RMS says Windows, OS X, iOS and Android are all malware
May 27, 2015 11:42 PM   Subscribe

Should you trust an internet of proprietary software things? - "Richard Stallman, known for his instrumental role in the creation of Linux, has written an opinion piece arguing that nearly any operating system you might use today can be considered malware, and that goes for popular mobile platforms as well as desktop operating systems." (via; rms previously)
posted by kliuless (131 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would be more into this tonight, if my Linux boot hadn't eaten itself and would go past the login manager. I am currently posting this from Windows. Fuck it, you do the math.

(So, tomorrow I reinstall Linux. At least that's easier than Windows.)
posted by Samizdata at 11:52 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, angry I couldn't respond to this post in elinks.
posted by Samizdata at 11:53 PM on May 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Richard Stallman, known for his instrumental role in the creation of Linux

Or as Stallman would like you to call it, GNU/Linux GNU Operating System
posted by alex_skazat at 11:53 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


We should be very concerned about online privacy, but RMS kinda takes it too far.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:56 PM on May 27, 2015


Never change, dude.
posted by Artw at 11:56 PM on May 27, 2015 [34 favorites]


I'd post a response but I can't seem to find the correct drivers
posted by hellojed at 11:56 PM on May 27, 2015 [44 favorites]


Don't use the proprietry ones that actually work - they are tainted!
posted by Artw at 11:57 PM on May 27, 2015 [19 favorites]


are all malware

if it's in any way putting its interests before that of folks getting (and keeping) in touch with each other, then yeah, it's malware.
posted by philip-random at 11:58 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


rms doesn't like modern computing, you say?!?!?!!?!?!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:12 AM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Richard Stallman is why I always use Linux servers.

Richard Stallman is also why I always use Windows desktops.
posted by parliboy at 12:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [51 favorites]


Ah, Linux. The free operating system, so long as you do not consider your time to have any financial value.

Good to know Stallman's still out there, still being the computer equivalent of that guy with the "LEGALIZE IT" sign at the back of the audience at every vaguely political event.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [49 favorites]


Maybe out on his ever-diminishing ledge his position seems reasonable. But 99% of the world's population probably don't have the time or the tools to email the text of websites to themselves or write their own OS, or printer drivers. But they still get incredible value from what he describes as malware, and are able to do all sorts of wonderful things that make life better, funner, etc.

He can keep on tilting at the windmill if he wants. But I don't have to take him seriously.
posted by awfurby at 12:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


"computer equivalent of that guy with the "LEGALIZE IT" sign at the back of the audience"

I don't know where you went, but welcome back!

So I've got news about this country's marijuana laws....
posted by idiopath at 12:28 AM on May 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


Thank you, Richard Stallman, for the tools that let me do my work every day. And thank you for not being as easily bought as other open source advocates.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:30 AM on May 28, 2015 [52 favorites]


If we could count on people not ripping off our work wholesale maybe Mr. Stallman 3rd and 4th tentent wouldn't be so unpalitable.
posted by The Power Nap at 12:42 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's difficult to believe that most of the comments in this thread are responses to actually reading the article, which is so uncontroversial as to be essentially a truism. Nobody's going to deny that your handheld and your [nonfree] desktop are backdoored in various ways, not even the companies who put them there. They'll just frame it in different words, say "oh look, shiny" and also claim, as many in this thread seem to imply, that you can't have the nice thing without the backdoors. And if you believe that, fine. But why then bash RMS? He's not hurting you.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:47 AM on May 28, 2015 [42 favorites]


RMS always reminds me of that vegan activist Lisa Simpson was into.

I'm already using Linux a lot (more so now that OS X is a dead end), and I understand that e.g. Google and Amazon have some serious issues, to put it mildly, but it's haard to get away from it all.

And so St. Ignucius surfs the web via email for our sins.
posted by pseudocode at 12:58 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whilst I am often in disagreement with Mr. Stallman, a lot of what he says makes sense, I find myself nodding in agreement, and then, like a Libertarian, he throws out a zinger:

Proprietary software in cars that stops those we used to call “car owners” from fixing “their” cars.

I used to have a friend that reverse engineered EPROMs. He had a speed shop with a dynamometer and a logic analyzer and pretty much did it my trial and error. After a while he figured out the codes used by most manufacturers and he could reprogram an EPROM to get a substantial performance boost from most cars. What made this illegal was the EPA who prohibited this sort of aftermarket modification because engines so modified no longer passed emission requirements. (You put the factory EPROM back in before testing.)

In this case proprietary software was there to ensure compliance with emission control laws which, I think, most reasonable people would accept as an OK limitation on software freedom.

There is a wide gap between lofty goals of complete software autonomy - which I find appealing - and the reality of business models and laws which is where most of us must reside.
posted by three blind mice at 1:02 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


The snark here seems pretty empty. Stallman is monomaniacal and says crazy stuff all the time but what he's saying in this Guardian piece is completely true.

I mean forgetting even about the back doors—operating systems today are designed so that out of the box, on any system with a microphone (which is all systems, apart from servers) they literally listen to everything you and everyone around you says, all the time.

A computer that constantly records and transmits all sorts of information about you and your activities to the OS vendor, application vendors, advertising-related third parties, and any government or ISP that feels like listening is the rule, not the exception, and it takes a fair bit of knowhow and effort to get most computers consumers would use to not do that.
posted by XMLicious at 1:03 AM on May 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


It's not even about the malware, per se. RMS's underlying philosophical argument is that these objects inculcate a corrupting ideology that distorts the users' very conception and understanding of their intellectual freedoms. How would a scientist even begin to measure the harms of this thing hypothesized to shape society on such a large scale? There don't seem to be many people like RMS willing to argue and examine these issues.
posted by polymodus at 1:04 AM on May 28, 2015 [41 favorites]


While more often than I think his views are a bit too fundamentalist (but not wrong), I'll give one thing to RMS, and that is his consistency. I've met quite a few "windows is eeeeevil, we need better security and privacy" that started worshipping at the Temple of Jobs sometime around past decade and spent a good part of the last few years apologizing Apple for everything, from the walled garden, to the tracking, to the leaked pictures.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:05 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ah, Linux. The free operating system, so long as you do not consider your time to have any financial value.

BTW while this was vaguely true for me when I first heard it at least a decade and a half ago (though it's not as if any other OS "just worked" back then, either), it's not even a little bit true anymore, and hasn't been for a long time.

When it comes to getting an OS to work and keeping it that way, in ascending order of time suck (where "greater than" means "better") it's OSX > Linux > Windows, and that last step is a doozy. Of the three Windows is the only one that actually destroys itself over time when used as intended. The exception being when I work for companies with strong IT policies who push their own updates. Those have actually been fairly long-lived and stable, but the human talent required to achieve that is incredible. And the way OSX has been failing for the last year or two it's actually kind of a toss-up between it and Linux now, at least in the pain and suffering metric.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:08 AM on May 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


It's difficult to believe that most of the comments in this thread are responses to actually reading the article, which is so uncontroversial as to be essentially a truism.

No, actually. We're just in the position of regular users on a multi-user system. Apple is the admin, the superuser, and it logs our activities and constrains our ability to run whatever programs we want. That doesn't make the OS and everything we use malware, any more than similar restrictions on other multi-user systems.

Stallman is like a libertarian saying that all laws are ultimately backed up by the threat of deadly force, and that taxation is theft. It may be true in a way, but his absolutist demand for perfect computing freedom doesn't advance the conversation, and it drowns out more reasonable discussion about privacy and computer security.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 AM on May 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


but his absolutist demand for perfect computing freedom doesn't advance the conversation,

Depends on whether it's a conversation you want to have. In living memory something like perfect computing freedom was the normal case. Whether the tradeoff we're making in order to have the shiny is one we absolutely have to make or not is very much a conversation worth having. If you don't think so, then you don't have to participate. And his "absolutist demands", if that's what they are, don't actually seem to be hurting anyone.

and it drowns out more reasonable discussion about privacy and computer security.

Really? Which more reasonable discussions is it drowning out? In all the world is there really only room for the conversation you want to have about privacy and security, and this one is preventing it from taking place?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


I've been considering a short philosophy of extremism.

