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Labyrinth of Software Freedom

(BSD vs GPL and social aspects of free licensing debate)

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

Draft (version 0.97)


Copyright 2000-2011, Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov. This is a copyrighted unpublished ebook. All rights reserved.


Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1:  Social Roots, Complexity and Never Ending Process of  Interpretation of GPL

Chapter 2: Social Dynamics of Free Software Licenses in the the Context of the Program Life Cycle

Chapter 3: The Idea of Dynamic Licensing

References (Note: additional materials can be found in  my page Social aspects of the BSD vs. GPL debate)

Introduction: Software Realism vs Software Idealism

George Orwell remains our contemporary and his writings are as current as writings just published this year despite the fact that he died in 1950. His essay "Politics and the English Language" ought to be read by everybody who is interested is OSS. "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity," he wrote. "When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." He also aptly denied inescapability from OSS politics "In our age, there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia," Orwell wrote. Earlier in the essay he had said, "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible."

George Orwell remains our contemporary and his writings are as current as writings just published this year despite the fact that he died in 1950. His essay "Politics and the English Language" ought to be read by everybody who is interesting is OSS. "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity," he wrote. "When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." He also aptly denied inescapability from OSS politics "In our age, there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia," Orwell wrote. Earlier in the essay he had said, "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible." 

That means that even things remote from mainstream political issues are often driven by  ideology. Slightly simplifying there are two contrasting ideologies of programming:

This is the topic that I explored in my two old papers[Bezroukov1999a, Bezroukov 1999b] on the subject. Here I would like to provide more refined definitions and some additional considerations not found in the papers.

Let's first discuss software realism.

Software Realism

In the vision of Software Realists programmers like all humans have weaknesses and guided primarily by self-interest and as such requiring formal organization and incentives (direct or indirect) to act outside the limits defined by their own self-interest. Software Realists see the evils of the software world as given and derived from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings and existing hardware.  Some of them try to create better software like programmers involved in creation of all BSD flavors, but they consider commercial programmers as equals (actually many of them wear two hats) and do not object to reusing the code that they developed pro bono in proprietary software. 

In this slightly tragic worldview the software development is a hard and often underappreciated labor that requires special, pretty rare, talent  People with this talent like talented sport stars (for example tennis players or ice ballet dancers) risk their health while they are young creating short living but tremendously complex artifacts (large software systems are probably the most complex system even created by humans) and for this reason should be remunerated accordingly.  It is important to understand that like in case of artists creating paintings on the sand beach programmers creation are short-lived and the new wave of hardware often wipes them clean.  For example, who now remembers the creators of PL/1 optimizing and debugging compilers, the compilers that were real breakthrough in many areas of complier writing art and in comparison with which some modern compliers still look like junk despite the fact that they were written 30 years after IBM's PL/1 compilers.

In other words they see that due to immense complexity of those artifacts all software sucks. It is just that some software sucks less. It can be proprietary software, it can be free software -- all depends of the talent of the creators not so much on a particular ideology (which, by the way, can be completely wrong: Soviets invented quite a few new technologies and managed to launch the first man into space).  Thus, in view of Software Realists school the perfection of software is unachievable and old good Unix with its classic codebase might sometimes be preferable to new Turks be it Windows or Linux. That does not mean that Linux or Windows codebase is all crap. That just means that they are just another OSes in a long historical line of such systems. In some areas they might be better then competition, in some worse, but none has the monopoly on innovation (actually Linux is a pretty conservative kernel despite a radical ideology behind it). 

Software Realists are unconvinced by claims of linux superiority and want to see hard facts.  Furthermore, history guided them that the proper tradeoffs between different subsystems of OSes can be ironed out only via long, expensive and painful process that requires strong, highly paid managers, programmers and testers who are ready to sacrifices their health for the success of their creation. The real art requires sacrifices and it is better when such sacrifices are properly remunerated, although stories of talented artists who died in poverty are nothing new. 

Because real talents are rare, good software is a very expensive thing.  Software realism school  presuppose that modern software is almost always a compromise between the demands of the talent and demands of the marketplace.  They understand althouth do not approve why programmers often cut corners in the design of the software, architectural integrity and/or interface. Being first is often very important for grabbing market share and only substantial market share often can sustain further development of the product.

Software Idealism

The Software Idealist school (which has two schools that we will call Stallmanism and Raymondism, respectively) holds that mankind in general and programmers in particular has not yet achieved their full moral potential, and that they are (at least in principle) perfectible if guided by wonderful new software development ideology.  Foolish and immoral choices inherent in the creation of proprietary software explains the all the evils of the existing software world and revolution was needed and actually already came in the form of either free software movement or its less pure form called open source software movement. Both major Software Idealism schools rely on volunteer labor of programmers connected via Internet to produce immortal gems of software wisdom that will crush proprietary software developers like cockroaches. 

