The uses of tribal cohesion

One of my regulars has expressed mildly disgruntlement about the degree to which a feeling of mutual tribal solidarity has taken hold among hackers, and become an increasingly defining characteristic of them. He finds it creepy – he didn’t use the phrase “disquieting groupthink”, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking something like it.

“You are, I regret to say, partly a victim of my social engineering…” I said to him, and promised to explain that. Yes, what he’s reacting against is in significant part my doing, and I did it for specific reasons, and it had the results I intended. This does not mean all the consequences were unmitigatedly good – sociocultural engineering, like other kinds, is a matter of tradeoffs under constraint. Explanation in more detail follows.

When I began working on the Jargon File in 1990, the hacker culture was probably no more than 1% of its current size – the population explosions that would follow from Linux and the mainstreaming of open source had yet to occur.

But as importantly, the culture was far more diffuse and less coherent. Partly this was because the Internet was still an expensive laboratory artifact with relatively few nodes, and access to those quite difficult unless you happened to have some connection to a handful of university laboratories.

But there was another factor, a subtler and more psychological one. Hackers of that day identified less with the hacker culture in general and more with specific projects or institutions – languages like Perl, operating-system communities like those around Unix or ITS, various university labs, the Free Software Foundation, and so forth. It’s not that something more like today’s tribal solidarity was completely nonexistent, but it tended to matter only among a small hard core of the most senior people in the culture. The term ‘hacker’ itself was not then in nearly as wide use among the sort of people who would (correctly) apply it to each other today.

By 1990-1991 I had decided this was a bug that needed to be fixed. My reasons were quite specific: crypto-export regulations, the proposals which culminated in the Clipper chip of 1993-1996, and various now-forgotten legislative rumblings which were eventually to culminate in the Communications Decency Act of 1996. From 1987 onward I had been aware of gradually increasing political pressures in the direction of locking down software and networks. Serious threats to liberty were, if not yet directly present, at least looming on the horizon.

The problem I saw was that the one group of people with the most to lose and the best basis of knowledge from which to push back didn’t have enough group cohesiveness to cooperate on that project. The EFF and the Free Software Foundation already existed (the EFF just barely, having been formed in 1990), but were sort of floating in midair without much of a grass-roots culture to back them up.

And…I suspected I had a potential handle on these problems! When I was giving interviews around the publication of the first edition of the New Hacker’s Dictionary, I was quite explicit about my political motives. I said that I thought the legislative climate was growing dangerous and that the public image around the term ‘hacker’ needed to be fixed, and that the book was in part an attempt to attract and amuse lots of non-hackers so we’d have allies outside our tiny group of technologists. (And that worked, by the way, especially among journalists and other wordsmiths.)

What I didn’t talk about so much – though it was hardly hidden from anyone paying attention to what I was doing and saying – was that I was also consciously attempting to re-engineer the hacker culture itself in the specific direction of (a) greater group cohesiveness, and (b) greater ability to infect others with its primary memes. Because that was what I thought it needed to become a political interest group with the ability to head off some of the crap I saw coming.

The Jargon File was a powerful instrument towards this end. By propagating a shared language and a quasi-mythologized history of the culture it created a sort of attractive memetic template to which people could choose to assimilate themselves. Each individual act of self-identification – each moment of “Cool! I want to be a hacker!” – or, just as commonly, “Huh. Guess I’m a hacker. Who knew?” – was an increment of social power for the culture I was trying to strengthen.

Entertainingly, I had no inkling at all that I would come to be perceived as a leader of that culture. That possibility never even occurred to me until I was asked to referree at the Free Software Conference in 1996. No. I was doing what I thought needed to be done because the entire context within which I wanted to work and play seemed threatened. For exactly the same reason, I stepped up and qualified to become an individual amicus curia in the Supreme Court fight against the CDA in 1996.

Nor did I did at that time have any clue that I would be committing far more visible acts of memetic engineering after 1997. But the “open source” thing was perfectly continuous with my earlier efforts. Here, finally, was the missing piece – the locus of identification powerful enough to pull together the entire culture and overshadow older loyalties to individual subtribes almost completely (well, bar a handful in the FSF’s frothing-fundamentalist wing, but that was an acceptable tradeoff).

Today, we live in a world where the Clipper chip is dead, the crypto-export restrictions likewise, and the CDA not only gone but that whole line of thinking a discredited laughingstock. Did the changes I engineered contribute significantly to that? In principle it’s difficult to know. But I think so.

I am rather more sure that they were essential tooling-up for a development I could not foresee at the time – the mainstreaming of open source after 1997. To meet that challenge, our culture needed the ability to grow its numbers and assert its norms and values at unprecedented scale. It’s a commonplace to note that my specific propaganda about open source helped it do that. What’s easy to miss, unless you’ve been paying close attention with the right sort of analytical perspective, is that my earlier work on making the hacker culture more cohesive and infective was also important. If we’d tried to meet post-1997 conditions with the more fragile constellation of in-group loyalties and the more limited ability to recruit bright proto-hackers we had had before I started to work the problem…well, maybe we’d have coped OK. Maybe. But it’s just as well that contingency was never tested. Gives me some willies thinking about it.

Now I want to flip the perspective on this account. Instead of seeing this story as something “ESR” did, I want to invite you to see it as something the evolving set of memes that is hacker culture did using just this guy Eric as an instrument, and creating “ESR” in the process. Because that is, in fact, how I see it. None of this was me sitting in a mad-scientist castle going “Bwahaha! The fools! I shall cunningly manipulate them all!” No. My awareness of what I was doing co-evolved with the hack in progress. I was responding organically, as a member of a nascent culture that was doing its damnedest to self-assemble out of preexisting materials and wake up. Because it was time.

What made it time was not merely the sense of political threat that was directly motivating me in the early 1990s, but a lot of stuff that was going on in the larger technological and social context. The exhaustion of various attempts to grapple with the software complexity problem. The plunging price of computers and the emergence of the Internet – the very possibility of dispersed online communities of interest…do I have really have to rehearse all those factors now, in 2010?

Cultures – collections of linked memetic programs running in the minds of humans – evolve under selective pressure just as species do. Sometimes they adaptively radiate; sometimes they adapt by developing more complex, denser organization. And as I was reshaping the hacker culture, the hacker culture was reshaping me – indeed, that process had begun years sooner in the late 1970s. The Jargon File wasn’t something I invented, it was something true that I lifted into a larger context; it made me as much as much as I made it. It’s like the Escher print of the hand drawing the hand drawing the hand; there’s no place the causal loop actually stops, no place to say “here it began”.

Twenty years later I’m pretty pleased with the results of the hack. I don’t kid myself that they were all positive, though. Well before 1996 I anticipated two negative ones. My complaining regular has neatly fingered the more serious of them.

Posers. I knew we’d get more posers. Any time a subculture increases in infectivity and prestige, you get an influx of people who want to talk the talk, but are unwilling or unable to walk the walk. And lo, it did come to pass. But, as I anticipated, that was an easily manageable problem. Really no more than a very minor irritation.

The more serious problem is that creepy groupthink follows naturally in the wake of tribal solidarity. Even if you don’t actually get all the way to creepy groupthink, a shift towards greater tribal solidarity implies that there’s some cohort of extreme individualists for which the culture will become an uncomfortable place.

After I wrote the above, my wife read it and said “Um, would that include you?” I thought about it for a moment and replied “Dunno. If I weren’t a pack alpha, maybe.” But on reflection, no. Hacker culture would have to become more groupthinky than I think is within the plausible envelope of outcomes before I’d be creeped out. I’ve done what I can to keep the possibility distant by never even trying to modulate my own thorny individualism and contrarianism, by utterly refusing to fear offending anyone with my guns or my libertarianism or my Heinlein quotes.

That’s all me, it’s all true, but it’s also part of the hack. It’s me demonstrating that a true hacker never bends his core values and his commitment to the best in himself under mere social pressure – that we may have become a tribe, but that doesn’t mean we ever have to let creepy groupthink win.

292 thoughts on “The uses of tribal cohesion

  1. >Have you read this essay by Eliezer Yudkowsky discussing the dangers of excessive opposition to groupthink?

    Hadn’t before. It’s brilliant. I hope other commenters will read it before hitting their keyboards.

    Of course, you could see what I was doing as exactly an attempt to thread the needle Eliezer was describing. I think he would.

  2. So, how does “But I shall not let my beloved computing environment ever run a piece of software from Redmond, for Lo, it is Evil Incarnate, and any non-random collection of bits that might execute from the Dreaded Land of Redmond are suspect!” fall on the ‘creepy groupthink’ spectrum?

    Watching Patrick, Morgan and Jessica go about it, the ones that seemed engaged in creepy groupthink are the ones disparaging Windows.

  3. > Watching Patrick, Morgan and Jessica go about it, the ones that seemed engaged in creepy groupthink are the ones disparaging Windows.

    Fanboiism goes all ways. I personally have a Windows XP box (literally named “wintendo”) that I use to play some games, but I’m not about to risk serious business systems on technologies with the combination of lockin and demonstrated user hostility that Microsoft has. As a consultant, even where I recommend Cisco network setups I preach strongly against using proprietary features that will limit the client’s flexibility to choose different products in addition to or instead of Cisco’s.

  4. Going purely by your writing as I have never met you in person, I think part of your influence within the open source movement and hacker culture is that you are able to make seemingly outrageous statements/claims in a language couched with a mixture of both a confident uncompromising rough and tough atttitude and a disarming self-modesty all at once without (figuratively speaking) batting an eyelid, further inducing people respond to that whether in agreement or strong disagreement. I would imagine most successful political propagandists share this attribute. I am not saying that you are only a propagandist as you are more than that, but at least the outward ESR persona has strong traces of this. Maybe that’s why you are perceived as a leader of sorts.

    In short, you have a certain broader political instinct in whatever you write. There is a sense I get that you shape your words to suit the purpose. I don’t know whether you take that as a compliment or not but it certainly attracts people to pay attention and respond either positively or negatively strongly in most cases. You cannot win battles by appealing only to logic and reason. Emotion also plays a role here and you manage to evoke emotions strongly. Adding a wide range of knowledge to this is a potent weapon.

    Now about whether you really had that much of an influence in the broader Hacker culture (as opposed to the open source movement specifically) as you claim is something I cannot figure out or comment on since I don’t have enough background historical information. I also suspect that it is not so easily measurable.

  5. There’s a “United Way” advert that plays on the radio quite regularly. It’s a narrative piece backed by a simple harmony and vocalized motif – “Weeeeee belong” – that sounds horrifyingly like propaganda from a brainwashed, drugged-up commie-cult…actually, it might just be ;) It creeps me out every time I hear it.

    Sometimes, listening/reading about ‘hackers’ creeps me like that.

    But yes, however responsible ESR is for the change, the benefits of ‘reifying’ the hacker culture greatly outweigh my discomfort.

  6. Actually, ESR, for people like you, I suspect there’s a phenomenon that enables you to escape the creepiness of socio-cultural ‘groupthink’ pressures that is somewhat akin to breaking the sound barrier.

  7. Unfortunately, I do think hacker culture is remarkably groupthinky in one area, though not as much as it was before you took a direct hand: I find rabid Stallmanism entirely too prevalent. As someone who opposed the GPL and the ideals it attempts to force on others since is inception, the degree to which those in the culture espouse Stallmanite ideals is severely uncomfortable to me. That goes, especially, for those who spend their larval stage among Stallmanites and draw from that experience the belief that, in order to be a hacker, one must necessarily be a Stallmanite.

    My larval stage was spent mostly alone or as part of a very small group, and then doing something most hackers would shrink in horror from: I hacked on IBM mainframes, finding my hacker chops deep within the guts of MVS. Whatever you might think of the environment, to me it was a nice fast machine I could hack on and make things better, not just for a few (as the world of microcomputers had led me to think was all that was possible), but for an entire enterprise. The latter is key: computers should serve not just hackers, but the average user, well.

    This, and my long time in the heart of the corporate world, and my political leanings, all predispose me to oppose the anti-corporate groupthink that lies at the very core of Stallmanism. A Stallmanite world is inherently, deliberately inimical to the kind of work I’d been doing my entire career, raising to the level of supreme sublime truth the idea that a programmer should not be able to sell his own programs and prevent his customers from yanking his market out from underneath him.

    The groupthink here can easily be observed, for example, over at Groklaw. Dare to challenge the Stallmanite world, and you’re immediately attacked for anything and everything, including having your counterarguments censored and, eventually, being thrown off the site.

    Because I oppose this bit of groupthink, I am ostracized from some parts of the hacker tribe. I do take comfort in that Stallmanism isn’t as ascendant now as it was in 1994 or so, but I despair that that condition may reverse itself: just as institutes of education are dominated by the hard left, working actively to create New Leftist Men even when the world has largely rejected their groupthink, so too are the less formal institutions of hacker education infested heavily with Stallmanites working hard to create New Stallmanite Hackers – and to try to take over a world that has, in no small part, rejected their ideals.

  8. @Jay Maynard
    Why do you think RMS or the FSF are anti-enterprise?

    I can explain RMS’ words and actions as rabiate anti-censorship, with software as speech. It is just that evil people prefer to organize as companies these days.

    I could argue that there is more to life than software. But that is his choice.

  9. @Ken Burnside
    In the case of Windows vs. Linux, the effects of groupthink are amplified, by the fact that which one is superior depends very much on peoples particular circumstances. It is quite easy to have 2 people argue about it and both be right because they are looking at it through the lens of their particular circumstances. The term ‘Religious Issues’ comes to mind.

    > Flaming for or against Windows on this thread should stop right now. Thank you.
    Arguing that you say this to enforce ‘creepy groupthink’ would probably be a good way of starting a flame war. Fortunately I am not inclined to try.

  10. Now I want to flip the perspective on this account. Instead of seeing this story as something “ESR” did, I want to invite you to see it as something the evolving set of memes that is hacker culture did using just this guy Eric as an instrument, and creating “ESR” in the process. Because that is, in fact, how I see it. None of this was me sitting in a mad-scientist castle going “Bwahaha! The fools! I shall cunningly manipulate them all!” No. My awareness of what I was doing co-evolved with the hack in progress. I was responding organically, as a member of a nascent culture that was doing its damnedest to self-assemble out of preexisting materials and wake up. Because it was time.

    In other words, in the terms of the chaos mages, “hackerness” is an egregore.

    Indeed, in some ways, once bootstrapped the hacker-culture organism took charge of its own continued evolution and resisted even your further attempts to influence it.

    I’ve noticed a parallel development in a group that intersects significantly with hackerdom: people with Asperger’s syndrome. Very quickly after AS received wide media attention, “aspies” started forming advocacy groups and concocting mythologies to explain their condition and role: they are really mutants from X-Men, or their ancestors came from a lost continent called Aspergia, etc. Then there were the less positive second-order effects: the self-diagnosers, the people who thought their condition excused unacceptable behavior, and what I like to call “Asperglurge”, smarmy fiction that romanticizes the condition and glosses over the really difficult parts.

    To me, the really powerful appeal of both hacker culture and Asperger communities for their members and potential members is that there is a name for what you are; and although for all of your life you’ve been singled out for your differences, there are other people like you who can even be successful and cultivate deep relationships of mutual respect with others. Even if you are a loner, being utterly alone is terrifying.

