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Thread: A third route to software freedom

  1. #1

    A third route to software freedom

    One of the most peculiar things that ever happened in the history of software is the dichotomy between user and developer. Of course this was meant (from a marketing perspective if nothing else) to make things easier for the user.

    It is easier to have everything done for you, unless you want to do something that isn't already done.

    So I can appreciate that not everyone wants to D-I-Y, but it's good to have the option. Whenever the software being created is FLOSS software, that option exists. Whenever the user is free, the option of developing that software further exists.

    This option is useful to users even if they don't want to D-I-Y because they are free to hire, or encourage or barter with other people to do the work for them. They are not just free to do this with the maintainers of the software, but anybody capable of maintaining the software. So even if one group is entirely uninterested in improving or changing something, someone else still can-- this option benefits everyone interested, whether they have the necessary skills or not.

    The original movement dedicated to providing these options to the user is known as Free Software. The second movement around providing these options is called Open Source.

    Free software is going to provide you with the "purest" freedom, in the "4 freedoms" sense. Open source will provide you with a mix of free and non-free software.

    Some of the mythology around Open Source is that it is "the same thing" as Free software. There is a great deal of overlap, but they are different approaches in terms of philosophy, in terms of process and in terms of licensing. Who you trust to be working for your goals instead of against them differs, depending on which of these things you belong to.

    When I first used Ubuntu in 2005, and when I stopped using Windows in 2007, I found that the politics or philosophy or goals of Open Source were easier to understand and easier to get on board with. Open source felt less "demanding" than Free software. I am certain this is a substantial part of its appeal.

    Either way, I still wanted freedom. I wanted software that gave me the rights that Free software works to guarantee. I am well aware (as is the FSF) that this goal is a moving target, because even as one category of application moves closer to being covered entirely by Free solutions, other categories come into existence. New solutions are also required for new hardware, etc.

    Free software tries to start at one end, and never add anything unless it is free. This ensures maximum "freedom" (per their definition of freedom) and limits "choices" and "solutions."

    Open Source starts at the other end, and encourages free software development from a "pragmatic" standpoint-- as a design methodology, rather than an ideology. But it maintains that it is basically the same thing as free software-- only better.

    My problem with Open Source is that while it promises similarity to free software, it doesn't get me where I want to go.

    I do not personally want non-free software. I can count on the free software movement to tell me when software is non-free, and they provide a route towards that goal, whether it is a route I want to take or not.

    Open source suggests that it is a different route to that goal, but (after years of gaining experience) I came up wanting. For a while, I switched from Ubuntu to Ubuntu-based Trisquel. A clincher was that the version of Trisquel I was using supported a new device I had that wasn't supported (yet) in Ubuntu. This was probably just down to a kernel version.

    By definition, Open source does promote a broader array of solutions than free software does. But I was discouraged from choosing libre options by Open source proponents on many occasions. In other words, if i was going to be purely "pragmatic" about what to use, based on the qualities of the software I was looking for, Open source was not the one-size-fits-all approach I hoped it would be.

    For a while I gained devotion towards free software, and I definitely care about the 4 freedoms.

    I can relate to at least some of the problems that Open source proponents have with the FSF. I think some of the problems people have with free software are actually strawman or ad hom, others are honest misunderstandings, though for me, the solution could be described (accurately or otherwise) as a hybrid of stronger Free-software-based goals and a more limited Open source methodology.

    In essence, it is a route to complete software freedom based on starting with Open source and moving with more deliberate purpose towards software freedom.

    The purpose of doing so isn't to cozy up to corporations, and it isn't to be lazy. Whether they are obvious about it or not, free software makes more accommodations for non-purity for the user (less for the developer) than people realise. Whether Open source truly promotes it or not, you can actually participate in "Open source" without developing or promoting non-free software.

    But let's acknowledge that for some, freedom is a priority. For some, freedom is a nice idea but they don't feel ready. And Open source gladly appeals to those, offering something "mostly free."

    How to get from "mostly free" to "more free" to "free" is a goal that I'm interested in working towards.

    Who will be interested in such a goal-- not everyone, I know that.

