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GNU is Not Unix Open Source Privacy Software

RMS On Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before 319

Posted by Soulskill
from the we-need-the-power-to-make-those-birds-less-angry dept.
jrepin points out an article by Richard Stallman following up on the 30th anniversary of the start of his efforts on the GNU Project. RMS explains why he thinks we should continue to push for broader adoption of free software principles. He writes, "Much has changed since the beginning of the free software movement: Most people in advanced countries now own computers — sometimes called “phones” — and use the internet with them. Non-free software still makes the users surrender control over their computing to someone else, but now there is another way to lose it: Service as a Software Substitute, or SaaSS, which means letting someone else’s server do your own computing activities. Both non-free software and SaaSS can spy on the user, shackle the user, and even attack the user. Malware is common in services and proprietary software products because the users don’t have control over them. That’s the fundamental issue: while non-free software and SaaSS are controlled by some other entity (typically a corporation or a state), free software is controlled by its users. Why does this control matter? Because freedom means having control over your own life. ... Schools — and all educational activities — influence the future of society through what they teach. So schools should teach exclusively free software, to transmit democratic values and the habit of helping other people. (Not to mention it helps a future generation of programmers master the craft.) To teach use of a non-free program is to implant dependence on its owner, which contradicts the social mission of the school. Proprietary developers would have us punish students who are good enough at heart to share software or curious enough to want to change it."
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RMS On Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:26AM (#44984237)

    Well I'll give it a go:

    One could perhaps have an entirely free software stack on ones phone. Your service providers could use free software for all the servers they run. Everything could be free software everywhere.

    But, how does that stop them (the guys running the servers) having access to all of your information you have stored on their machines?

    It could all be free software and they could still spy on you.

  • congratulations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kwikrick (755625) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:27AM (#44984241) Homepage Journal

    Thank you rms, for fighting for our freedom for 30 years!

  • by kthreadd (1558445) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:31AM (#44984251)

    No one can stop them except you. If the entire chain from you to them is open then you will be able to see what information they might get from you and chose to not use their services.

  • Re:congratulations (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @05:53AM (#44984313)

    The man is the real deal. Seriously.

    He's the real deal like licorice though. What's commonly sold and enjoyed as licorice contains maybe 2% of the actual substance, the rest being sugar and other stuff. Reasonably pure forms of licorice are sold with health warnings (as they are bad for your blood pressure) and enjoyed by rather few people.

  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:24AM (#44984383) Homepage Journal

    Free-Software-as-a-Service gives you the freedom to choose which Service to trust, or to run your own Service if you wish.

    Which doesn't help if the Service is a social network whose value lies in allowing users to communicate with other users of the same Service. Nor does it help when telcos have a blanket policy of not letting home users run their own Service. Let me know when Diaspora and some federated alternative to Twitter are ready for inexperienced end users.

  • by FPhlyer (14433) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:29AM (#44984397) Homepage

    Stallman's arguments are purely philosophical for most software users. Software as a service, aka "Cloud Computing" is becoming and has become a standard for most computer users... even if they don't recognize it. Free Software is not going to reverse that unless you find some way to pull yourself off the grid... no internet, no cellular service, no land line service, etc. The entire infrastructure is open to attack and running Free Software to interact with the rest of the world doesn't insulate you from most of those attack vectors.
    The only answer that could possibly live up to the pipe dreams of RMS would be to completely recreate the entire infrastructure. Need a totally attack free cellphone? You'll need to use an OSS operating system running on open source hardware that you solder together yourself... and then you'll need an open service infrastructure that no one else can connect to... leaving the entire concept useless. What good is a cellphone that can't connect you to other users. The moment you have to hand off your data, even if its encrypted, to a second party you've lost control. It doesn't matter where you hand off control of the data... at the application level, the network level or to another user. At some point you loose control.
    Sorry RMS... using wget to fetch web pages so you can read them in your email may work for you, but for most of us Free and Open Source Software are NOT ends but are rather the means to an end. Most of us are perfectly happy to give up control of our data sooner rather than later because using Cloud Services is simply more convenient and adds value. I don't plan on giving up my smartphone anytime soon and as long as I use it I'm allowing numerous parties to potentially access my information and communication. Thanks to my phone's built in GPS I'm letting Google (as well as a number of other App vendors) to know exactly where I am at all times. As a Gmail user I'm perfectly fine knowing that Google reads my mail and potentially shares that info with the Government. All these things (and so much more) are acceptable trade offs for most of us to have access to services we value.