Most people will not go to the data security lengths that Richard Stallman is positing, even if the position is agreeable. It's frankly a lot of effort to turn against a market tide like that, and we won't want to turn away from some of the useful things this data-gathering gives us. I like better search algorithms and music recommendations, even as I am unhappy with having to give out location data or telephone numbers to access a service (which usually ends with me skipping the service).
I also use Linux (mostly because my satisfaction at terminal integration outweighs my frustration with drivers), but it's no solution for everyone. I disagree that the time-suck factor is particularly true (migrating from Windows, the time I save in not having the OS do what it thinks I want is appreciable) but video games are more likely to run into difficulties, and since programs tend to either work well or die rather than just slow down a bit of technical know-how helps.

Assuming that RMS says this article will not cause me to change my behaviour, is there utility in him continuing to work over these points? I'd say yes.I see the work of extreme opinions to be less "we've got to get people to do something about this problem" and more "we've got to get people to acknowledge it is actually a problem rather than neutral or beneficial".

A test case here on Mefi for myself was some comments about ableist slurs - an issue on which I'll admit I rolled my eyes at initially, thinking it was rather precious. But when people you respect hold these opinions solidly and unashamedly, you can't help but examine your position sometimes. The slur issue seems a great distance away from ridiculous now. So this is what the article is to me - not a game-changer, but a reminder that people I somewhat respect hold extreme opinions, and even if I reject them out of hand it's a little nudge to though.
posted by solarion at 1:24 AM on May 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


and it drowns out more reasonable discussion about privacy and computer security.

This is also where I disagree. I think things like this stimulate discussion on "if these things are too extreme, then what can we do that isn't? -Are- these things too extreme?" Maybe they seem quite reasonable to some, and we have a weird shifted Overton window.

It doesn't get great press when given to the people contrary to the position, sure; but you were never going to convince them anyway. Thinking on the recent thread with democracy and OWS - maybe the extreme movement was unworkable, but it sure gave a lot of people some activism experience, which we're seeing the results of now.

A complete aside: If you tune an instrument in Just Intonation, play it for a while, and then go back and think normal pianos/etc sound strange, could you say your Overtone Window has shifted?
posted by solarion at 1:30 AM on May 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


Apple is the admin, the superuser, and it logs our activities and constrains our ability to run whatever programs we want.

Apple is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All these Apps with the Garden are yours to purchase, but under no circumstances may you execute the Unsigned Code, for then you will surely perish.
posted by Pyry at 1:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [36 favorites]


We're just in the position of regular users on a multi-user system. Apple is the admin, the superuser, and it logs our activities and constrains our ability to run whatever programs we want. That doesn't make the OS and everything we use malware, any more than similar restrictions on other multi-user systems.

Stallman is like a libertarian saying that all laws are ultimately backed up by the threat of deadly force, and that taxation is theft. It may be true in a way, but his absolutist demand for perfect computing freedom doesn't advance the conversation, and it drowns out more reasonable discussion about privacy and computer security.

But we didn't rent some time on a multi-user system. We bought our own computers. It's the aspect of the operating systems that transforms a consumer's wholly-owned property into a mere rental of a portion of a larger system owned and controlled by someone else, where it's the OS vendor and other vendors who have final say over what happens and get to use your computer as a surveillance device, a means of manipulating you, and an instrument for their own ends, that make those operating systems into malware.

It's similar to the way that, in the case of telemarketing, companies get to treat the effort a consumer goes to in installing a telephone line in their house, getting a telephone and maybe an answering machine, and responding to calls promptly so that other people can communicate with them, as though it's all just a low-cost marketing channel free for use by that company. Except that this is a much more comprehensive intrusion, and by now in the 21st century the various vendors involved are much more shrewd about ensuring that they fully own and control their little beachhead into your daily life and most other organizations need to pay up to get access to you.

Objecting to the fact that, as Stallman points out, Google can forcibly remotely install and uninstall applications from your Android device overriding any of your own wishes in the matter is not some hyperbolic demand for idealized perfect freedom. Yeah, he does say that kind of stuff, but this is not an example of it.
posted by XMLicious at 1:51 AM on May 28, 2015 [30 favorites]


"I developed the GNU operating system, which is often called Linux, to escape and end that injustice. "

Stallman and his supporters often parrot some variant of this lie. GNU tools were of course necessary in order to create Linux but no one, except them, has ever tried claimed that GNU created Linux (GNU-OS was never anything but hot air and vapourware). It is rather like the chisel maker wanting to be acclaimed as the creator of the statue.

Stallman is bitter because he thinks he is not as famous as he deserves to be, he is now of course famous for being bitter.
posted by epo at 1:53 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


No, he's more like the guy who chiselled the legs and torso wanting an acknowledgement that he did a lot of the work. I think what he's saying is substantially right. Considering the repeated breaches of trust we've seen in the last few years, having blind faith in companies is foolish, especially when we give them access to devices with gps, cameras, and microphones that we carry with us everywhere we go.
posted by kersplunk at 2:09 AM on May 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Apple is the admin, the superuser, and it logs our activities and constrains our ability to run whatever programs we want.

Apple is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All these Apps with the Garden are yours to purchase, but under no circumstances may you execute the Unsigned Code, for then you will surely perish.
posted by Pyry at 17:31 on May 28 [4 favorites +] [!]


"Welcome… to Macintosh."
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, Linux. The free operating system, so long as you do not consider your time to have any financial value.

Maybe 15-20 years ago. Right now I think we're at the stage where it's in between Windows and Mac in terms of ease of setup and maintenance. I'm not a religious zealot and I use whatever works for the relevant job. Right now I have:

Work desktop: Windows 7 (for MS Office, Outlook, Lync and in-house tools) with an Ubuntu VM (for Python/C++ development) - two monitors with one OS in each
Work laptop: OS X on a MacBook Air for portability
Home laptop: Windows 7 (for music making apps) dual booting with Ubuntu (which I rarely use to be honest)
Old laptop: Originally Windows XP, was a Hackintosh for a while, now Linux, used it for streaming before I got a Chromecast.

I got sick of fixing viruses on my girlfriend's Windows laptop, so I installed Mint on it a few weeks ago and she's very happy with it. There was no configuration whatsoever to do during the install beyond picking the time zone and a username and password - everything just worked, and the end result was a desktop that's very familiar to Windows users (less new stuff to learn than switching to OS X) but cleaner and faster.
posted by kersplunk at 2:30 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah, Linux. The free operating system, so long as you do not consider your time to have any financial value.

Free as in speech, not free as in beer.
posted by PenDevil at 3:18 AM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Linux and open source software pay my bills. I work with them every day, and I am truly far more productive using them than I could be using Windows, even with a lot of experience (which I also have). However, RMS is as much of a nut as he ever was, sorry to say. GNU and the FSF failed. They never delivered an operating system; they ended up using Linux, which was an unrelated project, as their kernel. They ported a bunch of Unix utilities, and their most significant work was gcc (the GNU Compiler Collection—now superseded by Apple's clang), but they have never been able to deliver on the big userland applications. (The best they've got is the GIMP, which is separate from the core of the GNU project.)

However, here's the big thing: most of the advances that have happened in open source have been the result of massive corporate investment. IBM, Red Hat, Google, and so on, develop and invest in open source software because it helps them do business. Heck, my little company contributes changes upstream. Why? It helps us do business.

Of course, we write proprietary software. RMS wouldn't approve. But then, he uses emacs to do his web browsing; what do you expect?
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:40 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


To be fair, I was able to quickly get off all the automatic email spam lists that installing a new version of windows put me on. I still fight to get removed off of all the damn GNU mailing lists I am on - and all I did was visit sourceforge.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:58 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, Linux. The free operating system, so long as you do not consider your time to have any financial value.

I do IT for a living. I have units with various editions of OS X, Windows, and Linux installed in my home. (When it's your job, you should know them all.) In my experience, many Linux distributions (Fedora, Debian, SUSE, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, CentOS) are far-and-away easier to install and maintain than OS X or Windows. I've been using Fedora--a bleeding-edge Linux distribution--on my work-a-day PC for years. This Tuesday I upgraded from Fedora 21 to Fedora 22 without a hiccup; it could not have been easier. Everything just works; it's free; and nobody's hiding anything. I'm 100% convinced Linux is the future. It is free and open. How does Apple and Microsoft beat free and open? With clever advertising? Do they pay us to use it? There are millions of Raspberry Pis--almost all using Linux--in schools being poked, prodded, and programmed by kids now. This is the future: the doors and windows are open and the lights are on.