  11. Why do you think RMS or the FSF are anti-enterprise?

    That’s a natural consequence of the Stallmanite ideal of the lone wolf hacker, coding away in a basement somewhere for the pure love of doing it, living ascetically, disdaining any attempt to actually earn money from the fruits of his labors, instead choosing to give it all away for the joy of hacking and the freedom of his users.

    Corporations that make and sell software are purest evil to the Stallmanite worldview, not because they are corporations and thus evil (as the common cant of the Left argues), but because they deprive people of the holy Four Freedoms. They ignore all the while – if they do not actively embrace – the fact that the Four Freedoms boil down to “from each programmer according to his abilities, to each user according to his needs”. We all know how well that works in the real world.

    Stallmanism, taken to its natural conclusion, would mean the death of software companies large and small, and the destruction of vast swaths of fortune and the livelihoods of millions. That wouldn’t bother RMS in the slightest; it would just mean that more programmers would live the life he does.

  12. Jay Maynard
    “That’s a natural consequence of the Stallmanite ideal of the lone wolf hacker, coding away in a basement somewhere for the pure love of doing it, living ascetically, disdaining any attempt to actually earn money from the fruits of his labors, instead choosing to give it all away for the joy of hacking and the freedom of his users.”

    So you say Stallmanism has nothing to do with the words of Stallman? Because nothing you write has been said by RMS. And I cannot remember Stallman saying he refuses to work with companies.

    What you write is about a karikature of FLOSS. It would apply equally well on ESR as RMS.

  13. @Eric:

    Now I want to flip the perspective on this account. Instead of seeing this story as something “ESR” did, I want to invite you to see it as something the evolving set of memes that is hacker culture did using just this guy Eric as an instrument, and creating “ESR” in the process.

    I think I implicitly grokked that when I started participating here, but it’s good to see that you explicitly believe it as well.

    @Jay:

    The quote from Eric above is equally (if not more) applicable to RMS. If he didn’t exist, we would have had to invent him. The fact that the focus on him now is often counterproductive is an unfortunate side-effect of the fact that the focus on him was probably desperately needed by the “joiners” a couple of decades ago. You just can’t get all that worked up over, for example, the BSD license. Sure, there’s a small epiphany and a little excitement there — “Oh, you’re letting me do whatever I want with this? Really? That’s cool! Thanks!” but that’s not enough to form a cult, and for all the reasons that Eric mentioned and more, humanity probably needed the cult to form at that point in order to get to this point.

    @Rolf:

    At the risk of going against type, I have to say that’s an awesome essay you pointed us to!

    @Ken:

    One of the things I really like about this blog is that your post is still here for me to read this morning. To paraphrase an old OpenBSD T-shirt I have (which of course was a riff on the project triangle) –

    ESR’s “Armed and Dangerous”:
    - Strong opinions
    - Continual challenges to those opinions
    - Thoughtful discourse
    - High SNR
    Pick four!

    Slashdot has an interesting technique of letting you browse at different mod levels, so you can move a coarse slider around to vary the ratio of challenges vs. discourse vs. SNR, but since the slider only has a single degree of freedom, it’s not a perfect solution. Groklaw suppresses comments to raise the SNR, but this also removes the continual challenges and some of the thoughtful discourse. (At least some of the thoughtful discourse, quantity unknowable but probably small, is directly removed; other thoughtful discourse simply never is posted because whenever censorship happens, people will self-censor.)

    So, for discussions on several of the topics I am interested in, Eric has definitely managed to hit the sweet spot on the way he manages his blog. BTW, (hopefully this doesn’t qualify as a flame) whatever strong opinions I have about Microsoft and Windows come from a completely different perspective than some of the others here. I used to live and breathe Windows. Among other things, I was the project lead on the Windows 3.1 driver for the ATI Mach 64, although I left ATI shortly after the product launch in the spring of 94. So, if you see me flailing away on the MS/Windows category, just remember that I am the software equivalent of a reformed smoker.

  14. Unfortunately, I do think hacker culture is remarkably groupthinky in one area, though not as much as it was before you took a direct hand: I find rabid Stallmanism entirely too prevalent.

    As someone who first gained experience with non-toy computing and programming around the time that the memetic shift to “open source” was in full swing, I agree entirely that ESR deserves much of the credit for moderating the one-sided ideological bent of the FSF. I do believe, though, that the pragmatic mentality of the “open-source” viewpoint has a large place for the (L)GPL.

    Like most here, I find computers and software an engaging interest and hobby in themselves, but my customers aren’t interested in ideology or even technology itself; to them, computing is simply a tool to get $REAL_JOB done. To that extent, the GPL acts as an insurance policy in many business situations; consider MySQL, where Oracle has recently decided to demand annual per-CPU licenses for InnoDB. Because most of the codebase was GPL’d, Maria and other projects ensure that a business that started keeping critical data in MySQL can migrate cleanly.

    I’m also entirely in favor of having the BSD license available as an option for developers like you, Jay, who want to make their code available to closed commercial codebases and understand the implications of that decision. However, as I mentioned earlier (where I wasn’t intending to pick a flamewar), closed systems represent a lockin risk to businesses, which sometimes may be worth the other benefits provided by the system, and the mere existence of a substitute GPL product can pressure a closed-source vendor not to push too far. All these economic considerations are critical for those who simply want to use technology to get work done, and I believe the OSD represented a major step forward in weighing these issues from a pragmatic standpoint.

  15. @Winter:

    “That’s a natural consequence of the Stallmanite ideal of the lone wolf hacker, coding away in a basement somewhere for the pure love of doing it, living ascetically, disdaining any attempt to actually earn money from the fruits of his labors, instead choosing to give it all away for the joy of hacking and the freedom of his users.”

    So you say Stallmanism has nothing to do with the words of Stallman? Because nothing you write has been said by RMS. And I cannot remember Stallman saying he refuses to work with companies.

    What you write is about a karikature of FLOSS. It would apply equally well on ESR as RMS.

    Let’s deconstruct this. If you boil it down, Jay’s basically saying that Stallman says that freedom for all software (for which, of course, he made up his own definition) is more important than any material considerations, and that if someone wants to program, they should do it for other reasons than trying to make a lot of money.

    Hmmm, where have I seen that thought before? Maybe here:


    “Won’t programmers starve?”

    I could answer that nobody is forced to be a programmer. Most of us cannot manage to get any money for standing on the street and making faces. But we are not, as a result, condemned to spend our lives standing on the street making faces, and starving. We do something else.

    But that is the wrong answer because it accepts the questioner’s implicit assumption: that without ownership of software, programmers cannot possibly be paid a cent. Supposedly it is all or nothing.

    The real reason programmers will not starve is that it will still be possible for them to get paid for programming; just not paid as much as now.

    Or maybe it was here:

    How do you see proprietary software businesses making a profit?

    That’s unethical, they shouldn’t be making any money. I hope to see all proprietary software wiped out. That’s what I aim for. That would be a World in which our freedom is respected. A proprietary program is a program that is not free. That is to say, a program that does respect the user’s essential rights. That’s evil. A proprietary program is part of a predatory scheme where people who don’t value their freedom are drawn into giving it up in order to gain some kind of practical convenience. And then once they’re there, it’s harder and harder to get out. Our goal is to rescue people from this.

    Now, you can argue (possibly even with a small measure of success) that what Jay said was closer to a caricature of this, rather than a paraphrasing of this, but even if so, the creation of the caricature was quite easily done (especially when the Stallman scene a faire includes references to personal hygiene and reclusiveness). Perhaps your argument is that, because it is so easily done, it shouldn’t be, but you can’t be taken seriously if you are trying to claim that Eric’s writings are nearly as amenable to this exact same caricature.

  16. @patrick maupan
    Read carefully. RMS never says you should not make a billion. Red Head is expected to do this shortly.

    RMS is asked whether you are allowed to limit user’s freedom to make money.

    He says there is NO excuse to limit the freedom of any user.

    Replace software with speech and copyright restrictions (proprietary) with censorship and you get the feeling. If you need censorship to make money and forbid other people to speak, go do something else for a living.

    I agree with him on this.

  17. @Winter:

    Replace software with speech and copyright restrictions (proprietary) with censorship and you get the feeling. If you need censorship to make money and forbid other people to speak, go do something else for a living.

    That’s a terrible analogy, unless you also think that a book author using copyright to keep unlicensed publishers from printing unauthorized copies is also censorship.

  18. All must recite the mantra of Stallman! Recite and be pure! Recite and be true!

    I’m breaking out in hives just contemplating his horseshit. *shiver*

  19. @Patrick Maupin
    “That’s a terrible analogy, unless you also think that a book author using copyright to keep unlicensed publishers from printing unauthorized copies is also censorship.”

    Yes, as all analogies, it will break down eventually. I was using the word “speech” with a reason. But if you prefer, use mathematics io speech.

  20. @Winter:

    Yes, as all analogies, it will break down eventually. I was using the word “speech” with a reason. But if you prefer, use mathematics io speech.

    Break down eventually? It didn’t even make it out the driveway. But at least it was just a bad analogy. If you are now claiming that proprietary software publishers are somehow censoring mathematics, that veers into Wolfgang Pauli territory.

  21. @Patrick Maupin

    If RMS sees software as equivalent to speech or mathematics and you do not, so what?

    RMS can give very convincing arguments for his view. Can you?

  22. Tribes that include radical individualism in their memetic DNA have some recursive protection against the more totalitarian consequences of groupthink.

  23. @Ken Burnside:

    Watching Patrick, Morgan and Jessica go about it, the ones that seemed engaged in creepy groupthink are the ones disparaging Windows.

    I must take exception here, Ken. I haven’t disparaged Windows one bit. I made one comment — admittedly only half jokingly — about Visual Studio. Go back and read what I actually wrote. At least part of my livelihood has depended on Windows in one way or another over the past 15 years, though, as you can guess, my areas of specialty revolve around Unix systems engineering. There are very few, if any, all-Unix shops so whenever I’m working, I have to deal with the realities of that mixed environment, including dealing directly with Windows servers and Windows clients.

    I do constantly evaluate my own opinions to see if I’m falling victim to groupthink. For example, my opinions regarding Visual Studio might seem like they’re influenced by the hacker/geek community, but they are borne out of actual frustration with using that particular tool — at it’s root is an actual frustration with Microsoft’s development tools that go back to my days of using DOS and BBSes and yes — even WIndows.

  24. @Winter

    If RMS sees software as equivalent to speech or mathematics and you do not, so what?

    I don’t recall writing that I don’t think there is any equivalence between software and speech or math. I was conspicuously silent on that subject. For somebody who admonishes others to read carefully, you’ve missed a few subtleties here.

    RMS can give very convincing arguments for his view. Can you?

    No, I’m sure I won’t be able to convince you of anything on this issue. You’re a smart guy, and all, but this is a religious issue, and those are intractable.

    Dan probably felt similarly, because he made a very short post. Your reply to him (“Nice to see you judge RMS’ words on their own merits”) substantially implies that in your opinion, he could not possibly have reached the conclusion that gives him this visceral reaction via any rational process. I, however, can fully understand how Dan got there.

    But for the sake of not giving short, flippant, non-arguments like you or Dan, I will tell you one thing that bugs me about RMS’s position. (There are other things, but I won’t bother with them now, and I will just agree to disagree about of them.)

    If you hand RMS a piece of equipment that contains replaceable compiled firmware, he will tell you that you are evil unless you give him the wherewithal to modify that firmware to suit his own tastes. But he specifically states that this is not a requirement if you don’t hand him the piece of equipment. If you just use it in your own lab, you can hide it away from the world, and use it to build other things (even other things that you sell out into the world!) and never tell anybody about it. He also doesn’t seem to think that it’s a problem if you don’t tell him the secret of how you machined the box or built the chips inside it.

    The act of writing software is very accessible. These days, anybody with a computer with a web browser that supports javascript can start programming, if that’s what they want to do. This very accessibility means that it is relatively easy for groups of humans to collaborate and build huge software systems. The act of replicating a huge software system by writing an equivalent system will typically take roughly the same amount of labor as it took to build the original system, and it is natural for people to think “Hey, this is cool! But I just want to make this little tweak, and I could if you just give me the source code!”

    The question is, is it a moral imperative for them to supply you the source code, and if so, why?

    If, for example, it is a moral imperative to transfer technology that is required to live well, and life is about combating those evil people who don’t tell the world how they do things or don’t let the world do the same things they do (which, BTW, IMHO is a fairly reasonable religious perspective), he is focusing on the single area that requires the least investment to level the playing field — software that is freely available for examination. I mean, sure, you may not have the source code to your favorite Windows app, but you can see what it does, and it’s extremely easy to write something that will mimic the behavior of that kind of software 99% of the time, and for the other 1%, disassemblers can tell you exactly how the other software operates. Not only that, but software collaboration is the technical task that’s easiest to distribute across the internet.

    Note that things (like the advent of the internet) have changed a bit since the late 80s, which is one of the reasons that I postulated previously that we would have invented RMS if he didn’t exist back then. But even back then, the reality is that Stallman wanted source code because he wanted to do cool things with it because it was much easier to get a good return on his time investment by making incremental improvements to somebody else’s code than it would have been to start from scratch. If I give you a hand-blown glass vase, you don’t necessarily expect me to give you the recipe for the glass. Stallman seems to think that software is special, because everybody has their own kiln, so to speak, so of course it would be evil to give them a nice vase without the recipe that would allow them to make their own customized versions and hand them to other people.

    In rationalizing this dichotomy, a popular argument is that software is different because it’s not physical; because when I hand you a copy of a program I have not deprived myself of that same program. But the zero reproduction cost of the object code is shared with the zero reproduction cost of music or videos or ebooks, and the zero reproduction cost of the source code is shared with the zero reproduction cost of a lot of other industrial recipes — chip designs, for example.

    In fact, Stallman’s statement in the original Gnu Manifesto “I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it” is today being applied day-in and day-out by more people around the globe on music and entertainment than it is on software. That was the primary moral statement in the Gnu Manifesto, but on careful reading, that doesn’t really have anything to do with source code. The portions of the Manifesto dealing with source code appeal more to economics than to morality. It was only later that the source code issue was codified as a moral issue as well.

    But, if it’s morally unacceptable for a company to give me software without source code, why is it morally acceptable for a company to sell me a gadget without schematics? Why is it morally acceptable for a company to sell me drill bits without the metallurgical recipe so I can replace one when it breaks? As I mentioned earlier, I can accept that someone would think all these are immoral. But if you think they are all immoral, why focus (with the sort of intensity that creates life-long enemies) on the one issue here that matters the least?

  25. RMS’s ravings have always struck me as being an Asperger’s monomaniacal focus on socialism.

    His definition of ‘user’ is “anyone who can use the ‘make’ command.”

    It pretty thoroughly excludes the vast majority of people who see computers as tools to get a $REAL_JOB done, not an avocation.

    This has been my longstanding critique of the OSS movement. With a very small handful of exceptions, OSS software regards usability for non-geeks to be a waste of effort, if not a sign of deep moral failings.

    Anything that makes, say, a development environment easier to use stands to invalidate those hours spent memorizing things to be competent at it. It’s a variant on the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    Microsoft took off (and Apple is doing so now) because they realize that there’s mountains of money to be had in making things easier to use.

