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June 25, 2004 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Think tanks attack Open Source "The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute’s attack on Linux is just the latest in a series of attacks on Open Source by think tanks.....

I was able to detect a common theme to all their criticism. They all seem to be funded by Microsoft. "
posted by troutfishing (54 comments total)

 
And who's problem is this?

Looks to me like it is the people who've spent time tying Open Source to the GPL and GNU/Linux, rather than including non-GPL and non-GNU/Linux programs.

If the people who pimp "Linux" had hitched their wagon to "Open Source" and included non-GPLed code on equal footing, these "attacks" would be useless.

Instead, the "Linux" movement calls anything that can run on "Linux" "Linux" and now has the weak underbelly of the ad-hoc design of the GNU/Linux OS to deal with.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:53 AM on June 25, 2004


"Think Tanks" are the new political weapon of choice.

But the oveall project, by an ever shifting cast of characters and agents - sometimes in concert but often independant of each other (for this is, at base, an epxression of human instinct) - remains, as always, the same throughout human history :

The control of human knowledge, thought, and memory - with the Damnatio Memoriae as the final weapon.
posted by troutfishing at 7:55 AM on June 25, 2004


[ Drum roll, please. ]
posted by troutfishing at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2004


What's shocking here is that all parties are also responsible for pro-tobacco lobbying in 1995. Where do I get an "I am a think-tank" certificate? This seems like money-making fun.
posted by seanyboy at 8:17 AM on June 25, 2004


Lots of smearing going on in this article.

Imagine two organizations. The first is founded to defend a strongly-held political principle -- say, government non-interference in the economy. It gets the attention of (and a small donation from) a corporation that supports those same principles (and yes, who will benefit from a wider acceptance of them).

The second is a deceptive "grassroots" organization created out of thin air by a company to make it look like the ideas it wants to promote have more support than they really do.

Are these organizations equivalent? Of course not, but it's much easier to dismiss a group you disagree with by making sinister references to funding sources, rather than addressing the actual arguments.
posted by mw at 8:21 AM on June 25, 2004


Rough ashlar: I am having a hard time understanding your point. I mean, I get that you don't like Linux or GPL, but if the AdTI report is any example these attacks seem not so much to be attacks on the "weak underbelly of the ad-hoc design of the GNU/Linux OS" as they are A Bunch Of Lies. So are we OK with Microsoft sponsoring think tanks to come up with this crap, just because we don't like the other guy's philosophy?
(Disclaimer: I am not a big GPL fan, but if you want to go with GPL, that's your business.)
posted by pascal at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2004


CATO is the only think tank that matters to many free-marketeers, and the idiocy of the knuckleheads at Tocqueville is a good part of the why. Here's Julian Sanchez's take.

It's not enough, after all, to point out that those who adopt the OS may have to pay for some programming or support work; one has to further ask "compared to what?" DeLong, as far as I can tell, doesn't.
posted by trharlan at 8:27 AM on June 25, 2004


Ah, our periodic dose of repetitive and utterly useless Microsoft bashing... I thought seomthing had been missing around here lately...
posted by JollyWanker at 8:28 AM on June 25, 2004


He's wrong to say that Linus didn't write Linux (his main argument being that it would be impossible), but he's right to criticise the GPL. The GPL doesn't offer freedom. Instead, it takes it away, all in the name of making software "more free" -- but, of course, it's only more free to others who use the GPL. Just try using some of that supposedly "free" code if you don't! He's right to say here:

The Samizdat report recommends that the U.S. government should invest $5 billion in research and development efforts that produce true open source products, such as BSD and MIT license-based open source.

That's good advice, whether GPL apologists like it or not. BSD and MIT-licensed code (and public domain code) can be re-used anywhere, by anyone. That's true freedom, and that's true open source.
posted by reklaw at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2004


"We also see the incentives point trotted out: when software is non-proprietary, programmers won't be willing to develop applications. Given the large number of Linux applications, especially when one considers the relative youth and small percentage of computers running the OS, this claim seems premature, if not in outright defiance of reality. The proper response to an observed empirical fact inconsistent with your expectations is not: 'but I've got this theory!'"
posted by trharlan at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2004


seanyboy - You can start one with a few hundred bucks and several cronies.