I'm truly surprised Richard Stallman isn't treated with way more respect on Metafilter--especially after Snowden. Look back at his writings: the guy practically foretold our present state.
posted by dashDashDot at 4:13 AM on May 28, 2015 [44 favorites]


How does Apple and Microsoft beat free and open?

With Apple we all jumped on board the OS X bandwagon when it was kumbaya-BSD and we wanted both the shiny and the terminal prompt without a lot of hassle.

With PCs I'll give you four letters: UEFI (and maybe four more: GRUB)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


dashDashDot, one major component of our current state is broken encryption. One of the major vectors of broken encryption is the OpenSSL project, which is a clusterfuck. OpenSSL is "free software," and, while RMS has been prescient on some matters, it demonstrates how myopic he is on others. If a domain is too difficult for hobbyist hackers, it just doesn't get done—the mantra of "many eyes make all bugs shallow" is demonstrably false, and I think it has been harmful to open source software over the years.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:37 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, and Steam, too. I wonder how much of Microsoft's black budget is dedicated to making GPU drivers for Linux suck.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:45 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


How does Apple and Microsoft beat free and open?

I really do think that for an awful lot of people we've reached a state where, as far as personal computing goes, the browser is the OS. Hell, I launch maybe three programs with any regularity on my personal desktop, and one of them is a web browser (the other two are a DAW and an IDE).

So long as the OS can deliver a reasonable UX that gets out of the way when the browser wants to "be" an app, I don't think most people really care. But you'll have to get the FOSS OS pre-installed on every laptop in Best Buy to approach anything like a reasonable adoption rate.

Of course, gamers care (and Windows owns that space because drivers), and businesses care (MS owns the cube farm, Apple still has a big piece of design and arts), and those are spaces that are, theoretically, up for grabs, but realistically, until MS ports Office to Linux (!!!) and supports it (Office on Mac?), people will be mostly using Windows at work and want to come home to an identical UX.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:51 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, whatever, I'm grateful linux exists, but I wish RMS had spent more time on how the fact that Android is "open source" (for somebody's definition of open source) doesn't seem to have changed much wrt his jeremiad. He seems to be reduced to making a moral argument that developers should not back-door their applications and users should choose GPL'd software.

RMS's real invention was the GPL and the GPL was supposed to make this situation impossible: why would user's choose some proprietary buggy and malicious software when they could use an open source application with the same functionality? In general, what has happened is that software is becoming commodified, and the price of software, as a commodity, because the cost of production is all labor, is effectively free. OS X and Windows are on their way to becoming free software. The GPL has provided a particular legal framework for organizing "free" software but you can see with Android, that being GPL'd doesn't change the dynamics much.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:52 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I owe much of my career to the tools that RMS (and Linus) has created and while there's no denying that he's a nutter, he is right. I'm typing this on my beloved Chromebook that is the most responsive and reliable computer that I've ever owned but at the same time is totally tied into Google's garden.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


If a domain is too difficult for hobbyist hackers, it just doesn't get done

but how much of that is the fact that the software industry has tried to push the 60-80 hr a week deathmarch as the norm for software development. not much time or energy left for hobby projects if you are a working programmer...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:55 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I'm truly surprised Richard Stallman isn't treated with way more respect

A lot of silicon valley types have bought fully into the myth that the GPL is an evil virus and RMS himself is waiting in the wings to steal your jerb if you use free software.

And Free Software is, culturally speaking, on the social justice side, and ideas of people working together for a common good is an unpopular idea in certain circles.
posted by Poldo at 4:56 AM on May 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


Richard Stallman is why I always use Linux servers.

Richard Stallman is one of the reasons I always use FreeBSD servers.
posted by eriko at 5:00 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


but how much of that is the fact that the software industry has tried to push the 60-80 hr a week deathmarch as the norm for software development

There's always time for another JavaScript framework. I mean, I'm joking, but I'm not. Programming is one of the few professions that people also do as a hobby, and many programmers love programming. Open source isn't in danger of dying, but corporate investment (paid for by the Ever-So-Evil proprietary software) is a big part of that... and it doesn't change the point that open source has not created the secure, free utopia that RMS seems to have thought inevitable.

Given that he has basically killed gcc, the most important product of the GNU project... I think he is given too much respect.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:04 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apple is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All these Apps with the Garden are yours to purchase, but under no circumstances may you execute the Unsigned Code, for then you will surely perish.

Oh, come on. It's a single radio button in the security Preference Pane. I mean, the default is walled garden, but it's not your only option. Hyperbole doesn't advance the debate.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:09 AM on May 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


> why would user's choose some proprietary buggy and malicious software when they could
> use an open source application with the same functionality?

In a world of increasingly complex requirements and software stacks, why would anyone bother their ass rewriting a commercial monolith like Photoshop or something for free?

Stallman's utopia might have been realistic in the days when a 10MB hard drive was vast, but now?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:09 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


  but they have never been able to deliver on the big userland applications

I still feel that the old “luser” joke is true to many free software developers. They've written and maintained code that scratches their itch, and assume that everyone else who would wish to, can.
posted by scruss at 5:16 AM on May 28, 2015


...I wish RMS had spent more time on how the fact that Android is "open source" (for somebody's definition of open source) doesn't seem to have changed much wrt his jeremiad. He seems to be reduced to making a moral argument that developers should not back-door their applications and users should choose GPL'd software.

This whole theme of operating systems as malware may have started with him referring to a Linux distribution as spyware a few years ago. He definitely isn't saying that open source causes these issues to disappear.
posted by XMLicious at 5:17 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


He can keep on tilting at the windmill if he wants. But I don't have to take him seriously.

Whatever you think of him, it's hard to imagine how awful the world of technology would look like today without him and the FSF pinning down their edge of the Overton window and refusing to budge.

No open source movement, no FSF and no and GPL'ed software means no modern internet or modern web we'd recognize from where we're standing today, and if his refusal to compromise shines a light on all the compromises you'd rather not believe you're making that's on you, not on him.
posted by mhoye at 5:36 AM on May 28, 2015 [47 favorites]


The thing is that just enough of what he calls "snooping" has its uses. I'm perfectly happy to let the Kindle app on my tablet tell Amazon what page I'm on, and what notes and underlines I may make in a book - because Amazon will then share that information with the Kindle app on my other tablet, and my phone. And I sure as hell don't want to sysadmin my own theoretical FreeAsInBeerReader backend on my own server. Its just so fucking convenient that I don't give a shit about the NSA grabbing that data and adding it to their profile of me or whatever.
posted by egypturnash at 5:38 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


...if his refusal to compromise shines a light on all the compromises you'd rather not believe you're making that's on you, not on him.

Actually, it just makes tools I'd like to use (gcc, emacs) worse. I think he's wrong on his software philosophy—most useful software in the world would never get written for free, because it is boring and it is hard—but nowhere is it more obvious than in the software for which he is the gatekeeper. He has allowed Apple's open source pet project (clang/llvm) to eat gcc's lunch, and refuses to consider making relatively minor changes that would improve gcc and emacs (and their integration) because "they might be used by proprietary software!"
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:46 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


So I don't have a lot of time right now, but I believe this:

Proprietary software in cars that stops those we used to call “car owners” from fixing “their” cars.

is a reference to this.

(Also: wrt. to the "your time is worthless" snark, I just want to add that as a longtime Linux user who also uses Windows and OS/X, I generally waste at least as much time on configuring and administrating the other OSs as I do on Linux.)
posted by suetanvil at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


And Free Software is, culturally speaking, on the social justice side, and ideas of people working together for a common good is an unpopular idea in certain circles.

However, free software projects qua communities of people hacking on stuff can sometimes be spectacularly bad at social justice in practice: in particular, many free software projects and their heroes are sexist.

One example: a sexist joke that RMS made during a presentation a few years ago. Another: during an interview, RMS did not recall any women contributing to GCC or Emacs, apparently forgetting that a women was the GCC test suite maintainer at the time.

Oops.