    Of course, the easier you make something to use, the more tedious it is for hackers to tinker with it, and hackers are defined as much or more by their aversion to tedium as they are by programming skills.

  26. @Winter –

    > It is just that evil people prefer to organize as companies these days.

    Therein seems to be the greatest difference between anti-corporate statists and anti-statists like ESR (in the interst of full disclosure, I’m in ESR’s camp). We think that evil people prefer to organize in governments these days because they gain a lot more power that way. Corporations are no more evil by nature than any OTHER group of people (like say a union or political party or fanbase of Justin Bieber). But what they ARE is the best known way to create jobs and wealth.

  27. @Winter:

    > What you write is about a karikature of FLOSS. It would apply equally well on ESR as RMS.
    > (replying to Jay’s statement of ““That’s a natural consequence of the Stallmanite ideal of the lone wolf hacker, coding away in a basement somewhere for the pure love of doing it, living ascetically, disdaining any attempt to actually earn money from the fruits of his labors, instead choosing to give it all away for the joy of hacking and the freedom of his users.)”

    Not at all. As far as I understand ESR, his point is that (1) open source software development is *more productive* practically, and is therefore likely to replace non-OSS due to simple economics; and that (2) For HIS purposes, as a hacker concerned with tweaking his tools to perfection, the availability of source has a very high value to him *personally* when choosing software.

    However, he NEVER makes an argument that it is somehow morally wrong for someone to sell/distribute software with no source attached (there’s a MAJOR difference between morally wrong and less productive), nor try to bully anyone else in sharing his value proposition for having the source to software they user.

    @esr, please feel free to correct/comment on the above if I distilled it incorrectly.

  28. The real reason programmers will not starve is that it will still be possible for them to get paid for programming; just not paid as much as now.

    And, as I argued elsewhere, this is fundamentally evil. It’s none of anyone’s $DEITY->damned business, least of all RMS, how much money anyone else makes if they’re not signing their paycheck.

    The Four Freedoms boil down to the freedom of users to do whatever they want with someone else’s work. We don’t tolerate that in any other non-academic field of endeavor. Why should programmers be reduced to academics?

  29. And, to drag this forcibly back on topic, that we’re having this discussion at all shows both how prevalent the Stallmanite groupthink is and that it’s not the monoculture it once threatened to become, thanks in large part to Eric’s work. I consider that a major contribution to hackerdom.

  30. And, to drag this forcibly back on topic, that we’re having this discussion at all shows both how prevalent the Stallmanite groupthink is and that it’s not the monoculture it once threatened to become, thanks in large part to Eric’s work. I consider that a major contribution to hackerdom.

    I wasn’t around for the era when the FSF was something novel, but I think it’s unquestioned that Eric’s managed to instill and encourage all sorts of diversity in the community!

  31. I consruct binary tools that harness and manipulate computing power, to provide benefit and value to users. That is what they buy, nothing more. The sourcecode is the schematic from which such tools are produced.

    I am not obliged to reveal the innermost secrets of my tool production. You have no right to them. You can always inspect the binary code to understand its workings…this is hard, of course, and time-consuming…wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was some way to use force to compel me to divulge my process? Enter RMS, stage left.

    My talents, expressed through my sourcecode schematics, are what make me valuable. Forcing me to surrender my talents to the collective devalues me. That is an assault on my worth, and a kindred evil to all communist/socialist coercion. If RMS actually thought he could win full legislative support for his manifsto, he would run to DC with open arms and embrace the armed imposition of his fascism. His Orwellian groupthink is what creeps me out…his collectivist ideological pollution of what I enjoy as a free intellectual pursuit.

    The fact that I *do* provide my sourcecode is a voluntary decision stemming from sound business ethics – I do not wish to be perceived as trying to lock people into my services, and I sincerely wish to protect the client from future maintenance hardships should I become unavailable. I am similarly inclined to voluntarily contribute sourcecode to the OSS community on a personal basis as a means of expanding the open knowledgebase.

    RMS seeks to nurture a collectivist cult that would culturally shun me as ‘evil’ should I ever decide against full and unencumbered sourcecode disclosure. *That* is creepy cultist groupthink.

  32. > Of course, you could see what I was doing as exactly an attempt to thread the needle Eliezer was describing. I think he would.

    Precisely, that’s why I linked to it. :)

  33. > Tribes that include radical individualism in their memetic DNA have some recursive protection against the more totalitarian consequences of groupthink.

    You’d think so, but look what happened to the USA.

  34. >I wasn’t around for the era when the FSF was something novel, but I think it’s unquestioned that Eric’s managed to instill and encourage all sorts of diversity in the community!

    I didn’t instill any diversity at all. What I did was give the existing diversity a counter-position against the FSF’s claim to normative authority.

  35. “Today, we live in a world where the Clipper chip is dead, the crypto-export restrictions likewise, and the CDA not only gone but that whole line of thinking a discredited laughingstock.”

    Did we really win much more other than those few battles? Yes, the Clipper chip is dead, but key escrow is alive and well in the form of open-id. The major “trusted” certificate authorities include both Verisign and a Chinese group, most email and websites are now hosted on centralized servers where they can be easily inspected or taken down, the most popular websites all leak cookies to each other, netnews is on life support, and few use pgp to secure their email or otr to secure their chats.

    ICANN – after a worldwide, democratic election in 1999 (2000?) – re-organized itself to never have to go through that icky process again, and then of course, there’s the wikileaks controversy (which I figure you will have a unique perspective on whenever you get around to writing about it).

    Acquiring a static IP address is increasingly expensive and difficult, even in the US, and the software engineering profession itself ranks somewhere below plumbing as a respected craft, subject both to IRS section 1706 and H1B quotas.

    I could go on, to, for example, talk about software patents, but I don’t want to depress myself or others further. There is much work left to do for tribal cohesion….

    I *can* say, with some comfort, that writing software and working with computers would be much less fun than it is today, if not for your efforts.

    In particular:

    I had a pair of girlfriends put up with me much longer than they would have ordinarily… because I lent them a copy of the hacker’s dictionary to read when I was emotionally unavailable.

  36. >If RMS actually thought he could win full legislative support for his manifsto, he would run to DC with open arms and embrace the armed imposition of his fascism.

    To be fair, I don’t consider this proven – and I’m pretty sure I’ve studied his thinking more closely than you (or almost anyone else, for that matter). Having known him since 1979 makes me less willing rather than more to jump to conclusions; Richard is a complicated man.

    I concede that RMS has been evasive on the question. But on at least some occasions he has implied that the maximum political change he would seek is to bar the enforcement of certain kinds of licenses. It would be reaching to call this imposition by force.

  37. On how everything desirable collects posers: But here’s the thing: Those entrepreneurs go through hell to do what they do. You can’t take their title and apply it to yourself just because you want to belong to that club. from an interesting essay You’re Not an Entrepreneur.

  38. To be fair, I don’t consider this proven…

    Granted…but unless you’re willing to testify that RMS is some kind of enlightened saint, I’m inclined – given his use of language like “…they shouldn’t be making any money. I hope to see all proprietary software wiped out. That’s what I aim for…” – that he is the kind of fallible human we have witnessed throughout history succumbing to the intoxication of being favored by the forces of government. Maybe he was just being overly dramatic in his choice of language, but I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt…too much is at stake.

    …he has implied that the maximum political change he would seek is to bar the enforcement of certain kinds of licenses. It would be reaching to call this imposition by force.

    Reaching? How else does any law get enforced?

  39. >Reaching? How else does any law get enforced?

    That’s what’s clever about it. Under one interpretation of his admittedly rather evasive answers, RMS would stop government from using force – in the specific case that it would previously have done so to uphold the terms of a proprietary license.

  40. I am not in the habit of trusting people that give ‘evasive’ answers to such things. It makes him seem sly and greasy to me.

    He wouldn’t be stopping government from using force at all, he would be merely redirecting it. The individuals and companies that had the underpinnings of contract law ripped from beneath them would certainly feel the imposition of that force…not to mention the ongoing consequences to businesses that would then be forced to radically alter or abandon their business models to comply with the new legal landscape.

    It’s all force…and RMS can’t weasel his way out of that.

  41. Clever indeed. But the fact that the government uses force to uphold the terms of proprietary licenses also means that the government uses force to uphold the terms of open source licenses. Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I think that’s probably the best we can hope for.

  42. a piece of software from Redmond, for Lo, it is Evil Incarnate

    I never thought their products were evil, I just saw them as inadequate for my needs, and chose better alternatives. I also avoided employers who would have required me to use them.

  43. > I had a pair of girlfriends put up with me much longer than they would have ordinarily… because I lent them a copy of the hacker’s dictionary to read when I was emotionally unavailable.

    This should be nominated as a “best hack utilizing the Hacker’s Dictionary” :)

  44. @DVK: I second that. And if the publisher put that quote on the back cover, I’ll bet those books would start flying off the shelves. Just chop it up a bit like this, you know, to make it fit better:

    “I had a pair of girlfriends…because I lent them a copy of the New Hacker’s Dictionary to read!”

    :-D

  45. >I am not in the habit of trusting people that give ‘evasive’ answers to such things. It makes him seem sly and greasy to me.

    I’m not going to argue the point further, because I think your objections are almost completely justified. But, for a multitude of reasons, I wanted to be scrupulous about the “almost” part.

  46. This should be nominated as a “best hack utilizing the Hacker’s Dictionary” :)

    It’s a great one. Especially if the women were interested in the culture so described. But I’m still not certain it would beat out handing a copy of TNHD to the hosts of Junkyard Wars (a.k.a. Scrap Heap Challenge), prompting them to read aloud the definitions of “frob” and “cruft” on the air and actually start using jargon in the play-by-play, as the team “North American Nerds” did about ten years ago.

  47. Why so much of this thread diverged into rabid anti-Stallmanism?

    A note about proprietary software: RMS, FSF, GNU and GPL started from the time where most software was shared. So free software/open source was first, then it got closed and proprietarized. Not the other way around.

  48. @Morgan:

    But the fact that the government uses force to uphold the terms of proprietary licenses also means that the government uses force to uphold the terms of open source licenses. Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I think that’s probably the best we can hope for.

    Unfortunately, this attitude, coupled with some (IMO) not very rigorous thinking, leads the more vocal leaders of some fairly prominent free software communities to cheer on court-ordered evisceration of our first sale rights with regards to software. Before you know it, some small supplier to GM will be able to keep you from reselling your car because of its license terms on the firmware that controls the door locks. That way lies madness, yet a casual outside observer might think that the consensus of the entire FLOSS community is that we should be headed in that direction as quickly as we can go.

    But perhaps I’m missing the bigger picture — perhaps the devious end-game is the calculation that if we make copyright enforcement so blatantly onerous to the general population, the masses will rise up and demand that the government cease enforcement of all copyright claims. Hmmm, maybe RMS and the RIAA are in cahoots here. After all, if the RIAA could claim with a straight face to their artists that the copyright royalties due the artists were zero, then the RIAA could keep even more authors in perpetual bondage…

  49. >So free software/open source was first, then it got closed and proprietarized.

    This is a myth. “Most” software was shared only in the academic bubble-world RMS lived in (and of course I think this was a good thing). In the rest of reality, there had already been a quarter century of history of proprietary software by the time the FSF was founded. Jay Maynard, if he chooses, can probably tell you a lot about the history of both early open source and the proprietary stuff on IBM mainframes going back to the late 1950s.

    I think open source is better, but this bit of confabulation by RMS pisses me off. No, there had not been not some sort of universal catastrophic fall from grace in the handful of years before FSF was founded. Not outside the very limited context of what came to be known as the Symbolics wars, anyway; unfortunately RMS has always been very good at ignoring larger refutations, further away, of “truths” he thinks are in front of his nose. The FSF couldn’t aim to restore a lost Edenic age of universal software sharing because that age never existed to begin with. I assure you that if you had asked to see the source of, say, the SABRE airline reservation system circa 1960 you would have been dismissed as a loon.

    Grrr. We have enough good arguments on our side without repeating fairy-tale bullshit like this. It only damages the rest of our pitch when we do so.

  50. @Jakub:

    A note about proprietary software: RMS, FSF, GNU and GPL started from the time where most software was shared. So free software/open source was first, then it got closed and proprietarized. Not the other way around.

    ESR points out where the specifics of this argument are wrong. But to the extent that the argument has even a tenuous connection with reality, you are describing the trajectory taken with almost any technological improvement. Basic science and initial technological advancements have often been shared, because, when it comes to our understanding of the universe, the benefits of cooperation have traditionally been very clear to the actual cooperating individuals. Once actual utility is realized, the people who start making money from that utility use whatever means are at their disposal to maximize profit. Not sharing source code falls squarely within this ancient tradition.

    The difference between software and physical goods is that, since the incremental reproduction cost of software is zero, the customers can band together and fund the software development one time, rather than paying ongoing rents. Note that this is also an ancient tradition, where people, either through voluntarily (cooperatives) or quasi-voluntarily (governments) band together to pay a single time for infrastructure such as roads, or a water or electricity distribution system.

    Why so much of this thread diverged into rabid anti-Stallmanism?

    It takes (at least) two to tango. If Winter hadn’t tried to take Jay Maynard to task for speaking what many here apparently believe to be truth, then it’s quite probable that Jay’s first post on the subject of Stallman would have been the only one.

    As it is, I can’t speak for anybody else, but my perception of Stallman is that his Gnu Manifesto conflates two issues. The first issue is that he views software as a cultural artifact to be shared freely among friends. The meme here seems pretty much the same as the meme about sharing MP3s with your 100,000 closest friends — anybody who produces easily copied ephemeral culture is a pusher, and they should not be allowed to extract rents from us after they get us hooked on their product. The second of the two conflated issues is that source code is required so that derivative works can be more easily prepared. This would be like downloading an MP3, finding you like it, and then demanding that the artist send you a PDF of the sheet music complete with all annotations (including mixing board levels), and by the way, please include a list of the exact brands of the instruments and some more technical information about how you got that exact “wa-wa” sound.

    The Manifesto mounts a spirited defense of this second conflated issue (but only in the context of software, not in the context of music, where any ordinary citizen could understand the issue) by focusing on the utility value of software. The argument seems to be that since, unlike music (where we can all hum a tune to ourselves and perhaps personalize it by changing a few harmonies and rhythms after merely hearing it a few times), it can be very difficult to personalize software adequately without the source, the software developers should be required to give us the means of personalization. In other words, since software customers can band together and only pay once for software, then all software producers must support this approach or be punished. Or in Stallman’s own words, “If programmers deserve to be rewarded for creating innovative programs, by the same token they deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of these programs.”

    It seems self-evident to me that a defense of that attitude, posted on a libertarian blog without any valid reasoning to back it up, will be met with a certain amount of resistance. Your expected mileage may vary, but your actual mileage probably won’t.

  51. >>Unfortunately, this attitude, coupled with some (IMO) not very rigorous thinking, leads the more vocal leaders of some fairly prominent free software communities to cheer on court-ordered evisceration of our first sale rights with regards to software.

    A few of rebel software hackers are trying the opposite direction, trying to go copyfree. In fact, there’s probably a large continent of anarchists/hackers that want to move toward copyfree.

    The logic of libertarianism demand it as much as it demand us to be an anarchist.