    But to make the idea at least technically accessible, here is one way to make that work:

    1. Start with freedom as a priority
    2. Fully acknowledge the limited skills of the average user
    3. Try to offer as much optional freedom (to everyone, not just experts) as possible
    4. Never fault someone for trying to become more free
    5. Have tools and websites devoted to these ideas

    I first used Ubuntu in 2005, but I have at least 15 years of experience with Free software and Open source.

    These five goals are not well covered by either the FSF or OSI (particularly #4 and #5, which I think is important) and so I offer this third option to the world, if anybody is interested.

    This is a third option because the first two promise something to everyone. I believe not everyone given those two routes to software freedom are fully satisfied. Open source doesn't offer me enough freedom, maybe in theory but not in practice-- and free software doesn't offer me enough choice. I could mention a number of things that dissatisfy me about the FSF, but either way, I no longer fund them.

    To give you a better idea of my own goals:

    1. improving computer education (particularly with free software)
    2. greater negative liberty: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_liberty
    3. greater (voluntary) promotion of libre options
    4. tools that give each user more power over their choices (more power than either free software or open source tools really offer now)
    5. promoting these options and goals

    If this sounds too vague, I think we need better tools that allow the user to remove non-free software. The FSF prefers the fully-free distro concept. Open source really promotes something closer to "anything goes."

    I would like a more responsible (but still optional) version of "anything goes." One that makes freedom a serious priority, but still makes the transition smoother than "Just use this distro that is completely unfamiliar and doesn't support your hardware."

    Trisquel really isn't that bad, for the record, but that isn't the point at all.

    I doubt this will appeal to the greatest number of people. Open source has the money and the sponsors and the fame. Free software has the "moral high ground." But if both of those leave you feeling unfulfilled--

    Let me know. I expect it will be a long time before this idea gets bigger. It isn't new, it is still growing. But very slowly.

    Happy Coding!
    Last edited by freemedia2018; 1 Week Ago at 08:13 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: A third route to software freedom

    I agree with the goals stated. However you can't honestly expect Mr Average Joe User to not use certain parts of their hardware because the hardware manufacturer doesn't open source the drivers. I believe in freedom as well but I refuse to inconvenience myself for it. And if you refuse anything that isn't free and completely open, then you might as well just give up because nearly every machine has some proprietary stuff in it. I think the linux ecosystem does well at promoting free alternatives, but it also provides closed stuff as needed.

    Lofty goals, but until you can convince most of the world to not use their wifi (for example) on their laptop or computers, then it can work. Until then, nothing more than a pipe dream.

  3. #3

    Re: A third route to software freedom

    Quote Originally Posted by Tadaen_Sylvermane View Post
    I agree with the goals stated.
    Cool!

    However you can't honestly expect Mr Average Joe User to not use certain parts of their hardware because the hardware manufacturer doesn't open source the drivers.
    Expect? No, you're right. Assist? Sometimes. It depends on the user, really. This is a situation where two sizes fits all better than one. Which doesn't mean that we are obligated to fit both sizes, unless we want to. I want to help people transition towards a fully free system, I also want to offer such a system for if and when they're ready.

    Where the FSF approach falls apart a little IMO, is they start with a system that can only be described as open source, because it has a deliberate mix of free and non-free software. Then they go to a lot of trouble to clean it, so they can offer a fully free system. And I'm fine with that. The thing that gets me is-- they don't do much to encourage people to move in that direction until they're "already there" and that isn't a clear goal for Open Source either.

    Rather than harass people into switching, I would say make tools that assist the user to become increasingly free. The FSF will say it's not that simple, (I know, because I've talked to them about it) but it comes down to this: The FSF may maintain the Free Software Definition, but they don't have a monopoly on how to get there. As an organisation they are wise to provide a route, but it's not the only route.

    And I believe (not just in a hypothetical way, but in a detailed, practical sense) that a group of people could do better in this regard that anything done so far. This only sounds hand-wavey and theoretical because of the presentation, I have a host of plans and a handful of tools available to those who feel up to the task.

    I believe in freedom as well but I refuse to inconvenience myself for it.
    I mean, you'll never get "freedom" that way. The most you'll get if you're unwilling to inconvenience yourself is "choice." It's a bit like freedom, it has some of the same advantages, but you'll find if you truly demand freedom that it is rarely as "convenient" as choice. If you "choose" choice, then that's your choice to make. But I think it's a bit either/or in reality, if you maximise freedom it will reduce your choices a bit-- if you maximise choice, it will reduce your freedom.