I work on GPL-licensed software for libraries — and am paid to do it! — and I'm by no means an apologist for proprietary software and closed data, both of which have imposed tremendous costs that libraries are ill able to afford. The four freedoms listed in the FSF's definition of free software align well with the fundamental library value of community sharing. The use of free software by libraries is a bulwark against forces that seek to enclose the information commons — or to break the privacy of library patrons.

But the four freedoms are only a starting point for embodying notions of social justice in our software. Necessary ones, but not sufficient in a world where women are all too often passively and actively driven away from contributing to free software projects.

RMS deserves credit for articulating and defending that necessary starting point — but I think free and open source software needs to grow beyond that. And if we need leaders to make that next leap... I don't see RMS ever being one of them.
posted by metaquarry at 6:08 AM on May 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


One of the major vectors of broken encryption is the OpenSSL project, which is a clusterfuck. OpenSSL is "free software," and, while RMS has been prescient on some matters, it demonstrates how myopic he is on others. If a domain is too difficult for hobbyist hackers, it just doesn't get done

That's a pretty cherry-picked example, considering that, e.g., Apple's proprietary TLS stack had a pretty awful bug around the same timeframe as Heartbleed ("goto fail") and you can hardly claim that it was maintained by "hobbyist hackers". It turns out that (a) it's a hard problem to solve (b) nobody is eager to do a "green field" implementation of a TLS stack due to all of the legacy dependencies and "flight time" on the current mostly-working libraries. So open source vs. proprietary has pretty much jack to do with the issues there.

Really, messy legacy code is incredibly common in proprietary software. If you haven't learned that the hard way, you're either talented enough that you can turn down paying work and choose your projects, or you've just been incredibly lucky.
posted by indubitable at 6:13 AM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


I toyed with Linux on old desktops a couple of times. One install was only ever partially functional; I just could not get it to recognize the network adapter.

The other ran for three days (mostly just running SETI@home, and providing me no utility whatsoever and not much fun either) before a power outage killed it, corrupting some important file or other, and it refused to boot again. (In 26 years of using Microsoft OS's I had that happen just once, and was able to diagnose and repair it with no loss of data, in less than an hour.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:15 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm perfectly happy to let the Kindle app on my tablet tell Amazon what page I'm on, and what notes and underlines I may make in a book - because Amazon will then share that information with the Kindle app on my other tablet, and my phone. And I sure as hell don't want to sysadmin my own theoretical FreeAsInBeerReader backend on my own server. Its just so fucking convenient that I don't give a shit about the NSA grabbing that data and adding it to their profile of me or whatever.

By casually allowing things like centralized looking-over-your-shoulder monitoring of everything we read and all the reading notes we take, in exchange for paltry compensation such as the ability to get those notes on another device from the same company as long as the company doesn't object, we have probably guaranteed that when there's something we don't want globally monitored the choice will no longer be there.
posted by XMLicious at 6:16 AM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Related news: RMS is famous (and made a few enemies) for the hard lines he drew regarding Open Source vs. Free Software. A company that once represented the Open Source side of the debate, Sourceforge, is now distributing malware intentionally, against the wishes of the developers behind the software they are distributing.
posted by idiopath at 6:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


The thing is that just enough of what he calls "snooping" has its uses. I'm perfectly happy to let the Kindle app on my tablet tell Amazon what page I'm on, and what notes and underlines I may make in a book - because Amazon will then share that information with the Kindle app on my other tablet, and my phone.

Indeed. I like that Google reads my email and my calendar, as well as my position, as my primary interface to getting info on my phone has increasingly become Now. When in the car or traveling especially, it's like a magic assistant. Like the ads in gmail, it's a trade-off I understand and am personally willing to make.

I think that's the point Stallman misses: he doesn't want any information sharing, ever. I am happy with some sharing, that I can understand, so that Google can offer me more services. I am aware (mostly) of what's being shared, and am ok with it. To my view, it's not that modern OSes should never share, it's an issue of informed consent and of companies respecting that consent. For me, Google gets closest to the balance of what I'm comfortable to share and what services I want.

I'm intrigued, for example, by the new, more granular options for privacy and service settings coming in Android M. I think that's a positive step and a powerful tool for users. Facebook wants to access my phone and contact list? Not anymore.
posted by bonehead at 6:26 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Conversely to foosnark's experience, in around 20 years of using Linux on desktops and servers I have had zero situations where an unbootable machine resulted in data loss. Once I had to make a pretty valiant effort to get it to boot again, but I was always able to recover the data with a boot disk or later liveCD/liveUSB.

Upgrades where the boot loader has been changed (LILO to GRUB, GRUB1 to GRUB2) have been the only times they quit booting short of hard disk corruption.
posted by wierdo at 6:27 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia writes:
No, actually. We're just in the position of regular users on a multi-user system. Apple is the admin, the superuser, and it logs our activities and constrains our ability to run whatever programs we want. That doesn't make the OS and everything we use malware, any more than similar restrictions on other multi-user systems.
Stallman is consistent on this issue too:
23.6.1 Why GNU su does not support the ‘wheel’ group

(This section is by Richard Stallman.)

Sometimes a few of the users try to hold total power over all the rest. For example, in 1984, a few users at the MIT AI lab decided to seize power by changing the operator password on the Twenex system and keeping it secret from everyone else. (I was able to thwart this coup and give power back to the users by patching the kernel, but I wouldn't know how to do that in Unix.)

However, occasionally the rulers do tell someone. Under the usual su mechanism, once someone learns the root password who sympathizes with the ordinary users, he or she can tell the rest. The “wheel group” feature would make this impossible, and thus cement the power of the rulers.

I'm on the side of the masses, not that of the rulers. If you are used to supporting the bosses and sysadmins in whatever they do, you might find this idea strange at first.
From the official documentation of the GNU su command.
posted by edheil at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Of the three Windows is the only one that actually destroys itself over time when used as intended. The exception being when I work for companies with strong IT policies who push their own updates. Those have actually been fairly long-lived and stable, but the human talent required to achieve that is incredible.

Interesting. I had no idea I had so much talent. I've got Windows boxes still running that are over 10 years old (and I have newer one's, but only because of hardware advances) and the only thing I've ever had to do is turn them on and turn them off. I allow the auto updates. Everything, as they saying goies, just works. I did once install some proprietary CPAP medical software that fucked things up. My experience with Linux was much worse, particularly getting sound to work properly. I stayed with it for a few years on my laptop until it refused to boot into anything but a command line one day. I wiped Linux and installed Windows.

Never had this slow down thing people talk about. I was shocked to hear some people wipe their systems entirely every 6 months or so. I've never had to.

Why would user's choose some proprietary buggy and malicious software when they could use an open source application with the same functionality?

When I used Linux, when it worked, it was indeed fine for browser based stuff and some applications but publishing, video editing, image manipulation, sound, it was pretty much useless and a lot of the software that does those things was terrible.

Hearing that Linux is apparently no longer a problem and is easier to use and install then Windows and doesn't have issues, like Windows does for some (but not for me), is all fine. I hope one day that software like Photoshop is ported to it. I'd love to use it on principle but I found that I could not use it without a great deal of frustration and it in no way is even remotely close enough to convert to entirely because of the lack of certain software, even if it just works, as they say.

Now in the server realm, all we do is Linux. It's great. I suspect that those with server based tasks to do, hobbies or jobs, have very different needs then those who don't do server based tasks and so we have very different needs and perspectives. Indeed, software is so diverse, like the people who use it, that we have these wildly different experiences with operating systems and non operating system software. Some person using Linux/Windows/Os X for purpose A never has any issues, but another for purpose Y, it's terrible.

We see many anecdotes here that show the entirely different experiences people have with the same platforms. If your experience continues to be great or awful, of course you're not going to give a shit about the experience of others, you're not experiencing that.
posted by juiceCake at 6:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stallman is a crank who has fossilized into the 1980s in many ways. He's a major source of resistance to bringing emacs lisp into the 1990s for example. But I think he has a point here. I finally got myself a smartphone, now that they're cheap and available without contracting my soul. It was amazing to me how much of it is tied to Google's promotion of something that's only one step removed from the mainframe model of the 1970s and 1980s. We have a massively parallel computing system primarily chained to a client/server system. It's useful, and for many of us it's necessary, but it comes with strings attached.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:42 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Never had this slow down thing people talk about. I was shocked to hear some people wipe their systems entirely every 6 months or so. I've never had to.

