Where I Stand

It is customary in documents of this kind to convey the personal opinion of the author in this case. This document will not be an exception.

I am a user, developer and advocate of free and open-source software. However, I do not think that proprietary software is inherently immoral or destructive. I know some vendors of such software abuse their customers. However, I generally see them as suppliers of goods, which took a lot of time to develop, and which they perfectly naturally wish to sell for money.

The fact that open-source developers develop similar goods and distribute them for no cost or little cost, under a less restrictive open-source licence, does not invalidate this fact. I agree with most of what Eric Raymond said in the “Cathedral and the Bazaar” series, part of which is that proprietary software is problematic. However, I think that a world dominated by free software (which I hope to see soon) can exhibit some proprietary software without it having a generally harmful effect on the computer world at large.

I do not hate Microsoft, just think that their systems are much inferior to GNU/Linux, which I like better. I still use Windows when I find it appropriate, or when I need to. (I’m not an “I only use free software” kind of guy). I realise the superiority of Linux may have stemmed from the fact it is free software, but otherwise don’t use it only because it is free software. I just like to work with it better.

I don’t see Microsoft or other suppliers of proprietary software as enemies of the free software movement. I expect that people will continue to buy some proprietary software even after Linux and free software take over, assuming they do. I think Microsoft will eventually port their software to Linux if it gains enough market share. While they may lose the revenue generated from selling Windows and providing various services for it, I don’t think they will disappear entirely. And they may be able to find different revenue streams.

Open-source, however, can change the rules of the game, and I believe it will. In a world dominated by open-source, proprietary vendors must realise that they need to supply their customers with quality software, listen to what they say and act upon it, and constantly try to keep it above the open-source competition. There is no point in hiding the details of the Specs or protocols, and completely hiding the source code is not as important as many of them now think. If Microsoft survives in a Linux environment, we will see a much less abusive Microsoft.

My general ideology used to be a variation of “in for free beer”. Use, code, and be guiltless and happy. A recent encounter with a free for some uses proprietary software whose licence changed and I became unable to use it any longer, slightly modified it. In the future, I’ll be more careful in relying upon proprietary software, because it may become inaccessible to me, but otherwise still don’t hold the vendors of it as immoral. I still use some not-entirely-free software because I like it and am used to it or it gets the job done.

My stance regarding the war between the term “open source” and “free software” is that I use either one when I find it appropriate, and am not fanatical to either term. It depends on the context of using it, who I speak to, what I wish to imply, what sounds right, or the first thing that pops out of my head. I usually prefer saying “Linux” over “GNU/Linux” because it is shorter, and more snappy and people will understand what I talk about. I do sometimes resort to “GNU/Linux”, but not very often, and use the term a “GNU system” even more.

The fact I don’t stick to either open-source or free software, stems from the fact that I respect both the Free Software Foundation, and the Open Source Institute, and believe that the free software movement and the open source movement is pretty much one and the same. I also like both terms.

I don’t normally refer to Linux as “GNU/Linux” despite the fact that a large and integral part of it is derived from the GNU project, for marketing reasons. GNU/Linux is longer than Linux and does not add more information, just a lot of pseudo-ideology. Add that to the fact that many people will pronounce it “djee-enn-you-slash-Linux”, when they first see it, and you’ll get something that makes a very bad marketing name. Here’s a nice quote from Linus Torvalds on why “Linux” is superior to “386BSD” (a 90’s BSD clone that was free software as well):

> > Other than the fact Linux has a cool name, could someone explain why I
> > should use Linux over BSD?
> No.  That’s it.  The cool name, that is.  We worked very hard on
> creating a name that would appeal to the majority of people, and it
> certainly paid off: thousands of people are using linux just to be able
> to say “OS/2? Hah.  I’ve got Linux.  What a cool name”.  386BSD made the
> mistake of putting a lot of numbers and weird abbreviations into the
> name, and is scaring away a lot of people just because it sounds too
> technical.
 --Linus Torvalds

Well, the name “GNU/Linux” is a step in the wrong direction in this regard.

As a developer, I try to use permissive licences (usually the MIT/X11 licence), for software packages I develop and distribute. I don’t mind people making a derived code proprietary much less integrating it inside proprietary products. If the original code, which I modify or derive from, is distributed under a different licence, I respect the original licence, whatever it may be.

I used to think that some systems were critical enough to justify GPLing or LGPLing them. My opinion of all that changed after the entire mess caused by the enactment of the GPL version 3 and the LGPL version 3, which are mutually incompatible with the previously released version 2 of the GPL. I now believe that even if we distaste proprietary software, then copyleft licences such as the GPL or the LGPL are not worth the trouble and cause more harm than good. There is a lot of open-source code out there under permissive licences, and they don’t seem to suffer a lot from it.