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    The point being: large corporations and government agencies have always had the ability to get access to the source code of commercial software, and modify it if they wish. And if they have a good reason, they will do so.

    And here, my friends, is the anti-democratic argument unmasked. The unstated assertion underlying this argument is that large corporations deserve more freedom than you or me. I refuse to accept that.

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      It’s not even true. Back around 2000, the UK government had access to the Windows and Office source code for review, but not to the build system and under a license that did not allow them to run any version that they built from the code (which always made me curious about how they felt they got any assurance that the version that they were running was the version from their security review). They weren’t able to get another company to act as a second source and add features that Microsoft wanted. If the government of one of the ten largest world economies couldn’t do this, who does the author think could?

      That said, the thing that the author is probably trying to get to is that most software in the world was always open source. I don’t know what the ratio is now, but in the ‘90s, around 10% of developers were working on COTS software and the other 90% were employed on bespoke work. It was completely normal that the customer of bespoke software would receive modification and redistribution rights. It still is - it’s a big red flag if you’re contracting a company to write some software for your business and they don’t give you these rights.

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        Heinlein once said specialization is for insects. This individual in this piece has argued the right to publish your words does not extend to those who are not professionally published, that the right to equal force with any other human may only be vested in professionals, and that software may only be tweaked by those paid in its creation. If you squint, he seems to argue that privately funded libraries are also unethical!

        While internally consistent, this argumentation quickly returns us to guilds wherein an apprentice spends their life to ply a limited craft. Specialization, as we know, should be relegated to insects.

        There is a second undemocratic perspective hidden in this rant. It is unfree in the author’s mind for a human to have a right, whether God or otherwise given, and choose to not exercise it. If I choose to license my work freely instead of restricting it for the sake of my personal wellbeing, why can’t I? Freedoms are made to be exercised by any who wish, not by force on all who qualify. And I, as a software professional, have no more natural right to an opinion about some code than anybody with an ability to consume text and respond.

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        I’m… not impressed with this article. It feels like it’s piggybacking on the (justified) controversy over how the FSF hasn’t really been doing anything productive.

        • It uses Therac-25 as an example for the harms that bad software can cause as an argument against the standard liability disclaimer, but the Therac code wasn’t open source and presumably didn’t have that waiver in the first place!
        • It says the L in FLOSS stands for “liberal”, which is a thing I have literally never heard before.
        • It claims that software patents would increase freedom, when software patents are part of the reason that MP3 support was as weird as it was for the longest time because it was (possibly) literally illegal to implement it without paying licensing fees.
        • It says that “software vendors won’t usually be inserting spyware into their wares” when we’ve seen time and time again that software devs love shoving privacy-intruding analytics into everything.
        • It compares access to the source code of the software you run to the ownership of assault rifles, which is bizarre.
        • it claims that there is “much evidence” backing up his claim that providing the source to libraries results in worse software, but doesn’t actually provide any of this evidence.
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          Like you I think that justified critisism of the messenger, the FSF, doesn’t provide good critisism of the message.

          Also, the author seems to think that the word liberal means educational..?

          I coined the term Liberal Software to refer to software where the intent of the programmer is educational (liberal as in education)

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            The part that baffles me is that I’ve seen people I generally trust to have level opinions on these things recommend this article. Are they seeing something I’m not? Did I overestimate how good they are at judging the quality of articles? Are they biased because of something about the author (who I hadn’t heard of before this article)?

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              Rant warning.

              I think it’s a useful counterpoint to the mostly empty rhetoric of FLOSS promoters.

              The default position is that FLOSS is a good thing.

              Maybe, but there are counterexamples.

              • Free software/GNU has almost nothing to say about the current state of the software industry. It’s rooted in a past where people owned their own computers and desired the maximum amount of control over them. Now, the computers are owned by others. In effect, the server/cloud model has done an end-run around the pesky end-users.
              • Free software/GNU is in any case marginalized, because it’s not business-friendly enough
              • Open software/permissive licensed software is, but all this has led to is businesses getting high-quality, supported software for free. This has of course enabled the server model described above. And it’s led to software developers becoming sharecroppers in an attention economy, where their rewards are basically GitHub stars or (maybe) a job offer where they’re supposed to keep the golden goose fed outside of work.
              • The overarching ideology of both movements (essentially, American West Coast libertarianism) prevents any meaningful attempts to regulate this whole suppurating mess of surveillance capitalism, because Government Bad.

              The article isn’t very well written, and it has some glaring faults (like the Therac example), but at least it’s saying something new, and not repeating empty platitudes while the world slowly collapses.

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                I agree with the points you made. My problem is that, to me at least, the article has so many flaws that are impossible to overlook, both in its rhetoric and its writing style, that it doesn’t feel like it deserves all the recommendations I’ve seen. The other article you linked does a much much better job of it, and I’d unreservedly recommend it.

                (I actually didn’t realize you were the one that linked it until I was pulling up the comment so I could link it in this post!)

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                  Thanks. I’m regretting a bit at blowing off the handle. My ire wasn’t directed at you personally. I feel the FLOSS movement is in a bad place at the moment, and I’m unhappy at how some people are acting.

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          I think this person is mostly wrong about the non-computing related political issues that aren’t topical on Lobsters that he keeps analogizing software freedom to; so why should I take what he has to say about software freedom seriously?