Seems to happen mostly when installing and removing a lot of software, ime. Gamers are prone to this.

If you don't mess with the system, as of NT and later (notably XP as well), we have had a number (~40) of windows boxes (clientside) with multi-month uptimes and no apparent degradation. They only rebooted for system patches. A couple systems are approaching 15 years of age. We've switched to Win 7 about a year ago and that seems to be just as stable.
posted by bonehead at 6:45 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


> In living memory something like perfect computing freedom was the normal case.

I remember that! I wrote my own software in Applesoft BASIC and 6502 assembler and had no network connection of any kind. Hack that, you barstids.

It was, um, somewhat less useful than what I'm selling my soul and personal data for now. You lose when you deal with the Devil, probably, but he's got some pretty awesome temptations there.
posted by jfuller at 7:09 AM on May 28, 2015


I am grateful to RMS for insisting on the need for libre firmware for computers. This was a position I thought ridiculous until I bought an x86 tablet and discovered it couldn't run anything but Windows.
posted by Monochrome at 7:10 AM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


RMS is an easy target because he's passionate about something that a lot of people find more or less peripheral to their lives, and people like that -- the comparison to the "Legalize it!" guy at every local protest for the last 20 years is apt -- often are easy to laugh at. But that doesn't make them wrong.

Stallman has been pretty consistently right. Small misses here and there, but generally? Dude has been on point. He's always a couple of years ahead of time, and almost always gets tut-tutted away, and then a few years later there'll be some sort of crisis and, oh hey, remember that crazy screed RMS wrote five years ago? Huh, looks like he was on to something.

For instance: almost ten years ago, Stallman was talking about the importance of a free BIOS and the inherent problem that running a free/secure/vetted OS on top of a chunk of unknown code represents. There was a lot of hurf-durf-RMS on Slashdot et al, basically making fun of him for being an "absolutist", etc.

And in the last few years, it turns out, as usual, that the guy was basically just ahead of the curve. We now know that the NSA was exploiting server BIOSes to great effect, and it's increasingly a viable vector for malware as well. And the idea that manufacturers might use various BIOS tricks to lock users into a particular OS choice keeps coming up over and over (which is to say, Microsoft keeps floating it as an idea, there's a hue and cry, and they back down).

I think he's sort of doomed to be a Cassandra, though. I'd be pretty happy to live in a universe where RMS was god-emperor of all things IT related (which would probably involve some pretty badass LISP Machine keyboards), but there's no way to get from where we are to his ideal. That's the problem with being an idealist in general; the real world is always going to let you down.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:21 AM on May 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


I'd agree RMS that Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android all contain overt malware that's tightly integrated and difficult to remove.

If you wish to retain any measure of privacy, then you should abandon those operating system for Debian, Ubuntu, etc. on laptops, desktops, etc., OpenMediaVault on NAS devices, and Replicant OS, Ubuntu Touch, or Sailfish OS on phones and tablets.

And you should consider using Tor based variants like Tails, Whonix, or Qubes OS if you might engage in activism, journalism, whistleblowing, etc.

I'm unhappy with the GNU Project's occasionally cavalier attitude towards spying-friendly protocols and tools too whenever they look nicer, play nicer with FSF otherwise, etc.

About the most glaring example is the Empathy/telepathy IM system used by Debian, Ubuntu, Sailfish, etc. We'll need to scrap them and start over because telepathy cannot support OTR [1,2]. It's clear that Debian should've dropped Empathy and telepathy from stable entirely, instead integrating Pidgin+OTR, yet they remain the default messaging client in Jessie!
posted by jeffburdges at 7:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


The problem with open source software is the exact same problem laid out in this recent thread. It's possible to produce great open source software, but it's even easier for it to get derailed, either intentionally or unintentionally, by its participants.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:24 AM on May 28, 2015


> we have had a number (~40) of windows boxes (clientside) with multi-month uptimes and no
> apparent degradation.

Two ways to do that. The IT way, by locking the systems down tight so end users have a hard time messing them up. And my way (for home systems I take all kinds of chances with, like connecting to the internet) which run behind firewalls (one on the machine, another in the DSL modem/router), HIDS, up to date AV, plus bunches of sandboxed virtual machines if you wish. And doing a weekly image backup of the boot partition so that if something bad does happen you don't have to worry about undoing it, just drop back to the most recent known-good image.
posted by jfuller at 7:25 AM on May 28, 2015


I met RMS. He proceeded to try to pick up my longtime girlfriend. I guess he thinks relationships are open source too?
posted by kalessin at 7:28 AM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Guess what? you don't actually own your car...
posted by Freen at 7:29 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Windows is the only one that actually destroys itself over time when used as intended.

Heh. I wouldn't dare.
posted by jfuller at 7:45 AM on May 28, 2015


I want an os that doesn't say 'no' to me.
posted by judson at 7:57 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


but how much of that is the fact that the software industry has tried to push the 60-80 hr a week deathmarch as the norm for software development. not much time or energy left for hobby projects if you are a working programmer...

Or, you know, perhaps we should be moving away from the whole hobbyist mindset, and acknowledging that software development is genuine work. I'm sorry, but I find the cult of the amateur to be one of the more corrosive aspects in programming culture today, because it winds up being an argument for why we shouldn't directly pay for software development.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:02 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


My dad is still running an eMachines bargain-bin desktop with Windows XP that he bought in 2003. There was never any sort of reinstall, and he's had browser hijackers and other malware due to his "click on the blue e" level of computer literacy (at least until I forcibly switched him to Chrome). But the thing still runs, even if it's painfully slow to anyone used to an up-to-date system.

I've never been a believer in the "reinstall Windows every N months" thing myself. I've only done it when upgrading hardware. In fact, I'm about to replace my home hard drive with a 1TB SSD and I'm just going to clone my 4 year old Windows 7 setup onto it. Easier than reinstalling and re-registering all my various audio software.
posted by Foosnark at 8:05 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but I find the cult of the amateur to be one of the more corrosive aspects in programming culture today, because it winds up being an argument for why we shouldn't directly pay for software development.

If only we could pay directly for software development, instead of paying for software companies or financing everything by ads.
posted by pseudocode at 8:11 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


If only we could pay directly for software development, instead of paying for software companies or financing everything by ads.

Software companies producing product that they expect you to pay for is paying for software development directly, as opposed to it being funded as an ancillary aspect of the operations of an organization, as we see with a lot of corporate support of open source.

As for the ads part, well...that's in part our own fault, because we've chosen to pay for things with attention and personal information in lieu of money.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:25 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


If hobbyists are driving down software development wages, it's barely noticeable from the labor market I am in now. Software development as a profession loses a lot more from having a culture that rejects unions. But even without unions or any meaningful professional certification / licensing body, we are hardly the picture of an exploited profession.
posted by idiopath at 8:32 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


But even without unions or any meaningful professional certification / licensing body, we are hardly the picture of an exploited profession.

Considering the growing trend of requiring developers to provide free labor in order to get their foot in the industry door, I'd argue that you're mistaken about that. It's not what we normally think of as exploitation, but it is exploitation all the same.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:36 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's clear that Debian should've dropped Empathy and telepathy from stable entirely, instead integrating Pidgin+OTR, yet they remain the default messaging client in Jessie!

There's some ugly history there, I'm afraid. It's sort of a classic bike shed problem. Adding OTR to an IM client like Pidgin (without the use of a hacky plugin) or Empathy is a fairly simple task, given that the code already exists and is ready to be integrated. But each time someone tries to do it, or puts it in as a feature request, it becomes this capital-D-Drama over which lots of people seemingly have Strong Opinions.

I believe the reason that OTR wasn't included in Pidgin natively or in Empathy has to do with some weird belief on the part of some developers that OTR was "inelegant" and that encryption should happen as part of the transport layer, e.g. as part of XMPP or Jingle some other shit that will never be used by anyone ever. (If this makes you want to scream "worse is better" while beating everyone involved with a musty, printed copy of the OSI protocol stack documentation, welcome to the club.) Bottom line: the perfect became the enemy of the perfectly good, and users got neither.

