The 2% Discussion -- Or Why the Margins Matter

Recently there’s been a hiccup in the free software world following… Well, I guess, following the arch-enemy joining the Open Source Initiative. @mk1 posted on the FSFE general discussion mailing list a message asking whether the topic of “open source” vs. “free software” was still a relevant topic. His post was a reply to Scott K Peterson, a lawyer at Red Hat, who implied that « people still believe that the terms “Open Source Software” and “Free Software” are referring to different software: they are not! » wanted to clarify Matthias.

I’ve been working on the topic myself and with due respect, I think the event of the software company from Redmond joining the OSI is of cataclysmic significance. If one can believe that this company was changed by its contact with open-source, to the point it concedes defeat, it’s hard to think such a company has any other will than to dissolve software freedom, since it ever has. This affair smells like a case of flour-covered wolf paw slipped through grandma’s door – or for younger people who grew up on news rather than fairy tales : a case of Muammar Gaddafi’s yoyo between US-propaganda-made world terrorist #1 and a true friend of Occident (and back.) The term “open source” has never been so hollow and misleading. I repeat, as others do, that if in theory “open source” and “free software” are in the same family, in practice, the former has derived away from the public, into the private sphere. See for example:

Certainly, “the enemy is proprietary software.” But now that major proprietary software companies are in the OSI, we can certainly question if these are not the enemy within. A short lookup on M$'s “open-source” repository catalogue clearly demonstrates there’s a significant difference between Copyleft licenses such as the GPL, and patent-friendly, enclosure-friendly licenses:

gpl-not-found

Incidentally, this distinction is also made at GitHub, the open-source company (almost) everyone loves. As more projects embrace so-called ‘permissive’ licenses like “MIT”, or “3-clause BSD”, free software that should belong to the public infrastructure can easily be appropriated by companies who save on R&D and development without giving back their contributions to the code. This is not only an ethical problem, but a major financial issue since professionalization of software development then increasingly comes through major (proprietary) software companies who steer developments towards their interests.

The recent choices made by Mozilla to kill Thunderbird, then to integrate DRM into their browser show without a doubt that “market influence” requires a counter-power from the public to ensure the public infrastructure remains a sensible commons and not a market-driven efficient funnel for corporate and power interests. This is exactly where the distinction between “open-source” and “free software” has always existed: free software claims to defend users’ freedoms, while open-source is only concerned with productivity and efficiency. Without embracing the collective freedoms to modify the code and to share the code, we let corporations – formerly proprietary tycoons – lead where the technology is going… And it’s not gonna be in the people’s interest.

@bzg explained that clearly in 2013:

  • open-source software means the code is open; it focuses on technical aspects, and allows code to be integrated into closed source software.
  • free software means the code is libre; it focuses on ethical aspects, and prevents code from being enclosed.

Yes, both terms usually refer to the same code base, but it’s not excluded that in the near future it’s going to become harder to distinguish some open-source software from proprietary software given the question : who is this software serving? Most of M$'s “open-source” code seems to serve only them and develop their own ecosystem. How long before free software developers must become dependent on GAFAM money to continue contributing to the open-source world? If the Mozilla trend of losing great projects to market trends amplifies, we’re up to fantastic backfires when we wake up to the new reality.

It’s more important than ever, now that the Redmond ghost has passed the open entrance, that we take a step back and look at the new situation. Once again, it’s time to reposition.


In reverse order of appearance:

https://perens.com/2017/09/26/on-usage-of-the-phrase-open-source/

What’s the difference between open source software and free software?

(This thread on FSFE discuss mailing list started as a response to https://opensource.com/article/17/11/open-source-or-free-software)

On Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 02:58:29PM +0100, Carsten Agger (@agger) wrote:

The values are more important than the words.

Hi Carsten, I think precisely the opposite, that words convey values, and the values in turn shape the meaning of words. Now we have a different situation from 1998, and from 2013 even, where I posted some criticism of esr’s famous open-source post.

(The rest is more destined to the other readers on the list, since we had most of this discussion already recently.)

Bruce Perens, whom we cannot blame for not knowing what he talks about concerning both Open Source and Free Software, recently wrote the following On Usage of the Phrase Open Source:

“For a work to be Open Source, it must be entirely under a license or licenses which comply with the Open Source Definition.”

