Seeking a Stallman for open source

Seeking a Stallman for open source

Summary: Much of Perlow's anger, and that of our own Matt Asay, is directed at Stallman's continued contempt for Microsoft, his suspicion that Microsoft's every action is part of some grand conspiracy. Perlow, Asay, and the open source movement (as opposed to FLOSS) want to make peace with Microsoft.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Open Source
26

In one of my earliest blog posts here I called Richard Stallman (right) a father of the open source movement and almost immediately got a personal nastygram. From Richard Stallman.

I appreciated it and have sought to be more careful. Stallman believes in free software, which he calls Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). (It's also called Free Open Source Software (FOSS).)

Copyleft and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) are inherently political, a direct challenge to software as a business, and Stallman has never, ever thought of himself as a businessman.

Stallman is so idiosyncratic that he takes pains on his personal Web page to note that the views expressed there aren't even those of the FSF or its GNU Project. They're just Stallman's. Stallman is Stallman.

Yet despite Stallman's Brian-like rejection of leadership, many in open source still revere him and many outside open source still use him to discredit the movement.

Jason Perlow believes this is stupid. I agree. Unfortunately open source, as a business movement, lacks any figure with the messianic qualities Stallman brings to the party.

There's also this. Much of Perlow's anger, and that of our own Matt Asay, is directed at Stallman's continued contempt for Microsoft, his suspicion that Microsoft's every action is part of some grand conspiracy. Perlow, Asay, and the open source movement (as opposed to FLOSS) want to make peace with Microsoft.

Stallman, if he is considered a leader of the open source movement, is an obstacle to that peace deal.

Microsoft's MS-PL license is now officially recognized by the OSI. Microsoft's Codeplex is an active open source site. Microsoft has given serious money to its open source efforts and sought to work more closely with open source companies.

But Microsoft, and those companies like Novell that have come into its orbit, are explicitly rejected by FLOSS advocates, and no one from that orbit has emerged as a spokesman in the way that Stallman has.

There is an implication in Perlow's piece (mouse over the illustration at its top) that Miguel de Icaza, credited with launching both Mono and GNOME, should be that alternative spokesman. This is partly due to Stallman's focusing on him as "a traitor" to the FLOSS movement.

Technically he is. But as I've noted before, being a traitor to FLOSS does not make you a traitor to open source. The two things are quite different, even if they share a license in the GPL. And open source, as opposed to to FLOSS, does lack a leader. a spokesman, a Stallman if you will.

Will de Icaza take the job? And will the movement follow him? [poll=111]

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

26 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Stallman is for OSS what Washington was for USA

    We need more people like Stallman to liberate us from the M$ tirany not Benedict Arnolds like Icaza!
    We need to speek louder about M$ dirty deeds not to seek peace with the devil.
    Linux Geek
    • Stallman is a liberal

      Just thought LinuxGeek ought to know that. His
      home page urges support for England's Liberal
      Democrats.

      Steve Ballmer, on the other hand, contributes to
      Republicans.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • RMS is beyond Liberal


        As long as we are getting into politics, check this out:

        http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/08/the-south-secedes-from-the-gop.html

        http://preview.tinyurl.com/ltw63z

        I have the greatest respect for RMS, and have had the privilege to meet him. We definitely need more people like him. However, politically, he is a little too far the left for my taste.

        In a late-night of hacking at the "MIT LCS", I ended up in his empty office. It was easy to identify because it had a cheap mattress on the floor. One of the books in his shelve was "Bicycling in Cuba".

        -Ramon
        A Boston Liberal who Loves Free Enterprise
        RamonFHerrera
        • I rode my bicycle in Cuba

          It did not make me a communist nor did it diminish my love for free enterprise. I go to Cuba every other year, my boss visits twice a year. Ramon, you cant pass such judgment when you can't see farther than USA's foreign policy, or your nose...
          tripolitan
  • RE: Seeking a Stallman for open source

    With skill, Miguel Icaza has implemented tools that make Linux fit better into the Windows world. Beyond that, he is neither a traitor nor saint. He's just a guy, one of many with software writing and leadership skills.

    Many other people have implemented CIFS compatibility, Samba, Wine, etc. Their massive efforts make it possible for Linux users to interact with the majority of computer users. For that they need recognition. Even Apple programmers made it possible for Mac users to read and write "PC" disk formats.

    Stepping up to be an iconic spokesperson is a very difficult thing. Not only must a person be articulate, he or she must have a clear, identifiable "position" to take. Open Source-ness isn't much to hang a hat on, really. Openness vs. ownership are an issue with some well known projects recently...take MySQL as a prime example.