    Where I differ with the FSF is that I do want to encourage to people to "choose freedom" but I'm willing to give them a lot more leeway to make up their minds and choose it themselves-- I'm willing to start with choice as the starting point, which is also where Open Source starts.

    And if you refuse anything that isn't free and completely open, then you might as well just give up because nearly every machine has some proprietary stuff in it.
    You're definitely not wrong. All modern X86 equipment for example, has some serious freedom-related issues that are pretty much impossible to solve. If you care about freedom you might explain this patiently to anybody willing to listen. As I type this, I do it on a 64-bit X86 machine. I want to make alternatives to this a reality (at least I didn't purchase it new, thus increasing the profits for such a machine) but this isn't always about purity, it's about opening the market up to better alternatives-- we aren't there.

    One of my goals is to salvage hardware. Not all hardware-- some salvage just isn't worth the time or money, regardless of whether you are in it for environmental, economic or personal reasons. I hate for good hardware to go to waste. But I also don't really trust non-free stuff running in kernel space. So I know some people are going to do that, and I don't think censoring that is the answer (that's what the FSF does) but it's worth politely discouraging as a bad idea-- then people are going to decide for themselves. I want it to be a well-informed decision when they do.

    I think the linux ecosystem does well at promoting free alternatives, but it also provides closed stuff as needed.
    Sure, and I remember when I cared about that more. My priorities changed, and my definition of "needed" changed with it. People have told me that it's elitist to make decisions this way. When I was setting up desktops with Debian in the homeless shelter, no one cared if wifi was supported. It was cheaper at the time to use cables (buy them new and they're expensive, but they're not always hard to find as surplus or cheaper) than to invest in usb adapters that people could steal.

    But we both know that people are going to use non-free wifi drivers sometimes. It seems even more important to new users who just want to know that "Linux actually works."

    Lofty goals, but until you can convince most of the world to not use their wifi (for example) on their laptop or computers, then it can work. Until then, nothing more than a pipe dream.
    You're right, and I don't completely agree. Wifi and video are the classic examples, we are both familiar with how that works out in the real world. So taking that example, here's what someone dedicated to freedom would do if they want the most people getting away from mostly-non-free platforms:

    1. "We have a system that provides non-free support for more hardware than a fully-free system."

    2. "We also make it easier than ever to remove all non-free software from your machine."

    Open source focuses on point 1 and Free software focuses exclusively on point 2.

    I definitely lean on point 2. But since I know that lots of people are going to care more about point 1-- that's the group that Free software isn't going after. They're really just waiting for people to convert, rather than explore options.

    So a third way is a way to go after the pragmatic too, and offer everyone "fully-free" but in a way that says:

    "Alright-- we know you're going to use a non-free driver here or there. We are going to say why we think that's a bad idea. Then we will turn you loose to do whatever you're going to do. And if your interest in moving past that increases, we will offer tools to assist you in the goal of becoming more free."

    Where this becomes a real thing instead of just an idea, is that you can make tools that assist the user in making their own choices about this. Rather than promoting fully-free systems that are coaxed into fully-free status through the painstaking efforts of fully-free distro teams, this is about tools that put that libre-fying power into the hands of the user, rather than the distro maintainer.

    It's not either/or then. It's "You choose freedom at your own level of interest."

    Take the least-free /Linux distro you can think of, for starters-- and create a tool that transforms it into a distro where everything offers you the 4 freedoms.

    This means that it makes it trivial to replace or remove non-free parts. This increases both the freedom and the choice that the user has. While the FSF specialises in fully free, this gives you the option of becoming fully-free on the installment plan.

    Since the FSF can't possibly make every device free either, we are not entirely kidding ourselves when we say that all freedom is won "on the installment plan." It's a moving target, and rather than foist all this on the inexperienced user, I would say "let's put the choice of freedom in everyone's hands."

    The FSF has about zero investment in making non-free distros "more free." Personally, I have invested a few years in it. If nothing else, I think it would help Open source to make good on some of its older promises to users.

    I know I'm doing something right, as I've made even fully-free distros "more free." Once the FSF meets their own standards on this, they don't always push farther on something for years to come. There's only so much they can do. Sometimes, a dedicated user can do more about a serious problem than an organisation has time or resources for.

