free develop their ideas in proprietary programs, but they
shouldn't expect to incorporate free software into them.  However,
restricting ideas like that is less beneficial to society than publishing
them openly.  Many of the best innovations in software were unrestricted,
yet their creators did just fine.  RSA encryption is one example (though,
admittedly, it was restricted in the USA), Dan Bricklin's spreadsheet
concept is another, Xerox Parc's invention of the GUI a third (OK, Parc
didn't do that well out of it, but where would Apple and MS be now
if the mouse-driven GUI had been patently encumbered?).

Software innovation doesn't happen in the main by "big bangs", it happens
by steady evolutionary development.  MS Windows (the original one back in
the 1980s) was a big-bang advance over MS-DOS, but current MS Windowses
are mere evolutionary changes over that original.

>>>> Tell me, curious friend, do you actually do anything positive and
>>>> constructive in your free time?  Something which makes the world a
>>>> better place?

>>> What if I did?  Or what if I did not?  Does that affect the intrinsic
>>> truth of the issues raised here?

>> Yes, it does.  There's a type of person, thankfully rare, who goes
>> around disparaging and denigrating other people's achievements (and
>> failures), and rarely has anything nice to say about anybody or
>> anything.  Such a person doesn't actually do anything himself which
>> could lead to him being criticised - he doesn't serve as an official
>> for his local social club, doesn't help look after his neighbours'
>> children, doesn't paint pictures, doesn't write free software, doesn't
>> maintain a lovely garden which might lift the spirits of passers-by,
>> doesn't play bowls in his local team - he's basically a social
>> non-entity.  Because such people are negative and nasty about pretty
>> much everything, their views are not held in much regard.

> All you are saying here is that you do not like to listen to anything
> that does not properly play to your predjudices.

Utterly false.  I relish few things more than a stimulating debate over
contentious things.  My best pal here in Nuremberg has political views
widely different from mine, and we have spent hundreds of hours sparring
over such matters.  I have learnt much from him, as he has from me.  But
such debate is only possible when courteousness and mutual respect are
present.  These have largely been lacking from your posts.

> You want to cast aspersions on the bad news messenger and diminish his
> value to the world as well.  I find it curious that you feel it
> necessary to demonize your opposition.

No, I get irate at the boorishness of the manner of delivery.  You could,
with little effort, make your points without snide remarks about
"tortured constructions" in the GPL, or an inane insistence on some
particularly precious definition of "market share", and the like.

>> On this mailing list, you give the impression of being such a person.
>> So, let me ask you again - do you actually do anything in your free
>> time to make the world a better place?

> I do and have done quite a bit to affect things over the years, mostly
> on purpose as a career though.  Is it more noble to do things in your
> spare time than as an advocation?

It is more noble to do both.  If everybody just put their feet up on the
sofa in the evening after getting home from work, the world would be a
much drabber, nastier, duller place than it is.

>>> Would you be happier with the idea if it were presented by Stallman
>>> himself?

>> Yes.  Or Martin Luther, or Mahatma Ghandi, or Enoch Powell, or Rowan
>> Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury).  Or the guys I work with, or
>> even Bill Gates, for that matter.  People of substance who have done
>> things, who have failed and achieved, people of courage who are not
>> scared to stand up for what they believe in.

> I guess that if you have no confidence in your own assessments, you
> have to stick with the opinions of the perceived leaders.  It's more
> interesting to have your own understanding, though.

Not "leaders", but experts.  I don't accept that any Tom's, Dick's or
Harry's opinions carry the same weight as an established expert's
judgement.  I would, by default, accept any points you made in your own
field of expertise, whatever that might be, and possibly put questions to
you so as to learn more.

>>> Other credentialed open source leaders seem to have taken a dim view
>>> of the FSF and the GPL shenanigans, .....

>> Yet more nasty disparagement.  Perhaps that would be more accurately
>> expressed as open source leaders disagree somewhat with the aims of
>> the FSF, and run their own projects on somewhat different lines.
>> Funny, really, how many of them license their software under the GPL,
>> though, and how, in practice, they all work together and use each
>> others' software.

>>> ... too, for example Linus himself or Eric Raymond.

>> Linus Torvads licenses Linux under GPL2, and created Linux to mesh
>> with GNU software.  Eric Raymond still contributes to GNU software.
>> And all these people treat each other with respect, and when they
>> disagree, they express that disagreement in a high quality and
>> respectful manner.

> I wonder if they would do it again, knowing what they know now.
> Raymond seems to think now that the whole idea is unnecessary and that
> the attention given to it is counter productive.

They would do it differently, of course; hindsight is a wonderful thing.
But the fact remains that it was and is under the GPL that most free and
open source software has been written.  There's comparatively little
under the BSD licence, for example, which strongly suggests that the GPL
has, in the main, got things right.

Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

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