    If ESR’s The Economic Case Against the GPL is correct, then the implication is that copyright will come to a voluntary end.

    What few experimental data I gather, indicates that indeed it would be possible to make a living.

    Jason Rohrer made around 42,000 USD last year off his public domain game. With my experimentation with copyfree arts, I am able to make 25 cents off a few loyal downloaders in one week. If I am not so obscure, I probably make more.

    Yet a lot of people don’t try to make money off copyfree. Their excuse is mostly business model concerns.

  52. Jay Maynard, if he chooses, can probably tell you a lot about the history of both early open source and the proprietary stuff on IBM mainframes going back to the late 1950s.

    It’s a bit more complex than that. In particular, IBM itself did not begin selling software until June 8, 1969. That’s when they introduced the concept of unbundling. This was delayed relative to other manufacturers by IBM’s antitrust case and consent decree, which, while it didn’t actively prohibit selling software, did make it less attractive. IBM had a major backlash from that – but it’s also credited with beginning the modern software industry as it’s now known.

    (Interestingly, IBM introduced three program products that day. Two of them, IMS and CICS, are still sold today.)

    That does not mean that others weren’t selling software before then, or that the culture was the garden of Eden RMS claims it to be. Even those programs that IBM sold that day were (and, to a large extent, still are) distributed with source and object code both. (IBM didn’t start distributing things OCO (object code only) until the early 1990s; even today, that’s a highly controversial topic in the mainframe world.)

    For that matter, it’s worth noting that IBM did not explicitly copyright its SCP (systems control programs, OS and tools and such, as opposed to program products) at all until they started charging for them. It was still possible to order, at no charge, a copy of MVS 3.8, the last non-copyrighted version of MVS, in 2000 – fully 20 years after IBM started selling the first MVS program product OS. I know, because there’s a stack of 3480 tape cartridges in my dining room with that on it. This, too, is an artifact of IBM’s antitrust settlement.

    Other computer manufacturers did copyright their OS code. This is the major impediment in emulating other large systems: even if the software can be obtained (itself a highly questionable proposition), it can’t be legally distributed. This implies that they sold their programs, at least to some extent, well before IBM did, but I do not begin to know enough about those systems and the culture that surrounded them to be able to comment.

  53. A few of rebel software hackers are trying the opposite direction, trying to go copyfree. In fact, there’s probably a large continent of anarchists/hackers that want to move toward copyfree.

    The logic of libertarianism demand it as much as it demand us to be an anarchist.

    There are excellent arguments to be made that copyrights and patents have held us back (and that the first part of the Gnu Manifesto, about how when you have something, you should be allowed to share it, is correct).

    And there are, of course, excellent economic arguments to be made for shared source code in a lot of cases. Removal of force of government from this area would leave us free to share whatever we get our hands on, in whatever fashion we deem appropriate. It would basically turn GPLed software into permissive licensed software. In essence, the two axes of software distribution methods would be source vs. no source, and contract restrictions (real contracts, actually signed by both parties, not shrink-wrap licenses) or not.

    The market would decide (with some overlaps, of course) which category each kind of software belonged in, and we could get past all this angst.

  54. >If ESR’s The Economic Case Against the GPL is correct, then the implication is that copyright will come to a voluntary end.

    I don’t think we can draw that implication. The argument I make in that essay is quite specific to software, which has economics very different from other kinds of information goods.

    Suppose we grant what I think is true, which is that the efficiency gains from open source are more valuable than the positive externality capture from software copyright. Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

    It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from copyright on other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.

  55. I just thought of something:

    RMS is the Charles Manson of open source.

    If open source is ever going to become mainstream, it needs spokesman more like Eric and less like Stallman.

    Someone who rejects both personal hygiene and proprietary software in such absolutist terms just cannot lead this movement.

    And do people have to use this anarchist label? It brings to mind bomb throwers and nuts who want no government. Or teenage punks who go around tagging.
    Libertarian yes, anarchist no.

  56. It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.

    Possibly. In any case, there are entrenched interests (both with software and with other information goods) that will fight tooth and nail against any changes to the status quo that would allow more copying. But it could happen despite that. The meme that patent reform is needed is actually propagating faster and farther than I would have thought, although that isn’t a sure thing yet either, but it could be that it will happen and that some sort of copyright reform isn’t that far behind.

    Copyright law doesn’t really deal with disembodied information very well right now. The historic first sale doctrine for books worked because the medium imposed some inherent technical limitations on the consumer that translated well to vinyl and tapes, a little less so to DVDs and CDs (once storage became cheap), and not at all to downloads. The DMCA anti-circumvention provisions are a huge sideshow — a law that is used to prop up the fiction that desperate unworkable technological measures can substitute for actual societal and legal consensus on exactly what people are allowed to do with collections of bits that they acquire from others.

  57. >Libertarian yes, anarchist no.

    You can’t be a consistent libertarian and not be an anarchist. Of course, there are many who say the virtue of consistency is over-rated.

  58. >>And do people have to use this anarchist label? It brings to mind bomb throwers and nuts who want no government. Or teenage punks who go around tagging.
    Libertarian yes, anarchist no.

    The community I am involved with are plural anarchists, and majority libertarians. The rest are mostly independents. However, it is certain that we want to overthrow central control of money.

    Anarchist hackers are definitely not your “teenage” punk, although we almost came within inches of becoming synonymous as radical hackers who oppose any status quo, to paraphrase a Foreign Policy blog post on wikileak.Our anonymous founder, Satoshi Nakamoto talked down of attempts to contact wikileaks and move the tribal behavior to cautious and careful rather than reckless. Ultimately though, wikileak rejected bitcoin on the ground of insufficient income, but Satoshi did pleads with them to reject it.

    What is clear though, anarchism/libertarianism, combined with technology progressivism, are breeding grounds for potent political movement. This is not bombing, tagging, protest, or other unproductive damaging shit. This is hacking, in the most positive sense.

  59. I am rather late in the game again (time zones, other obligations like sleep). Too much to respond to, so I will summarize.

    @Patrick Maupin
    “A few of rebel software hackers are trying the opposite direction, trying to go copyfree. In fact, there’s probably a large continent of anarchists/hackers that want to move toward copyfree.”

    @esr
    “Suppose we grant what I think is true, which is that the efficiency gains from open source are more valuable than the positive externality capture from software copyright. Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

    It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from copyright on other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.”

    And here we all agree. At least I do. And this is also my understanding of what RMS wants.

    How I understand RMS writings and talks (he will almost certainly disagree):

    If I buy a computer (or other appliance), it should be mine. Every bit of it (pun intended). I can use it any way I like, I can study it, improve it, and share it.

    However, the law is different. The law says, someone else has a say in what I can do or not in the privacy of my own home. I am NOT free to run, study, improve of share the software on my computer. So I am NOT free. And Software is not a song, or novel. Software is a tool. My computer and the networks are important. They determine a lot of what I can do or not, who I can communicate with etc. If I have no control over the software it runs, I lose control over an important part of my life. So, the law makes me unfree. It gives others the power to censor me and tell me what I am allowed to do, study, write, and use.

    Now most people (and some here) have internalized this believe in censorship and think it is right that other people can tell them what they can do with their own goods (and brain) in their own home. They accept censorship as just.

    RMS feels he cannot do this. He is the “live free or die” type and cannot face himself if he is not free. And he will not break the law, nor does he want others to break the law.

    RMS cannot change the law, and he does not want to wait for some future moment the law disappears. So he decided that the only solution would be to band together with others like him and create a software space where we could all live free (with respect to software), without interference from others. His solution was to use the law to create a Free Software License that would give all users the rights to the freedoms he felt were just: The freedom to use, study, share, and improve or tinker as you want. And because software must change all the time to stay useful, he build in a provision to ensure that the software would stay free. If you think you are allowed to censor others and to deny them the right to do the things you did, you will be denied the right to share your changes of GPL software.

    I saw a lot of misrepresentations of his ideas and actions here.

    RMS does not break the law, nor does he support, advocate, or stimulates breaking copyright or patent law. And those who illegally download music, movies, or software mostly never have heard of RMS or his ideas.

    RMS never argues someone should be forced to hand him the source of a binary. He ONLY insists that HE will not use an application or gadget where the maker can adapt the software or firmware, and he cannot. And he will not use software he cannot change or share legally. The source provision is part of the GPL to ensure the freedom of the software as long as the law censors the use of software. The GPL becomes superfluous if software is not restricted (censored) by the law anymore.

    In the end, what is the difference between the positions of ESR and RMS?

    As I understand it (probably wrong, feel free to correct me), ESR sees it mostly as an economic problem, RMS as a moral problem.

    ESR expects copyright law to disappear by itself, and after that, we will have the right to use, study, share, and tinker at our hearts desire. RMS will not wait for copyright law to disappear. He will make no compromises and will create the software freedom here and now within the law.

    Who is right? In my mind, no one. These are just two approaches to solve injustice.

    What will be more productive in the end will be determined by accidents and chance. The strategy of the FSF would have been a total failure if Linux would not have appeared under the GPL. The AT&T vs BSD court case dealt the non-GPL BSD side a blow that allowed the rise of Linux.

    This is how I understand RMS (and ESR). After such a long sermon, I think you have a right to hear about my own ideas.

    I do not for a moment believe that copyright and patent law will disappear during my lifetime. Just as I do not believe society will collapse because of monetary imbalances. In the end, money is simply not that important. If we want to be free, we will have to make it work ourself, now. I use the GPL for whatever I produce and support the work of FSF and EFF. But I am not the “live free or die” type, and I think there are other important issues in life that can often trump the cause of software freedom.

  60. >>It might still be the case that the positive externality capture from copyright on other kinds of copyable information goods is worth protecting because they do not have such secondary markets.

    In the meantime, people buy T-shirts, mugs, and other physical goods. I could also sell live access to my drawing effort, turning it into some kind of performance effort. I could sell prints with my signature on it.

    Certainly, with the arrival of makerbot and other tech, it might obsolete some class of secondary goods.

    However, I am certain that I could control who get first access to kiba’s output. I might make money off a few thousand roaring fans. Then everyone else post it on 4chan or other imageboard. This is the economic model of Rohrer’s Sleep is Death game.

    In any case, I think it will be futile to have copyright. There will be makerbots everywhere, ever more underground sharing sites, and so on.

    If business models are not possible, than people will revert to producing goods out of passion. There won’t be a gazillion amount of MP3s coming out every year. There won’t be a gazillion of crappy technical books.

    Sure we might not get all these goodies that we have before in the world of copyright, but if a copyfree world is unstoppable, it won’t be reasoned against, and certainly impossible to regulate out of existence.

  61. >> Just as I do not believe society will collapse because of monetary imbalances. In the end, money is simply not that important

    It won’t collapse but if they continue to use fiat money, then there will be miserable wave of monetary cycles. The temptation to print money is just too much.

    I don’t like to be miserable. So I am doing something about that.

  62. >ESR expects copyright law to disappear by itself,

    No. I think you have me confused with kiba. I’bve been arguing that we shouldn’t necessarily expect that to happen.

  63. @esr
    “No. I think you have me confused with kiba. I’bve been arguing that we shouldn’t necessarily expect that to happen.”

    Sorry, my bad.

    I am not trying to put words in your mouth. It is just ignorance and a lack of time in the early morning.

  64. @Ken> RMS’s ravings have always struck me as being an Asperger’s monomaniacal focus on socialism.
    >
    > His definition of ‘user’ is “anyone who can use the ‘make’ command.”

    or that can find someone to run ‘make’ for them, yes.

    @Ken> It pretty thoroughly excludes the vast majority of people who see computers as tools to get a $REAL_JOB done, not an avocation.

    I think this is well-covered in Richard’s writings. RMS’ idea is that if you need changes to your tools, you’ll be able to find someone to make them.

    @Ken> This has been my longstanding critique of the OSS movement. With a very small handful of exceptions, OSS software regards usability for non-geeks to be a waste of effort, if not a sign of deep moral failings.

    Too true.

    @Ken> Microsoft took off (and Apple is doing so now) because they realize that there’s mountains of money to be had in making things easier to use.

    I’m not sure Microsoft “took off” as much for making things easier as it did make one’s accumulation of knowledge on Windows “how to” easier to move to new computers running the same environment.

    Apple made things easier. Microsoft leveraged its monopoly to encourage the portability of people against computers.

    @Winter> The strategy of the FSF would have been a total failure if Linux would not have appeared under the GPL. The AT&T vs BSD court case dealt the non-GPL BSD side a blow that allowed the rise of Linux.

    ‘total failure’? No. The FSF produced a toolchain that, until recently was used by most of the BSDs. (Clang is the rising new star with MacOS X and FreeBSD.)

    The FSF had failed for years to produce a kernel. Efforts were underway on a port of the 4.2 BSD work the AT&T lawsuit slowed things enough that Linus had reason to develop his own kernel. Even Linus has stated that if 386BSD had been available, he would have never undertaken even the ‘hobby’ level of what became linux.

    My understanding of CATB is that Eric was railing against the development model of the FSF (where all changes had to be blessed by the cathedral of the FSF before they went out to the world) .vs that of the linux kernel project, where changes that were ‘good enough’ were accepted.

    @esr> Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

    Interestingly, the GPL actually encourages these markets. If a more efficient producer in these secondary markets appears, they should win more business, make more profit, or at least be better compensated than a less efficient producer of software maintenance and improvements.

    @Jay> For that matter, it’s worth noting that IBM did not explicitly copyright its SCP (systems control programs, OS and tools and such, as opposed to program products) at all until they started charging for them.

    In the US, you couldn’t copyright a program until 1980, when Congress changed the US Copyright law.

  65. >> He will make no compromises and will create the software freedom here and now within the law

    It is my opinion as a copyright abolitionist that freedom does not exists when you use violence to coerce others in doing your moral bidding. Sharing is something to be done voluntary, not at the threat of a gun.

  66. @kiba
    “It is my opinion as a copyright abolitionist that freedom does not exists when you use violence to coerce others in doing your moral bidding.”

    I think we not agree about this maxim, but with applying it to the FSF.

    Nowhere does the FSF/RMS force anyone to be bound by the GPL unless they distribute other peoples work as defined by copyright law. The FSF simply use the law to state that IF, and only IF, you distribute versions of software (adapted or not) licensed under the GPL you are required to do so under the very same license.

    If you write your own software, RMS nor the FSF will not interfere with your distribution. I do not see this as the “use violence to coerce others in doing your moral bidding”. I see it as a quid pro quo. You can use my work if I can use your work. I also see how it protects the freedom of the user under the rule of an oppressive copyright law.

    If you have abolished copyright, the FSF will be the first to agree that the GPL is not needed anymore.

  67. In the US, you couldn’t copyright a program until 1980, when Congress changed the US Copyright law.

    Not true. You could copyright it long before that. Essentially all of the versions of the Univac 1100 OS are copyrighted, for example. What you could not do was copyright software as an unpublished work.

    The significant change in copyright law cane with the 1978 adoption of the Berne Convention by the US. Before that, if you released software without a copyright notice, it was in the public domain. This, coupled with IBM’s consent-decree-driven releases of basic system software without copyright notices, is what allows the Hercules community to flourish as a retrocomputing culture.

