Software politics

I have trouble trusting or acknowledging greatness in individuals. Especially in the OSS world which is filled with fanatics. However, besides my scarily intelligent husband, there are some bright spots: Miguel, Havoc, Linus. Even if I don’t agree with Linus on every point (he doesn’t care much about making the kernel more Joe-User-proof in terms of backwards compatibility or better testing), he is a very smart guy.

Currently in the lkml there is a war between a Red Hat engineer/FSF evangelist who wants the kernel to move to GPLv3 and Linus explaining that for him the GPLv2 works best for what he wants to do. The Red Hat guy is an idiot, obviously, bringing the TiVo example over and again without understanding what he’s talking about. He basically endorses GPLv3’s software restrictions to achieve “open hardware” (that’s similar to change the electric current on people’s homes so they all go out and buy a new fridge). However, between the back and forth of emails, Linus said something that showed how smart he is: “The real issue is open content“.

Exactly. The GPLv3 does not take into account at all the core of the issue, which is open content. Especially as more and more apps will become web-based, there is nothing guaranteeing you that you can get back your emails, or blog posts etc from the GPLv3-based web service you signed up thinking that it’s “more free and open”. FSF doesn’t see the real issues at hand to create a modern license that is actually practical. Allowing someone to modify hardware is something that only 1 person every 1000 can achieve with his/her technical knowledge, but everyone and his dog has a blog and they can’t move that data elsewhere, or even archive. THAT’s the kind of freedom the FSF should be striving for, not a high-level utopian kind of thing of social-restructure that it’s impractical.

5 Comments »

JBQ wrote on June 14th, 2007 at 10:28 AM PST:

In my opinion, GPL is reactive, not proactive. Each version is here to solve a concern that became real in the previous version, not to solve future anticipated problems. GPL v4 will talk about user data, at a point when the real issue has moved on to something else.

Going even further, it’s not quite clear that GPL v3 is even trying to solve a new problem. It gives me the feeling that it’s still trying to solve the problem that RMS ran into 25 years ago.


Thom Holwerda wrote on June 14th, 2007 at 10:58 AM PST:

Well written, Eugenia. What matters to user is the end (his blog posts, documents, photos, etc.), not the means (blogging software, word processor, photo editing tool).

People care about the photos in the album, not about the album.


Luis wrote on June 15th, 2007 at 1:11 AM PST:

I guess we all dislike locked hardware, but people disagree in the way of fighting against it. Linus (and many others) believe it doesn’t belong to the software license to restrict its use in locked hardware, while the FSF does think it belongs to the software license.

I somehow understand both views. The problem of the FSF is that they’re using Tivo as an example, but nobody cares about Tivo. They should use NVIDIA drivers as an example:

Let’s suppose the closed source drivers are declared illegal by a court, so NVIDIA decides to open source them and release them under the GPL so they are legal and compatible with the kernel. _BUT_ they then implement a md5sum check on the hardware that if you modify the code it won’t run anymore. So now we have open source drivers, but the kernel/xorg devs can’t fix bugs or enhance the driver, or modify it to work with a new API, etc… because if they touch them, the card won’t run them. So what’s the point then in having open source drivers? Isn’t it just a workaround to comply with the words of the GPL but avoid complying with its real purpose? Of course Linus could say that you should just not buy that (evil) hardware, but many users (gamers mostly) don’t have much choice, I guess.

About free content, I guess it would be the same problem. Some people would think it doesn’t belong to the software license to impose that content published with that program should be free, while others would argue the contrary.

Either way, I think that having a Free Hardware Foundation and a Free Content Foundation could be a better alternative than having a FSF trying to control everything.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on June 15th, 2007 at 5:01 AM PST:

I suggest you read the replies of Linus in that thread, from top to bottom. Not only he explains his views on the BSD license, but he even talks about changing car parts, as comparison to TiVo.


mikesum32 wrote on June 15th, 2007 at 4:55 AM PST:

All this is FUD about GPL3. Linus never was a big fan of the GPL2 license, and in fact he seems to resent it at times. All this crap about how GPL3 will drive business away is just the same old “the sky is falling” mentality of doom and gloom. Sun will probably go GPL3 or dual-license. AFAIK the CDDL has similar patent protection that the GPL3 will have.

Yes, I agree that open file formats are very important. Mp3s and DVDs are protected by stupid software patents and the equally stupid DMCA, at least here in the U.S.

Just because Linus is right about one thing doesn’t mean the Red Hat engineer is wrong about his completly different topic. User data is not source code, so why compare the two? Open source code pretty much guarantees open file format as a by-product anyway. You never hear anyone say, “I’m going to make a super secret file format and the release encoder’s source code.” So, I tend to agree with the Red Hat engineer as well. If TiVO Inc. says I can’t tinker with the the box that I bought and own, then to hell with them. Would Ford try to stop me from replacing the seats with more comfortable ones or repainting the car in a new color ? Why should TiVO make artificial limits on what I can do ?

If Linus doesn’t like the GPL3 then he should just change any new versions of Linux to the BSD license. ;-)


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