Subject: Re: Competition by internal expertise for F/OSS vendors
From: Thomas Lord <>
Date: Wed, 03 Sep 2008 12:34:23 -0700

Hi, Tim.

 > But this isn't all bad.  The world is a better place
 > than it was in 1999.  Just has new challenges.
 > Fighting the old wars doesn't get us anywhere.
 > What is the right battle to fight for user freedom today?

I don't know that "wars" and "battles" and "old"
and "today" are the  right metaphor but it seems like
an easy question:

1. Work to *give* users software freedom
    (e.g., work for patent system reform, write
    and share free software, etc.)

2. Work to *teach* users software freedom
    (e.g., instead of explaining the way that
    open source lowers the share of labor costs
    born by each direct consumer of that labor,
    explain how the four freedoms help to protect
    users from the developers of the software
    they run).
3. Work to *teach* users about the kinds of conflicts
    of rights that software freedom implies:
    (e.g., the perils of Google, the unfair labor
    practices of GNU/Linux vendors).

4. Work to *constructively resolve* those conflicts
    of rights without compromising the rights
    themselves (e.g., don't try to "regulate our way
    out of the conflict" by now trying to take
    back some software freedoms).

What's a constructive resolution to the current
trend of centralizing services?  Well:

1. Design and implement service architectures that
   give *users control over the server side* of web
   applications that they use.

2. Design business model alternatives to the ad
    broker scheme that are compatible with
    investment in user-controlled services.

3. Promote norms of professional behavior that
    discourage the exploitation of users by service

That kind of thing.   We can look at those in more depth:

What is a service architecture that gives users control
over the server side?   Well, it has to make it easy
to develop the kinds of programs people will want
to use, server-side.  It has to make it easy for users
to install and run programs and administer the system.
That's an interesting creative engineering problem.

What business models can replace ad brokering once
it is recognized that on-line ads are greatly over-priced?
I don't know but I suspect that it will look a bit like
EC2:  user pays;  generic server utility model.

What norms of professional behavior do we need?
I don't know for sure but I sure have some opinions
such as the one I expressed in what you are
responding to: the open source industrial complex needs
to swear off the exploitation and even the appearance
of exploitation of volunteers -- that's a corruption of
a political movement into a source of gratis labor.  If
that gratis labor is being "spent" by the open source
celebs in ways that mainly advance the more problematic
causes of today's web service providers, then those celebs
need persuaded to swear of the junk or else need pushed
off the stage.

I guess that Eben kind of irked you a bit.   You

> And also FWIW, I've been castigated as recently as last year by the 
> FSF for saying that.  See my attempt to interview Eben Moglen about 
> this issue at OSCON 2007: 

Talk about a failure to communicate.   I think you
misunderstood Eben.

A large part of what he was saying was simply that the whole
invention and promotion of the concept of "Open Source"
was a distraction from the fight for freedom and we'd be
in much better shape today if it had never happened.  He was
also saying that it is even worse to keep on with the promotion
of the concept.

When we talk about Open Source we're mainly talking
about certain economic benefits that accrue to certain
people given a certain approach to software licensing.
We talk about magic cauldrons filled to the brim with
eyeballs.   We talk about shallow bugs and low costs of
ownership.   We talk about open source comradery,
reputation systems, etc.  And all that time we are talking
mainly about ways to help a few, large, commercial
F/OSS vendors (who in turn exist mainly to help large
vendors of non-free software and services).   All that
time we spent and spend talking about Open Source is
time we've been IGNORING freedom itself as the main

That is by design, of course.  That is the form and function
of the original intent when inventing "open source" -- to
make a rhetoric palatable to business and polarized away
from RMS.

Now, it isn't just theory that that 10 year distraction from
talking about freedom did harm.   You can see the harm
in this very issue about non-free web services.  Just
look at the debate:

Frequently it is pointed out that non-free web services
don't share their code.  If they shared their code, provisioning
of those services would have a lower barrier to entry and
there would be competition over commodity services.  So,
one part of the debate goes, shouldn't we be playing some
licensing trick to force those guys to share their code?

That entire debate can *only* come up if you are starting
from an "open source" perspective.   Open source is concerned
with a narrow subset of the practical and economic benefits
to a few of software freedom.   Non-free web services
exercise software freedom in ways that fail to create those
benefits, for those people.   So the open source perspective
frets about it and wonders how to regulate it away.

The software freedom perspective has a very clear answer
to that debate:  those non-free services are doing nothing
more than exercising their software freedom.   We
*shouldn't* try to play licensing tricks or otherwise
regulate them out of business because our commitment
is to *not* take away the software freedom of others.

Rather, what we face is what Eben calls a "conflict of rights":
They have a right to run such services.  We have a right to
resist surveillance, etc.

So what can we do?  We can try to persuade our neighbors
to voluntarily not make their money that way.   We can
construct alternative ways to make money that don't have
such problems.  We can teach users the issues and help them make
choices about what services to use, and how.

All of those steps that are necessary now are made much
harder because they only become clear and obvious once
the concept of "open source" is set aside and we focus squarely
on freedom in the public discourse.