The trick is finding a sugar-daddy.

trharlan - CATO's ok by me. More honest than many.

mw - My "Weapon of Choice" link, above, provides some background. Here's some more : The Powell Memo
posted by troutfishing at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2004


trout: Additional links don't change the original article's dishonesty and/or sloppiness.
posted by mw at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2004


Here is the article by one of the people interviewed by Kenneth Brown of the ADTI. And here are his repies.

He's pretty much an obvious shill. He doesn't really understand what an operating system is or what it does. He doens't really get licensing and trademark issues. He never bothered to ask Linus Torvalds how he created the Linux kenel, and he pretty much ignores anything anybody says to him.

Linux says he didn't copy Minix, Tannenbaum, the author of Minix says Linus didn't copy Minix, but Brown does. Brown is not a programmer and works for an org that takes money from Microsoft. Who should you believe here?

Brown makes this argument that Linus couldn't possibly have written an operating system by himself becuase it's so hard. Mind you, this is from a guy who's never written a line of code, or even bothered to take a gander at how many lines were in the first incarnation of the kernel.

So, if I take a little offense when somebody who knows nothing about what he's talking about throws statements like "Linux is a leprosy" around, it's because they're being an idiot.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:53 AM on June 25, 2004


Here's another interesting (and tangential) article: Coase's Penguin (.pdf).
posted by trharlan at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2004


Sorry that Tannenbaum link was his clarification. here is the original article. (It's also linked to in the clarification)

On preview:
That's good advice, whether GPL apologists like it or not. BSD and MIT-licensed code (and public domain code) can be re-used anywhere, by anyone. That's true freedom, and that's true open source.

That's certainly one interpretation, and one I like. However, another might be "I wrote this code, and I want to donate it to the world so that everybody can use it, but I don't want somebody else to grab it and make a bunch of money off my hard work." I think that's the freedom of the author to specify what he wants done with his labor. Sounds like freedom to me.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2004


Developers should be free to chose whatever license they wish when writing new software, and ask that others respect that choice when making use of the results of that hard work. If the license is unacceptable, other developers are welcome to look elsewhere or write their own code.

Microsoft's stated goal is to inject hysteria into this relatively simple request, and I'm sure Gates was happy to pay good money to the Tocqueville folks once he saw the great work they did for big tobacco.
posted by Voivod at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2004


mw - I'll agree with your point, as I see it - that not all think tanks are equivalent, and so it's unfair to categorize them all as somehow inherently corrupt - if you'll agree to look at that first link I posted, which describes the implementation of the "Powell Memo" .

But, to address your comment directly -

"....The first is founded to defend a strongly-held political principle -- say, government non-interference in the economy. It gets the attention of (and a small donation from) a corporation that supports those same principles (and yes, who will benefit from a wider acceptance of them..."

The sum channeled to right wing US think tanks in the last 2 decades amounts to several billion dollars - This sum, I'm fairly confident, dwarfs the sum which has been given to equivalent liberal think tanks. Leaving aside, also, the proposition that thank tank such as the Brooking Institute are even "Liberal".

So, your "small" donation example might be appropriate in this case (I haven't checked) but - even if I grant that - but is also surely not appropriate in the context of the wider point I'm making - of the distortion of the American democratic process as outlined in the article from my first link, "The Apparat".

Further, the issue of whether or not corporations should be accorded "Free Speech" rights such as given to individuals in the US is one that's also open to question in my opinion.

Given the sheer scale of the largest corporations and the amount of money they can funnel into influencing the US political process (in both direct and indirect way), it is hard to see how "We The People" can compete in kind.

This point of mine, also, applies to both the Republican and the Democratic parties.