  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:33AM (#44984401) Homepage Journal

    Why should the school itself not be in charge of it's own stuff? Should we give the students the admin password to the grade-tracking software?

    I didn't see anything in Mr. Stallman's essay implying that students should have administrative privileges on the school's authoritative instance of the grade-tracking software. But students should still have the opportunity to obtain a copy of the software to study and possibly share with other schools that friends and family attend. Besides, software to administer a school is not the only software used in a school. Mr. Stallman used the example of Adobe Photoshop. Schools shouldn't teach particular proprietary software packages. Instead, they should teach skills, and skills can be taught in free software such as GIMP.

  • Re:Goes too far (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebeNO@SPAMelis.ugent.be> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:40AM (#44984415) Homepage

    Every time I read an RMS opinion, it seems to start at a good position and consistently attempts to be more and more idealistic to the point that he seems to be arguing a strawman.

    RMS definitely is radical, but I've never known him to use strawman arguments.

    I know he defines Malware differently from the common way (he considers DRM as malware, for example),

    I guess he's also talking about backdoors for law enforcement (aka "legal interception") and other purposes.

    but democratic values are less likely to be transmitted if I use Office? Proprietary developers want to punish students? I guess he means the corporations

    His explanation indicates why he does mean proprietary developers rather than just corporations: e.g. in the US definition of core democratic values [classroomhelp.com], there are aspects like personal freedom (e.g., modifying software) and the common good (e.g., sharing things with others). Note that he's not arguing here that it should be illegal for others to write proprietary software, i.e., he's not arguing to impinge on other people's liberty.

    - and again, they don't generally give their source for modification, so they might be preventing students from modifying other people's work. Is that punishing them?

    It limits the possibilities for expressing their creativity. Schools should be places where encouraging creativity is one of the highest valued goals. I know that is generally not the case [ted.com] right now (amazing video, btw), but this is a (small) way in which the situation can be improved.

    I won't even claim to understand what the social mission of schools are supposed to be - prepare students for functioning in society?

    I'm obviously not RMS, but I'd argue they should be prepared for functioning in society, for critically thinking about that same society (and anything else), and for contributing to a society that they consider to be better than what it is today.

    Prepare them for jobs? Prepare them for college? Prepare them to develop free software?

    I'd say: prepare them to become the best they can be. That can include a particular kind of job, being an artist, college (about which you can have very similar discussions as about school), developing free software or any combination of the above and many more things.

    Prepare them for ignoring copyrights?

    Now that last part is a great a strawman on your part: encouraging students to use Free Software, which they can share and modify freely according to the copyright license terms of that same software, is by no means the same as preparing them for ignoring copyright. It mainly teaches them that there are also alternatives to software whose business model depends on artificial scarcity. They will get to know MS Office and other popular products anyway, and if you can work with OpenOffice or LibreOffice, the jump isn't that great in any case. Maybe one of the primary things schools should teach are transferable skills (of which creative thinking is probably the "übervariant").

  • Losing the battle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kjella (173770) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:43AM (#44984427) Homepage

    While proprietary software won't always do things the way you want them for normal applications you could always restrict their permissions, firewall their network and most importantly unless you had a very serious leak built in the data stayed on your own computer, it might be locked up in a proprietary format with software that has forced obsolescence but I always felt the hyperbole was a bit thick. If you buy a CD you buy the mix the artist wanted you to have, you don't get the raw tracks to remix it the way you wanted it to be. Likewise when you buy a closed source game you get the game experience they wanted you to have, not all the source and assets to remake it the way you wanted it to be. All other things being equal it'd of course be desirable, but it's doesn't make it worthless or immoral to buy it without that possibility.

    With "Service as a Software Substitution" as RMS calls it or as web services and the cloud as I'd call it you've got no control at all of neither the software nor the data. You can't even do the slightest change in how it works. When they want it to change, it changes and there's nothing you can do to stay on an old version the only thing you could do is to go nuclear and stop using it at all. Getting the data out and over to a competing service is often far worse and more locked up than a proprietary format. And again, they control your data. I'd be far more concerned about all my documents being on a Google Docs server somewhere than in a MS Office document on my disk under my control.

