Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 16:09:05 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Ian" == Ian Lance Taylor <> writes:

   From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
   Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 18:49:15 +0900 (JST)

   This I disagree with.  Proprietary software has an important economic
   role; working on proprietary software may detract from, but surely
   does not destroy, the community we have created.

    Ian> There are many actions which have an important economic role,
    Ian> which do not destroy the community which does not practice
    Ian> them, and which lead to a richer world, but which (I believe)
    Ian> should nevertheless not be practiced.  For example: slavery,
    Ian> child labor, slaughtering elephants for ivory, destroying the
    Ian> world's rainforests.  (Of these examples, some will argue
    Ian> that some are acceptable, some will argue that none are, few
    Ian> these days will argue that all are.)

Slavery, child labor (where definition of "child" is somewhat culture-
dependent), and destroying the world's rainforests are all "community-
destroying" in my definition.  Slaughtering (all) elephants to
extinction for their ivory is also community-destroying.  I believe
that all such things should be opposed, and more actively than simply
denouncing them as "immoral".  Slavery and child labor hurt all of us,
and failing to oppose them is like allowing a cut to become infected
and fester, whether our small community participates directly or not.

Cutting one hardwood tree or slaughtering one elephant for its ivory
is not community-destroying in the same way (although as currently
conducted both are enormously wasteful and should be opposed on that
ground); I don't want to go into it further, but want to make it clear
that my definition of "community-destroying" does not require the
extinction of the members of the community.

The point is that _one_ proprietary program does not destroy the free
software community, IMO, although it may make it difficult for the
developer to enter our community (and before you respond, remember
that Russ Nelson sells a program that at last report was proprietary).

But RMS is absolute on this point as far as I can tell.  He does not
see a boycott of proprietary software primarily as pressure on its
vendors, AFAIK, rather it is an essential public sanitation measure
for the free software community, like polio vaccinations.

    Ian> Your hypothesis is only of interest to somebody who has
    Ian> already decided that there is no moral or ethical reason to
    Ian> choose free software.  In other words, your hypothesis is of
    Ian> interest to the Open Source movement, but not to the Free
    Ian> Software movement.

Precisely.  I must consider the needs of people who do not think like
me.  People who are in the Open Source movement but not the Free
Software movement (defined by interest, not by conflict with the
leaders of those movements) do not think like me.

However, I don't think it is necessary to believe in an ethical
imperative to free software to be a member of the Free Software
movement.  If it is, of course I am not.  I do believe that free
software is a healthy lifestyle, clean, beneficial, strengthening
community (not just in the FS commune), and building strong bodies
seven ways.  I believe it should be advocated as such.  This is not
incompatible with the Open Source movement as I understand it; but it
is certainly not emphasized there---there is a need for a separate
Free Software movement.

In other words, I advocate Free Software because, like yoga, it is
good for the practitioner, not because I believe proprietary software
as such harms anyone else.  Free Software is _better_ than yoga,
however, precisely because it is non-rival in consumption:  practicing 
it benefits the practioner spiritually, but it also benefits the whole 
world economically.  The direct effect is economic; of course there is 
also the indirect effect of the example, and that may lead to
spiritual benefits for others.

I believe I, and people who think like me, qualify for membership in
the Free Software movement.  The questions I propose to study are
interesting to me, and I suspect to others.

    Ian> I am now going to shift gears completely.  I suggest that
    Ian> proprietary software has a clear role in an economics of
    Ian> scarcity.  The software world, however, can exist in an
    Ian> economics of abundance.

No.  It cannot.  As long as there is more than one program which does
not yet exist, but somebody would like to see created, we live in a
situation of economic scarcity: there are real choices to be made
about how to use our resources.

Economic abundance (everything is free) means that there are no
choices to be made about how to use resources because there is nothing 
that is useful that is left to be done.  Until we reach that happy
state (I don't expect it in my lifetime), scarcity rules, and economic 
analysis is applicable.

The Free Software commune in isolation can live under the assumption
of non-scarcity; it will be poorer for it, I believe, but it would be
an interesting experiment.

Please note that RMS does _not_ believe in an economics of abundance;
if he did, development forks would be of no significance to him in
terms of the community at large, they would purely be a matter of
interpersonal issues.  But he consistently argue that they are a waste
of resources.  Ie, he worries about scarcity.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."