*cues William Greider*

[ And, I'll leave to technical discussion at hand to those better qualified ]
posted by troutfishing at 9:01 AM on June 25, 2004


In a lot of ways Microsoft is like a Mafia don: rich, powerful, ruthless and unwilling to get its hands dirty. So it hires some muscle to do the dirty wotk. If the muscle gets caught, too bad, but that's the way it goes.

And the don goes to Communion on Sunday.
posted by tommasz at 9:04 AM on June 25, 2004


So are we OK with Microsoft sponsoring think tanks to come up with this crap,

"this crap" as you refer to it has some grains of truth. But because the 'GNU/Linux' community has co-opted the "Open Source" brand to mean "Linux" and they have co-opted the many programs that run on Unix as "Linux programs".

If you switch to BSD/MIT licences and use FreeBSD as the OS rather than GNU/Linux, almost ever one of the arguments the various think tanks are using "go away". The weakness is not Open Source, but GNU/Linux. If the Linuz zealots were Open Source pimp'ers instead, the Think tank papers would have even more targets *AND* would have to reduce their argument even further.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2004


lumpenprole: That's certainly one interpretation, and one I like. However, another might be "I wrote this code, and I want to donate it to the world so that everybody can use it, but I don't want somebody else to grab it and make a bunch of money off my hard work." I think that's the freedom of the author to specify what he wants done with his labor. Sounds like freedom to me.

Compare: "I wrote this code, and I want to donate it to the world so that everybody can use it, but I don't want them seeing my source code and copying the way I did things. I don't want somebody else to grab it and make a bunch of money off my hard work." I think that's the freedom of the author to specify what he wants done with his labor. Proprietary licensing sounds like freedom to me!

Do you see how stupid your argument is now? Freedom is not defined by how much freedom is given to the code's producer; it is how much freedom is given to the code's users (and re-users) that is important, and that's where the GPL falls down.
posted by reklaw at 9:24 AM on June 25, 2004


Even Microsoft has called the Tocqueville report "dubious" and "unhelpful". Of course they waited until after the study had been debunked and its author had been trashed by just about everyone who was a source for the story. (For example, check out the testimony of the man hired by ADTI to find code copying in Linux here)
posted by tdismukes at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2004


I am completely with lumpenprole and volvod regarding the use of the GPL: it's about the author's right to choose how their work is used. I speak as a commercial software developer and I would utterly defend the right for authors to use GPL, no matter how much of a pain in the arse it's advocates are.
On preview: reklaw - the author's rights trump everyone else's - it's called "copyright". Get over it.
posted by pascal at 9:36 AM on June 25, 2004


Wow, it's like Slashdot and kuro5hin had a baby. Clearly Microsoft and the Republican Party are in cahoots to launch the orbital mind-control lasers. Which will run on Windows.
posted by darukaru at 9:41 AM on June 25, 2004


rough ashlar: I think you are buying into a distinction that is being used by MS and others as a lever to do a classic divide-and-conquer attack on Linux and open source. Like volvod said, it's simple choice on the part of authors and MS would like nothing more than to inject some hysteria into this.
posted by pascal at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2004


On preview: reklaw - the author's rights trump everyone else's - it's called "copyright". Get over it.

That's my problem. The GPL, at its heart, is about protecting copyright and simply expanding your copyright to include others who use the GPL. What it promises, however, is freedom, and that's not even close to what it delivers.
posted by reklaw at 9:50 AM on June 25, 2004


I find it totally absurd that one could stipulate that the "linux community" hs coopted the term open source to mean linux.

There is no monolithic linux community with a spokesperson. That is like saying that "my computer runs Microsoft." Linux is an operating system without a corporate sponser and it has no agenda, like Windows XP has no agenda.

Microsoft is a corporation and *it* does things like coopt standards and terms to suit its own ends. To equate Linux to a corperation is a mistake and any argument to can formulate based on that error is going to be meaningless.

Linux cannot be a 'bad guy' in any such manner that Microsoft can and it a bad guy. Microsoft, on the other hand has successfully promoted a system of thought about computing that goes like this: COMPUTER == MICROSOFT. Everyone that doesn't follow this rule is marginalized to some degree.
posted by n9 at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2004


classic divide-and-conquer attack on Linux and open source.