  68. If you write your own software, RMS nor the FSF will not interfere with your distribution.

    No, but they will call you all sorts of nasty evil things in an attempt to smear your public image, and even, if they think the cause is holy enough, demand the right to rename your work!

    The GPL is an explicitly political license designed to advance the cause of Stallman’s utopian vision. That vision is evil and should be spurned by all who truly love freedom, instead of merely giving it lip service. So should the license. I avoid working on GPLd code whenever possible, and the code I release as open source, if I choose the license, is released under the MIT license.

  69. @Jay Maynard
    “No, but they will call you all sorts of nasty evil things in an attempt to smear your public image, and even, if they think the cause is holy enough, demand the right to rename your work!”

    Indeed, they will call you someone opposing their vision of freedom in no uncertain, even impolite, terms if they think you work against their idea of “software freedom”.

    If you license under an MIT style license, they will support you. But they will take the rights you grant them under the MIT license and relicense under the GPL if they think that suits them. If you do not like that, you should not have licensed under the MIT, because that is exactly what that license was written for. This includes renaming your work.

    So I do not understand you. You license your work under an MIT license, but then disagree if some group of people actually take the rights you grant them.

    In all other respects, I agree that the FSF/RMS can be rude and impolite and at times unreasonable. But I have not seen them act illegal or unjust. But I might have missed that part.

  70. > Not true. You could copyright it long before that.

    A “computer program” was not a defined work under US 17.101 until 1980.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/101.html

    > The significant change in copyright law cane with the 1978 adoption of the Berne Convention by the US.

    Jay, in this regard, you are absolutely, 100% W-R-O-N-G.

    The U.S. “Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988″ came into force On March 1, 1989, and at that time, the United States became a party to the Berne Convention. Prior to that, the US was explicitly NOT a party to the Berne Convention.

    http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92appii.html

  71. I use the MIT license for my own work because, quite simply, I believe in freedom for everyone, including programmers. The FSF does not. If they take my work and put out a GPLd version, that does not harm me at all.

    My complaint about renaming others’ work is specifically aimed at “GNU/Linux”. I find that nothing less than trying to steal a share of credit they do not deserve – and since the hacker economy is based in large part on credit, this is theft as surely as if RMS broke into Linus’s house and walked out with his TV. I refuse to use any Linux distribution that calls itself “GNU/Linux” for this reason.

  72. > My complaint about renaming others’ work is specifically aimed at “GNU/Linux”

    Stallman is just cranky that the GPL(v2) worked too well, and the rest of the “GNU system” worked out under a new name. :-)

  73. > I refuse to use any Linux distribution that calls itself “GNU/Linux” for this reason.

    There are many reasons to not use Linux, this is merely one of them. FreeBSD is still a superior OS to Linux. (And face it, if MacOS X was open source, linux distros would die via rapid, uncontrolled oxidation.)

  74. @Jay Maynard
    “My complaint about renaming others’ work is specifically aimed at “GNU/Linux”.”

    Oh that. In this case the FSF is defying human nature. And they are unreasonable.

    I simply ignore them on that. It does not make linguistic sense and I think they are flatly wrong too.

  75. @Winter:

    “A few of rebel software hackers are trying the opposite direction, trying to go copyfree. In fact, there’s probably a large continent of anarchists/hackers that want to move toward copyfree.”

    Kiba said that; I merely quoted it.

    And here we all agree. At least I do. And this is also my understanding of what RMS wants.

    But it is not our understanding of what RMS wants. Certainly, it is part of what RMS wants, but he overreaches.

    He is the “live free or die” type

    Perhaps, but only by his own definition of freedom.

    Now most people (and some here) have internalized this believe in censorship and think it is right that other people can tell them what they can do with their own goods (and brain) in their own home. They accept censorship as just.

    I think you completely misunderstand the mindset here. I haven’t seen anybody debating you argue for more censorship. Quite the opposite — forced speech is a kind of censorship, and people here are arguing against your defense of Stallman’s call for forced speech. On reading your last missive, though, I have concluded that may be a bit unfair — you honestly seem to believe that Stallman is not calling for forced speech. He is, but he tries to be subtle about it.

    I saw a lot of misrepresentations of his ideas and actions here.

    No you don’t. At least, you haven’t shown any. For example…

    RMS does not break the law, nor does he support, advocate, or stimulates breaking copyright or patent law.

    Nobody here said he does those things. They said his advocacy expresses a clear, natural wish to share (and in some cases, take), which, if not done carefully, could break the law.

    And those who illegally download music, movies, or software mostly never have heard of RMS or his ideas.

    Those people may be relevant in explaining the natural impulses that lead RMS to advocate sharing. It’s the same impulse. Those people are irrelevant when trying to assert that RMS does or doesn’t do a particular thing.

    RMS never argues someone should be forced to hand him the source of a binary.

    He argues multiple times that it is unethical. even evil for them not to do so. Also, he actually does one worse (in my book) than what you say. You can hand him source to a binary that he can do with as he pleases, but he uses his own warped view of what constitutes a derivative work to attempt to force you to relicense it under his creation, if it can merely interoperate with his creation.

    He ONLY insists that HE will not use an application or gadget where the maker can adapt the software or firmware, and he cannot.

    But one of his stated prerequisites for this adaptation is access to the source code. And this nuanced interpretation of morality only came about after Tivo did everything he asked for and then he still pissed all over them for not being moral.

    And he will not use software he cannot change or share legally.

    That’s probably the same as most people here.

    The source provision is part of the GPL to ensure the freedom of the software as long as the law censors the use of software.

    I would like to believe this. I really would. But central to the entire mythology about Stallman is the epiphany he encountered when he couldn’t get source code to a printer driver. This was before the DMCA. The printer manufacturer probably wouldn’t have cared or been able to do anything about it if he had hacked the binary to fix it. And, as discussed above, he really does try to control other people’s software. For example, Stallman forced Bruno Haible to relicense CLISP under the GPL simply because it could make use of Stallman’s readline library, even though readline was not required. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

    The GPL becomes superfluous if software is not restricted (censored) by the law anymore.

    I agree it becomes useless. But I really don’t think that Stallman would view it as superfluous.

    As I understand it (probably wrong, feel free to correct me), ESR sees it mostly as an economic problem, RMS as a moral problem.

    But at least some of us here view some of Stallman’s actions as a separate moral problem. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It is especially galling when he is acting immorally and calling others “evil” for not falling in line with his immorality.

    Nowhere does the FSF/RMS force anyone to be bound by the GPL unless they distribute other peoples work as defined by copyright law. The FSF simply use the law to state that IF, and only IF, you distribute versions of software (adapted or not) licensed under the GPL you are required to do so under the very same license

    That’s utter bullshit. They have stated multiple times (not just CLISP) that anybody who delivers source that a customer can link to GPLed software must be delivered under the GPL.

  76. @Winter:

    Oh that. In this case the FSF is defying human nature. And they are unreasonable.

    Why can’t you see that this personality attribute of the FSF is not limited to this one case?

  77. @Patrick Maupin
    If I misinterpret peoples attitudes and believes, I apologize. But I can only try to understand what is written, so I make errors.

    The fact that RMS is uncompromising and single minded towards software freedom does not make him an evil man. Unpleasant, unreasonable, but not evil. Nor does it make him wrong.

    He will call others evil, and he can do that, just as you can call him evil. But I have not seen any example where RMS has tried to force anyone doing anything against his will. The sole exception is that the FSF will use the law to get people to abide by their license for code the FSF has copyright for. But in those cases the perpetrator has to willfully break the law AND deny others their rights AND continue distributing.

    We will never ever agree on morals. The only thing we can agree on is the Law. As long as Copyright law covers software, there will be different strategies of increasing freedom. And different feelings about what is right or wrong.

    I see software as “Speech” and I support the freedom of the spoken word over any control the speakers want over their speech. That is, I do support the “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”. Which is just as twisted as it sounds.

    So you can call Stallman evil, he can call you evil, and I will continue to say you are both wrong.

  78. @wet behind the ears:

    @esr> Ultimately, that is because software maintainance and improvements has large downstream costs that make all kinds of interesting secondary markets.

    Interestingly, the GPL actually encourages these markets. If a more efficient producer in these secondary markets appears, they should win more business, make more profit, or at least be better compensated than a less efficient producer of software maintenance and improvements.

    It’s not quite that simple. For example, there are a lot of businesses that deliver proprietary packages which include permissive-licensed components. Many (most?) of these businesses contribute bugfixes and enhancements back upstream to the permissive components. This is “giving back” but, rationally, it is also simple self-defense. Unless your patches are super-cool and nobody else is going to think of them, and especially if the permissive component is big enough and well-maintained enough, the negligible costs of contributing upstream are far outweighed by the costs of not contributing upstream, and continually re-merging changes.

    So with permissive licenses, a software business with a limited market (and there are a gazillion of these) can simultaneously contribute to the commons, and create niche-market proprietary software. There are a lot of niches that are not currently well-served by free software. It may be that one of the reasons for this is that your argument about efficient producers is more useful for maintenance (or incremental functionality additions to a large codebase) than for initial development, and that a lot of companies want/need to recoup their development costs, and this is sometimes hard to do with free software.

    This also has to do with scale. Certainly Red Hat is now in a position to take a long-term view on recouping investment in programming time, so it may well be that we see in-fill and all areas are eventually covered nicely by free software. It would be ironic if all the individualists helping out free software cause a further consolidation of programmers into very large software companies.

  79. > It’s not quite that simple. For example, there are a lot of businesses that deliver proprietary packages which include permissive-licensed components. Many (most?) of these businesses contribute bugfixes and enhancements back upstream to the permissive components. This is “giving back” but, rationally, it is also simple self-defense.

    Its also not GPL-compliant, and we were discussing the GPL, right? With the GPL, you have to give the complete (machine-readable) sources to either a) anyone who asks for them, (via the ‘written offer, valid for any third party’) or b) with the binaries, to anyone to whom you give binaries. With the GPL, it doesn’t matter if you give back to the ‘Upstream’. Some projects (e.g. busybox) allow you to distribute patches against a known source base, rather than the whole wad.

    (I’m always surprised by the number of people who haven’t actually read the GPL and want to discuss its merits and drawbacks.)

  80. > So you can call Stallman evil, he can call you evil, and I will continue to say you are both wrong.

    Anyone who has spent more than an hour with rms will know that he’s not as much ‘evil’ as very (very) immature.

  81. @wet behind the ears
    RMS immature? I think that would fit most reports and public appearances. However, I never met him in person. So I have no idea.

  82. @wet behind the ears

    Its also not GPL-compliant, and we were discussing the GPL, right?

    We were specifically talking about whether RMS/FSF/GPL overreaches or not. They do. Pundits love to say that “the GPL has been upheld in court” but they have not actually gone to court to test the question of whether I can deliver software that I do not place under the GPL, that users can then link with GPLed code. From the GPL FAQ:

    If we permitted company A to make a proprietary file, and company B to distribute GPL-covered software linked with that file, the effect would be to make a hole in the GPL big enough to drive a truck through. This would be carte blanche for withholding the source code for all sorts of modifications and extensions to GPL-covered software.

    There’s a reason this hasn’t been tested in court. The FSF isn’t that stupid. They know that if I never distribute GPLed software, then I haven’t committed a copyright violation. Yet they persist in attempting to coerce other parties to use their license by publishing this bullshit.

    (I’m always surprised by the number of people who haven’t actually read the GPL and want to discuss its merits and drawbacks.)

    I’m always surprised by the number of people who thinks that if you haven’t drunk the kool-aid, it must be because you haven’t read the license. Also by the number of people who think they are clever enough to insult others without the others actually noticing, and by the number of people who think they can lessen the impact of what they say by placing it in parentheses.

  83. @Winter:

    The fact that RMS is uncompromising and single minded towards software freedom does not make him an evil man. Unpleasant, unreasonable, but not evil. Nor does it make him wrong.

    You are right — when one is pushing wrong beliefs on others, the wrongness of the beliefs and of the pusher is not strictly quantified by how diligently those beliefs are pushed.

    He will call others evil, and he can do that, just as you can call him evil.

    Did I actually call him evil in this thread? No, thought not, but wait for it — I will in a second.

    But I have not seen any example where RMS has tried to force anyone doing anything against his will.

    So are you deliberately ignoring the clisp example? There are many others like it, btw.

    The sole exception is that the FSF will use the law to get people to abide by their license for code the FSF has copyright for. But in those cases the perpetrator has to willfully break the law AND deny others their rights AND continue distributing.

    The GPL overreaches, and the FAQ deliberately lies in some places. Note in my previous comment where I quoted a section of the FAQ that attempts to control the actions of a party who is not even attempting to distribute GPLed software.

    We will never ever agree on morals. The only thing we can agree on is the Law. As long as Copyright law covers software, there will be different strategies of increasing freedom. And different feelings about what is right or wrong.

    This is true. But I think my primary measure of disagreement with you is that you refuse to accept the truth of several statements that others here have made about Stallman’s and the FSF’s actions. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

    I see software as “Speech” and I support the freedom of the spoken word over any control the speakers want over their speech.

    It is illogical to talk about freedom to speak without also considering the freedom not to speak.

    That is, I do support the “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”. Which is just as twisted as it sounds.

    You’re right, it is very twisted to give rights to inanimate entities above and beyond those we give to humans.

    So you can call Stallman evil, he can call you evil, and I will continue to say you are both wrong.

    Stallman calls a large portion of normal everyday activities evil. I call some of Stallman’s actions immoral, but the only action of his (that I know of) that I call evil is his deliberate use of strongly emotional language to cultivate an unthinking cult of followers. In other words, I find it evil that he uses words like evil to describe things that are not evil.

  84. @Patrick Maupin
    About linking

    No one knows how the courts will delimit the boundaries of a program. It could be anything, from sharing a namespace to being in memory at the same time.

    Your guess is as likely as mine. Even the specialists do not agree. So the interpretation of the FSF could be correct. This is the law, nothing to do with logic.

  85. I do support the “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”.

    This bit of Stallmanite groupthink is one I find especially odious. Things don’t have freedoms. People do. Not only that, but the entire concept is evil, wrong, and destructive of freedom – thus, antithetical to the stated goal. It advances freedom in the exact same way as “fucking for virginity”: advances it 180 degrees to the rear.

    Further, by trivializing it and applying it to Stallman’s anti-freedom agenda, it harms the very concept of freedom itself. Freedom is under attack fro all directions as it is; we don’t need “defenders” helping out by attacking it.

    True freedom must necessarily include the freedom to do things that piss you off, as long as you are not harmed. This is where RMS’s redefined “freedom” falls short. The “Four Freedoms” attack programmers’ freedoms to do as they wish with their own code, both directly and indirectly, all because some things that a programmer might wish to do with his code offends him. Indeed, RMS is not harmed when someone links his code with a closed-source binary package, yet he treats that as a basic infringement on his rights.

    That’s why I refuse to give into the FSF’s definition of so-called “free software”. Anyone who truly loves freedom in all its forms should oppose the FSF, as well.

  86. “fucking for virginity”

    That sounds like a great fundraiser! I could really get in to that, so to speak. Where’s the sign-up sheet? Is it like those walks for 10 cents a mile? What is the metric? Strokes? Orgasms? Moans?

