FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

Summary: Open source, in contrast to FOSS, accepts the idea that people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs, and that the obligation seen by Stallman, what I sometimes call the Fourth Freedom of open source, need not apply.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Soon after I took on this beat for ZDNet, I got a nasty gram from Richard Stallman (right).

I wish he'd put it in the form of a paper letter. I probably should have framed it.

In his note, as I recall it, Stallman made clear the difference between Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and open source as conceived by Eric Raymond and supporters in the business community.

FOSS is not just "free as in free beer," he told me. Under FOSS software is free, not just for the user. The software itself has liberties.

To Stallman, and to other FOSS advocates, this implies an obligation on the part of those who benefit from free software, which is to help the software grow, to contribute their additions back to the commons.

Critics like to call this communism or socialism, the idea that your code and your rights to your work may be taken in the name of some ill-defined "commons."

But to Stallman it's in keeping with the lyric of composer Gene Scheer:

Let them say of me I was one who believed, in sharing the blessings I received

The debate resonates through American history. As Bruce Springsteen notes in his own introduction to Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land, "This was written as an angry song. It was written as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America.' And it's probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written."

I happen to agree, but not everyone does. You can hear this in echoes of arguments over Stephen Decatur's famous saying, "My country right or wrong."

Decatur's name is now on many American towns, including the one which starts at the edge of my sidewalk in Georgia. He was one of our independent country's first great heroes, who led his marines to the shores of Tripoli.

What he said, at a banquet honoring his heroism, was this. "'Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.'"

It's a warrior's toast, a warrior's boast, that we should strive to do right, but the warrior will follow orders, always.

To many, like Ross Douthat, this means obedience to orders. " A patriot who ceases to love his country because it happens to be governed by a despot is no patriot at all," he writes. It's a bit like saying "my mother, drunk or sober."

To liberals, it means the love of country should not blind us to what it does wrong, that the highest form of patriotism is often protest. Is Natalie Maines a patriot or a traitor? Is Florian Mueller? Is IBM?

Open source, in contrast to FOSS, accepts the idea that people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs, and that the obligation seen by Stallman, what I sometimes call the Fourth Freedom of open source, need not apply.

Open source, in other words, is Irving Berlin. FOSS is Woody Guthrie.

All I want to say this July 4th weekend is both Berlin and Guthrie were great Americans, that America can survive such debates, and that so can open source.

Topic: Open Source

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41 comments
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  • I think it's silly.

    I think it's silly, treating software as if it had some sort of moral imperative attached to it. It's as if FOSS advocates want to treat software as intelligent beings - which software obviously is not.

    Sorry, but software is an inanimate object, like an automobile. It doesn't have any natural rights.

    When writing software, I'm very much with the open source movement on this. Open source is great, but it's not a moral imperative. I have no qualms with mixing open source with proprietary, and I see no reason why it should become the next major world religion.
    CobraA1
    • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

      @CobraA1

      Well said. +1!
      tomaaaaaa1
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

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        musdahi
    • He's entitle to his silly opinion

      ...just as you're entitled to your silly yours...
      ahh so
  • The problem

    Is if you try to answer moral question in a vacuum. Agree or disagree. The bible says that God sets up Kings, Governments and Nations and He takes them down. He then says, "Obey the governing authorities, for no authority exists apart from God and those that exist are established by God" The problem with self or even village established morals is they are open to revisionism. When God creates a moral requirement, since He is unchangeable that moral requirement is incontrovertible. R.S. can spout off about morals all He wants, but I ask, who is R.S.?
    DevGuy_z
    • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

      @DevGuy_z
      AMEN!
      MichaelWells
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @MichaelWells
        Shall we now rise for the communion ....
        solawd
    • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

      @DevGuy_z I don't who is crazier... those who swallow all RS has to spew or winguts like you who tie business, patriotism, and religion all in one.

      Why do we say "God bless America?" Shouldn't it be "God bless everybody?" Why do morals at all come in to play? What the heck does the bible have to do with any of this???