Nope. Here is an example of the 'extinguish eveything else' attitude of the GNU/Linux camp.

http://www.osdl.org/
Open Source Development Labs

OSDL Mission
To be the recognized center of gravity for Linux; the central body dedicated to accelerating the use of Linux for enterprise computing through

If the Open Source Development Labs was about Open Source and an Open Process, where are the BSD's?

Microsoft has nothing to do with 'divide and conquer' here - unless you know that OSDL is taking money from Microsoft.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2004


on post:

the GPL provides a level of freedom that is so far beyond the MS-promoted paradigm that it is easy and nearly correct to call it free.

If you are not a software developer it might be more difficult to see this, but it is really picking nits to bash the GPL agains the MS alternative (pay $1000 for Visual Studio and several $$$ a year to be a developer so that you can code against closed APIs so that your software will only work on the hardware that MS decides that it can work on and since no one has a compiler there is a very limited amount of free collaboration done to create software.)
posted by n9 at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2004


I find it totally absurd that one could stipulate that the "linux community" hs coopted the term open source to mean linux.

You do? How many examples of such actual word use by journalists or people like Bruce Perens will it take to change that POV?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2004


Thanks for calling me stupid, reklaw. It's always nice when somebody pre-lowers the discourse.

What it promises, however, is freedom, and that's not even close to what it delivers.

So let me get this straight. Im not free unless I can help myself to the contents of you apartment?

Look, when I've released code under the GPL (and it hasn't been often, because I suck at coding), it's been for the express purpose of letting people play with my ideas. Not for making somebody else rich (even though nobody's getting rich of my coding, that's for sure.)

When and institute funded by Msoft says "hey, we really like this open source thing, we just think the GPL is too restrictive.", you can bet it's reall Microsoft saying "God knows we'd like to lay of some of our highly paid coders, so open that baby up so we can get a crack at it.".

Well, I don't want to give them my work for free. They have a million, billion, skadillion dollars. Why the hell should they benefit from the altruistic work of unpaid volunteers. The corporation doesn't even pay it's goddam taxes. What exactly are they giving to the commonwealth of ideas by taking my code?

As for this abstract ideal of freedom you seem keen on defending, nobody is forcing you to release under any license at all. You can put all your code onto a pile of cd-r's and leave them at a bus stop, if that's your kink.

Essentially, what these msoft-funded studies are advocating is an inequal application of copyright law. They want to say "we get to say what uses our code is put to, but you don't". What the GPL promises is exactly what it delivers. The chance to contribute to the PUBLIC good.

Which is kind of ironic when you consider what a libertariean Stallman can sound like...
posted by lumpenprole at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2004


the GPL provides a level of freedom that is so far beyond the MS-promoted paradigm that it is easy and nearly correct to call it free.


A 2,600+ word licence is "freedom"?

A license that restricts what other programmers can do with a hunk of code - how is that "freedom" for other programmers?

Source code is a tool that man creates for man to use. The least restriction on source code is public domain. The GPL is about putting the rights of a tool over the rights of man.

If it is "nearly correct" to call the GPL freedom, then why actually CALL it freedom? Why not use a correct label than a label that fails to be correct?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:22 AM on June 25, 2004


Look, when I've released code under the GPL (and it hasn't been often, because I suck at coding), it's been for the express purpose of letting people play with my ideas. Not for making somebody else rich

So you *ARE* restricting the freedom of someone else to make money.

What the GPL promises is exactly what it delivers. The chance to contribute to the PUBLIC good.

But the BSD licence does a BETTER job of contributing to the public good.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:25 AM on June 25, 2004


lumpenprole:

There is no conspiracy. Put the tinfoil hat down. Most of your post basically says that Microsoft wants me to use the BSD and MIT licenses so they can steal my code -- hardly likely.

Im not free unless I can help myself to the contents of you apartment?

This is as daft as any other argument associated with the defense of intellectual property (which, when you defend the GPL, is what you end up doing).