    It is much easier to stake out a FLOSS position. "Free" in the sense of "Not Owned" or constrained by ties to a particular corporation is clearer to describe, implement and maintain over the long term. It may only generate income through support services, but it will be in use long after some open source efforts stall in their corporate homes. In the meantime, promoting "open source" as an equal of "free" may broaden the use of both free and open source software. That is good.

    Tying into the Windows world isn't the highest goal to which one can aspire any more than tying audio to 8-track tape would have been. I would say the longer view will see a gradual convergence on open standards for storage, access, and creation of information (all types). Nobody should exclusively own the tools that provide the access. Nobody should be able to use (in info. access) the play yard game killer, "It's my ball and I'm going home!"
    AlgotRuneman
    • Thanks for that thoughtful talkback

      I think you summarized the issues well.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: Seeking a Stallman for open source

    Uh, what? The RMS of Open Source was ESR. "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." Some of us have memories longer than a goldfish.
    DavidGerard
    • Open Source already has a Stallman


      > The RMS of Open Source was ESR.

      The problem with that choice is that programmers (the real core of the movement, let's not kid ourselves) have no respect whatsoever to somebody who doesn't write code AND it has to be outstanding code.

      Wasn't Linus the RMS of Open Source?

      -Ramon
      RamonFHerrera
      • Linus has done a Sherman

        Linus Torvalds has been quite explicit in refusing
        any active role in these kinds of debates. "If
        nominated I will not run, if elected I will not
        serve" serves him well.

        But I think you have a handle on who should be
        leading this charge.

        Jim Zemlin.
        DanaBlankenhorn
        • Absolutely

          I agree on both counts.
          Linus is well out of this 'political' slugfest as is ESR. Zemlin assuming leadership of the Open Source 'charge' should make for a rather interesting battle(though I hope these folks can just work things out amicably and get back to writing better software like Linus and ESR)
          balaknair
      • ESR and Bruce Perens

        Eric Raymond was a coder:
        "For years before open source went mainstream, I was one of the few full-time open-source hackers. I was one of the original GNU contributors back in the mid-1980s, and I've been at it ever since." -- http://catb.org/~esr/software.html

        RMS coined the term "Free Software." In order to be more business friendly, ESR chose the term "Open Source" and started the Open Source Initiative with Bruce Perens in 1998. Either of them could be considered "The RMS of Open Source."

        Agreed with the above comment: some of us have memories longer than goldfish. Ugh.
        daengbo
    • ESR

      You are right about Eric Raymond, and I know his
      work well. Thanks for mentioning him.

      But where is he now? Where is he in this debate,
      for instance? I think he would be the first to
      admit he's not a politician, not charismatic,
      and far more interested in the work than in
      talking about it.

      Linus Torvalds is the same way. Nothing wrong
      with that. Unless you're looking for a spokesman
      to go into battle for you.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: Seeking a Stallman for open source

    I will have to say that I am finding this a little foolish. Microsoft looks out for it's own bottom line, the fact that they should be trusted in an unconditional fashion (as Asay, Icaza, and Perlow seem to imply) is foolhardy. To not watch Microsoft closely, considering how they have been in the pass and continues to be currently, is a recipe for disaster among those in open source the second that Microsoft turns the other cheek.

    With that said, Stallman rebuke of Icaza is classic Stallman. Knee-jerk, panic-filled, with a hint of narcissistic attitude. It is a reaction that is over kill for something that has yet to happen. Don't get me wrong, the fact that Icaza is willing to deal with Microsoft only shows how brave he is. But calling him a "traitor" only shows how paranoid Stallman is and how miss-aimed his hatred is, if it's in Microsoft's best interest (which currently, it is)... they will play ball, if on their own terms. Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and other companies in open-source are the same.

    The fact of the matter is that all of this bickering overlooks the real issue, PATENTS and how they are the "Fight Club" of software. It's a shame that Stallman seems more interested at tossing mud on Icaza, Novell, and Mono and NOT the patent system that puts them at risk (which is odd coming from the same person that highlighted that threat in an essay). It is stupid that I keep seeing more and more responses to Stallman's rebuke to Icaza conduct (which in all honesty, isn't as bad as Richard lets on) than the Patent system that has fails all corners of software development...

    Come on, we are all better than this.
    IssacS
    • Another great talkback

      IsaacS: I really prefer writing Open Source to
      Healthcare because of thoughtful talkbacks like
      this. I think there's a lot of wisdom here.

      My point remains that open source, as
      distinguished from FOSS, needs a spokesman. In a
      previous note I nominated Jim Zemlin.

      Any seconds?
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Thank you... and...