      I believe that dissent is the greatest form of patriotism. I fully support everyone's right to their opinion no matter how wrong it may be. The simple fact is that the regulated free market allows for everyone - FOSS, OS with proprietary extensions, and fully proprietary software. May the best model win, and may the rest find their niche.
      weisschr
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @weisschr
        The bible has a lot to do with this. The binary system came from Jesus' words : Let your yes be yes, and your no, no. Thus was the computer age established :)
        solawd
    • Anybody who simply quotes the bible...

      @DevGuy_z has stopped thinking for themselves. I used to sit on the fence, but the more I learned about the history of the universe, including the earth, and that of the various religions, the more atheistic I became. I now feel that the bible is just another fairy tale to help explain things man does/did not understand. It is used by power hungry and greedy leaders to control the masses.

      Man has always resorted to this this belief in the supernatural to quell his fears and explain the world around him.

      I stopped believing in fairy tales a LONG time ago.

      I wonder how many popes were pedophiles?
      Economister
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @Economister
        You might want to watch your words in relation to the bible. Do you mind reading it at all, just so you can tell me which of the fulfilled prophesies is a fairy tale? And from where did you learn the history of the universe? I seriously want to know.
        solawd
  • The sneaky little truth left hiding under a bush

    The GPL is there to prevent proprietary corporations from integrating the code into their own expensive wares, in effect stealing it. NOT "people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs."

    There is no end to excuses compiled by those who don't mind contributing their work to those proprietary corporations to use for piling up vast sums of loot, or those who don't know the difference.

    For anyone harping about the intricacies of the GPL, or "FOSS", just try snitching a bit of Microsoft's or Apple's code and using it for your own personal project. Uh-oh, you hit a brick wall. Neither can you pass any of their code on. On the other hand, code covered by the GPL is there for you to snitch and use any way you want and distribute it freely, only it can't be integrated and distributed in proprietary code.

    Is that a bad thing? You are FORCED to respect the proprietary "license", why do you find it so difficult to respect the GPL (or FOSS) license?

    Somebody gives you a horse and you have to look in his mouth and gripe because you don't like what you see there.
    Ole Man
    • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

      @Ole Man

      "NOT 'people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs.'"

      Which explains the existence of the LGPL, and their paper encouraging people to stop using LGPL and start using GPL for libraries.

      http://www.gnu.org/licenses/why-not-lgpl.html

      "just try snitching a bit of Microsoft's or Apple's code and using it for your own personal project"

      Slight problem: Only Microsoft and Apple have access to their code. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't.

      I can, however, use their publicly available APIs in my own code, and suffer no legal consequences.

      "On the other hand, code covered by the GPL is there for you to snitch and use any way you want and distribute it freely, only it can't be integrated and distributed in proprietary code."

      In other words, I can use it any way I want - except for the ways in which I can't use it any way I want.

      So much for logic.

      "Is that a bad thing? You are FORCED to respect the proprietary 'license', why do you find it so difficult to respect the GPL (or FOSS) license?"

      Every time I code to a proprietary API, I'm allowed to make my own source code open or closed depending on my preference.

      Every time I code to a GPL API, I have to make my own code open.

      I think I'll stick to the API that gives me more choice.

      I'm actually beginning to like the MIT license a lot - far less restrictions than the GPL. The stuff I want to make public I can make public, and the stuff I want to keep proprietary I can keep proprietary. A lot more sane than trying to force the decision one way or another.
      CobraA1
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @CobraA1

        "Slight problem: Only Microsoft and Apple have access to their code. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't.

        I can, however, use their publicly available APIs in my own code, and suffer no legal consequences."

        You could try to ship one of their DLLs with your code. Oh wait, you aren't allowed. (Except for a few files where they graciously "allow" you to do this subject to their own arbitrary and capricious restrictions. Better consult with your lawyer first).

        Almost without exception, your end users must have already shelled out significant dollars to MS or Apple to even be able to run your code. Where's the freedom there? It's more like a shakedown.
        0xBADF00D
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @0xBADF00D

        "You could try to ship one of their DLLs with your code. Oh wait, you aren't allowed. (Except for a few files where they graciously 'allow' you to do this subject to their own arbitrary and capricious restrictions. Better consult with your lawyer first)."