    The worst part is really the way you're tied not technically to their service though, but legally. When the iTunes app store tells me they've updated their Terms of Service and asks me to answer yes or no, it's basically "Would you like to continue using your phone as normal or totally cripple all access to new software and updates?" I don't even bother reading it, it's accepting at gunpoint anyway. And I really don't feel it'd be much different with Android and the Play store. It didn't concern me much when it was primarily so I'd have a phone to play Angry Birds on (see above) because I totally don't care where my scores go, but as you start wanting to use it for more serious things it matters but there's really no opting out.

    The stupid thing is that I really do like advantages of cloud syncing, I'd just like it to be against my own private server or at least in a local colo of my choice. I don't want to route it through Apple or Google or Facebook or any of the other big megacorporations. But what we need is a solid alternative, not the wailing song of RMS. He could have complained about the lack of a free kernel forever but as long as HURD wasn't an alternative it just didn't matter much until Linux came along and became usable. Give us a real alternative, based perhaps on AOSP or Ubuntu Touch (ugh) and maybe we can turn the tide. P.S. There was a poll here, 90% wouldn't change their online habits one bit after the Snowden revelations - don't assume the general public is with you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 29, 2013 @06:50AM (#44984441)

    Which doesn't help if the Service is a social network whose value lies in allowing users to communicate with other users of the same Service. Nor does it help when telcos have a blanket policy of not letting home users run their own Service. Let me know when Diaspora and some federated alternative to Twitter are ready for inexperienced end users.

    The overwhelming popularity of closed social networks and consumption oriented Internet plans would seem to indicate a societal problem that will stymie attempts at a technical solution. Perhaps these inexperienced end users could be transformed into experienced end users through some sort of process somehow. Call it education. Because like the summary says, "educational activities influence the future of society through what they teach."

  • Re:Goes too far (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deviated_prevert (1146403) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:04AM (#44984477) Journal

    but democratic values are less likely to be transmitted if I use Office?

    If you are a teacher, yes. If you learn office at a young age, it becomes very unlikely you will switch to anything else. It can be difficult for some people too, as the interface is different. Once the students go home and have to set up their own computer they will likely use office. They will either pay for it or not pay for it. If they don't pay they are committing a crime which can be severely punished if they get caught. If they pay then the school is basically training them to give money to a large corporation. Not only that, a specific corporation, with a partial monopoly in that market. Evidenced by the fact that you write 'Office' with a capital O and take it as a given that everyone knows you mean Microsoft® Office®. Training kids to give money to support a monopolistic corporation does not seem to be directly in line with the principles of democracy.

    This does not limit the abuse by monopoly to just school children! Our very first "home computer" was purchased so that we could become more literate in the coming "digital age". We had a 6 year old daughter and my wife and myself both needed to use fax for the purposes of both getting work and communicating. So we spent 2000 dollars on a decent 486 which could run "Windows" on top of dos. We both had used Vax at work for years and now that it was obviously being dumped and we knew that the "Windows" gui was going to dominate the very future of both our working lives. My wife insisted upon the then brand new Office which set us back another huge chunk of change and took for freaking ever to install from the set of floppies! When we upgraded the unit to the "start me up" roll me over and take it in the rear year 95 version of "Windows" our old version of office would not install PERIOD. So this was my first desperate and financially crippling experience with MSFT. We were almost bankrupted by this at the time because of health issues that occurred concurrently, so I pirated WORD so that we could still fax and my wife could keep her work communications up.

    THIS EXPERIENCE SOURED ME so much against MSFT that I investigated what all the fuss was online about Red Hat. After a really good dummies book showed me that our old terminal skills could still make our older 486 work online (good old ifup ip foobar commands) and even do faxes by simply sticking in a different modem than the Win Modem we had things started to look up and the experience brought me into the light. I have never looked back. OR may I add have never "pirated" anything since!

    IT WAS a revelation reading Eric Raymond and watching the antics of RMS, Linus and others, the one great rhetorical statement that always sticks in my mind and I am never going to forget is "WOULD YOU BY A CAR WITH THE HOOD WELDED SHUT?"

