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Thread: Politics of Free and Open Source

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    Politics of Free and Open Source

    Hi all. Thought this might be a good place to post this if anyone is interested. I'm a non-technical user, i.e. graduated in the arts with zero programming experience except some basic HTML learnt for fun. I got pretty interested in (GNU/)Linux a fairly long time ago due to the philosophy behind it and made the switch on my machines and been pretty facinated by the community, ideology and politics of it all since. I thought I'd be a good idea to write up a basic guide to the things that baffled me so much when I started using Linux, the distinction between Free and Open Source, the social philosophy as opposed to the developmental process, politics over Ubuntu, commercialisation, upstream disputes etc.

    http://incompatiblethoughts.blogspot.co ... e-and.html

    The site is ad-free and non-commercial, so I hope no-one is offended by me posting the link here, and I'm aware that plenty of people will object to various things, so I'd love to incorporate feedback, corrections, etc. Also an article on 'Why GNU/Linux Matters' and a quick look at Cinnamon might interest some elsewhere on the site.

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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by bilalqayum View Post
    ...I hope no-one is offended by me posting the link here...
    Not offended at all. I highly encourage you to keep fleshing it out.

    Though I don't object in any way, I am curious--why the weight of emphasis on RMS and not, say, LT or ESR (I also read your article "Why GNU/Linux Matters" which emphasizes RMS even more)? I'm not sure how spotlighting any of the demigods advances understanding--in that--embodiments of philosophies tend to muddy as much they clarify due to the unavoidable quirks, contradictions and hypocrisies of the personalities involved (and which, I would be the first to agree, are inherent in all of us).
    Newb: How far must I jump to clear the ledge halfway down?
    Guru: It's bad to jump off cliffs. Let's look at better options.
    Newb: Stop harping about "best practices" and just tell me.


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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by DuckHook View Post
    Not offended at all. I highly encourage you to keep fleshing it out.

    Though I don't object in any way, I am curious--why the weight of emphasis on RMS and not, say, LT or ESR (I also read your article "Why GNU/Linux Matters" which emphasizes RMS even more)? I'm not sure how spotlighting any of the demigods advances understanding--in that--embodiments of philosophies tend to muddy as much they clarify due to the unavoidable quirks, contradictions and hypocrisies of the personalities involved (and which, I would be the first to agree, are inherent in all of us).
    I think it may be because of my background, I'm graduated in politics and RMS articulates a social philosophy rather than 'just' restricting himself to technology. It's not that I accept the entirety of RMS's framework, just that he's pretty prominant in forcefully articulating one makes him pretty interesting if you're looking at the social implications of FOSS.

    It wasn't intentional though, and I think I will sit down and have a crack at reducing some of that focus as it's not really pertinant to the topic. It's difficult, the first time round it was becoming a history of FOSS, so I tried stripping it out to try and answer some of the questions that I used to have. Many thanks for the feedback.

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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Given that my own major was philosophy, I am every bit as drawn to the abstract as you. My observation was twofold:

    1. Is RMS the best exemplar of the Libre philosophy? Or is he just its loudest self promoter? Which leads to the inevitable next question: Does the Libre community need an exemplar (and I emphasize the contrast between a "leader" and an "exemplar", i.e. a secular demigod) at all?

    2. As counterpoint to RMS, I propose not Torvalds, but Mark Shuttleworth. You have stated that you now use Ubuntu, which would not exist but for Shuttleworth. We are discussing on a forum that exists only because of same. And Ubuntu was the distro that finally turned Linux from a fascinating but unusable idea into a true alternative OS for millions of users including me. Yet, Shuttleworth is, in so many ways, the antithesis of RMS--a self-indulgent multimillionaire who has gone into space, an entrepreneur, a self-evident capitalist, a man who is trying to extend the reach of Ubuntu into phones, tablets, the cloud and social networking. Don't get me wrong. I don't think Shuttleworth is hero-worshipful, any more than Jobs, Gates, Torvalds or RMS for that matter. But if you are interested in contrast, I offer the example closest to home.

    I have often thought of writing a mischievous corollary to ESR's seminal Cathedral and Bazaar, but with an ironic twist: RMS ensconced in his Cathedral preaching hellfire and damnation from his pulpit on high whilst the Shuttleworths, Bob Youngs, Marc Ewings et al madly trade, bargain and make it up as they go in the messy irreverent Bazaar below.
    Last edited by DuckHook; March 22nd, 2013 at 01:57 AM. Reason: Correct typos
    Newb: How far must I jump to clear the ledge halfway down?
    Guru: It's bad to jump off cliffs. Let's look at better options.
    Newb: Stop harping about "best practices" and just tell me.


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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by DuckHook View Post
    I have often thought of writing a mischievous corollary to ESR's seminal Cathedral and Bazaar, but with an ironic twist: RMS ensconced in his Cathedral preaching hellfire and damnation from his pulpit on high whilst the Shuttleworths, Bob Youngs, Marc Ewings et al madly trade, bargain and make it up as they go in the messy irreverent Bazaar below.
    Hrm... that's a pretty unfair characterization of stallman, don't you think? He only seems to get press when he's saying something negative about some project or company that's giving people warm fuzzies, but people always miss the point that the reason he criticises these projects is because he believes (rightly or wrongly) that they're doing things that hurt other people. I disagree with a whole lot of what he believes, but I at least appreciate where he's coming from and what his motives are.