        For the most part, I don't need to ship Microsoft's own .DLLs with my own code - and that the few I might need to are generally covered by a licence that allows it.

        It does help to read those license agreements occasionally.

        "Almost without exception, your end users must have already shelled out significant dollars to MS or Apple to even be able to run your code."

        So I'd better give them top quality software and make it worth their expense :). All the more incentive to write good code.

        Although I should mention that most of them actually get their OS with their computer, rather than as a separate purchase.

        "Where's the freedom there?"

        Where's the lack of freedom there? It was their choice to buy it.

        I'm sorry - it's "freedom" when you get something without paying it, but it's not "freedom" when you decide it's worth it to pay for it?
        CobraA1
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @CobraA1 You are completely wrong about coding to a GPL API. You can write as much code as you want that calls the API and use your own code any way you want. You can also implement an API within your own code without leveraging the API source code covered under the GPL.

        You are simply spouting one of the most common misunderstandings about GPL. Look at Oracle, Red Hat, and IBM. They use Apache source for their HTTP servers, with proprietary plugins that are licensed and for pay.

        Know what you are criticizing first.
        weisschr
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @weisschr

        " You are completely wrong about coding to a GPL API. You can write as much code as you want that calls the API and use your own code any way you want. "

        That's not what I'm reading in their FAQ.

        http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLInProprietarySystem

        I'll let them speak for themselves.

        "Look at Oracle, Red Hat, and IBM."

        There's a big difference between hooking up to an API and distributing software as a package. Just because you can have GPLed and proprietary code in an RPM does not mean you're attaching them with APIs.
        CobraA1
    • Gift Horse or White Elephant?

      @Ole Man
      I look in the gift horse's mouth to be sure I haven't been given a white elephant.

      I have to respect the proprietary license of Apple and MS because the code they created IS THEIRS. It's called "property rights". It's among the most basic of individual liberties.

      It's the difference between charity and welfare. If you choose to provide the source-code to your program for free, you should be able to do so. But you should *not* be able to coerce me into doing the same. Again, charity is me giving freely to my church or to the needy; welfare is the gov't taking the money from me w/o my consent to give to the needy (which is incredibly loosely defined by gov't, unsurprisingly).

      So, any open source code that requires you to give the fruits of whatever you make of it to 'the community' is kind of like bait-and-switch. Instead of setting an example, it's making a bribe for the fruits of your labor. At this point it's no longer charitable or even generous, it's coercive. It's no different than an Apple or MS developer's license, except instead of taking money for access to their code, they're taking your code.
      hiraghm
      • RE: FOSS vs. open source as an American debate

        @hiraghm@... You are only required to give your fruits if you choose to build your fruits on top other's fruits.

        If you don't use FOSS code to jump start your own project and write it all yourself, then you are fine.

        But you want to protect your code and keep it to yourself, please go ahead and write it all yourself. You are not -entitled- to any code that someone else writes anymore than they are entitled to yours.

        BUT if someone offers to share with you on the condition that you share as well, why is that so bad?

        Why must the only way be "you must share with me, but I keep to myself" Which is what you are demanding?

        the GPL was designed to make coding a community effort, if you don't want to share your work with the community, then don't use the communities code in your project. it is that simple.

        I don't get how you guys think it is at all logical to demand no strings attached access to other people's code while at the same time talking about how bad FOSS is because it coerces you to share back...

        Why is it that your code is so important it needs to remain secret, but everyone else's is so unimportant that you should have complete access to it? How selfish are you man?

        How can "give everything to me now, but I will give nothing to anyone else" possibly be a good thing and "I will give everything to anyone who wants it but only if they share it with other's too" be bad?
        danayel
      • I have to disagree

        @hiraghm@... There is a significant difference between physical property rights (which have existed more or less intrinsically in the human race forever) and intellectual property rights (which are a fairy recent legal construct). Physical property rights do not expire, ever. Intellectual property rights do expire, but have been extended way beyond their initially intended duration by powerful vested interests bribing corrupt politicians.

        Proprietary licenses are therefore NOT "among the most basic of individual liberties."
        Economister