Chad Perrin: SOB

16 October 2008

GNU/Linux vs. Open Source Software

Filed under: Geek,Liberty — Tags: — apotheon @ 02:53

In some respects, the worst enemy of open source software — the ideals, the commercial success, the mindshare, the development success, and the widespread use of open source software — is GNU/Linux.

While I’ve had similar thoughts in the past, the reason it came to me in this particular manner today is pretty simple:

I was reading a few entries in a (well-written) Weblog I had not visited recently. Some of what I read related to open source software development. I looked at the categories listing for that Weblog and saw that there was no general-purpose open source software category — but there was a Programming category and a GNU/Linux category.

When your focus is on “GNU/Linux”, and you mostly equate “GNU/Linux” with open source goodness while doing your best to minimize or ignore the rest of the open source world, you look to people still working and playing in the closed source world like a religious fanatic. Worse yet, you are basically falling into the same “everything’s a competition” trap that is endemic to the closed source world; you are, in short, shutting out a lot of open source software as though it was in some kind of competition with your GNU/Linux world. Unfortunately (and people are only now just beginning to wake up to this fact), that’s endemic to the controlling, copyleft aspects of the GNU/Linux phenomenon.

When I see some GNU/Linux monotheist complaining hypocritically about the way many MS Windows users don’t seem to realize or acknowledge there are other OSes out there than those offered by Microsoft, and the way many MacOS X users don’t seem to realize or acknowledge there are OSes out there other than those offered by Microsoft or Apple, I have to laugh — because the alternative is to cry.

As an unabashed advocate for copyfree over copyleft, I’ll argue the benefits of copyfree licensing and the detriments of copyleft licensing until the cows come home under the right circumstances. When I’m arguing with someone who thinks that “that GPL stuff is for hackers, and that makes it untrustworthy”, though, I’ll still argue the merits of open source as a whole (in addition to pointing out the misuse of the word hacker to refer to a malicious security cracker) and pretty much leave the bickering over open source paradigms out of it. I might recommend PC-BSD instead of Ubuntu (for technical as well as licensing reasons), but I’ll also happily defend Ubuntu against spurious, fallacious arguments from the pro-Microsoft, pro-Ballmer, pro-DMCA crowd. Why, oh why, must the GNU/Linux types so often ignore the existence of any open source world outside of the mainstream GPLinux collective?


  1. They won’t let go the power of having control over the whole stack. Their goal is not to serve customers best but: 1. To keep their power 2. To serve themselves with the best user experience.

    We will have to compromise with it.

    Comment by Antoine — 16 October 2008 @ 03:03

  2. I love the ambiguity of “they” in your comment, Antoine — and the fact that, despite this, it’s easy to tell who you’re actually talking about. It really sends the right message.

    Comment by apotheon — 16 October 2008 @ 03:25

  3. > …open source software — the ideals, the commercial success, the mindshare, the development success, and the widespread use…

    It’s unfortunate that those of us who prefer Free software see our ‘open source’ brethren as one of our biggest obstacles (I won’t say enemy). In our eyes, Open Source is a development method only and does nothing for our community and has no ideals — it is focused on commercial success not user freedoms; it is focused on mindshare and therefor marketshare as a marketing venture, not an advocacy for computing independence; it is a development success, yes, and one that Microsoft (and others) is (are) using for their own gains while not adhering to the ideas and ideals of Free Software.

    We argue and infight a lot over these two similar but very opposing ideas of what our software should be, while we end up supporting the same software projects. This blog entry alone, accusing another blogger of writing about only GNU/Linux and not all Open Source Software, is a good example — you want Open Source Software to be a topic yet you don’t capitalize it as if it were an Actual Thing, but just an idea or any other phrase such as ‘unleaded gasoline’. We all have our priority in this war, and like any other free market economy, FLOSS will succeed by each user doing their part in their own way with their own strengths. At least, I hope so. I want Freedom :)

    Comment by lefty.crupps — 17 October 2008 @ 06:04

  4. Was that biting sarcasm?

    I don’t particularly care for the GPLnistas myself. I think it was a good start but perhaps Linus should go ahead and re-release the kernel (perhaps an older one or a newer one, he still retains that level of control afaik) under a better open source license.