          In any case, I think he’s dead wrong about the FSF’s conception of software freedom being obsolete. We live in a world that is filled with non-free software, being used by billions of people, and very often that software is being used against their interests in ways that the free software movement predicted decades ago. At best, I think it’s reasonable to posit that the FSF specifically or free software advocated broadly speaking were unsuccessful at preventing the arising of such a world (although I prefer to be optimistic and say that they have been unsuccessful so far at replacing widely-used unfree software with free software).

          Similarly, I think it is manifestly obvious that freedoms of “the software” do not require the ability to make copies or even to make modifications. If we are going to use the “free press” metaphor to understand “free software”, then programs which are “free software” can be restricted from being copied or modified without impinging on any freedoms.

          I think it’s manifestly obvious that the freedoms of users of the software (which are the morally-relevant ones) absolutely do require the ability to make copies and modifications. If I can’t change a piece of software I use to suit my needs, because the intellectual-property-rights owner of that software effectively forbids it, I am not free with respect to that piece of software.

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            I don’t agree with most of the points of this article, but what I do find refreshing is the questioning of the ossified foundations of FLOSS licensing.

            Another view is here: https://rosenzweig.io/blog/software-freedom-isnt-about-licenses-its-about-power.html (via HN), which I found much more nuanced.

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              Yeah, I like the article you linked a lot more.

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              Although I think the author raises some interesting points, there is some weird reasoning here and there. Aside from what other commenters already mentioned, I would like point out that this:

              And although I believe that there is the occasional evil entrepreneur and the occasional ineffective bureaucrat, in general, we must live our lives as if people are trying to do what they believe to be the right thing

              is very bad advice, as can easily be demonstrated by visiting a couple of random websites without an ad/tracker blocker, or by taking a closer look at some analysis of what the apps on your phone are actually doing under the hood.

              The majority of entrepreneurs use evil methods and dark patterns and the majority of the bureaucrats have shown to be completely ineffective in combating that. In fact, I think the only legislation that is making any sort of dent in these practices is the GDPR.

              Now whether the FSF has the best solutions to fix this is another thing, but the other parties involved have shown to be at least as incompetent as they are in fixing this.

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                The only one group we know has made a concerted effort to poison beer, was in fact the government.

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                  That is only true if you don’t count the many cases of businesses prior to things like the FDA using wood alcohol to make their alcohol, leading to ‘beer’ with poisonous amounts of methanol in it.

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                    Do you have sources for this? Sounds like something from before we knew better or maybe prohibition incentivized such production.

                    It’s never on a vendor’s best interest to kill their clientele, though Big Tobacco and such do it slowly enough that they can be more apathetic about it. Then there’s also the casual users who suffer few ill harms.

                    It’s the same BS as with newer Gnome UIs and all that privacy stuff; if the governments actually wanted something illegal (or the mainstream Gnome-based distros something usable), it would just happen.

                    Comparisons to assault rifles and implicitly purposefully poisoned alcohol are just weird, and hoping the deus ex machina of the state will make everything alright is even weirder.

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                      Tainted food has been around for as long as food has been sold in markets, and only abates when governments or equivalent non-market bodies step in with regulation. For a non-prohibition related example in the US, https://www.usdeadlyevents.com/1919-dec-25-30-wood-alcohol-poisoning-esp-chicopee-ma-hartford-ct-nj-128-136/ which also references previous cases of wood alcohol sold for drinking in the US, which were only stopped by state intervention.

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                        That’s a sad list indeed. Good to see manslaughter and murder charges in there, but another theme that seems to pop out is bootlegging. Toxic bootleg moonshine will probably always be a thing, as much as warning labels on over-the-counter impure alcohols.

                        So maybe pressing charges against careless sellers of wood alcohol and the adding of warning labels helped, but even before that regulation, murder charges probably also helped.

                        And branding. Never buy bootleg booze or a brand known to kill its customers!

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                          The murder charges are literally a part of the regulation. Without some kind of regulation, you don’t get the murder charges, you only have whatever corrective force the market brings to bear. And without regulation, you don’t know that something branded as being from a trustworthy brand is actually from that brand, rather than a counterfeit; anti-counterfeiting is a regulation thing too.

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                            IANAL but in usual parlance regulation states what kind of operation your distillery is allowed to run, while brand protection falls under something else and homicide under criminal law.

                            Of course I agree some mechanisms for these should exist, but we’re still seeing shitty choices in Linux distros and governments making complete messes with regulation, so I stand behind the point that the dei (correct plural?) ex machina doesn’t work too great.

                            How governance can be handled in a society more anarchic is an interesting topic, but I can’t think of cool FLOSS analogies to keep it on topic, so I think it’s about time to wrap this up.

                            Thanks for the link, I never knew that part of American history!

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                    During Prohibition?

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                      Yes, the hysterics about how terrible drunks are reached a point the government figured they could get away with just poisoning such undesirables instead. It’s their own fault for breaking the law anyway, right?

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                    I really should just go 100% in on OpenBSD. They don’t care about my skin colour or ancestors or have any burden of original sin.

                    These inane religious zealots will no doubt get their scorched earth, probably the sooner the better to churn them out.

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                      I’m sorry for flagging this as off topic. I don’t see this comment as meaningfully engaging with the author’s text or the technical issues embedded and surrounding it.