And:

“When “Open Source” is used as a descriptive term rather than a proper name, it becomes a fuzzy reference to a development paradigm with no concrete definition, rather than the specific set of license rules in the Open Source Definition. So, it can be made to mean just about anything. Don’t allow people to erode the definition of Open Source.”

He concludes with:

It is unfortunate that for some time the Open Source Initiative deprecated Richard Stallman and Free Software, and that some people still consider Open Source and Free Software to be different things today. I never meant it to be that way. Open Source was meant to be a way of promoting the concept of Free Software to business people, who I have always hoped would thus come to appreciate Richard and his Free Software campaign. And many have. Open Source licenses and Free Software licenses are effectively the same thing.

Yet there are two things happening here – as much as I respect Bruce, I tend to disagree with him on political perspectives (he’s a Merkan, I’m a Yurpin, after all.) First, many respondents maintain that Open Source is different from “the specific set of license rules in the Open Source Definition”, making it “a movement” or “an ideology”, discontinued from the OSD. The second thing happening is of an order of magnitude more important to the current discussion: the milieu changed quite drastically…


The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

But that does not tell anything about how some Open Source software may discriminate against certain persons of groups of persons.


In 2017, the arch-enemy of software freedom has turned an “Open Source company”. This is quite significant, don’t you think, that a company that spent so much energy denying software freedom and hating Open Source with a passion suddenly flips around and embrace Open Source. Not only embrace it, but quickly become “number one contributor to Open Source” (in number of developers) according to
Github statistics. Guess what they contribute to? Their own environment, which has barely any overlaps with the rest of the free world. Who’s going to use it? Not Free Software developers, or only marginally. Definitely M$ understood the meaning of Open Source, as they created its own subset, with only the handful of languages interesting to them, and only the subset of 2 licenses they prefer: “MIT” (Expat license) and “Apache 2.0”.

A quick look at figures show that the GAFAM provide most contributions to Open Source software – I repeat: big proprietary software companies, who also produce Open Source software, are actually the biggest contributors of OSS. Of course they are, since without them the vast majority of Free Software developers would have remained hobbyists at best, and starving hackers at worst; the gain is obvious. You can see Nadia Eghbert’s latest presentations about funding Open Source: she clearly mentions the lack of financial support:

We don’t think of the Open Source movement as an enemy. The enemy is proprietary software.

If you, on this list, still consider that Open Source and Free Software are the same, that it’s only a question of label, and not a political question, and not a philosophical question, then you’ve fallen to an economic ideology propelled by finely crafted propaganda – sorry, meme-engineering.

Forging words with definitive meaning, putting them into solid relations, and not questioning their meaning when the relations change is exactly why M$ can come into your playground and hit the ball without anyone yelling back at them to GTFO. PR has you at your most vulnerable point: you never wanted this antagonism in the first place, you just wanted to code, so your emotional response is welcoming. You
also need to look beyond the smoke screen of “the victory of Open Source”: meanwhile, the same companies continue practicing the same tactics with the same results, except now nobody’s looking at them frowning, because now, they’re ‘Open Source’, they’re “with us”.

Capitalism has long been the master process to turn dissidence into sameness. When a RedHat lawyer needs a more neutral term, why does it need it anyway? Has Open Source become too compromised to satisfy the legal types? I don’t think so. Has the world changed rapidly and, since 2008, realized there was a large conspiracy of (mostly U.S.) banksters and capitalism would never trickle down? Here in Europe, the commons have clearly evolved from marginal to mainstream, and to clearly anti-capitalists. But the discourse I hear from FSFE seems to be leaning another way, towards some very trendy ‘apolitical stance’
in sync with the Silicon Valley, and more generally coming from a comfortable privileged class of European (predominantly) white male software engineers. It’s easy to claim to be apolitical when you have
large disposable income and sit on top of the pyramid. I find it extremely uncomfortable to read many uncritical messages in this thread.

Whether you like it or not we all live in a world where the enemies of freedom keep acting against freedom, spending millions at a time shaping a new reality in which you are not a threat. Mozilla ceased to be a threat, and the Linux kernel has not ever been one (Linux Torvalds managed to drive his Ferrari, and the GRSecurity patches became unavailable to the public), RedHat is creating its own software environment by cutting off the common space between the GNU/Linux and *BSD worlds, only on a smaller scale than M$ does so, following Apple. Google, Apple, Amazon, all have their own hardware so they can ensure a perfect fit for their (proprietary) software.