If you have written a program, and I make a copy of your program -- guess what! -- you still have the program you started with. If I take that program you wrote and use it to somehow get rich (again, unlikely), then what have you lost? You still have your original program. You can still distribute it, for free, to anyone who wants it.

Well, I don't want to give them my work for free. They have a million, billion, skadillion dollars. Why the hell should they benefit from the altruistic work of unpaid volunteers?

What the GPL seems to be based on, to me, is jealously guarding your source code. It's about restrictive rules so that "evil" corporations (meaning Microsoft mainly, but others too) can't "get rich" off "your" code.

But that's not the only thing that it stops. If you use the GPL, it means that people can't take small parts from your code and use it to help with their own without putting their whole program under the GPL. The only time when people are willing to re-release the thing under the GPL is when they are just taking the original GPL program and adding something small to it.

The GPL kills off the kind of code re-use that the BSD and MIT licenses encourage. When Microsoft used BSD's TCP/IP stack, or some other large corporation uses some other BSD/MIT code, who really loses anything? Microsoft gains, sure, but no-one lost. This is what the GPL discourages, and it discourages it in so many smaller organisations and companies that no-one would consider "evil" that it makes me quite angry.

As rough ashlar says, the ultimate freedom is to be found in the public domain. Freedom is about what I can do with your code when I receive it. If I can re-use it anywhere I like, that's much more free than having to carefully consider what -- if anything -- I can use and what kind of contrived methods I would have to use to access it to avoid violating the GPL. And if I did decide to capitulate and release my own code under the GPL, then the next person along would have to do the same if they wanted to use my code. Is this freedom?

The public domain, BSD and MIT licenses are freedom. The GPL is not. Get over it.
posted by reklaw at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2004


wow, rough, I don't know where to start. You are obviously glossing arguments that you seem to know present valid and pointed counterpoints to your personal agenda. You are either dumb or you are pretending to not know the purpose of the GPL, which is a document to seeks to change the paradigm of software development so as to allow everyone to have access to the source code of everything related to a family of collaborative software projects. The reason why thoughtful people GLP their code is because they like the ideas the license puts forth, they like the idea of computer science being a discipline with a perfectly free exchange of ideas. The BSD license is a wholly different animal that was written to serve different purposes, among them, imho, large software corperations that can't seem to produce quality code by themselves.

Your argument actually puts the 'use of the code' before both the 'code' and the 'man.'

And my point about the community is thouroughly explained in my post. The fact that you quoted my thesis and not my argument and simply siad it was not true indicates that you are a troll or you are in a rush to argue without considering the ideas of others. Either behavior is a downer.

(and, just by the way:

Q90. "How many words are there in the Constitution? How many are in the Declaration of Independence?"

A. There are 4543 words in the original, unamended Constitution, including the signatures. The Declaration has 1458 words.)

looks like it takes 6000+ words to keep us free.
posted by n9 at 10:42 AM on June 25, 2004


Rough: If you switch to BSD/MIT licences and use FreeBSD as the OS rather than GNU/Linux, almost ever one of the arguments the various think tanks are using "go away".

Reklaw: The GPL kills off the kind of code re-use that the BSD and MIT licenses encourage.

I love it when ideologues choose to live and die by theory.

So, riddle me this: If the GPL is so awful, and BSD/MIT so fantasmic, then why do the vast majority of open source projects distribute under some variant of the GPL?

I'm nearly an order of magnitude more cynical than most geeks about Open Source as the new right and true paradigm for existence, but there are a lot of points that I find difficult to challenge: E.g., people will be more inclined to contribute to something if they have an assurance that their work won't be completely trashed, as it can be under BSD/MIT licenses.

At the end of the day, people who criticise the GPL for things like "reducing freedom" are still stuck without an explanation for why so many developers seem to love it.
posted by lodurr at 10:55 AM on June 25, 2004


The BSD license is a wholly different animal that was written to serve different purposes, among them, imho, large software corperations that can't seem to produce quality code by themselves.

That would be the GNU/Linux's project use of the KAME code right?

I don't know where to start.

