Monday, October 21, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

FSF Missed the Cloud and Mobile

Stefano Maffulli (via Hacker News):

The point that everybody misses is that Stallman’s views on software don’t matter anymore. The FSF should have nurtured and grown new leaders a long time ago, leaders who looked into the future, understand cloud and mobile computing and their threats to a free society.

[…]

I had the first inkling that the Free Software Foundation and the free software movement was heading to for a crash when the GPLv3 was being drafted in 2005. At the time, I was leading the Italian chapter of Free Software Foundation Europe and it was clear to me that RMS didn’t have a grasp of where the industry was going. He was laser focused on closing the embedded device loophole, preventing what he called the TiVoization of free software. All around him, not a single voice could argue strongly enough about the Google issue that later would become the *-as-a-service loophole and cloud issue.

[…]

Right after the GPLv3 came out, Google was relieved they could continue doing business as usual, Linux kept its license and the FSF waged war against Debian and Mozilla. Stallman led the FSF out of the most important focus for the future because he wanted a pure free software operating system for his laptop? Definitely feels that way: he wanted zero binary blobs in device drivers, zero non-free Javascript. His dream of a pure operating system was there, almost close enough to touch. Meanwhile, the concept of computers evolved to include mobile phones and cloud. And those are just evil.

Much has been written lately about Richard Stallman the person, but what of his movement? I’m not sure whether it’s anyone’s fault, or what could have been done differently, but it definitely feels like the moment has passed. His concerns may be more relevant than ever, but the world has changed so that the avenues to address them seem increasingly futile. Open-source software is more widely used, but platforms and services are increasingly locked down. Free software didn’t bring the expected freedom.

Previously:

7 Comments

[…] Michael Tsai – Blog – FSF Missed the Cloud and Mobile – […]

I am confused, did the FSF really not already comment on these problems. I thought mobile was so personally detested by Stallman, he refused to own a mobile phone?

As far as SaaS:
https://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240084042/Free-Software-Foundation-develops-open-licence-to-cover-SaaS
https://www.fsf.org/licensing/2007-03-29-gplv3-saas

I am confused now. We are talking about something from 12 years ago, but it was not addressed?

@Nathan They commented but didn’t really offer solutions. The AGPL is essentially punting.

@Michael
I don't know. Seems like I have run pure open source (minus binary drivers actually) on mobile because I use Android and I have used such devices without Google Play Services and Google web services.

It might not be perfect, but there was an attempt made to influence mobile and SaaS. Seems like the argument, not from you mind you, went from "FSF had their head in the sand and did nothing" to "Well, they did something, but it does not matter because…", which was an unfair moving of the goal posts. I am sympathetic to the latter argument, but I think the former was patently false.

I always felt like Stallman wanted purity over practically at any cost. The FSF and the GPL both led to less free software, not more. Because the GPL infected any code, a lot of people decided it wasn't worth it. It led to less sharing, not more.

@Matt B
Why does it matter if code is GPL? I never understood the problem. You can still sell the software, you can still sell support, it just means everyone working on the code has to share changes. Even so, I am not sure people quite understand the GPL license, I mean, Windows is shipping whole Linux base installs through their app store, does not mean Windows is now GPL licensed now. Because of the GPL, look at the success of Android, Roku, router manufacturers, and other similar businesses. Seems like things are thriving to me.

Apple seems to be the biggest company not dealing with the GPL, while pretty much every other big company happily deals with the GPL. IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and Google are pretty big right?

Sören Nils Kuklau

Why does it matter if code is GPL? I never understood the problem. You can still sell the software, you can still sell support, it just means everyone working on the code has to share changes.

I can take GPL software and then sell support/consulting, sure. Basically, the Red Hat model. Works great for enterprises (leaving aside the usual problems associated with projects — going over budget, agreeing over requirements, whathaveyou). Doesn’t work at all for consumers. Any serious contract like that is going to start at four figures and realistically run into five quickly, then oftentimes six or seven. (I have yet to do seven-figure contracts, but, close enough.) It’s completely out of reach for a single person.

As for “selling” the software, that just seems disingenous. Yes, you could do what Red Hat used to do in the 90s, and what SuSe and Mandrake and others also did at the time, and shrinkwrap a GPL’d piece of software and put it in a store. Or, in today’s world, to sell it digitally. But that clearly isn’t a sustainable business model, because of course it isn’t, because the actual benefit over having the customer just download the same piece of software for free from a mirror is almost zero.

Even so, I am not sure people quite understand the GPL license, I mean, Windows is shipping whole Linux base installs through their app store, does not mean Windows is now GPL licensed now.

That’s true in that direction, but the opposite direction of writing Linux kernel modules is tricky.

Even though Linux as a whole is GPL, and therefore linking any of it could be construed as making your code GPL, some of the kernel symbols additionally have the EXPORT_GPL_ONLY flag in their name, making it doubly clear that, by linking against them, you agree to make your own module GPL as well (and conversely, giving you the opening of arguing that you were implicitly only linking non-GPL portions).

And to take the Microsoft example, if they were to do the opposite and provide a Linux kernel module and other tooling to run Win32 binaries on Linux, they might in fact have to make at least the module GPL. (They could always make that module just call an external, non-linked wrapper that isn’t GPL. Which is where things get murky and silly.)

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment