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    I wasn’t there, but looking at the history it seems seems like Free Software once stood for working towards a better world. For building liberating tools, for educating users, for doing the work to further the ideas politically and socially.

    At some point a meme happened that the focus of the movement was on a abstinence. That avoiding nonfree software was more important than producing free software. That filing taxes by paper was a human right, rather than seeking to improve people’s lives. I don’t know how it happened, but a huge chunk of the followers swallowed this meme and now they look more like luddites than utopians. But I believe strongly that the original vision lives on in a few corners and needs some galvanizing effort to come back.

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      I agree with you. I don’t claim to know exactly what the future of the movement looks like, nor whether the words “free software” will continue to be the best banner to rally under, but I know that this is a period during which all of us who’ve been part of the culture should be taking the time to reconnect with the ideals and renew the institutions, so that future generations can continue to enjoy the benefits. If we don’t, it will be stolen from us.

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        I focus on the “making free software” part these days, but the problem is that in many areas there were and still are barriers to improving lives by making free software.

        If a government accepts tax reports only in poorly-documented or undocumented formats of specific proprietary products and/or requires non-free (and sometimes even snake-oily) cryptography software to sign your reports, then no amount of free accounting and cryptography software can possibly improve that situation.

        If interacting with a government service, a bank, or a utility company requires non-free software, then it also doesn’t matter what free software you make. Back then it was usually Internet Explorer, now it’s a requirement to have a proprietary and locked-down phone to run an app.

        If social networks and messaging apps use proprietary protocols and other technical measures to keep people from communicating with their users from free software, it doesn’t matter what free social media and messaging software you make. Bonus points if those proprietary platforms get popular by allowing users from free protocols to use them, then closing the doors.

        My favorite (i.e., most hated) example is Google luring people in by making GTalk an XMPP service, then silently disabling s2s so that to people inside GTalk it looked as if all other XMPP users went offline.

        In those situations, yes, filing taxes on paper is a human right. Of course it would be better if governments accepted those reports as long as they are in a correctly implemented open format, but that’s not happening, so all a software freedom proponent can do is to demand maintaining the status quo where it’s possible to file them on paper, because paper can be printed with free software.

        With proprietary platforms whose model is to build their audience through adversarial compatibility and then make adversarial compatibility with them impossible, the only choice is to allow them to destroy the open alternative or not to use them.

        In most cases my advocacy for free software among the uninitiated is built on the argument that specific free software is better than the proprietary software used now. That’s good when the user is actually free to choose their software. But there are many cases when they are not, so negative advocacy is necessary until those regulatory (and “de facto regulatory”, as with monopolies) barriers are removed.

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          My favorite (i.e., most hated) example is Google luring people in by making GTalk an XMPP service, then silently disabling s2s so that to people inside GTalk it looked as if all other XMPP users went offline.

          Okay historical question did this actually play any role in Google Talk’s marketing or adoption? Everybody I knew used things like AIM and yahoo and MSN, none of which were based on XMPP.

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            I advocated it myself and I knew many other people who suggested it to their friends and family members because it used an open protocol and we could chat with those people from free software clients and from other XMPP servers.

            I don’t know how big that role was, but it definitely wasn’t zero.

            For Slack, the fact that you could communicate with people in other messaging networks definitely was a big factor for early adopters, until it built a critical mass of users to lock them in.

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              I doubt Google ever planned it the way it looks from that description, but when GTalk launched on XMPP it at first seemed like a godsend. Like XMPP had won and might be inevitable now. But too much energy got spent on Google compatibility and too little on growing the network outside of Google or encouraging big competitors to adopt. In the end we needed Google more than they needed us and they moved on as soon as there was any reason to do so.

              The next wave of XMPP adoption is learning from this I think, but it remains to be seen how it all goes.

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              If a government accepts tax reports only in poorly-documented or undocumented formats of specific proprietary products and/or requires non-free (and sometimes even snake-oily) cryptography software to sign your reports, then no amount of free accounting and cryptography software can possibly improve that situation.

              Sure, we can reverse the formats, and probably the cryptosystem. Worst case we produce the format with free software and then require a nonfree blob to sign and submit: a huge improvement over using the garbage tax apps that mostly exist.

              If interacting with a government service, a bank, or a utility company requires non-free software, then it also doesn’t matter what free software you make. Back then it was usually Internet Explorer, now it’s a requirement to have a proprietary and locked-down phone to run an app.

              If they are actually trying to keep us out, then this can become an arms race, but it can be a winnable one. In most cases they just don’t consider that their app might not be ideal, so reverse engineering only has to be done occasionally when there happens to be a breaking change in the communication protocol.

              The point is: if the point isn’t abstention then even if some cases are impossible, that’s fine. We can make improvements in other areas while still using the government tax-filing app or whatever one thing seems beyond. I’d rather make something else awesome rather than spend energy trying to remove software because I fear that a free solution may be impossible in the area.

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                Sure, we can reverse the formats, and probably the cryptosystem.

                Full compatibility with MS Office formats and even with OOXML remained the bane of FOSS, and any non-MS office suits for over a decade. There’s also a human factor: if the format changes or the reverse-engineered implementation is incomplete, then to a user of the monopolistic proprietary product who doesn’t understand the issue, it’s you (or your user) who’s an annoying idiot that sends unreadable files.

                then this can become an arms race, but it can be a winnable one

                We all know how well it works out with alternative clients for Discord or Twitter, and other platforms that prohibit alternative clients in their ToS or in practice.

                In any case, time spent spent fighting with proprietary software vendors is time not spent improving free software.

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                I’m just now seeing this, but I wanted to thank you for sharing these thoughts. They’re well thought out, and I agree.

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            I’m a little conflicted about this piece.

            • First of all, it’s very hard to read. A+ for “aesthetics” but otherwise it’s a terrible presentation. A little bit of variation and structure would make it much easier to digest. Right now it’s stream-of-consciousness type wall of text. I suspect, lack of capitalisation is a major contributor to that.
            • I don’t think “permacomputing” concept is explained well in the article. It’s obvious it’s somehow counter to free software but I don’t understand how. Descriptors are vague. The ones related to free software I kinda get but that’s just because I’m familiar with the concept. I wouldn’t get it if I knew nothing about free software. That’s exactly what happens to the permacomputing bits. I don’t know what it is and I can’t see how proposed characteristics define it.
            • I found permacomputing.net. I assume it’s about the same concept. The source doesn’t directly link to it (not that it properly links to anything at all). It read like some sort of spiritual BS. Which roughly matches the OP vibe.
            • Free software is very specific about a few things and completely ignores everything else. It makes it easy to apply and identify. It’s easy to say whether a thing is a free software, is not, or is out scope of free software concerns.
            • Permacomputing (even more so than Permaculture) is extremely vague. To the point that the only possible answer to “is this it?” is “maybe” or rather “yes” because there’s no point where anything can be outside of its scope or not follow its definitions. At best a thing can be at the farther reaches of the spectrum of its values. This makes the concept aspirational in nature and practically useless.
            • The aforementioned vagueness probably explains why OP doesn’t make a good job explaining it.
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              I initially had the same problem, the lack of capitalisation threw me off. But, the more I read, the more I viewed this piece as art and not a (technical) article. The repetition of words, the formatting, the personal feelings and character it emits made me think of it as art and I loved it! Prose poetry seems to be what some people would call it.

              The latest edit with the refined second part indeed makes it look sharper and as others said, ‘drones run linux’ should be on a t-shirt.

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                From what I’ve seen and read permacomputing is anti-capitalist computing, but calling it that would make it political and not simply a self-described lifestyle label.

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                  Anti-capitalist as in “reuse, don’t buy” (frugality) or as in “here’s how to make a CPU in your backyard with only thing you can find in the nearby forest” (DIY, manufacturing)?

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                    You seem to be mistaking capitalism for industrialisation.

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                      Fair point. But doesn’t make it any clearer what and how the movement is trying to achieve.

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                    i think this is true to an extent. :3 i wouldn’t say its explicitly anticapitalist, but a lot of its values are not very compatible with capitalism.

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                    ty for the feedback, I agree with everything you’re saying about permacomputing - the final 2 sections felt pretty rocky to me after I wrote them, and I contemplated cutting the article at “drones run linux” to make it feel sharper.

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                      TBH, “drones run linux” is hella sharp. I want to put it on a tshirt. =D

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                        same tbh, thank you! fyi i rewrote the outro to be less wishy-washy :3

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                    I see the thing you are calling “permacomputing” as a grassroots sustainability effort within the larger computing world. And IMO its more about networks and connections between people than it is about computing itself. Instead of tech being sustained by a profit motive to “Build the next products to out-compete the market & get rich at any cost”,

                    Permacomputing is sustained by

                    “ we like being able to have our OWN computer, hack it ourselves, and we like the original liberatory promise of the internet. We want to keep that flame alive no matter what challenges we may face now and in the future “

                    • Punk / DIY ethic. Cares about data custody. Anti-surveillance activist. Won’t shut up about “panopticons”
                    • Care more about network effects and usability/accessibility than about software licensing
                    • Seeks liberation of the networks and connections between people more than liberation of all source code.
                    • Care more about “runs on my 10 year old potato PC” than “cutting-edge features” or “scales to billions”
                    • Reject tech elitism and embrace tech inclusivity: Work hard on blurring the “power user” line and challenge the status quo that “good usability / UX isn’t required for ‘under the hood’ utilities and tools “

                    @j3s I agree that the last sections feel like a bit of a cop-out. Ultimately I think this article is more of a goodbye to the FSF ideology than it is a fleshed-out introduction to this new ideology which you perceive as being born right now.

                    You can write more about it later :) It’s probably too much to fit into one easily-consumable post.

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                      This all sounds nice and cosy but, I’m afraid, it can’t be a solution.

                      It seems like it’s nostalgia talking. Remember back in the days one person could write an OS, a disk driver, their own programming language and a compiler for it, and a word processor written in that pl?

                      We’re way past that. Our OSes clock in millions of lines of code (nearly 43M lines for linux kernel alone). Our programming languages are not much smaller (GCC is 15M+, LLVM is 14M+). Our word processors are huge (LibreOffice is 12M+ lines). Our browsers are vast (Firefox is 32M+ lines, WebKit is 26+M, Chromium is 34M+). Our desktop environments are immense (GNOME is 24M+ lines, KDE is 27M+). And that is far from exhausting list of software one might want to use.

                      This is an amazing amount of effort and we still don’t get to enjoy backwards compatibility of Windows, UX polish of macOS, accessibility of either of those, power of commercial graphics and video editing software (Final Cut? Photoshop?), or anything ever remotely resembling specialised industrial software (CAD, simulation).

                      I get a hobby vibe from it. Everyone is chill and doing their little thing to enjoy what they’re doing. Same as recreational gardening, basically. You have a little garden in your back yard. You have a community of fellow gardeners to talk to and share your seeds/produce with. And you can enjoy your harvest from the two tomato plants you have but you will have to pop into your local supermarket in the off-season for more tomatoes and rely on the industrial agriculture most of the year.

                      I’m not going into hardware because it’s even further from what can be done on the personal level. It’s virtually impossible to build, say, a modern phone without big industrial backing.

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                        as always, you said it best. i think i’m just going to chop the permacomputing section out & leave it as a goodbye to FSF ideology - that really is what inspired the article anyway.

                        edit: i redid the outro to better line up with what i was trying to express in the first place.

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                        I resonated with the part where you brought up how refusing to use Discord hurt your social life with no meaningful benefit. I too haven’t used Discord in, what, four years now? And I feel the effects of it. I’ve lost many friends and connections, I’m locked out of many communities that I otherwise would love to be a part of, and maintaining relationships is significantly more difficult than it would be otherwise. Part of me wants to say that I don’t regret it, since I’m standing up for my values, but in a much more real sense I kind of do regret deleting Discord, and the only reason I continue to not use it is because I’ve already committed to not using it for so long (sunk cost fallacy, I suppose).

                        You’re right; most people simply don’t care about the free software movement or privacy, and their lives are easier because of it. I can’t use a phone app to do my laundry on campus since my phone doesn’t have Google Play Sevices, which the app requires. I have to lug around quarters and use those instead. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be an issue, or even if it was it would be a cause with significant momentum behind it, causing it to be something worth fighting for. I struggle to see how free software can win now, as difficult as it is to admit.

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                          Part of me wants to say that I don’t regret it, since I’m standing up for my values, but in a much more real sense I kind of do regret deleting Discord, and the only reason I continue to not use it is because I’ve already committed to not using it for so long (sunk cost fallacy, I suppose).

                          It sounds like software freedom is something you have as a value but are treating as a principle. A value is something like “free software is good and should be encouraged”, a principle is something like “I should not use unfree software.” It’s okay to do things that aren’t aligned with your values if it makes your life meaningfully better, and it puts you in a better position to align the rest of society with your values. Doing things that are against your principles is morally wrong.

                          What I’m saying is: do you think worse of people who use a laundry app? If not, maybe it’s okay for you to use it too and save your time and mental energy fighting for things that actually matter to free software at large.

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                          I dig the BBS textfile vibe but I doubt I can engage in any substantial way that wouldn’t get flagged as unkind or trolling.

                          Thanks for writing, I dug the vibe, good luck out there.

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                            It’s a difficult topic. I really appreciate your active awareness there. I think this is an important subject, but it’s also quite difficult to talk about.

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                              It’s a neat art piece and I dig the aesthetic, and let’s leave it at that without trying to make claims about how difficult it is to talk about.

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                              tysm. feel free to email me directly if you wanna give me feedback! :3

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                              The article starts with one of the sharpest description of RMS I’ve read.

                              Also, does your blog/site has a RSS I looked from mobile, and couldn’t find it.

                              LE: nevermind, found the atom.

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                                Beautiful art piece.

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                                  To me, the discussion about permacomputing shows that younger people are very interested in the outcomes of a world with free/open/libre software but they’re not neccesarrily on board with the “old guard” of FLOSS.

                                  RMS fought with a printer. 100 rabbits live on a boat. Guess what life a lot of young people want to choose?

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                                    A story of giving up.

                                    “I am a loser now. Come join me, so we can be losers together!”

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                                      Your post is insulting to the author and devoid of any interesting content for other users. Please, consider your audience :)