It is very simple. The GPL is not at all 'about freedom'. It has many other fine points, but "freedom for mankind" is not one of them.

The reason why thoughtful people GLP their code is because they like the ideas the license puts forth, they like the idea of computer science being a discipline with a perfectly free exchange of ideas.

Perfectly free? Hrmmmm. Seems if the ''idea" is GPLed it can't get used in a BSD licenced project if the BSD code does not wish to become GPL'd, yet BSD licenced code CAN be used in a GPL licenced project w/o effecting the GPL'd mass of code.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:56 AM on June 25, 2004


And my point about the community is thouroughly explained in my post.

So in 152 words you've explained the linux community 'thouroughly'?

Wow. Perhaps IBM could you your talents in the 4 billion dollar SCO lawsuit.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:06 AM on June 25, 2004


no , dipshit, I argued MY POINT, you know, like I said I did with the little word things? (slaps a "I'm a f*cktard" sticker on rough's bumper.)
posted by n9 at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2004


At the end of the day, people who criticise the GPL for things like "reducing freedom" are still stuck without an explanation for why so many developers seem to love it.

Such an attempt at rebuttal reminds me of the schoolyard taunt "if you are so smart, home come you are not rich"?

The basis of your 'argument' is "people love freedom". Yet, why does Microsoft have +90%? Yet why do people live under the leadership of North Korea or used to live under Saddam?

Looks like your "freedom" claim isn't it.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:15 AM on June 25, 2004


rough: thanks for stating the obvious, but ideas and code are not the same thing.
Code can be an articulation of an idea in the same way that Isaac Asimov's "I Robot" is an articulation of a set of ideas about robots. While I am free to read Asimov's book and write a book of my own that incorporates some or all of those ideas, I am not free to change the title and the artwork, add two extra chapters and and sell it as my own. You are free to incorporate ideas from GPL code into a BSD project in exactly the same way.
GPL (look, have I sad I am not a fan enough times already?) is about guaranteeing freedom to understand how a piece of software works - freedom of information - and it does this by limiting some freedoms in how software can be re-used. You are of course free yourself to keep mischaracterizing it's goals, but I am free to stop taking you seriously.
posted by pascal at 11:24 AM on June 25, 2004


What the GPL seems to be based on, to me, is jealously guarding your source code. It's about restrictive rules so that "evil" corporations (meaning Microsoft mainly, but others too) can't "get rich" off "your" code.
It's been a while since I last read it, so my memory may be lapsing, but I was under the impression that there's nothing stopping Microsoft putting anybody's GPL'd code into their products.

What they can't do is claim that code as their own, and the way that's insured is by making sure that the source code is available to you.

At least, that was always my simplistic take on things (fortunately I'm not a coder, so it's unlikely I'd release anything under GPL, so I never dug too deep. Possibly a mistake... ). Where's Eben Moglen when you need him? :)
posted by kaemaril at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2004


A 2,600+ word licence is "freedom"?

This in response to the claim that the GPL gives you more freedom that Microsoft. Why don't we judge by the Flesch Reading Ease scale of the text instead, hmm?

"Plain English": 65
GPL: 61.3
WinXP licence: 44.3

Right. Anyway, according to the "WinXP Professional" licence, you're not allowed to run it on a dual-CPU machine, log into the machine remotely by non-MS-approved means, run a network server, use it develop particular types of applications, disassemble it, or even make copies for your friends.

The only limitation of the freedom provided by the GPL is essentially "your freedom to swing your fist ends where the other guy's nose begins." It might be reasonable to disagree with the goal of eliminating copyright on software, which is what the GPL is all about... but to say it doesn't deserve to be called "free" is just stupid.

Yet, why does Microsoft have +90%?

Well, lots of reasons, but you sort of answer your own question there, don't you...

why do people live under the leadership of North Korea or used to live under Saddam?

Are you saying that Microsoft is the military dictator of the software world, keeping us under its rule with secret police squads that disappear people in the middle of the night? That seems a bit harsh.
posted by sfenders at 11:44 AM on June 25, 2004


Why don't we judge by the Flesch Reading Ease scale of the text instead, hmm?