    Moving past a single organisation's take on freedom is part of it too. The FSF has a monopoly on their own direction, they are the arbiters of the Free Software Definition itself, but it's up to the user to decide how and when (and if) to make the approach.

    Obviously you can do this with Ubuntu, because Ubuntu is reused to provide both more freedom and more choice-- It provides more choice when people create derivatives and remixes. It provides more freedom when Trisquel removes all the non-free stuff.

    A project to make Ubuntu (and all other distros) more free, which is controlled less by an organisation but puts more power into the hands of users means you get Trisquel (or something more amazing than Trisquel) in whatever ratio of free-to-non-free you want. That's greater choice than people have ever had yet-- and with it, more freedom than the FSF has even tried to offer. The FSF rarely (only as an exception) offers you opportunities to make your own favourite distro more free.

    More freedom AND more choice for everybody. And I think if that grew, more people would choose to increase their freedom. That's so much nicer than if it is pushed on them all-or-nothing. Again, I feel this was an original promise of Open Source. OSI Co-founder Bruce Perens certainly thought so. But whether the idea makes good on that-- or just makes things better than ever, I have no preference which.
    Last edited by freemedia2018; 1 Week Ago at 03:59 AM.

  4. #4
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    Re: A third route to software freedom

    people don't seem to care if it's free or not but more if it works or not and if it does the job they want it to do. they are happy to sell their lives online as long as they get stuff for free. it doesn't matter what the OS or device is.

    on the other hand money and financing comes form companies. they make products for other companies as well as consumers. other companies would like that all stuff on their desktops works as it should. i can't imagine myself going around airport or hotel (many new hotels no longer have sockets for LAN) looking for a plug for the network cable because the OS is missing the wifi driver because that is how "free" i am... or asking to plug into socket when going to client for a meeting.

    the thing is if they made all driver opensource this problem would be non-existant. we already have good opensource software. the only thing that is missing now are the drivers.
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  5. #5

    Re: A third route to software freedom

    Quote Originally Posted by mastablasta View Post
    people don't seem to care if it's free or not
    Oh, some do. Many more don't. People advocating freedom have to find a way to appeal to what they do care about.

    but more if it works or not and if it does the job they want it to do.
    It helps to remind people that freedom is typically (not always, but more often) what makes that possible.

    they are happy to sell their lives online as long as they get stuff for free. it doesn't matter what the OS or device is.
    This is true of many people. Sometimes they will give something new a chance, even if it's something like Facebook, whcih is built on collecting way more information than people seem to get-- until it is abused, and then quite a few more people are ready to look for something better. Which doesn't make you wrong, it's more of a detail.

    Progress happens mostly in the exceptions to the rule you are of course right about.

    On the other hand money and financing comes form companies. they make products for other companies as well as consumers. other companies would like that all stuff on their desktops works as it should. i can't imagine myself going around airport or hotel (many new hotels no longer have sockets for LAN) looking for a plug for the network cable because the OS is missing the wifi driver because that is how "free" i am...
    Well, no. For those dedicated to freedom there are a handful of other solutions in that situation. The simplest is a compatible usb adapter. Note I said "for those dedicated to freedom." We both know a lot more will say "hey, just make the builtin adapter work. I don't care how."

    Though people do move past that sometimes.

    the thing is if they made all driver opensource this problem would be non-existant. we already have good opensource software.
    Vendors ultimately won't respond without economic influence on their bottom line. If people aren't creating a substantial market for hardware with free drivers, there won't be much in the way of hardware with free drivers.

    Ultimately I think we will need free-as-in-freedom hardware (truly in its infancy) and that will come with free/open drivers. Some of the biggest problems are how much harder it is to create free hardware. Though it will help create the market that results in more free/open drivers, and that's something to be hopeful about. (It will take years or decades, obviously.)
    Last edited by freemedia2018; 1 Week Ago at 12:05 PM. Reason: typo fix

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    Re: A third route to software freedom

    Seems to me the dichotomy between users and developers is down to the expertise and experience required to be a developer. Rather like the dichotomy between an airline passenger and an aerospace engineer.