    Seriously, if someone does a good job on a PDF of the signup sheet, I’ll take it around work to some of my religious co-workers, and see how big of a cognitive dissonance I can create. But I’m going to need metrics for that, too.

  87. Very minor semantic point, Jay.

    Fucking is the only way to increase the net number of virgins, and thus, increase quantity Q of V.

    I do absolutely agree that things do not have rights, software does not have rights, etc. People and property holders do.

    Of course, I’m one of those evil people who makes a living off of intellectual property he created.

  88. TJL: Please elaborate…or am I to take it from your comment that you’re a firm adherent to Stallmanite groupthink? If so, you make my point for me.

  89. Fucking is the only way to increase the net number of virgins, and thus, increase quantity Q of V.

    s/only/least expensive/

  90. “The significant change in copyright law cane with the 1978 adoption of the Berne Convention by the US. ”

    Actually, to me, the significant changes in copyright law came in 1909, where the core outline of modern copyright law was laid out (in part due to Samuel Clemens’ campaigning)..

    Somewhere between 1909 and 1976 section 23 and 24 of the copyright code were altered to allow anybody to to renew copyright (please note, I’m trying to verify this, IANA, have your eyes glaze over at the differences between section 23 and 24 in 1920 to grok: http://law.copyrightdata.com/index.php )

    and the copyright renewal act of 1992, where the need to renew copyright was abolished.

    Imagine a world where copyright reverted to the original creator – no matter what – after 14 years, and expired, no matter what, in 28. Would that be a better world than what we have?

    The reversion clause in publishing contracts is an artifact of the old system:

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/10/18/reclaiming-your-copyright-after-thirty-five-years/

    I did a bit of research with Richard Posner on the on renewal rates, over the period we still had to renew copyright every 28 years. 85% of all copyrights were not renewed.

    I’d like the temporary monopoly of copyright granted by the state to require a bit more work than just publishing – and judging from that statistic, restoring the renewal requirement would also be a good thing.

  91. @Jay Manyard
    “This bit of Stallmanite groupthink is one I find especially odious. Things don’t have freedoms. People do. Not only that, but the entire concept is evil, wrong, and destructive of freedom – thus, antithetical to the stated goal. It advances freedom in the exact same way as “fucking for virginity”: advances it 180 degrees to the rear.”

    First, my apologies for setting you up for this exact response. But it allows me to elaborate a point in your own words.

    Yes indeed, people have freedoms. I know that, RMS knows that too, undoubtedly. So the correct reaction would be to consider which people I might be talking about? Whose freedom did I describe with “Freedom of the Code”? Not the Coders.

    Obviously, I was protecting the freedom of the user. That hapless creature that has to put up what the coders serve them. Lefty commies like me (and RMS?) want to protect these weaklings against coders that try to lock them into servitude (I exaggerate). And these (future) users have no voice now, but will be affected later.

    “Freedom of the Code” is about protecting the rights of current and future users that might need to use the code others would like to lock down into proprietary silos. Personally, I do not care about coders who want to make a fast buck by taking my code (or rather the code I depend on) proprietary and deprive future users (and me) the adaptations they take private. I know, that is a liberal, leftist, communist, unfree, tyrannical view. But that is me, not caring if I am called a communist if I do what I think is right. I will simply try to use the law to keep my stuff free to use. Forever if I can. And if people want to adapt it, they have to repay me with making their adaptations free. A real Tit-for-Tat.

    And what you do with your code is completely your responsibility. I will respect your choice and I do not even think it is evil or wrong.

    Btw, use the accusation “groupthink” less. People might think you are affected by it.

  92. No one knows how the courts will delimit the boundaries of a program.

    It would be great, wouldn’t it, if some court would rule on whether the supplier of program (a) that can talk to program (b) could possibly infringe the copyright on program (b). Oh, wait! They already have? Almost 20 years ago? Who could have possibly known?

    Check out Galoob v. Nintendo or Baystate v. Bentley. Also, Sega v. Accolade, where, not only does interoperability not violate copyright, but actual copyright violations done in order to analyze the steps taken to achieve interoperability fall under fair use, as well.

    Note, however, that some of these results might not hold in the brave new world of a shrinkwrap-licensed copy v. an owned copy. Fortunately, the GPL doesn’t go there. Also note that you can find differing results in other court cases, but all of the dissenters that I have seen have muddying additional elements, like the actual literal copying of source code.

    Your guess is as likely as mine. Even the specialists do not agree. So the interpretation of the FSF could be correct.

    There’s no guessing. If I write something with a command line interface, and somebody tells me that GNU Readline will allow a better user interface, and I look at the docs and find it’s only a couple of lines of code to add the ability to add the capability to use GNU readline to my program, and I do so, I have only incorporated functional elements, not copyrightable elements, from a third party (and fair use would show I copied only a tiny fraction of the program in any case). Then if I don’t ever distribute GNU readline, I haven’t violated anybody else’s copyright directly. Since the GPL explicitly allows users to make private altered copies for their own use (making explicit the rights granted by the court in Galoob), my end users are not violating the readline copyright by combining readline with my program, either. Period.

  93. @Patrick Maupin:
    Unfortunately, this attitude, coupled with some (IMO) not very rigorous thinking, leads the more vocal leaders of some fairly prominent free software communities to cheer on court-ordered evisceration of our first sale rights with regards to software.

    Well, I don’t cheer it. I think we have to be realistic about it, however. Courts, for better or worse, are enforcing the majority of EULA-style proprietary licenses in most cases, with a few exceptions such as reverse-engineering, which seems to be protected. And Congress is, for better or worse, in Big Media’s back pocket, so I don’t think future regulations are going to favor us. And I don’t think either situation is likely to change soon, at least not so long as our present form of government continues to exist.

    Our only option appears to be to accept the situation, and to see the silver lining in the cloud.

  94. >“Freedom of the Code” is about protecting the rights of current and future users that might need to use the code others would like to lock down into proprietary silos.

    No, it’s not. It’s nonsense to justify it on the grounds of freedom for users when it’s a freedom users are almost by definition incapable of exercising.

    There are some closely related freedoms that users can exercise. Freedom of data-file formats, for example; that has real consequences for them. But by the time a user can exercise “freedom of code” he’s not a user any more. Users have to rely on the freedom of programmers to act as proxies for their interests. Lacking the right sorts of skills, they have no other option.

    I’m totally in favor of the sorts of freedom for programmers that help out users. But it’s just screwing up your own thinking to confuse “freedom for users” with anything the GPL actually protects.

  95. @Morgan:

    Our only option appears to be to accept the situation, and to see the silver lining in the cloud.

    I’m not so sure about this. Shrinkwrap licenses implicate not only Federal copyright law, but also state contract law. Remember when a couple of states passed UCITA, and then several other states passed UCITA “bomb shelter” laws?

    Personally, I think that companies should be able to put whatever onerous licensing terms they want on their consumer software, but that those should only be enforceable with a real signature (physical or electronic) that was made before any money changed hands. That’s the way the UCC makes it for physical goods, and when the software companies were bold enough to propose legislation that clarified that it wasn’t that way for software, they got slapped hard. So they’ve been grinding their way through the courts, trying to set precedent in their favor (mostly by carefully choosing their cases such that they have unsympathetic defendants). But I think the frog will eventually wake up and jump out of the pot — at least I hope so.

  96. @esr:

    Lacking the right sorts of skills, they have no other option.

    While I agree with general spirit of your comment, I do have to point out that users do have the option of hiring the talent and in some cases this does occur, but only in instances of user that have significant capital resources, such as larger corporations. Probably this edge case doesn’t matter so much, however, because the GPL does seem scare away many larger corporations.

  97. >I do have to point out that users do have the option of hiring the talent and in some cases this does occur,

    Hm? I don’t see how it matters what the nature of the agency connection between the user and the programmer is. Could be anything from uncompensated voluntarism through work for hire. The point is still that users benefit from “freedom of the code” only to the exact extent that “freedom of the code” enables programmers to act as proxies for user interests.

  98. @Dave Taht:

    Acquiring a static IP address is increasingly expensive and difficult, even in the US, and the software engineering profession itself ranks somewhere below plumbing as a respected craft, subject both to IRS section 1706 and H1B quotas.

    @Winter:

    Obviously, I was protecting the freedom of the user. That hapless creature that has to put up what the coders serve them.

    I’m starting to see a pattern here. Congress really is responding to the wishes of the average citizen, who apparently thinks that programmers should be fungible slaves.

    Personally, I do not care about coders who want to make a fast buck by taking my code (or rather the code I depend on) proprietary and deprive future users (and me) the adaptations they take private.

    Obviously, you do care deeply about these people. The “code you depend on” statement is quite telling. I would find it amusing that people who make the argument that “software isn’t like physical goods, since the cost of a copy is zero; therefore you should give me a copy” are the most unwilling to actually give up control of a single copy.

    Btw, use the accusation “groupthink” less. People might think you are affected by it.

    But he is affected by it. As am I. It annoys us enough that, instead of being apathetic, we both spend a lot of mostly futile time and effort trying to combat its ill effects.

  99. That hapless creature that has to put up what the coders serve them.

    WRONG!!!

    Users have choices. Users can choose to use proprietary closed-source software. They can choose to use open source software. They can choose to write their own or have it written for them.

    Stallmanites want to deny users that choice. They want to take away a user’s freedom, as well as a programmer’s freedom, to do something that pisses them off.

    To call that “preserving users’ freedoms” is a line straight out of the Ministry of Truth.

    And as for calling it “groupthink”, I consider that truth in advertising. Yes, I am affected by it, every time I reinvent a wheel because some Stallmanite thought my freedom was worthless.

  100. I’m totally in favor of the sorts of freedom for programmers that help out users. But it’s just screwing up your own thinking to confuse “freedom for users” with anything the GPL actually protects.

    I think this distinction gets pretty blurry around the edges. Take, for example, this Debian bug that I filed the other day: http://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=605712 . I think it’s a stretch to say that I was wearing my “programmer” hat when I filed this. I’m not an Xfce developer. I’m not an xscreensaver developer. I have no desire to become either one. I’m just a user of said software and was annoyed at a visual glitch, so I dug around until I figured out how to fix it. Without access to all the source code, doing so wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

  101. @winter

    Our concept of freedom is based on property right.

    If you have the right to do anything with the property you own, than it goes to suggest that you can destroy it, or in programmers’ case, to keep it secrets.

    That is the perspective of market anarchists. Using the state apparatus to force sharing is just as evil to force people from not copying and downloading musics. You could argue all the utility you want, but you will have to address and question our notion of property rights in order to convince us.

    Stallman’s conception of rights are in fact, irreconcilable with anarchists’ conception of rights.

    This debate I have elsewhere, are fruitless, because Stallmantie like you are just ignoring the anarchist ethical thought.

    Ignoring people’s philosophy, beliefs, and values will get you nowhere in persuasion.

  102. >WRONG!!!

    Calm down, Jay. You have a good enough case not to need to make overheated statements.

  103. >I’m just a user of said software and was annoyed at a visual glitch, so I dug around until I figured out how to fix it.

    You are a programmer. Uses cannot do that kind of digging and fixing. Q.E.D.

    Of course sometimes programmers have a ‘user’ relationship to code. But from the moment you dug into that code with intent to fix, you were operating as a programmer, a maker. The only freedom the GPL can guarantee became relevant at that point and no sooner.

  104. Personally, I think that companies should be able to put whatever onerous licensing terms they want on their consumer software, but that those should only be enforceable with a real signature (physical or electronic) that was made before any money changed hands

    The light of reason! It blinds! ;)

    Well said sir.

    Now, with all this OSS/FSF/RMS-squabbling well underway…I’m reaching my “see, that’s why you all creep me out” threshold

  105. Sounds like Coase’s Theorem is a useful guide to sociocultural engineering where a hack – perhaps making the burgeoning coalition pay for its own growth – alters the transaction costs of putting a coalition together?

    It seems to me that narrower strict definitions of user state and programmer state are internal conditions – in all cases over time that I have observed the person I once pointed to and said programmer will become a person I point to and say user. Where today is the person with an internal sense for drum memory rotation to speed execution, the VAX/VMS wizard? I’m well acquainted with a user who used to have a personal Sun 450 to his left and another to his right for quick and let it run respectively. He’s administrative head today and his programmers mock him as a user. This has implications for turnover in the active community and the meta-community.

    When the printer has a parallel port and the text is served by USB what matter the driver source?

  106. That article Eric mentioned at the top of the thread was indeed brilliant.

    If you haven’t read it, go do so now. It is an easy good read and it makes an excellent point.

    I too have noticed this about atheist open source hacker types: They are really good at being opposed to things, and disagreeing with everyone about everything, but they seem allergic to being in favor of something. They seem to believe that feeling passionately about something is a thing to be embarrassed about.

    This relentless stream of doubt and cynicism is wearying and annoying. You have to believe in and feel passionate about something.

  107. “Someone who rejects both personal hygiene and proprietary software in such absolutist terms just cannot lead this movement.”

    So the movement needs someone clean AND articulate? ;)

  108. > [More details, please.]

    You’re going off on a rail in this thread (even esr seems to state that). Mine can be interpreted as, “tone it down, dude”.

    > or am I to take it from your comment that you’re a firm adherent to Stallmanite groupthink?

    Me? A rabid Stallmanite?

    No.

    I think rms is a better programmer than esr, (to be clear, IMO, rms achieves the level of ‘hacker’, but esr does not.) to be sure (the evidence is in on this front), but rms made a severe mistake when he left programming (where he was extremely effective) and started attempting politics (where his ability to affect the world is limited by his lack of maturity.)

    Eric also errs when he attempts things in the political field. Eric is best (at changing the world) when he’s writing (not programming), and then is at his best when he has an editor. (Compare his writing on this blog to that found in his books for ample illustration. Both are effective public speakers, though they tend to both stick to prepared ‘speeches’, which I find less interesting than true discourse.

    Here is a warning about Stallman that I’ve not seen elsewhere.

    When rms travels, he has a strong preference for staying in homes, rather than hotels. Typically someone in the local group will allow rms to stay at his home or apartment.

    This is, from what I can tell, *always* a mistake.

    I have two friends, who, on separate occasions, allowed rms to stay at their house.
    Neither will describe the condition of the room or bed after rms left, other than to state that there was no recovery possible.
    Both actually burned everything that had been on the bed, and threw out the mattress.

  109. I too have noticed this about atheist open source hacker types: They are really good at being opposed to things, and disagreeing with everyone about everything, but they seem allergic to being in favor of something. They seem to believe that feeling passionately about something is a thing to be embarrassed about.

    Are you implying that esr is this way, also? I think Eric makes it pretty clear the things that he feels passionately about; if you don’t think so, you haven’t been paying attention.

    BTW–feeling passionately about something most often means that you will also be disagreeing with someone about that thing. For example, if you are passionate about the right to keep and bear arms, you will necessarily disagree with gun control advocates.

  110. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    “For example, my opinions regarding Visual Studio might seem like they’re influenced by the hacker/geek community, but they are borne out of actual frustration with using that particular tool ”

    If one is programming in C on windows what is the alternative to Visual Studio? Mingw used to be acceptable but now is horribly broken. Instead of debugging it, the developers are deprogramming it.

    I ask this because the inability of Mingw to compile my windows programs has forced me back into Visual Studio.

