A debate, seemingly endless in the Free and Open Source landscape between purest Free Software activists and Practicalist Open Source is starting to find it’s way into a recognisable, worthwhile settlement. At least in my own head.
Freedom Through Production
I’ve never been very fond of the Free Software Foundation’s recent destructive, abstinence only, political approaches to advocacy. It may seem that they’re no longer concerned with Free Software as a social issue, but as only a political issue, but I don’t believe this is the only thing the FSF is up to, only what they are most loud about in the press and the way they allow themselves to be perceived.
The difference of course is how you fight. Back in the days when the FSF was finding it’s feet Richard and others began this amazing process of taking functional proprietary tools and recreating these tools as free software, drop-in replacements. This process of “doing all the boring bits” really set the technical foundations and I think is why a lot of people were really amazed by the principled dedication and out of this grew respect.
You could of course be strong by simply denying yourself the pleasures of technology, because it’s not Free Software. But this is something that only a very small majority will do and while it does show conviction, It’s not producing anything and it implies negative guilt in those unwilling to give up their Wii or Blackberry. Protests are great, but they have to resonate with the public and can’t just be about showing how rotten everyone is for being human and wanting nice things.
I know the FSF is still producing software, taking troublesome closed software and making new free versions of it (hence OpenSocial), but the strength of that production has not been keeping up with it’s ability to be loud, vocal and political. What we’ve ended up with is a political organisation, but not a guiding light that executes and demonstrates the way forward as it used to.
My key consideration: Support Free Software, have conviction, be strong on the issues and be principled. But don’t whine protests, instead make solutions. Let creation do the talking (and advertise it) and invite others to come together to make Free Software solutions. Freedom through production.
Utility Through Liberty
The open source movement grew out of the lack of compromise in the Free Software community, but it’s grown further from being just about inviting businesses into a friendly arena and into a more pragmatics’ hiding hole, there are no difficult questions to answer, and free as in beer software is how it’s all advertised with no further explanation about how it became free in the first place.
It’s disappointing because while the open source movement should have be trying to figure out the best ways to execute Free Software ideals in a realistic economic and business sense, it instead set off with a more vague set of principles that are simply less strict, but with the same intention as the FSF. Sure there is much more practical movement, more code production, but there is also a lot of confusion and grey areas being produced which are not helpful.
How many licenses are ratified by OSS? Why did they need to ratify licenses at all? or even bother with definitions? There is quite a good set of principles right there ready to use from the FSF, all that was needed was a more business, less political direction and advertising strategy. Something that business pragmatists would look at and be happy understanding and supporting based on it’s practical benefits, but also not shy away from explaining it’s long term reasons.
For me I find being practical in the immediate sense is important, but far too often this id-like satisfaction eclipses my responsibility to make sure I prepare for the future. Far too often you’ll find practicalism going hand in hand with myopia and an inability to see the future beyond next month. Even if I need to use some closed source bit of code, or some driver firmware to get everything working. I think I should always be mindful of making sure I am a) not investing further into the closed source ecosystem and that I can b) invest something into the FOSS alternatives in order to help the future of that functionality dig it’s way out of the hole.
These are long term practical and economic considerations for the open source philosophy that I wish were much more widely practised. We certainly can’t be thinking of how to construct new and exciting economic opportunities for free software development when in for example Ubuntu we shall have closed source programs with economic incentives (that users pay for) and Free Software programs with no economics beyond self interest (they’re all free and not linked to any sort of donations or investment information).
A deplorable imbalance in consideration of the future of Free and Open Source which I hope can be solved with some discussion with the distribution organisations and perhaps the organisations that manage projects financially. A standard formula and way to advertise that to end users would be most welcome.
My key consideration: Practicalism is good, but I’m weary that it doesn’t lead to complacency and myopia on the future issues. Free Software principles are very strong foundations for the long term and closed source solutions are very weak stop gaps in comparison. Be sure to invest in that long term solution even while using the short term stop gap.
Your thoughts on my whole ramble today?