    With companies like Corbis, and others trying to deprive and lock down the world to its very own shared historical great heritage of images online one comes to finally understand the true Ferengi like nature of those who like Milo Minderbinder with a computer have come to dominate digital communications. Do they deserve the laurels and accolades that are heaped upon them. Only history will tell, but if the young are left to believe that they are saints chances are we are headed into a digital dark age.

    Thank you RMS and all the others for keeping up the good fight!

  • by Sneftel (15416) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:29AM (#44984553)

    Of course you can. Consider X and Y to be two compilers. X compiled by X will, of course, be different than X compiled by Y. But X compiled by (X compiled by X) should be identical to X compiled by (X compiled by Y).

  • by znrt (2424692) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:39AM (#44984587)

    I dare anyone, especially after mr. Snowden's revelations, to contradict mr. Stallman's points.

    his points have actually little to do with snowden's revelations. if you want to be in control you need also absolute control over the hardware (down to every circuit in every chip in every device). open software alone will never protect you from government snooping or from corps selling you as big data meat. and even if you could have fully open hardware, you would need a society that knows how to use it and cares. thats unrealistic. the problem snowden reveals is sociopolitical, not technolgical. it's about actual power abuse, not about the possible means for abuse.

    although i agree with most of his points because of the intrinsic value open software has for society, mixing both issues is shortsighted, sounds a lot like usual fear propaganda, just in another context.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @07:50AM (#44984629)
    if the NSA/CIA/FBI forces companies to put backdoors and hand over master-keys to encryption methods for both internet connections and locked files & disk drives then if the Government can get in them i am sure criminals can find them and break in too
  • Ah, and then you realize that the resultant compiler produces the same output because perhaps the Ken Thompson hack is in the CPU Microcode, as Ken suggested. Furthermore, that since he got the idea from the US Air Force back before his ACM acceptance speech (in 1984), than such hack could be in essentially all the CPUs you'd purchase.

    Fortunately for me, I spent my childhood tinkering with electronics and discovering compiler design without any mentors... I know my brain doesn't contain the Ken Thompson Hack, and I can bootstrap a OS without anything more than a serial terminal or a bootable hex editor. [slashdot.org] I had to squeeze the code down, fighting for individual bytes to fit it under a single boot sector... I know the software has no hack because there's no room for it, and the machine code is the same as I'd produce by hand on graph paper. With those simple tools you should be able to write everything else you need to create an operating system.

    Note that many features of C are way overly complex -- You don't need to be able to do all those optimizations for speed. The dumb method is actually not noticeably slower in most applications. A C compiler is about the simplest compiler you can make (besides FORTH).

    Have you any idea how simple it is to make a custom home network out of a few parallel cables? LIRC exists. Have you ever created an IR Transceiver to record and play back remote control signals and control home AV gear for your media center setup? Ever thought that IR could be used in place of a few parallel cables? Or maybe even RF? Ever made something like that over the weekend? Me Neither! I wouldn't be caught dead by the FCC sending unlicensed wireless data to my garage or neighbors -- Who would risk such a fine just for a little fun?

    I've got systems that only network with others over hardware I've built myself. They couldn't "phone home" unless they were sentient and grew legs (or were made by Intel and included a cellular radio). I've got systems that run code written only by me -- Even the BIOS firmware (I replaced it with the OS bootloader, because fuck BIOS, if I can have instant-on; See also Coreboot for an example of how to do this with Linux). I teach kids how to do this sort of thing for fun, they think they're learning how to make games and how CPUs, compilers, and VMs work... Now we're working on a really big (noisy) Tetris game with contractors and LEDs so they can learn electronics by watching it work and pick up tenets of reusable fabrications.

    This sort of stuff has been my hobby for decades. Bootstrapping an OS and C compiler from scratch is a relaxing break from the insanity of modern scripting, VM, and C/C++ to me. I do it on all my new hardware just to burn it in or get cozy with a new chipset. When push comes to shove, I'm not worried, but the rest of you are fucked.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @09:11AM (#44985025)
    If the resulting compiler binaries generate different inputs, there are two major options I see: 1) One or more of the original compilers has bugs, 2) one or more of the original compilers is booby-trapped. If all of them generate identical output, there are also two major options: 1) all of them are correctly conforming, 2) there is a powerful shadow entity in this world with such far-reaching fingers that booby-trapped compilers ought to be the least of your worries.

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