  1. Stallmanism.  In Stallmanism worldview proprietary software is immoral. Whether purely moral incentive actually work in a long run or not and what will happen when Linus Torvalds will become yet another retired dot-com multimillionaire with his own yacht is irrelevant to the achievement of true software justice, justice for all.  Proprietary software is just reprehensible and sinful. No exceptions.  This utopian view holds that  volunteer programmer potential is immense and can do everything including improving human nature that should get rid of those outdated economic rewards for software development and be satisfied  working part time in McDonalds in order to be able to participate in the movement. So Stallmanism vision promotes pursuit of the high moral ground of software freedom which somehow guarantee the best software solutions. At the end of the day new liberated men should all storm this evil Bastille of software oppression which is of course Microsoft and dance on its ruins. Sometimes in their enthusiasm  they can attack other sinful old fashioned proprietary software vendors instead of Microsoft.  Until opening Solaris (and even after that) sometimes their target was Sun.

    And if the unwashed masses who corrupt their soils by using Windows are slow in catching on, then it is the role of the intellectual vanguard (the keepers of programming craft who in Eastern Europe might be called "programming intelligentsia") to lead them  -- even if in the short run, the masses can be unhappy with the results because they might not be able to use full capabilities of their laptops, cameras or scanners.  In general Software Idealists think that higher moral considerations should guide us and that those consideration somehow guarantee creation of a better software, the software that is not only better but which is as perfect as it is free.

    The main point here is that the idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of individuals. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult.

    ...the idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of individuals. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult.

  2. Raymondism. The term was introduced in my first paper  demoted to "software realism vs. software idealism" problem and later expanded in Bad Linux Advocacy FAQ (Raymondism FAQ) (see Why the term Raymondism was introduced). While Stallmanism is preoccupied with software freedom and philosophically can be viewed as a brand of Anarcho Syndicalism,  Raymondism preaches commercializing of open source development ("Linus revolution") as a new economically superior way of producing software. This stress on economic superiority of open source development makes is  close to Vulgar Marxism. The stress on commercialization provoked a split with Richard Stallman ( Open and Shut Interview with Eric Raymond):

    While pragmatic Raymondism focuses primarily on marketing the concept of Open Source, idealistic Stallmanism insists that Free Software is an ethical issue; a matter of right versus wrong. By treating the issue as purely a question of efficiency, says Stallman, Raymondism "is not sufficient to give us freedom that is secure". In short, Stallman believes that since Raymondism lacks the conviction that Free Software is an end in itself, it threatens to subvert the aims of the Movement.

    Raymondism preaches that open-source software is a new economic paradigm for producing software, which is inherently or inevitably superior (more productive) to alternatives and as such should replace all other known form of development of the software (yes, it's that simple).  This is similar to how Vulgar Marxism defines the influence of productivity forces on social sphere.

    We will not analyze Raymoindism here as it is covered in substantial detail in two my previous papers.

Following Orwell's advice this page views the Open Source Software (OSS) phenomena and, especially the most popular open source license, GPL as a political (ideological to be more precise) phenomenon. Here we will limit ourselg to the analysy of GPL as the cornerstone of Stallmanism. And we will try to show closeness of GPL to the Anarcho Syndicalism, or more precisely specific brand advocated by the famous Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno.  I think this kind of analysis of GPL is done in a published literature the first time.

The main point here is that the idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of individuals. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult.

Paradoxically in "free vs. open source discussion" I am on the RMS side (Stallmanism side, if you wish ;-) and I think that RMS is right by saying that he's not sure to what extent the Free Software is compatible with corporate desire for profit. It's much more straightforward and truthful to say it that way, rather than jump over the head trying to sell open source projects to the highest bidder as ESR attempts.

There is one terminological problem: some people (RMS is one example) distinguish free software ("free software"="GPL-based software" in RMS interpretation ;-) from Open Source (umbrella term that includes BSD license, Artistic license and LGPL), some do not. Open source is snappier, clearer, less ambiguous, and close enough to the same thing. As such it's preferable to the  99% of people. I know that RMS disagree, but so be it. And actually if you are semantic fundamentalist you can see the GPL has problems with coercing the word  "free" (that's why so much material on GNU site is devoted to it ;-).  As I will try to show below  BSD license is more free that GPL in both "free like in beer" and "free like in freedom" meanings of this word. 

As I mentioned before, here we will limit ourselves to analyzing GPL  with the implicit goal of communicating to open source developers a more objective assessment of GPL, without rose-colored glasses.  That might help developers to avoid some pitfalls by giving them a clear sense of what GPL and how to avoid some pitfalls and difficulties by adoption dual licensing at the later, mature stages of the project (one should never drop GPL if he/she adopted it at the beginning, as this usually provokes fierce backlash from most ideologically charged part of the user base).  So while we will talk about GPL it is really about complex maze of complex problems related to what kind of openness is preferable on different stage of maturity of the success of the open source project, the maze that open source developer need to navigate. That's why the title  "Labyrinth of Software Freedom"  was chosen.




Etc

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Society

Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy

Quotes

War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes

Bulletin:

Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law

History:

Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Haterís Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

Most popular humor pages:

Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor

The Last but not Least


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Last modified: July 07, 2013