"Plain English": 65
GPL: 61.3
WinXP licence: 44.3


And yet you don't list the 3 clause BSD licence, any reason?

Because the claim that has been made is Public Domain is "most free" and BSD is 'more free' than the GPL.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2004


The "freedom" mentioned by proponents of the GPL has nothing to do with being able to do whatever you want with the source economically. It has everything to do with the freedom to modify the source no matter where you got it.

With the BSD license, I can buy a program that uses some BSD code (take, for instance, the TCP/IP stack) and know who the originator was. If I want, I could probably track down the source that the derived code was based on. But I cannot request the code I'm actually using. If I wanted to pay someone to add a feature (or do it myself), or fix a bug that I've found, I'm at the mercy of whoever sold me the program.

With the GPL, any time I purchase a program, download it, whatever, I can ask the supplier for the code. If they use a LGPL-licensed library, I can request the code for that library. Suddenly, I can do a lot more with what I've bought.

It's the freedom to get the source for what you're actually using and do what you want with it. Yes, it's viral so you have to be careful when and how you use it, but it is definitely useful. Also, if I were to start a project and GPL license it, I could stick it out in public and wait for someone to add a really cool feature. Then, I could hire that individual, and (assuming only he and I have written the code), sell a relicensed version that is more optimized.
posted by mikeh at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2004


With the GPL, any time I purchase a program, download it, whatever, I can ask the supplier for the code.

You'd think that, and yet it is not the case. Example - The Virgin WebPlayer.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:12 PM on June 25, 2004


Rough: You're fighting a straw man. You're arguing about "lack of freedom" in the GPL and its derivatives, such as the Lesser GPL, without bothering to define what you mean by "freedom".

Such an attempt at rebuttal reminds me of the schoolyard taunt "if you are so smart, home come you are not rich"?

I fear your analogy does not hold, for the simple reason that I never bothered to answer your claims about "freedom" -- I merely pointed out that your ideologue's obsession with some ill-defined standards of "freedom" and "free"-ness are blinding you to the fact that, given free choice, most open-source developers choose GPL. (This is the point where you get to say whether you favor free markets or regard property as theft -- if the former, you must logically favor the GPL over BSD...unless, of course, you're a sock-puppet for anti-open-source interests...)

Put another way: I wasn't arguing with you about your pure logic of freedom; I was merely arguing that your arguments are of no utility.
posted by lodurr at 12:13 PM on June 25, 2004


Well then, rough ashlar and reklaw, I'm looking forward to using your code, released under a BSD-style license, in my GPL-licensed project. Where is it, by the way?

The GPL is designed to protect the freedom of all code by precluding the user from doing certain things, in the same way that the US Constitution is concerned with protecting the freedom of all citizens by precluding the government from doing certain things. Arguing that the BSD-style licenses are better at giving freedom is like arguing that anarchy is better at giving freedom - sure, it is, except that everyone else is free to screw you over also, if they want to. Instead of relying on the goodwill of others, the GPL enforces the free exchange of ideas, openness and availability of knowledge - without affecting the end user at all (except that they will generally find that using the GPLd programs is far cheaper).

By the way, if anyone is trying to hijack the term "open source", it's Microsoft with its "shared source" program which is constantly pushed as a valid source availability model, except that you are not free to reuse the source in any form at all.
posted by azazello at 12:36 PM on June 25, 2004


the claim that has been made is Public Domain is "most free" and BSD is 'more free' than the GPL.

For some useful definitions of freedom that's true, for others it isn't. It might be an interesting debate, but it's pretty much irrelevant to the topic at hand. The distinction between "open source" and "everything else" is quite clear, and far more important than any differences between the various free software licenses.

If the people who pimp "Linux" had hitched their wagon to "Open Source" and included non-GPLed code on equal footing, these "attacks" would be useless.

