Subject: Why GNU's freedom message is so important (was Re: improving...)
From: Norbert Bollow <nb@cisto.com>
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 11:09:53 +0100

Richard Stallman wrote:

>  > The context is also very different now.  Now our community has
>  > many people who say that using non-free software is perfectly ok
>  > whenever that is convenient.

Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com> replied:

> Richard, you are careful to correct people when they say that you are
> in the open source movement.  Well, the people you claim to be in "our
> community' are not a part of the free software movement.  If they
> were, then they would reject the use of non-free software just as you
> do.  They are instead, members of the open source community.

Even though it is possible to distinguish between a "free
software movement" and an "open source movement" (they can be
distinguished by differences of philosophy), corresponding
splits of the developers and users communities are the
exception, rather than the norm.

An example of such a split has happened in the city of Kochi in
India which has a "GNU/Linux User's Group" and a "Linux User's
Group".  Also the Free Software response to .NET (in the DotGNU
project) is necessarily very different from a competing response
that seems to be based on Open Source philosophy (the Mono
project).

But for most practical purposes, there is just a single "our
community" with those who are convinced of Free Software
philosophy, plus those who are convinced of Open Source
philosophy, plus the "less philosophical majority" of those who
like to use and write Free Software without really giving much
thought to the question of whether it is indeed an ethical
imperative that software should be Free.  And indeed I think
that this is good, as there is no practical benefit to splitting
a community any more than absolutely necessary in order to have
enough unity so that things can move forward.

Still I'm firmly convinced of the importance of GNU's message
about the ethical problems with non-free software.

I'm personally very concerned about Microsoft's attempts to
bring enough critical internet infrastructure under their
control that then they can dominate the internet in a similar
manner like they today dominate the desktop.  I believe that any
strategy which is based on a philosophy which says something
like that "using non-free software is perfectly ok whenever that
is convenient" will simply be too weak to prevent a take-over of
the 'net by one of the corporate giants, or by an oligarchy of a
few of them: One of the possible threats against the freedom of
the internet is that several of the major corporate players
(e.g. Sun, Microsoft, and AOL/Time Warner) together might try to
push some closed protocol down everyone's throat, together with
a "you must agree not to reverse engineer" gratis library that
could be used from programs which are otherwise open source.
Most likely, such a protocol would in some way depend on a
patented compression or encryption algorithm.  The only way to
defend the 'net against this kind of threat is to convince a
large percentage of users and developers that freedom is so
extremely important that it's worthwhile to sacrifice some
convenience for the sake of freedom.

Greetings, Norbert.

-- 
A founder of the http://DotGNU.org project and Steering Committee member
Norbert Bollow, Weidlistr.18, CH-8624 Gruet   (near Zurich, Switzerland)
Tel +41 1 972 20 59       Fax +41 1 972 20 69      http://thinkcoach.com
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