Anyway, it goes to show that even within the development teams of what might be construed as core Linux apps, there's no guarantee that anyone will actually learn anything from the past; it's entirely possible, if you try hard enough, to develop free software poorly. I think it's harder, because when you're working on a machine that has all its source code just a few keystrokes away, sheer laziness will lead you to not reinvent the wheel too often, but it's not always the case.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:43 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


In this case proprietary software was there to ensure compliance with emission control laws which, I think, most reasonable people would accept as an OK limitation on software freedom.

I'm not sure about that. Emailing someone a virus is illegal, but I wouldn't want compilers to detect and prevent me from writing one. If you buy a car and the law has certain emission requirements, it's your job to make sure your modifications don't break the law.
posted by Rangi at 8:44 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah this is the world's tiniest violin playing for all of us downtrodden software developers makin' six figures straight out of college, but yes, just because we do alright, does not mean we are not still exploited. But yeah, Apple, Google, and Facebook have revenues of over a million dollars per employee, they have profit margins of hundreds of thousands of dollars per employee (source, source). The value of the labor of software engineers is sometimes really, really, really high. Facebook acquired WhatsApp, a 55 person company, for $19 billion, about $200 million per employee.
posted by rustcrumb at 8:48 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos, the Google's extremely authoritarian grip on the ostensibly free Android software environment is amazing. You wouldn't believe the limits they put on manufacturer's installations of Android via the ironically named "Open Handset Alliance." 90s-era Microsoft would burn with jealousy.
posted by edheil at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's sort of a classic bike shed problem.

Am I correct in understanding that this is just a programmer-specific reinvention of not-invented-here disease?
posted by bonehead at 9:01 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, it's about the way everyone has an opinion about the trivial questions, and arguments can blow up way out of proportion to the actual importance of the decision - but when it comes to the big, significant, complex decisions, sometimes there is little or no debate because it takes too much work to develop an opinion about the subject.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:04 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Apple, Google, and Facebook have revenues of over a million dollars per employee, they have profit margins of hundreds of thousands of dollars per employee (source, source). The value of the labor of software engineers is sometimes really, really, really high. Facebook acquired WhatsApp, a 55 person company, for $19 billion, about $200 million per employee.

This may be getting into derail territory, but revenue of a million bucks on an employee making, say, $250k in total compensation value isn't ridiculous at all. That's well in line with other professional occupations. Your entry-level consultant or lawyer would probably be happy to take home 25% of their bill rate. (To say nothing of a service-sector employee.) It's a testament to the tightness of the labor market for tech workers that they can get that much of the pie for themselves.

The insane valuation of tech companies is a different story, though. And in the case of WhatsApp, looking at their valuation in dollars-per-employee terms isn't especially meaningful; the value of the company was widely perceived to be in their userbase, not in their employees. If you wanted to figure out what Facebook actually paid for their developers, you'd need to look at who got what sort of "golden handcuff" agreements. Many of them may not have received much at all, and that's an indicator that Facebook didn't care if they stayed post-acquisition or not: their value in the transaction was nil. That's very common in acquisitions when what's being bought and sold isn't the team but the intellectual property or brand or users. That the development team isn't just summarily fired is more of a courtesy (and an incentive to keep someone from 'accidentally' nuking all the servers and backups on the way out the door) than anything else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


This conversation is interesting but makes the typical mistake of confounding technological organization with political/economic organization. I agree that open software has some aspects of social justice, and I'll admit that that's an attraction to me. But worker ownership of "for-profit" software production in a communitarian society would probably be much more to the point of what social justice is about.

Workers in the technosphere seem to often have this sort of confusion. Our tendencies tend to make us want to turn everything--including social issues--into a technical problem to be solved, in contrast to politics which is messy and always ill-defined. For example, the "disruption" of Uber software will not lead to a better society as long as the tech is embedded in a extraction economy. Likewise, the benefits of cloud computing are real, but there is no logical requirement that they be used in the context of a system whose main purpose is to monetize its users--and it's the latter, exploitative bit that makes something malware, in my view.

For the record: I'm a Linux Mint user and I love it. But as a mathematical scientist I realize that the software ecosystem I work in is perhaps more amenable to Linux than other trades. Even so, I still have a Windows VM for when Office and Adobe products are unavoidable. There are numerous contemporary Linux distributions that will work out of the box as long as one carefully selects hardware (e.g. straight Intel, maybe slightly older laptops). The performance and reliability so gained is well worth using last-year's hardware. I mean, there's a reason why Apple products are so seamless: they have ruthlessly controlled their hardware. Windows, in contrast, aims to run on any hardware, and so it has more issues with drivers and the like. So it is with Linux. Installing it on a legacy PC or laptop is likely to be highly successful. Using it on the newest hardware will, in contrast, require more tinkering.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:17 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kadin, you are right in the sense that the value of WhatsApp was far more to do with the user base than the actual software (though I have heard the software itself is nothing to sneeze at, it's highly optimized down to the very lowest levels of the code). But, it was built by those 55 people over the course of a few years, and was ultimately worth $19 billion to Facebook. And you're right, most of that purchase price did not go to the people who produced the value that Facebook paid for.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:21 AM on May 28, 2015


My sense is that academia has been a bigger player in open source than hobbyists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:49 AM on May 28, 2015


Academia in second place I would wager, with first place being corporate investment by companies like IBM that sell business platforms and "solutions" rather than specific pieces of software or hardware.
posted by idiopath at 9:58 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


My sense is that academia has been a bigger player in open source than hobbyists.

Which just winds up being the other side of the same coin. Ultimately, open source relies on a lot of labor being provided that isn't being paid for directly - it's either paid for indirectly by companies supporting open source development as an ancillary support to their main line of business, or its just out and out provided for free through the hobbyist and academic communities.

If this strikes you as being an issue, join the club. I don't think that's going to be tenable in the long run (Heartbleed was a demonstration of what happens when a core program falls out of the sight of both of those groups), and when the gyre no longer holds, things are going to get...interesting for open source.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:04 AM on May 28, 2015


No, academic labor isn't "free," although it is often criminally underpaid. The major difference is whether the funds come from an invoice or grant proposal (or alternately student tuition.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:19 AM on May 28, 2015


Well, that and "Programmer" likely isn't part of the job title. But in many cases it is an explicit part of the legally binding job description.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:23 AM on May 28, 2015


Getting back to one of the issues RMS is speaking to:

Like Murphy, blue_beetle was an optimist. To an increasing degree, you're the product being sold even if you are paying for it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


"paid for indirectly by companies supporting open source development as an ancillary support to their main line of business"

no, infrastructure companies directly pay their developers to do open source work, because this infrastructure work is good for the company's bottom line, and this is how most open source work gets done
posted by idiopath at 10:47 AM on May 28, 2015


no, infrastructure companies directly pay their developers to do open source work, because this infrastructure work is good for the company's bottom line, and this is how most open source work gets done

Which is the point - these businesses support open source because it makes business sense to do so. If that ceases to be, they will no longer support open source. Again, OpenSSL is a great example of the problem - nobody felt the need to provide support on the business, hobbyist, or academic environment, and as a result, the project wasn't maintained the way it should be.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:02 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's ironic that one of the chief reasons Flash video is dying in favor of open standards is due to Jobs' insistence on controlling the platform in a way that conforms closely with what RMS is objecting to. (Another is that Adobe itself seems uninterested in perpetuating it.)

But closed, proprietary solutions have a way of dying out for good reasons as well, and that good reason is often, again, open standards. The poster child for this is of course the Internet itself, as opposed to Compuserve and Prodigy as well as a host of more specialized dialup networks which if they still exist at all are now basically web services. And does anyone remember how ubiquitous realmedia was only a decade or so ago?

So while I think the universe tends toward open standards, the situation is complicated by software patents; the MPEG standards for example are so encumbered that disentangling them is impossible and the hope of producing a comparable free replacement without breaching them is probably forlorn. The minute Theora starts making money for anyone the writ-guns will start firing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:13 AM on May 28, 2015


The Therac-25 is a great example of how software development is too important to leave to professionals.
posted by Poldo at 11:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Indeed. See also every voting machine in America.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The poster child for this is of course the Internet itself, as opposed to Compuserve and Prodigy as well as a host of more specialized dialup networks which if they still exist at all are now basically web services. And does anyone remember how ubiquitous realmedia was only a decade or so ago?