So yes, the 2% discussion is useless, unless it makes people realize that what was true in 1998 still holds: either you talk about freedom, or you look away, leaving proprietary software companies create Open Source software and move further away from Free Software. Or, we can think about what makes Free Software a natural choice to create a public digital infrastructure, that clearly shows how to distinguish between software that benefits subsidiarity and amplify human agency and action, from software that benefits oligopolies, power, and disable human action. Then what it is called won’t matter, because everyone will know what the code stands for.

==
hk

Nice statement I fully stand with you on that, some quick comments,

Recently there’s been a hiccup in the free software world following… Well, I guess, following the arch-enemy joining the Open Source Initiative. @mk1 posted on the FSFE general discussion mailing list a message asking whether the topic of “open source” vs. “free software” was still a relevant topic. His post was a reply to Scott K Peterson, a lawyer at Red Hat, who implied that « people still believe that the terms “Open Source Software” and “Free Software” are referring to different software: they are not! » wanted to clarify Matthias.

I’ve been working on the topic myself and with due respect, I think the event of the software company from Redmond joining the OSI is of cataclysmic significance. If one can believe that this company was changed by its contact with open-source, to the point it concedes defeat, it’s hard to think such a company has any other will than to dissolve software freedom, since it ever has. This affair smells like a case of flour-covered wolf paw slipped through grandma’s door – or for younger people who grew up on news rather than fairy tales : a case of Muammar Gaddafi’s yoyo between US-propaganda-made world terrorist #1 and a true friend of Occident (and back.)

maybe the khadafi example is a bit to specific and the direct relation
to your subject will not be obvious to all I would put it at the end
rather than at the beginning, cause it might get some readers lost.Or is
it really needed

The term “open source” has never been so hollow and misleading. I repeat, as others do, that if in theory “open source” and “free software” are in the same family, in practice, the former has derived away from the public, into the private sphere. See for example:

Certainly, “the enemy is proprietary software.” But now that major proprietary software companies are in the OSI, we can certainly question if these are not the enemy within. A short lookup on M$'s “open-source” repository catalogue clearly demonstrates there’s a significant difference between Copyleft licenses such as the GPL, and patent-friendly, enclosure-friendly licenses:

gpl-not-found

Incidentally, this distinction is also made at GitHub, the open-source company (almost) everyone loves. As more projects embrace so-called ‘permissive’ licenses like “MIT”, or “3-clause BSD”, free software that should belong to the public infrastructure can easily be appropriated by companies who save on R&D and development without giving back their contributions to the code.

It might be good to give an example of how they appropriate stuff from
public infrastructure

This is not only an ethical problem, but a major financial issue since professionalization of software development then increasingly comes through major (proprietary) software companies who steer developments towards their interests.

Maybe be more specific for example: As there is no publicly defined (ie
that is organized the collectivity) software towards the commons.

The recent choices made by Mozilla to kill Thunderbird, then to integrate DRM into their browser show without a doubt that “market influence” requires a counter-power from the public to ensure the public infrastructure remains a sensible commons and not a market-driven efficient funnel for corporate and power interests. This is exactly where the distinction between “open-source” and “free software” has always existed: free software claims to defend users’ freedoms, while open-source is only concerned with productivity and efficiency. Without embracing the collective freedoms to modify the code and to share the code, we let corporations – formerly proprietary tycoons – lead where the technology is going… And it’s not gonna be in the people’s interest.

@bzg explained that clearly in 2013:

  • open-source software means the code is open; it focuses on technical aspects, and allows code to be integrated into closed source software.
  • free software means the code is libre; it focuses on ethical aspects, and prevents code from being enclosed.

Yes, both terms usually refer to the same code base, but it’s not excluded that in the near future it’s going to become harder to distinguish some open-source software from proprietary software given the question : who is this software serving? Most of M$'s “open-source” code seems to serve only them and develop their own ecosystem. How long before free software developers must become dependent on GAFAM money to continue contributing to the open-source world? If the Mozilla trend of losing great projects to market trends amplifies, we’re up to fantastic backfires when we wake up to the new reality.

It’s more important than ever, now that the Redmond ghost has passed the open entrance, that we take a step back and look at the new situation. Once again, it’s time to reposition.

It’s worth insisting, not accept the situation as a given but understand
the transformation.

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