  111. @ Jay Maynard

    While a mere user, I find your point of view re RMS fascinating.

    This bit, though, struck me as atypically imprecise (going by your usual posts here at least):

    > My complaint about renaming others’ work is specifically aimed at “GNU/Linux”. I find that nothing less than trying to steal a share of credit they do not deserve – and since the hacker economy is based in large part on credit, this is theft as surely as if RMS broke into Linus’s house and walked out with his TV.

    Isn’t RMS’ point that, strictly, “Linux” is Linus’ kernel, but that most distros ship with, essentially, a GNU system (which includes userland, desktop and productivity tools)? [http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html#why]

    It’s not difficult to imagine RMS and the FSF feeling a bit miffed that, in general usage, the expression “Linux” has come to denote an operating system rather than just the kernel, but the GNU components of the operating system are not as widely known. Of course, whether making a big deal out of this issue is responsible/mature/a good idea is a separate issue …

    > I refuse to use any Linux distribution that calls itself “GNU/Linux” for this reason.

    How do you feel about Debian’s GNU/KFreeBSD http://www.debian.org/ports/kfreebsd-gnu/ port, then?

     

     

     

     

     

  112. @esr
    “Of course sometimes programmers have a ‘user’ relationship to code. But from the moment you dug into that code with intent to fix, you were operating as a programmer, a maker. The only freedom the GPL can guarantee became relevant at that point and no sooner.”
    “No, it’s not. It’s nonsense to justify it on the grounds of freedom for users when it’s a freedom users are almost by definition incapable of exercising.”

    Now we get to the root of the matter. I do not ascribe to a difference in rights between coders and users. I see only people. And I think people should have the right to do with the bits they obtain any way they see fit (see below). And if they cannot manage it themselves, they can ask or hire someone else. So I am against giving coders rights to lock out users from rights over the code.

    @kiba
    “If you have the right to do anything with the property you own, than it goes to suggest that you can destroy it, or in programmers’ case, to keep it secrets.”

    So I was right, many here see it as their birthright to control what others do in the privacy of their own home? Be it with software or with music. But then you should not fulminate against those who want to distribute under their OWN conditions.

    Obviously, you are allowed to keep your code secret. But as long as copyright law is as it is now, you should not build your code on top of GPLed licensed code. You received given the work under the condition that you would publish any source. If you do not want to do that, you should either change the law so everybody can do what they want, or not take their code.

    I see property as a convention. Who can own and what can be owned varies arbitrarily across the globe. For instance, I think a person who legally gets bits, should be allowed to do with them what she likes. Including changing and copying them. Any outside control over that I consider censorship. Many here seem to think the bits they sell or give away somehow remain their “property” and they feel they have a right to censor those who get hold of their bits.

    However, the law is different. It allows others to censor me. I have to abide by the law, so I look for a way to remain free and legal at the same time. And I want to keep my freedom both as a producer and as a user. Of all the FOSS licenses, I see the GPL as fitting my ideals most. If you want to censor others, do not do that with stuff I made. And I want to use software that cannot be turned around and used to control me. So if you offer me software under the GPL, I know you, nor anybody else can lock me into a private silo now nor in the future. If you do not want to produce GPL software, fine with me. You are free to do that, and I am free to not use it.

    And I am not against MIT/BSD style license. They are good licenses. But to me they always induce caution that one day, code development will have moved into an Apple or Sun and I am stuck.

    @kiba
    “Stallmantie like you are just ignoring the anarchist ethical thought.”

    First, if there is anyone at the FSF whom I admire enough to be insulted as follower, it would be Eben Moglen. Second, I am not an anarchist, so what?

  113. I got nowhere else to put this, so.. a BrainFuck keyboard just showed up on the android app market.

    market://search?q=pname:com.pshegger.bfkeyboard

    Java to disappear from Android soon. Film at 11.

  114. >I do not ascribe to a difference in rights between coders and users. I see only people.

    This is just self-righteous tub-thumping, and I am not impressed by it. All ethical claims have to recognize differences among categories of people based on how they behave, otherwise you have nothing you can talk about.

    >And I think people should have the right to do with the bits they obtain any way they see fit

    Now you’re making a claim that goes way beyond anything the GPL addresses. It does not, for example, even guarantee you the right to freely redistribute binaries generated by someone else from GPLed code. This is usually irrelevant because you can regenerate binaries you do have the right to redistribute yourself from the source code that GPL guarantees you access to – but the point is that all it guarantees you is access to the corresponding source code.

    For someone who champions the GPL you don’t seem to actually understand it very well.

    >So I am against giving coders rights to lock out users from rights over the code.

    Very fine sounding, to be sure. I have it! I shall declaim that I am against prohibiting people with broken legs from dancing the tango! Now we are both equally silly.

    When you make a normative claim about a right that in principle cannot be exercised, you utter a noise that is meaningless except as posturing. Yes, people with broken legs may dance the tango someday, but at that point it is a safe bet that they won’t have broken legs any more.

  115. >So the movement needs someone clean AND articulate? ;)

    I protest the implication! I was not an affirmative-action hire! :-)

  116. @esr
    “All ethical claims have to recognize differences among categories of people based on how they behave, otherwise you have nothing you can talk about.”

    Yes. But every user can become a coder and vice versa, to larger and smaller extend. But they remain the very same people. So they should have the same rights. Why should an illiterate not have the right to write? There are many ways an illiterate person can get words on paper. So there is no reason to make it illegal for him to write. We can make preparations to help the illiterate, but I see no reason to deny them the right to write, if they want and can organize it.

    @esr
    “For someone who champions the GPL you don’t seem to actually understand it very well.”

    So I say: “I think people should have the right to do with the bits they obtain any way they see fit”
    But that cannot be done under the current law. Being a law-abiding citizen, I will not break the law but look for a way to do “the right thing” inside the law. The GPL gives me the closest under current copyright law what I would want to have without it being there. After copyright law disappears and we can all do what we like with the bits we obtain, you can dump the GPL. Before that, I will publish as much as possible under it’s license. And I do have a slight preference for using GPLed code over BSD/MIT style licenses, but not by much.

    @esr
    “I shall declaim that I am against prohibiting people with broken legs from dancing the tango! Now we are both equally silly.”

    Nope, your legs can heal, or you can ask someone else to do the dancing for you, if needed with you on his back. In both cases you are the one that can take the initiative. If I learn to code, or dance, I am still the same person. Why should I only then obtain rights I did not have before? Who is there to judge when I should qualify for these rights? Why should the law interfere at all?

    But we are talking about different things. People are different, have different needs, and want to be treated differently. And it is not ethical just to treat them all the same.

    But license are not (just) ethical statements. They are legally binding documents that have effects that go far beyond my ethical judgments. I take that into account when I select my license. Even for me, there are sometimes very good reasons to distribute under the most permissive license. But most of the time this is not the case for me.

    And if someone wants to take my code and keep his changes for himself, too bad. Then I keep my program to myself. As you do, so you are treated.

  117. >Why should I only then obtain rights I did not have before?

    This is not even a relevant question. You’ve wandered away from the subject, which is the justification of the GPL on the grounds that it protects the freedom of users. To make the point clearer, suppose I were to write a General Dance License and claim that it protects the freedom of people with two broken legs? That would be nonsense; it can only protect the freedom to dance, and people with two broken legs can’t dance.

    It’s not responsive to argue that broken legs heal. The GPL does not confer on you the ability to read and modify code, only the right to exercise those abilities without legal hindrance if you have them.

    It’s also not responsive to argue a broken-legged person can hire a dancer. The GPL doesn’t protect your right to hire a programmer.

    To sum up, when you are not capable of dancing the GDL is insufficient to protect you. And when you are not capable of programming, the GPL is equally insufficient to protect you. (That way of phrasing it should deflect a lot of silly quibbles about who is a programmer and who is not.)

    You really just confuse the issue, and your own thinking, when you tangle up the scope of the GPL with larger issues about what users should be able to do. It is likely we agree on most of those issues, but that does not mean it is OK to use sloppy reasoning in maintaining your position.

  118. >(to be clear, IMO, rms achieves the level of ‘hacker’, but esr does not.)

    Is this really a position you want to take?

    I’m not asking because of what the claim asserts about me. I evaluate your ability to injure or threaten me with this claim as zero, so I’m not concerned about that. I think you should reconsider it for other reasons: (a) it puts you in the position of asserting a meaning of ‘hacker’ that almost all hackers even under your definition (including RMS) would reject, and (b) supposing you could somehow wave a wand and magically make everyone start using your definition, the net effect would be to damage the interests of hackers under either definition.

  119. And I am not against MIT/BSD style license. They are good licenses. But to me they always induce caution that one day, code development will have moved into an Apple or Sun and I am stuck.

    This is the common Stallmanite boogeyman about “taking code private”. There’s just one problem with this: it’s wrong. If it was possible, Sun would have sucked up BSD long ago; instead, it’s out in the world and flourishing. The same thing goes for lots of other open source code.

    The right answer to this complaint is to simply outcompete the corporation. Someone wants to take my code and use it commercially? Great! They do not harm me in any way by doing so. They cannot interfere with my use, enjoyment, or distribution of the code. As for improvements they might make, even if they don’t contribute back, they an still show how the open source project can improve, and that’s a good thing. The open source project can always outcompete the closed-source competitor, as Eric has shown. (Link, Eric?)

    So the corporation pisses you off by reusing your code. (Instead of, say, flattering you and even hiring you.) Guess what? That’s what freedom is all about. Freedom for everyone, not just your preferred downtrodden minority.

  120. > Is this really a position you want to take?

    Ooops! Someone got under Eric’s skin. Don’t feed the trolls, Eric!

  121. TJL:

    I think rms is a better programmer than esr, (to be clear, IMO, rms achieves the level of ‘hacker’, but esr does not.) to be sure (the evidence is in on this front)

    I would disagree here, simply because I’ve seen and used Eric’s code. Hacker is a state of mind, not a state of code output, and Eric’s definitely got the code chops to have earned his place in that galaxy.

    rms made a severe mistake when he left programming (where he was extremely effective) and started attempting politics (where his ability to affect the world is limited by his lack of maturity.)

    As Eric put it a few years back, he should “shut up and show us the code!”.I would also argue that Stallman’s ability to affect the world is fatally hindered by the sheer wrongness of the change he would like to make.

  122. Now you’re making a claim that goes way beyond anything the GPL addresses. It does not, for example, even guarantee you the right to freely redistribute binaries generated by someone else from GPLed code. This is usually irrelevant because you can regenerate binaries you do have the right to redistribute yourself from the source code that GPL guarantees you access to – but the point is that all it guarantees you is access to the corresponding source code.

    Quoting gplv3: “You may make, run and propagate covered works that you do not convey, without conditions so long as your license otherwise remains in force.”

    So yes, you can distribute the binaries you got from someone else, as long asmthe gpl isn’t canceled, say, by you asserting a patent covering the work.

  123. @Jay Maynard
    “This is the common Stallmanite boogeyman about “taking cod private”. There’s just one problem with this: it’s wrong. If it wa possible, Sun would have sucked up BSD long ago; instead, it out in the world and flourishing.”

    So our philosophical differences are based on different risk assessments? I see the fragmentation caused by the proprietary forks as dammage. Ultimately secret knowledge is always lost.

    Still, if it is fine for Sun to take their work private, why is it wrong for me to ask payment in kind? Is it the fact that I do not ask for money? I give you the option to work on my code, whie Apple does not.

  124. >So yes, you can distribute the binaries you got from someone else, as long asmthe gpl isn’t canceled, say, by you asserting a patent covering the work.

    The clause you quote doesn’t mean what you think it does. The key phrase is “that you do not convey” and “your license”. It’s guaranteeing rights to licensors, not users.

  125. Still, if it is fine for Sun to take their work private, why is it wrong for me to ask payment in kind?

    You’re not asking for payment in kind. You’re demanding control over the work of another. That’s wrong no matter how noble the cause.

  126. @esr
    “You really just confuse the issue, and your own thinking, when you tangle up the scope of the GPL with larger issues about what users should be able to do. It is likely we agree on most of those issues, but that does not mean it is OK to use sloppy reasoning in maintaining your position.”

    That is why I am here, to clear up the confusion.

    I pick FLOSS to always be able to find someone who can maintain it for me. Be it myself or not. And the GPL ensures I can always obtain the means to maintain the system, ie, source etc.. Other licenses can leave me dry without the build system. So, as a user I get more assurance from the GPL.

    As a developer, the GPL gives me the payment I realy want: better code.

    A win wiin for me.

  127. > The key phrase is “that you do not convey” and “your license”. It’s guaranteeing rights to licensors, not users.

    I think you should re-check this, Eric.

  128. @Jay> I refuse to use any Linux distribution that calls itself “GNU/Linux” for this reason.

    Of course, if you were really standing on your principles, you would refuse to use any GPL-licensed code, including the linux kernel, and the gcc toolchain.

    Nor would you use Google, who mostly use linux to power their service.

    But that would be inconvenient, wouldn’t it?

  129. To make the point clearer, suppose I were to write a General Dance License and claim that it protects the freedom of people with two broken legs? That would be nonsense; it can only protect the freedom to dance, and people with two broken legs can’t dance.

    Suppose your GDL were applied to choreography you had created, which is your intellectual property. Without your permission, no one can perform your dance. Fortunately for our hypothetical person who can’t dance, he can hire dancers to perform your dance. The GDL conveys this freedom to him which he would not otherwise have.

    This is not just hair-splitting. There are people who say that you can have the right to do something but not have the right to pay someone else to do it on your behalf. Heck, there are laws against paying people to do certain things that are perfectly legal to do yourself.

    Imagine an automaker telling you that you have to bring your car to one of its dealerships for all service work. No Jiffy Lube for your oil changes. A General Service License “gives mechanics the freedom” to work on my car? I guess, but more importantly it gives me the freedom to hire the mechanic of my choice if I’m not skilled/equipped enough to change my own oil.

  130. >I would disagree here, simply because I’ve seen and used Eric’s code. Hacker is a state of mind, not a state of code output, and Eric’s definitely got the code chops to have earned his place in that galaxy.

    Er. This is kind of self-contradictory, Jay. If you really think hacking is not a state of code output, then how are my code chops a qualifier at all?

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate the implied compliment. But it seems to me that neither you nor the Jesus Lizzard are thinking through the consequences of your definitions very clearly. If I’m reading the Lizzard correctly, he wants to restrict the term to a very small collection of superhackers. This isn’t an outright crazy position to take on its own merits, but it disconnects the Lizzard from the common usage of the only people with whom he can discuss it intelligently. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to hold a consistent position on “state of mind” vs. “state of code” even within one paragraph.

    The interesting question here is not whether I am a hacker. That just unhelpfully personalizes the issues. The interesting question is whether either of you has a recognition algorthm for ‘hacker’ that yields useful results and doesn’t violate the intuitions of our peers.

  131. Hacking is not a religion. ” I’m a Christian” and “I’m a hacker” sound quite similar to me.

  132. Imagine an automaker telling you that you have to bring your car to one of its dealerships for all service work. No Jiffy Lube for your oil changes. A General Service License “gives mechanics the freedom” to work on my car? I guess, but more importantly it gives me the freedom to hire the mechanic of my choice if I’m not skilled/equipped enough to change my own oil.