First, I disagree with your premise. Despite Microsoft's best efforts, "Open Source" still gets more recognition than does the GPL. To the extent that "Linux" meaning the kernel is promoted and recognized in the world at large, that the GPL is the particular free software licence chosen is usually unimportant. When "Linux" is used to mean all the stuff that people think of as running on Linux, it's still less important. For one thing, much of that software uses various other licences.

Second, the AdTI "attack", along with most of the others, has nothing at all to do with the GPL. The attack is on free software; they'll pick on whatever license is successful.
posted by sfenders at 12:54 PM on June 25, 2004


I think the use of the word "Freedom" as in "Free Software" or "true freedom" when it comes to software is a mistake. I just don't think it has a clear meaning when applied to software or source code. As this thread demonstrates, it certainly does not lead to sane conversation.

Richard Stallman's original complaint which led him to create the GPL was that he wished he could get the source code to the buggy driver for his printer so he could fix it. The GPL is one answer to that problem since the vendor is required to share their code if the driver was created by someone who wanted it shared. In practice, the BSD license is just as good an answer provided that the source code is made available by the vendor, which BSD software often is. Applying the term "Freedom" to either solution just isn't that helpful.
posted by Voivod at 1:27 PM on June 25, 2004


Voivoid, that's a really good point. The language itself defeats us in this discussion. Stallman is notoriously passionate in his views, so no doubt "Freedom" didn't seem too semiotically loaded for him. But I'm sure many people here can cite multiple cases where passion over "freedom" a la GPL has lead to fallings-out with the FSF.

That considered, what becomes frankly amazing is that free software propsers as it does. I've said I'm cynical about it, and I am, but not about the aims of its proponents. I'm cynical (maybe "skeptical" would be more accurate) about any necessity of greater "freedom" arising from f/oss; it's my view that f/oss ultimately gives the greatest advantage not to small-movers, but to very-large movers, like IBM (or Microsoft, if they'd get their heads out of their asses about it).

I don't get totally depressed about the prospect because I think there's a chance that visionary folks at IBM might see that the power of f/oss dwindles if the rank and file of developers are oppressed; I even dare to dream that occasionally senior corporate wonks themselves do dream of "freedom"....
posted by lodurr at 2:34 PM on June 25, 2004


Brown makes this argument that Linus couldn't possibly have written an operating system by himself becuase it's so hard.

Yeah, because it's not like one guy wrote DOS or anything...
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2004


Yeah, because it's not like one guy wrote DOS or anything...

Actually, I think that's a myth, though I could be wrong. I know DOS was licensed from another company and I think it was originally called QDOS. Which, if I remember was copied from an OS concept put together by (wait for it......) Apple.

So, I guess if Linus stole his ideas from Minix, then maybe Apple should hire SCO to sue Microsoft.

And you know, to everybody who wants to jump all over me and others about conspiracy theories, I'd point out that it's not a theory. Read the Halloween Documents. If Microsoft says 'We really need to make people hate open source.' Then orginisations with funding from Microsoft start suing and pumping out studies that show you should hate open source, then that's not a conspiracy theory, that's a conspiracy fact.

And really, all this talk about 'what license promotes freedom better' is pretty much a waste. As I pointed out earlier, choose whatever the hell license you want. The BSD license does one thing, the GPL another. Pick the one you're comfortable with. Just make sure you're paying enough attention to what's going around you that you'll still have those choices in five years time.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:06 PM on June 25, 2004


I know DOS was licensed from another company and I think it was originally called QDOS.

IIRC it was purchased from one guy, for $50,000.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:43 PM on June 25, 2004


Given the sheer scale of the largest corporations and the amount of money they can funnel into influencing the US political process (in both direct and indirect way), it is hard to see how "We The People" can compete in kind.

What, a few billion paltry dollars over several years? So what. Americans have priorites and this same tatters trout.

here is a Hamilitonian moment for you.

"Overall, banks will charge $30 billion in ATM, bounced-check and overdraft fees this year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., up 14 percent from 2001. The fees represent about 30 percent of banks' operating profits."

This country is so damn rich it can spend sums like that, by citizens, to be late, lazy and/or forgetful.
posted by clavdivs at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2004


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