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 17 October 2008 @ 07:10

  5. lefty.crupps:

    I think you’re missing a key point here — and that is that while I technically view open source software as software that is developed according to a particular development model, I also view open source licenses as a means to an idealistic end well beyond an engineering practice. That end, for me, is about freedom every bit as much as a so-called Free Software advocate’s ends. I just don’t see how my “freedom” is protected by being technically restricted from redistributing a stack of “Free Software” CDs I have in a box because I don’t have the source and have no way of directing recipients to an upstream provider for that source code (as a simple example of the shortsighted thinking involved in the GNU approach).

    A lot of GPLinux types seem to think that because they’re ideologues, nobody else has any ideals for which they’re fighting when they advocate for open source software of any flavor. As a case in point, you reacted as though I said “The BSD license is just as good as the GPL, because it can be used for an open source development model. In fact, it’s even better, because BSD licensed code can be incorporated into otherwise closed source projects.” Meanwhile, what I’m actually saying is more like “The BSD license is superior to the GPL in the general case, not only for its engineering benefits, but also because it supports greater freedom for the developer and end user, and is not actually antithetical to a world without closed source software.”

    I want “Freedom” too — except that, in a choice between the users and developers on one hand and the poor oppressed SLOC on the other, I’d rather liberate the humans than the text files.

    One of the reasons I regard the GNU/Linux approach as counterproductive is the simple fact that the GPL actually violates the Four Freedoms as articulated by RMS/GNU/FSF (minus the mental gymnastics of the repeated corollary).


    Was that biting sarcasm?

    Which part?

    Comment by apotheon — 17 October 2008 @ 08:29

  6. The whole “It really sends the right message.”

    Not that I’m coming down on you, just don’t see that too often and wanted to make sure I read that right.

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 17 October 2008 @ 02:00

  7. Oh, that — no, that was serious.

    Comment by apotheon — 17 October 2008 @ 02:31

  8. […] The most common that I’ve noticed include Microsoft’s incessant targeting of the GPL as “evil” and the tendency of GNU/Linux and Free Software advocates to wear ideological blinders. Only two groups would actually benefit from stronger, more visible copyfree advocacy (and […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » BSD/Copyfree vs. Corporate Copyleft — 23 October 2008 @ 05:00

  9. Still the question remains: why are the GPL or other copyleft licenses so popular compared to copyfree ones? Is it really just some underlying hatred of proprietary software? A marketing bandwagon that everybody jumps on? It baffles me.

    Comment by Marco — 5 December 2008 @ 05:14

  10. I’m sure there’s a number of factors that add up to the increased visible popularity of the GPL — including louder and more strident marketing, the attraction of feeling like one belongs to a “movement”, the appeal of the FSF/GNU rhetoric, buzzwordism, association with other popular things (such as the Linux kernel and MySQL), and so on.

    It’s worth keeping in mind, among other things, that the whole GPL thing was constructed by people who have made a concerted effort to turn copyleft licensing into a popular movement, while copyfree licensing has mostly been regarded by those who use it as just something they do. There doesn’t tend to be the same desire to get everybody on board among the people who cast the most stuff into the wild under copyfree licenses as there does among those who, at the highest levels, apply the GPL to everything they do. The big, and sometimes original, GPL users tend to have a more specific focus on “world domination”, in other words — and when world domination is your goal, you’re more likely to achieve something that looks like steps toward world domination.

    It’s also worth noting that it’s sometimes more difficult to mobilize people against world domination than for it. That’s really all copyfree licensing does — prevent domination by people with world domination agendas.

    I use the term “world domination” a little tongue-in-cheek here, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth in it that can be a trifle disturbing.

    I think I’ll write up a new SOB entry that touches on some of this stuff fairly soon.

    Comment by apotheon — 5 December 2008 @ 11:05

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