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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by DuckHook View Post
    Given that my own major was philosophy, I am every bit as drawn to the abstract as you. My observation was twofold:

    1. Is RMS the best exemplar of the Libre philosophy? Or is he just its loudest self promoter? Which leads to the inevitable next question: Does the Libre community need an exemplar (and I emphasize the contrast between a "leader" and an "exemplar", i.e. a secular demigod) at all?
    By the definition of Free Software according to the FSF (The Four Freedoms), yes he is. The question is whether you agree with the FSF's philosophy.

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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by lykwydchykyn View Post
    Hrm... that's a pretty unfair characterization of stallman, don't you think?...I at least appreciate where he's coming from and what his motives are.
    Well, I don't insist upon it. I did say it was a mischievous corollary, but it's not unfair either. Calling for boycotts, disrupting meetings to which he was not invited, waving banners and placards, treating his ideology as an uncompromising crusade, calling certain practices/people/corporations unethical/immoral (i.e. evil) is the secular equivalent of hellfire and damnation. I would add that the preacher also thinks he is helping people save their souls and railing against evil and error. Honourable motives, all.

    I note that the focus on the personality of RMS sidetracks us from the philosophy of the Libre contingent, which was the very point I was trying to make to the OP.
    Newb: How far must I jump to clear the ledge halfway down?
    Guru: It's bad to jump off cliffs. Let's look at better options.
    Newb: Stop harping about "best practices" and just tell me.


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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Quote Originally Posted by JDShu View Post
    By the definition of Free Software according to the FSF (The Four Freedoms), yes he is. The question is whether you agree with the FSF's philosophy.
    I cannot possibly agree with that. The four freedoms do not elevate anyone to the position of demigod. It refers to no leader or even spokesperson. Nor should it, else it would lose all value and credibility. RMS's position in the Libre movement is a combination of convention, outspokenness and perhaps even duly earned respect, but it is not mandated by the four freedoms nor is it, in any other respect, statutory.

    RMS does not exemplify the Libre movement. I just might possibly agree that he is its self-appointed and generally acknowledged leader. I would more easily agree that he is that movement's primary spokesman. But he no more exemplifies that movement than Linus exemplifies Linux, or Shuttleworth exemplifies Ubuntu, or--to take it out of the software context--Jefferson exemplifies liberty. All secular movements outgrow their founders (if they are of any worth at all) and we ought not to indulge in hero-worship of them. To do so inflates the founder and diminishes the movement.

    And this concern is a valid one irrespective of our agreement or disagreement with the philosophy itself.
    Newb: How far must I jump to clear the ledge halfway down?
    Guru: It's bad to jump off cliffs. Let's look at better options.
    Newb: Stop harping about "best practices" and just tell me.


  9. #9
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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    We are not supposed to discuss religion or politics on this forum, are we. But philosophy is acceptable, is it not? But what if the philosophy has become a kind of religion to certain people? Or a kind of political ideology to them? Often people at one end of a spectrum call people at the other end of the spectrum extremists but both groups behave in exactly the same way. This is why there is a Ubuntu Code of Conduct. But when does it become a kind of "bible?"

    Let us just use the OS and be thankful for the work that has been done and that we benefit from. Regards.
    It is a machine. It is more stupid than we are. It will not stop us from doing stupid things.
    Ubuntu user #33,200. Linux user #530,530


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    Re: Politics of Free and Open Source

    Still not got around the completeling my rewrite of the article in the original post but I promise I'll do it soon. In the meantime however, I think that I may tentatively agree with DutchHook on one point, that to hero-worship an individual inflates the founder and diminishes the movement, but I really don't see much evidence of that in FOSS. Linus is a prominant head of the kernel team but I don't think he really inhibits GNU/Linux systems the way, say, Gates did with Windows. RMS is a very outspoken individual, and polarising too, but most people I've talked to that take issue with him, do so on his views and campaigns. I've not seen any evidence that RMS actually benefits personally from the campaigns himself, yes there could be an issue of ego, but it's hardly a position of power that he's elevating himself into. FOSS communities have a rare ability to promote or demote importance based on technical ability, RMS, as far as I'm aware, does not hold any power over practical matters due to anything except his technical ability, which is very much limited to particular technologies.

    The danger of hero-worship in movement classically affects cult of personalities and centralisation of power. The examples that spring to mind are Mao, Stalin etc. The distribution of effective power in FOSS is structually very difficult to centralise in the same way, the only real visible choke-point is the kernel team and Linus since no real viable alternative exists for the kernel. The restriction of Linus, by his own accord, to kernel matters neatly sidesteps that, and as I said, structurally the FOSS communities are not vunerable to this type of hero-worship anyway.

    But your criticisms of how I wrote the original article are valid, and in the second part, here, I have tried to avoid much of those mistakes.

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