I would contend that Google, through its search engine algorithms, is playing the long game in terms of molding the web to its own liking. Build your website to conform to their dictates or be banished to the lower page ranks and reduced traffic.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would contend that Google, through its search engine algorithms, is playing the long game in terms of molding the web to its own liking. Build your website to conform to their dictates or be banished to the lower page ranks and reduced traffic.

And let's not forget Facebook and the whole mess with cap exemptions as well. Not to mention that they also have broken their IM service's ability to be used by other clients.

In a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, we're returning to walled gardens.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:42 AM on May 28, 2015


Build your website to conform to their dictates or be banished to the lower page ranks and reduced traffic.

The massive exception is of course Facebook, which is doing spectacularly well while thumbing its nose at Google and even treating the entire rest of the web as this dank, smelly, alien thing that you probably want to stay out of.

History would tend to strongly favor Google's approach and at least as strongly disfavor Facebook's, but for now the latter is not not just beating the odds it's giving them a damn good pummeling. It's like Pacific Rim, though it's hard to say who's the Jaeger and who's the Kaiju. But the sense that the rest of us can't do much besides watch, and inadvertently vote with our dollar and our attention -- even if we wanted to do anything at all, which most don't -- is what RMS seems to be specifically trying to address.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2015


I just saw a news item that Microsoft is floating the Secure Boot trial balloon again for desktop certification.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:00 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


the mantra of "many eyes make all bugs shallow" is demonstrably false, and I think it has been harmful to open source software over the years.

Well sure but it's not so much the principal behind many eyes that doesn't hold up as that in practice a lot of big, important code is only watched by a few eyes and they don't have time to linger.
posted by atoxyl at 12:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, whatever, I'm grateful linux exists, but I wish RMS had spent more time on how the fact that Android is "open source" (for somebody's definition of open source) doesn't seem to have changed much wrt his jeremiad.

As others have mentioned ITT though, RMS actually has been very consistent about distinguishing between "open source" and "free" software and has repeatedly made it clear that he is an advocate for the second and not necessarily the first.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:39 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


OpenSSL is a great example of how corporations will take from free software projects without giving back in a meaningful scale, even when it's clearly in their best interests, GPL or no.

In that regard, I think Stallman and the GPL fall a bit short ideologically. The GPL doesn't protect against that sort of exploitation of the developer, focusing squarely on the rights of the user.

Yes, despite the ridicule heaped on Stallman's radicalism in this thread, I propose we should further radicalize from the point of the GPL: if you profit from a community expressing themselves creatively and under an open license that permits you to profit from their labor, you ought to be required to fulfill a duty of care for that community who's produces you profit from (although not necessarily a say in it's goals or structures). Elsewhere

Insofar as life becomes increasingly computerized, we need radical software politics to lead radical online lives.

Stallman has his failings, perhaps he's a fossil from the 80s as so many are quick to point out, but much of his ideas remain relevant even if his draft schema of a social structure is not perfectly practicable. Where we see ways to improve matters socially or technologically lets step up while recognizing the work required to put us in a position where FOSS operating systems, FOSS processor instruction set architectures and other such things are widespread realities rather than a philosophical dream.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:12 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Howdy folks. Made it back just to post a response in elinks. (Seriously.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:15 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah this is the world's tiniest violin playing for all of us downtrodden software developers makin' six figures straight out of college,

Hello, I got out of college in 1993 and I'm not making 6 figures quite yet.

Partially because I spent most of the intervening time in the gaming industry, in a company largely fueled by exploiting free and cheap labor.
posted by Foosnark at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Foosnark: "Yeah this is the world's tiniest violin playing for all of us downtrodden software developers makin' six figures straight out of college,

Hello, I got out of college in 1993 and I'm not making 6 figures quite yet.

Partially because I spent most of the intervening time in the gaming industry, in a company largely fueled by exploiting free and cheap labor.
"

Electronic Arts?
posted by Samizdata at 1:36 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


In that regard, I think Stallman and the GPL fall a bit short ideologically. The GPL doesn't protect against that sort of exploitation of the developer, focusing squarely on the rights of the user.

That's a feature, not a bug. The whole point of the GPL is to assert the rights of the user at the expense of the developer.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:13 PM on May 28, 2015


Yeah, I'd imagine telepathy makes quite the nice abstraction layer, so those heavily involved want it kept pristine, Kadin2048. At present, I doubt we know what a secure analog of telepathy even looks like, but f we did then we should build/fork that and let telepathy itself rot.

Just a few issues with building a abstraction layer for secure messengers :

- We'll continue devising new key exchange tricks, including variants of the socialist millionaire protocol, which at minimum require new UIs that communicate their existence, but might interact with OTR more deeply.

- An asynchronous protocol like Pond has different traffic analysis resistance properties than a synchronous protocol like Ricochet. You want the key exchange linked though, say by offering an "Invite to Live Ricochet Chat" button in Pond.

- File transfer extensions have yet again different traffic analysis properties from the underlying messaging protocols. And ditto even clicking a link.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:25 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem with open source software is the exact same problem laid out in this recent thread.

i was thinking more the facebook stalking one :P like when i first saw this i was in the rms vs. esr redux eyeroll crowd thinking kneejerk dismissal was entirely appropriate -- GNU and the FSF failed (and they're sexist); Why Apache defeated the GPL license: developer freedom vs. user freedom[*] -- but even if they've failed, he's still not wrong.

i guess having recently finished ramez naam's nexus trilogy kept me thinking. a good portion of the books revolve around a kind of wifi-enabled linux -- nexus 5 -- that can be uploaded to your brain and is initially passed around as kind of a mind expanding (and actually telepathic) free libre rave drug, sort of the ultimate p2p networking technology because it allows brain to brain communication and eventually 'mesh' networks; imagine a beowulf cluster of these... inevitably backdoors are abused and hijinks ensue. so far so speculative.

anyway, yday in naam's reddit AMA he was asked what a 'post-nexus' world might look like and responded:
What would society be like when everyone who wants Nexus has it? You know, I could write all sorts of dark sci-fi stories about that. And there will undoubtedly be new problems and new things to work through: hacking, long term safety, privacy, government spying on thoughts, etc..

But overall, I think it'd be a world where we're smarter as a species, where we innovate faster, where there's less in the way of mental health problems, and where people actually understand each other better.

Long before that though, we're going to reach something that I think is huge and not sufficiently talked about. In the next decade or so we're going to reach a point where maybe 80% of the world population has a smart phone (50-100x more powerful than today's), with an ultra-high-bandwidth connection to the net, speech recognition, and a super-HD camera.

That is really big. And I think it's at taste of what a post-Nexus world would be like.
so to the extent that smartphones (with all their attendant strings attached) become ever more people's 'outboard brains' i'd say people when it comes to their brains would start to care a whole lot more about user freedom. so the pendulum could start swinging back to rms' philosophy/ideology!
posted by kliuless at 2:34 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, the GPL protects developers just fine, Matt Oneiros, especially if they retain the copyright. In fact, the GPL v3 protects developer's interests better than the GPL v2 by restricting shenanigans of corporations not owning the copyright.

Just a few examples :
- Qt is GPL v3, but they sell commercial licenses to companies who do not wish to use the GPL themselves. That does not harm user freedoms anymore than using the LGPL but it creates a revenue stream to pay for development.
- OsmAnd uses the the GPL v3 with the clause that "publishing applications using the OsmAnd GPLv3 code to Google Play, Amazon Market or Apple Store should be done with written permission". Ain't clear how RMS feels about that, but it leaves OsmAnd free to distribute OsmAnd in mods like Replicant OS or in alternative marketplaces like F-Droid.
- A startup that licenses code under the GPL is providing its developers a form of employment "insurance" in that even if the startup dies that developer can find a job with a customer who needs the project maintained.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:50 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]




A lot of silicon valley types have bought fully into the myth that the GPL is an evil virus and RMS himself is waiting in the wings to steal your jerb if you use free software.

