GNU License for Hardware

Ben_Tilly at Ben_Tilly at
Fri Oct 15 22:23:10 UTC 1999

Richard Stallman wrote:
>     > If you think that both are important, your place is in the
>     > Free Software movement.
>     No.  If you think that both are important AND that the methodology
>     put forward by the Open Source movement is not currently the right
>     strategy, then you belong in the Free Software movement.
> Your point is that it is a person who agrees with the Free Software
> movement might under some circumstances decide to use the Open Source
> movement's method.  I can imagine situations where that might make
> sense.  But the present situation is not one of them.
This is clearly the substance of our disagreement.

> At present there are plenty of people and companies using the Open
> Source approach, and just a few using the Free Software approach.
> The plan to invite business to give the fair-weather support that
> we can expect from business is working fine, but we are not doing
> a comparable amount to spread the love of freedom.
Plenty are, I agree.  More are not.  And there is still a large amount
of public doubt about the ones that are.  How can they survive?
Will they make money?  Even some who have produced a lot of
free software wonder that.

I still think that we can make up a lot more meaningful ground by
getting more fair-weather support from businesses.  Particularly
when products that are being released are frequently GPLed for
a variety of practical reasons.  (Heck, if you are going to make it
OSS anyways, and want to use some GPLed software, it is not a
very hard decision to justify.)

> Millions of new users are flocking to free operating systems, but we
> are not telling them about the issues of freedom as fast as they are
> coming into the community.  We are getting them "hooked" with the
> practical advantages, then failing to follow up.
Most users don't need to know, think about, or support free
software for the FSF to succeed fully.  Programmers are the ones
who are most likely to care, and who in caring make the greatest
impact.  In the meantime there are still very real situations where
programmers are denied free tools because they do not meet
corporate standards.  As long as that remains a common case,
there is tremendous value in putting forth the OSS philosophy in
the short term.

> So if you agree that freedom is an important benefit in its own right,
> right now you should let all those other people win the easy converts,
> and help me tell them about the benefits of freedom.
Why do I feel like Luke talking with Darth Vader?  You are certainly
very persuasive... :-)

> If we don't have enough people to help with this, the danger is that
> the Free Software movement will be forgotten, drowned under the flood
> of Open Source publicity.  Then by the time all the easy converts have
> been won, there will be no effort to suggest to them that there is any
> more at stake than the convenience and reliability of the free
> software they happen to be using.  And the next time someone offers
> them a proprietary system which is more convenient and reliable, they
> might leave our community as easily as they came in.

Ah, but there you miss the appeal of the OSS movement.  The goal
of the OSS movement is to convince people and companies that by
definition a proprietary system cannot long-term deliver the same
real benefits that OSS can.  If someone is well and truly convinced
of that, then they cannot be sold a proprietary system, no matter what
the claim or the current reality, because they will not believe that any
present difference is anything other than transitory.  Additionally as
new people enter this community and contribute to the desire for
OSS with a belief that OSS comes licenced as GPLed and weaker
imitations, the argument that you aimed for when releasing the GPL
in the first place becomes stronger and stronger.

In some sense your greatest ally is Bob Young.  He disagrees with
you absolutely on goals.  He doesn't care about freedom.  He is a
slimy salesman right to the core who will use any tactic to make his
sale.  (He might disagree with the word slimy, he might not.  The rest
is assuredly true.)  And one thing that he noticed is that there is real
value to users in selling freely modifiable software - and he can make
a lot of sales that way.  Of course that means that he has to release
open software and depend on first mover advantage, but he does
that.  Bob's claim is that every piece of software that Red Hat ever
releases is released under the GPL.  However he does it for
business reasons and business reasons only.

In his words, "If I try a proprietary licence then I am playing Microsoft's
game and I know I cannot win that.  But with the GPL I deliver value
that they cannot afford to match - and that lets me sleep at night."

He doesn't use another licence.  A BSD licence would let Microsoft
take and not contribute.  He doesn't want to guarantee Sun's
intellectual property.  I don't know of an official Red Hat policy on
patents, but to the extent that it threatens free software it threatens
Red Hat's economic policy so I doubt they like it.

So I believe that there is a real OSS argument with some difficult
converts left to make.  But by slamming the OSS movement you
are closing an avenue towards helping your vision happen.  I ask
that you try to figure out Bob Young's views, from Bob Young's
perspective, and find the argument that I believe is possible which
says that there is truth to the OSS model, but the most effective way
to realize those purported benefits is to use the GPL.

The last word that anyone would use to describe you is
"pragmatic".  But be pragmatic for once.  Accept that some people
cannot accept your vision of the world without seeing it in practice.
Try to subvert them, through the language of Open Source, into doing
what you want them to do - namely insist on and depend on GPLed
software.  The sort of phrasing you might use here is that, "People
and companies (like Red Hat) that contributes to the growing body of
truly free software is furthering the aims of free software advocates,
even if they do not fully accept that this is morally the right thing to do.
We should appreciate these people and companies for their actions,
even while encouraging them to look beneath the surface at the
deeper truths."

And above all, don't make it look like accepting the points that the
OSS folks make contradicts your goals.  Good things usually happen
for the wrong reasons.  For example the US Civil war was not fought
over abolishing slavery, it was fought over whether states had the
right to leave the Union.  Yet after years of fighting Lincoln proclaimed
that under Union law, all slaves in the Confederacy were free.  This was
a completely symbolic gesture given that the Union was doing very
badly and looked to have little prospect of winning.  However as we all
know, the US won the war and this grant of what we today think should
have been a natural right was eventually extended to all people living
in the Union.  And so the abolition of slavery was a great gain from that
war - even if it was fought on what many then and now think are the
wrong reasons.

Ben Tilly

More information about the License-discuss mailing list