        The truth that I find that that Open Source and FLOSS are not mutually exclusive. Open source tend, more often than not, to compliment the ideals of Open communication and keeps the bar low for that kind of communication... something that is highly valued in the FLOSS sphere, but that is another debate.
        I will say this much, there need to be more people willing to be pragmatic than sensationalists in both... Stallman hasn't changed in years, do I am not expecting him to do so in a matter of days. It's just unreasonable. But him, ESR (in the later years), and Icaza (to a degree) tend to have this BAD habit of sensationalizing anything that they take personally.
        This entire flame up between Stallman and Icaza is a good case study of the problem.

        If open source advocates lack anything currently, it's objectivity through all the noise. Stallman has NEVER been good at this, and ESR changed to a point where he just can't handle himself to do that the way that he use too. Linus is... Matt as well (when he wants to be), PJ of Groklaw (somehow, but that is more when her responses are directed purely on law... lucky, they usually are), hell even you Dana... and I am sure that there are others out there that are equally as pragmatic as they can be.

        We need more of those kind of eyes, those that look at things for what they are and response in kind. No more, no less... they doesn't mean that we need a lack of passion (Linus is passionate about what he does, it helps they he is more than willing to be BLUNT AS HELL about when Linux works and when it doesn't... it's why I look up to him), but that passion can't EVER override the truth.
        And that I think is the problem with the spokespeople that we have today, most let their passion gloss over the truth (and I will admit that it's not easy to do otherwise)... which is sad, since then it becomes more about PR than making things "Just work". And those that aren't like this seem to gather outside of the coding, which again is a shame.
        IssacS
      • I'll second that (NT).

        NT
        balaknair
    • Well said

      I have to agree with you there.
      balaknair
  • Linus is politically active, but not so much as RMS

    I don't entirely agree with your observation, and would like to change it few degrees. While Linus refuses to breath politics, he can become active (as many of us) for the right reasons.

    There were a couple of illustrative contrasting cases. When Microsoft announced the Novell pact, RMS was in Japan and upon learning about it became incensed (for a change :-) and promised to crush it, as the biblical character he resembles so much. Linus's position: "Novell and Microsoft can do whatever they damn please, I don't care what Microsoft does". He has also said: "They are not an evil empire, they simply don't know how to write good software".

    Based on te above only, one could arrive to the Linus-is-not-political conclusion. However, notice what happened when Ballmer threatened to sue for unspecified (what else is new?) copyright infringement. Boy, RMS looked like a humble little nun compared with the wrath of the not-so-cold Nordic! He called Ballmer's bluff and won.

    -Ramon

    RamonFHerrera
  • Looking for a Paul to replace James.

    Some folk aren't going to like this comparison, but here it goes anyway...

    In the early Christian church, James was unquestionably a leader, deferred to by all, including Paul. His strict adherence to Old Testament values tended to stifle the advance of the religion among converts. Early Christians were Jews, after all, and Jews are held accountable for 613 mitzvot (commandments), not just 10 as commonly presumed. The point here is that that's a lot of dogma for a convert to take on. James argued that it was by "works" (deeds) that salvation is earned, whereas Paul argued that it was by faith and the grace of God. As history has shown, it was Paul's ideas that took hold in the early Christian church. Discarding a lot of those pesky rules, the church converted people in droves, growing into the juggernaut of the Catholic church.

    If I had to draw a parallel (and I don't, but I'm going to anyway), James would represent Stallman... dogmatic, preoccupied with deeds (programming), and highly focused on the purity of Free software; advocating that people value the freedoms granted by the GPL above the conveniences of other licenses.

    It seems to me that you're looking for a "Paul" for the Open Source movement. Someone who is a bit more liberal in his philosophy who would champion broad acceptance of "free-er" software for widespread commercial use as opposed to insuring that the software itself is "free" in all respects (as defined by James... er, Stallman).

    The thing is, I'm not convinced that "the Open Source movement" needs that at all. The problem with replacing one "leader" with another is that you're still left with a direction as defined by that individual. And that's NOT what Open Source OR Free Software is about. It's not about what one person chooses to advocate. Nor is it about what a puppet spokesperson advocates for a particular group. It is software libre and open communication. Said software is available to all so that every individual can make their choices. Insofar as there's a "direction" it's not so much a choice as an indication of the majority's preferences, which nevertheless do not hamper growth in any other direction.

    FOSS is growing, continuously, without a Pope. I don't see that we need one.


    [i](Religious imagery invoked courtesy of the title of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and the frequently "religious" nature of F/OSS debates.)[/i]
    dave.leigh@...
    • Back to basics

      If one considers the meaning of communication and freedom, the answer to all software perplexity (should) become self evident.

      No savior is necessary, or should be desired. All society need do is reject any entity who attempts to stifle communication. A lack of communication can/will mean destruction for any/all societies. Too late it would be after essential control has been acquired.

      Or, as Dana previously questioned, where is freedom going? The answer will become evident when it gets there.
      Ole Man