  7. #7

    Re: A third route to software freedom

    Quote Originally Posted by lostmoonofsaturn View Post
    Rather like the dichotomy between an airline passenger and an aerospace engineer.
    More like the dichotomy between a kid sitting in a wagon and a kid riding a bicycle, but I guess it depends on what you're developing.

    Some projects are definitely designed for spacecraft, Debian included. But who said we were only talking about the most complicated stuff?

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    Re: A third route to software freedom

    Quote Originally Posted by freemedia2018 View Post
    Ultimately I think we will need free-as-in-freedom hardware (truly in its infancy) and that will come with free/open drivers. Some of the biggest problems are how much harder it is to create free hardware. Though it will help create the market that results in more free/open drivers, and that's something to be hopeful about. (It will take years or decades, obviously.)

    how could the company benefit form developing "opensource" hardware & software?

    intel, samsung, AMD, LG, Asus, Acer, HP - all in one way or another huge supporters of Linux and opensource software. it is bringing them money. but they sell hardware. if they open that, you would see a flood of copies or lookalikes likely with origin from China. even with closed source development, their tech somehow trickles down to manufacturers which is sometimes good because you can get descent smartphones for less than 100 EUR.
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  9. #9

    Re: A third route to software freedom

    intel, samsung, AMD, LG, Asus, Acer, HP - all in one way or another huge supporters of Linux and opensource software.
    Some of these companies do extremely unethical things to their users. I don't mean they have some non-free software, I mean they hurt their customers freedom in more traditional ways.

    My ideal is not anti-business, or anticapitalist. It is anti-monopoly. So it's certainly going to clash with any ideal that is sympathetic to monopolies-- I am unsympathetic.

    Take Microsoft for example. They are being forced to find a way to navigate a future that has free software in it. Does it bother me? Not at all. Microsoft has a long history of buying up companies that produced better software than their own. An example from way back is Central Point, who made a really excellent anti-virus suite for DOS. Microsoft purchased them, turned their product into Microsoft anti-virus, and eventually killed it off.

    Open source rarely sheds a tear for companies that are shuttered by the efforts of tech giants, they paint it as a triumph. So when the giants themselves lose money over our own innovation, that doesn't bother me.

    But I don't want to miss your point-- you are really (I think) asking about the sustainability of the business sector, not individual companies. And the answer is "by making hardware."

    Making hardware is a huge investment. The hardware ecosystem works completely differently than the software one. When you purchase hardware-- whether the design is libre or not, companies are investing land, energy and material resources into producing your hardware.

    The simple answer to your question "how will they make money" is "by selling hardware."

    Until we can 3D print all our electronics, at least (a bit farther off than some tech idealists might project) we still need expensive companies with expensive equipment (and access to a variety of other companies) to produce these designs.

    And the designs are a lot more work to produce and make happen than with software-- so the "takeover" of hardware is going to take decades, probably longer than Free software and Open source have taken to get this far (1984-2018, a little over 30 years.)

    how could the company benefit form developing "opensource" hardware & software?
    Since there is probably less benefit in producing free hardware designs, the money would be in manufacturing, more than design. At a guess, "non-free hardware" will be ahead of the game for a long time.

    intel, samsung, AMD, LG, Asus, Acer, HP - all in one way or another huge supporters of Linux and opensource software. it is bringing them money. but they sell hardware. if they open that, you would see a flood of copies or lookalikes likely with origin from China. even with closed source development, their tech somehow trickles down to manufacturers which is sometimes good because you can get descent smartphones for less than 100 EUR.
    You're probably not taking into account the idea that Free/Open hardware is going to happen, and it's going to take a long time. I have tried to answer your question, but part of the problem with your question is that it implies some assumptions that may not be relevant when any of this actually happens.

    Intel, Samsung and LG are probably going to be around for a long time. Asus is extremely innovative. HP does some really interesting research.

    I'm not sure AMD will be around forever, Acer is probably going to get bought and won't necessarily exist. I'm not always right but when Microsoft purchased Github I said "they'll buy Red Hat next."

    I didn't think it would be in a few months, and I didn't think it would be IBM. But I was really close.

    Red Hat is the largest Open Source company that started as an Open Source company. They are intertwined in the history of Open Source. Now they're IBM.

    When asking questions like yours, don't forget that The future is a strange place. Some things that sound crazy right now, really aren't at all.

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