I'd avoid components using it in favor of MIT if not building anything that itself is intended to be open source.
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on May 28, 2015


NoxAeturnum: Yes originally a feature, and I'm saying now with some reflection we might see it as a bug. I'm looking toward answering, if some things in the GPL are lacking, how can we build upon it's successes rather than giving up and using only closed software which is only purchased from some hopefully benevolent vendor.

Jeffburdges: I'm familiar with these protections and mechanisms of licensing but still think they're insufficient in some cases, see my "duty of care" remark particularly as it pertains to OpenSSL and the myriad of firms dependent on it relative to the number of firms which contribute significant development time. I firmly believe the GPLv3 is the best choice for virtually all my own software, but in the interest of refinement, I'm trying to look beyond the GPL toward ensuring further freedoms and mitigating some of the issues which exist in regard to free labor.

Another area where I think the GPL falls down is conceptualizing who is a user. Specifically, under the GPL I can produce an airplane wholly built on GPL software and only provide source to the owner of the airplane. However, I would argue that in the interest of the safety of passengers they ought to have a right to view the software to a similar extent as the owner of the plane -- being in a position where their life may well depend on it's quality. I phrased questions along this line (who is the user and who's rights are we respecting) to RMS himself, and he was utterly unconcerned.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with SourceForge repackaging GPLed stuff like GIMP with adware?
posted by Artw at 3:31 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


What made this illegal was the EPA who prohibited this sort of aftermarket modification [...] proprietary software was there to ensure compliance with emission control laws

Well, no. The proprietary software was there because auto manufacturers are in the habit of keeping everything they can secret and proprietary. Not just engine control, but everything from the electonic brake balance adjustment with which my car is theoretically equipped, to the dashboard instruments and entertainment system. Many things that would be nice to be able to modify or at least inspect so as to more effectively work around with less risk of breaking things.

I've modified the car's suspension such that it no longer tries quite so hard to dive nose-first into the ground when you step on the brakes. Not that I'd know how to do it myself, but it would be sort of nice if this "electronic brake force distribution" thingy could have its initial balance set more appropriately to the new situation. I don't even know if that would be possible, but it's the sort of thing the inscrutability of the software prevents anyone even trying.

It's not just the emissions or safety-relevant stuff they try to keep secret, it's absolutely everything. Just for a random example of other things that go wrong, the loud beeping noise the car makes when I open the door with the key in the ignition, or alternately when I put the key in while the door is open, is utterly pointless and annoying. I could defeat it by taking apart the dashboard and removing whatever makes the noise, but that would also prevent other more useful warning noises. I could probably disable it by removing whatever sensor tells it the door is open, but for one thing I would ideally like the little warning light that comes on when the door is open to keep working. It's just one small example innumerable things that could so easily be fixed in software if I had the source code and the means to use it, or at least if people actually qualified to do so safely did. It's not as if the bits that control the dashboard display brightness are crucial to security, and there's no reason they couldn't let me turn it down even when the headlights are off (e.g. when sleeping in the car in winter and running the engine for a minute to warm up) if they were designing things properly. The ability to fix little annoyances like those is actually something I've done several times with free software, most recently making my RSS reader more tolerant of badly-formed XML. Cars, with their ever-increasing dependence on software, would benefit quite a lot from being open-source even if all the engine stuff was off-limits.

When it comes to safety, my car is marginally less safe for being unable to use the rear brakes as effectively as it would if it were possible to adjust the brake balance. Similarly, there are many situations where adjusting the engine fuel map would improve fuel economy and emissions, which are prevented just as effectively as tunings that would make it worse. Fancy electronics can't stop you changing the exhaust pipe, and that alone could theoretically mean a new tune would be necessary to get the cleanest possible stochiometric burn. Well not even that, some tuners will claim that they can do better than the manufacturer in every way even on un-modified engines, and I do find it plausible that this would be sometimes true.

If keeping the ECU data proprietary and difficult to modify has made it slightly harder to tune the engine in such a way as to make the EPA unhappy, that's just a happy side effect of the otherwise lamentable situation caused by people being lazy, greedy, and unscrupulous.

The thing RMS linked to was more concerned with people prevented from repairing their tractors because proprietary software they can't get is required to decipher diagnostic signals. John Deere’s argument: permitting owners to root around in a tractor’s programming might lead to pirating music through a vehicle’s entertainment system.
posted by sfenders at 6:16 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The proprietary software was there because auto manufacturers are in the habit of keeping everything they can secret and proprietary.

Speaking of which, I just read that Ford pulled a Tesla and OS'd their electric car patents. Cool.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:24 AM on May 29, 2015


Artw:

As I understand it, the deal is that sourceforge was bought by dice.com and have been totally shady ever since.
posted by idiopath at 1:37 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


google i/o 2015: "dream it and you can build it"
bruces next'13: "you're making rich guys richer"
posted by kliuless at 8:08 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


People who hear RMS talk like to talk about RMS instead. This post is addressed to you, Person Who Does This. Each and every one of you.

When RMS asks you to acknowledge the herculean efforts of the GNU project in the 1980s and 1990s in its role building the aeroplane that Linux slotted an engine into, he is honouring the work of hundreds of developers putting in an astonishing amount of volunteer and low-paid work to achieve a shared goal.

When you talk about RMS standing up for these developers, you say "RMS has a big ego." Perhaps this is because you recognise what a prolific programmer RMS was in the 1980s. Perhaps this is some warped way you are giving him undue credit? Unlikely.

Really I think it is just you trying to turn a question of historical fact into a personality dispute, and characterising the situation such that you want it to look like RMS is the one doing this.

Shame on you.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:30 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


rum-soaked space hobo: "People who hear RMS talk like to talk about RMS instead. This post is addressed to you, Person Who Does This. Each and every one of you.

When RMS asks you to acknowledge the herculean efforts of the GNU project in the 1980s and 1990s in its role building the aeroplane that Linux slotted an engine into, he is honouring the work of hundreds of developers putting in an astonishing amount of volunteer and low-paid work to achieve a shared goal.

When you talk about RMS standing up for these developers, you say "RMS has a big ego." Perhaps this is because you recognise what a prolific programmer RMS was in the 1980s. Perhaps this is some warped way you are giving him undue credit? Unlikely.

Really I think it is just you trying to turn a question of historical fact into a personality dispute, and characterising the situation such that you want it to look like RMS is the one doing this.

Shame on you.
"

So tempted to call epistonyerical. SO tempted.
posted by Samizdata at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


>> Apple is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All these Apps with[in]
>> the Garden are yours to purchase, but under no circumstances may you execute
>> the Unsigned Code, for then you will surely perish.

> Oh, come on. It's a single radio button in the security Preference Pane. I mean, the default
> is walled garden, but it's not your only option. Hyperbole doesn't advance the debate.

Oh, good.

Be a dear, then, and forward instructions on how to do this on an iOS device.

Thanks.
posted by one weird trick at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


So tempted to call epistonyerical.

Is that like when you dream about writing letters?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:04 PM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


rum-soaked space hobo: For many people the annoyance is more that RMS' insistence on GNU/Linux or whatever he wants us to call it these days devalues the vast amount of work put in by people who have fuck all to do with the GNU project. Even at the time he initially made that argument many people's systems ran far more non-GNU code than GNU code, unless you propose to count glibc once for each piece of software that links against it. These days it's tilted very far away from GNU. Most of the stuff people see on the most popular distributions isn't GNU at all.

That's not to dismiss the contributions made by the GNU project. Most systems use a lot of GNU stuff, but calling it GNU/Linux is pretty dismissive of the mass of non-GNU non-Linux stuff that actually runs on most people's systems. I can run most of the services that I provide on Windows, OSX, a BSD, or even an AS/400, so in some ways GNU tools and Linux are the least important part of the stack.
posted by wierdo at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Be a dear, then, and forward instructions on how to do this on an iOS device.


Point taken. I was obviously only thinking in terms of their desktop OS. iPhones are distressingly difficult to get into, considering they're supposedly built in a UNIX kernel like OS X. It looks like jail breaking is just about dead after iOS 8.1.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:13 AM on May 30, 2015


.
posted by XMLicious at 3:39 AM on May 30, 2015


  White House sides with Oracle, tells Supreme Court APIs are copyrightable

The undead owners of whatever's left of the Unix IP are coming for Oracle Solaris
posted by scruss at 6:15 AM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


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