    Your analogy makes me ill.

    Imagine a hospital telling you that you have to bring your surgeon to one of its surgical centers for all surgery. No Jiffy Biopsy on the street corner for your tissue samples. A General Physician License “gives doctors the freedom” to work on my body? I guess, but more importantly it gives me the freedom to hire the doctor of my choice if I’m not skilled/equipped enough to do my own biopsy.

  133. @Winter:

    So I was right, many here see it as their birthright to control what others do in the privacy of their own home? Be it with software or with music. But then you should not fulminate against those who want to distribute under their OWN conditions.

    That’s silly. Oneida wants to use copyright on a tiny little logo to control whether legally manufactured watches can be imported into this country. Whether the supreme court finds that legal or not, it is wrong and obnoxious, and I will fulminate against it until I am worn out. Likewise, RMS attempts to use copyright to control what other people do, in a manner that has already been found wanting by the courts in other cases, and that’s just wrong as well.

    Obviously, you are allowed to keep your code secret.

    That doesn’t appear to be obvious to RMS; or rather, it doesn’t appear to be moral to him.

    But as long as copyright law is as it is now, you should not build your code on top of GPLed licensed code. You received given the work under the condition that you would publish any source. If you do not want to do that, you should either change the law so everybody can do what they want, or not take their code.

    You have pointedly ignored all the evidence I have showed you that (a) RMS claims he can control what I do with bits in my own home; and (b) copyright law does not actually allow him to do this in this manner. If I write a program that CAN link to GPLed readline, and deliver it to someone who links it with GPLed readline, that is fine. But Stallman doesn’t think so.

    Let me give a physical real-world example. If I create a widget that anybody can use to modify an automobile, then the schematic I used to build the widget is none of GM’s goddamn business, even if my device is tiny compared to the car, even if my device is useless without the car, and even if my device only works on Buicks. (OTOH, if I install my widget on one Buick, and then use my star trek replicator to make lots of copies of that, then GM will have a legitimate beef. Fortunately, I can assuage their anger by selling them the schematic for the replicator.)

    First, if there is anyone at the FSF whom I admire enough to be insulted as follower, it would be Eben Moglen.

    That’s no better. Like Stallman (and apparently, in line with your own personal inspirations), Moglen is the master of spin. My father-in-law has a word for people like this: “articulate bastards.”

    In a slashdot interview in 2003, someone asked:

    One issue that I know has come up for me is how the GPL applies in situations where I’m using GPL software but I’m not actually modifying it. For example, I write a Java application, and it is reliant on a JAR that is GPL’d. Do I then need to GPL my software? I haven’t changed the JAR in anyway, I’m just redistributing it with my software. The end user could just as easily download the JAR themselves, it’s just a convenience for me to offer it in my package.

    My answer would have been that the GPL forbids you to distribute the JAR, so sorry, make them get it from somewhere else. But Moglen starts tapdancing.

    The language or programming paradigm in use doesn’t determine the rules of compliance, nor does whether the GPL’d code has been modified. The situation is no different than the one where your code depends on static or dynamic linking of a GPL’d library, say GNU readline. Your code, in order to operate, must be combined with the GPL’d code, forming a new combined work, which under GPL section 2(b) must be distributed under the terms of the GPL and only the GPL. If the author of the other code had chosen to release his JAR under the Lesser GPL, your contribution to the combined work could be released under any license of your choosing, but by releasing under GPL he or she chose to invoke the principle of “share and share alike.”

    I addressed this a few months after that (November 2003) on the Python mailing list. Here is a repost of what I had to say about that then:

    A casual reading of this certainly supports the idea that it is
    impermissible to write code which uses readline without releasing
    that code under a GPL-compatible license, but a closer reading
    may lead to a different conclusion.

    Moglen admits that the combination of “your code” with GPLed code
    is “a new combined work” (implicitly acknowledging that “your code”
    is a separate work with no GPLed code in it and thus is not covered
    by the GPL until it becomes part of the “new combined work”).

    He (deliberately IMO) fails to address what happens when the author
    of “your code” declines to distribute this “new combined work”,
    and the rest of the paragraph assumes and reinforces the idea that
    OF COURSE the “new combined work” will be distributed intact.

    Obfuscatory tactics such as writing “in order to operate, must”
    instead of “will not be as functional unless” are there to keep
    the reader from noticing that “your code” has transmogrified into
    “your contribution to the combined work”, and then, to drive
    his point home without resorting to any concrete statements which
    could be proven false, Moglen concludes with the legally meaningless
    but morally high-sounding principle of “share and share alike”.

    The FSF’s goals of wanting to coerce authors into releasing new
    code under the GPL, and simultaneously wanting users to enjoy
    “maximum freedom” have led them into a conundrum in this instance.
    Since an author is also a user, as long as he is not actually
    distributing the GPLed software, e.g. readline, he is free to
    study the software on his system, and he is even free to combine
    it with his own software (modify it) for his own use as long as he
    follows sections 2a and 2c of the license (which are not at all
    restrictive). So it would appear that the FSF has no real legal
    ability under the GPL to keep someone from writing and distributing
    a package which uses readline, as long as that person does not
    simultaneously distribute readline itself.

    IMO, disallowing a developer from distributing readline along with
    his non-GPLed program which uses readline is perfectly reasonable
    and provides gentle guidance to developers that it is much easier
    to GPL their programs than to force their users to go out and
    download all the parts themselves, but the specious posturing of
    trying to claim that any program which could be used in conjunction
    with readline must be released under the GPL (see Aladdin Ghostscript)
    is not really all that astute.

    Second, I am not an anarchist, so what?

    You don’t have to be an anarchist to get people to take you seriously here.

    But you do have to acknowledge the truth. A great start would be the simple admission that the FSF attempts to use the license to do things that copyright does’t allow it to do. Once you get there, we can work on the next 11 steps.

  134. @Jay Maynard
    “You’re not asking for payment in kind. You’re demanding control over the work of another. That’s wrong no matter how noble the cause.”

    So it IS the money.

    Never made a work for hire? Signed an employment contract? Sold a future or put option? The GPL is a put option contract where you get the code and promise to share any changes back. A barter contract. It is very unlikely you never have signed a contract that did just that, put control over your work in the hands of others. If you do not have, most of those visiting this site WILL have done that.

    But the GPL is a commitment you cannot pay off with money. It seems to me that is the painful aspect you (and many others) cannot stand.

  135. (to be clear, IMO, rms achieves the level of ‘hacker’, but esr does not.)

    HAhaHAhahahaHAhahaa…. *snort!* *giggle*

    HAHAhahahahahHAHAhahahahaha…

    That’ just rich.

  136. >The GDL conveys this freedom to him which he would not otherwise have.

    This is the exact same mistake Winter is making. I’ve refuted it at least twice already, but if I have to do it again…

    “Fortunately for our hypothetical person who can’t dance, he can hire dancers to perform your dance. ” Yes, he can. this is true but irrelevant. If the rhetorical justification of the GDL were that it protects the right of hired dancers to pirouette on behalf of people with broken legs, then the parallel would be correct.

    Compare these two statements:

    1. The GPL protects the freedom of programmers acting as proxies for users’ interests to do things users can not do for themselves

    2. The GPL protects the freedom of users.

    The first claim is true and justified by your argument (and Winter’s). The second claim is false. Your error is in treating them as though 1 implies 2. To see how this is erroneous, consider a hypothetical world in which users are legally barred from hiring programmers to act in their interests (perhaps a religion has arisen in which programming is a holy act not to be profaned with mere money).

    The reason this difference matters is that claim 2 is an unjustified grab for the moral high ground. The reality of the GPL (as with all other open source licenses!) is that it asserts the right of programmers to do certain sorts of things predicated on access to the source code. It may be true that those sorts of things imply benefits to users; in fact, I think it is true. That’s not a justification for rhetorical dishonesty.

  137. @GPL:

    You may make, run and propagate covered works that you do not convey, without conditions so long as your license otherwise remains in force.

    @J. Jay:

    So yes, you can distribute the binaries you got from someone else, as long asmthe gpl isn’t canceled, say, by you asserting a patent covering the work.

    No, GPL v3 makes a distinction between “propagate” and “convey” (which is a superset of propagate). Distributing a binary to a third party is not covered by this section.

    @Jezus Lizzard:

    The key phrase is “that you do not convey” and “your license”. It’s guaranteeing rights to licensors, not users.

    I think you should re-check this, Eric.

    I think he’s right on this. Basically, if you violate the GPL, e.g. by distributing binaries without source, then your license is no longer in force. This clause attempts to keep you from using the software at all at that point. Whether that holds up or not (for the running part) is anybody’s guess. Of course, it’s also saying you have to stop running it if somebody asserts a patent. It’s always a neat hack when you can check two conditions with a single variable.

  138. @Patrick Maupin
    “But you do have to acknowledge the truth. A great start would be the simple admission that the FSF attempts to use the license to do things that copyright does’t allow it to do. Once you get there, we can work on the next 11 steps.”

    It is copyright law and the courts that determine which works are legally independent.

    The FSF has a “liberal” interpretation (in line with their maximizing GPLed code policies) that implies that combining code fragments to create a functional unit could constitute a derivative work which should be GPLed if one of them is GPLed. You would get the same result if one of the components was copyrighted by MS. And your “watch” example shows the Supreme court seems to agree with the most extremist interpretation.

    I am a proponent of clearly stating what the open interfaces of a program are. Like in the LGPL, all confusion is cleared because it specifically allows dynamic linking to programs not licensed under the (L)GPL. Linus Torlvalds also makes it clear how non-GPLed programs are accepted to access the kernel and how not.

    But the coverage and validity of copyright licenses is NOT the choice of the FSF, or whomever. It is the courts that decide what is and what is not a “derived” work. So in this case it is Eben Moglen stating his understanding of the law. Which could be wrong. But I would not bet on him being wrong.

    Your opinion on this matter is just as inconsequential as mine. And we might want the FSF to behave differently, they are free to act inside the law. Their standpoint is simple, if your code needs GPLed code to function, we bet on it having to be GPLed by law. And I am afraid all court cases in copyright cases have ended with exactly this conclusion.

  139. >HAhaHAhahahaHAhahaa…. *snort!* *giggle*

    See, Lizzard, this is what I mean about violating inituitions. pdwalker is laughing at you because he finds the implied claim that I am not a hacker ludicrous. You can go ahead and maintain your definition anyway, but it will have consequences for your ability to communicate with and persuade others. Those consequences are independent of the purely logical merit of whatever your definition is.

    Actually, I think I’d be interested to hear it. I think we could benefit from a list of examples, too.

  140. @esr
    “1. The GPL protects the freedom of programmers acting as proxies for users’ interests to do things users can not do for themselves

    2. The GPL protects the freedom of users.”

    What is the difference between these two except for the number of words?

    The freedom of users is unspecified, so it should take the maximal interpretation fitting within the context. Ad 1 is squarely within this maximal interpretation, as one of the freedoms a user has under the GPL. Ad 2 Also includes for users to become programmers, or for users to use some, as yet unspecified, non-human agent to do these things.

    In short, ad 2 overgeneralizes, but includes all interpretations of “freedom” that could be relevant for the users.

    In other contexts ad 2 could involve voting rights, labor rights, migration or housing rights, etc. But in this context any of those interpretations of ad 2 would benon-sensical and non-cooperative. So only an interpretation that includes ad 1 and a few others is relevant here. And that is what would be expected to be communicated to readers. Except, obviously to some readers who do not like to see the GPL mentioned in one sentence with user freedom.

    You might want to read about the Gricean maxims
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Gricean_maxims

    They help understanding conversations.

  141. @Winter:

    Your opinion on this matter is just as inconsequential as mine. And we might want the FSF to behave differently, they are free to act inside the law. Their standpoint is simple, if your code needs GPLed code to function, we bet on it having to be GPLed by law. And I am afraid all court cases in copyright cases have ended with exactly this conclusion.

    Thank you for finally implicitly acknowledging that you believe it is OK for the FSF to fuck over people who want to build an add-on widget that others can add to their Buick, for the sole reason that the Buick is built from software, not hardware.

    However, you are still studiously ignoring the court cases I have provided, and you have not shown a single court case that would lead to your conclusion.

  142. > But the GPL is a commitment you cannot pay off with money.

    Especially those who can’t get a job, bitch constantly about Obama’s economy, and can’t sell their airplane (because, ya know, the wings on that model tend to fall off.)

  143. To see how this is erroneous, consider a hypothetical world in which users are legally barred from hiring programmers to act in their interests (perhaps a religion has arisen in which programming is a holy act not to be profaned with mere money).

    Let us consider a hypothetical XGPL that includes language that says “You have the freedom to hire a programmer to do exercise any of the above freedoms on your behalf”. This explicitly protects a freedom of the user. But your hypothetical law supersedes that provision of the XGPL. The fact that a government acts like that doesn’t change what the license says.

    A government could also pass legislation that renders statement 1 untrue. Would you put the blame for that on the government or the GPL?

    I have no idea what Jesus Lizard’s point is. There are private laboratory operations. I can go to one of them, submit a sample, and get test results back without having to go to a particular hospital (provided I’m willing to pay out of pocket and keep my insurer out of it). If we went to a fully nationalized health care system, we’d lose that.

  144. @Winter:

    You might want to read about the Gricean maxims
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Gricean_maxims

    They help understanding conversations.

    I am not at all surprised that you are familiar with these, but did it ever occur to you to wonder why more than one person has told you about them?

    In any case, a defense of a philosophy requires much more carefully measured speech than a mere query about the location of the corner grocery store, and the use of the written, rather than spoken, word, in a forum that does not absolutely require real-time response allows you to easily adapt your words to the conditions at hand. (Especially in a forum where your words don’t unexpectedly go missing, not like that other forum where you hang out.) And I think most present will agree that the ongoing discussion could, in many respects, be more accurately characterized as a “debate” than as a “conversation.” It comes complete with a lot of misdirection and studious avoidance of certain key concepts.

    Finally, if you are trying to goad ESR into banning you so you can show some sort of moral equivalence with groklaw, I think you’ll probably have to try a lot harder than that.

  145. > There are private laboratory operations.

    I’m sure you’ll find these are licensed.

  146. @Winter:

    @Jay Maynard
    “You’re not asking for payment in kind. You’re demanding control over the work of another. That’s wrong no matter how noble the cause.”

    So it IS the money.

    No, it’s not about the money. It’s about giving somebody some source code that they can do whatever the hell they want with, and about preferring to cooperate with other programmers who do the same, and about educating programmers that the license the choose matters, and maybe not in the way they think. The GPL license is not viral the way some people think, rather it’s a dominant gene license. The mere fact that you can’t link GPL v2-only and GPL v3 stuff together should give you a clue as to how fucked up this is.

  147. See, Lizzard, this is what I mean about violating inituitions. pdwalker is laughing at you because he finds the implied claim that I am not a hacker ludicrous. You can go ahead and maintain your definition anyway, but it will have consequences for your ability to communicate with and persuade others. Those consequences are independent of the purely logical merit of whatever your definition is.

    Well, we certainly ought to give up on our beliefs the second someone laughs at them. Particularly if we’re in the minority.

    TJL: I’m impressed with your work.

  148. @Patrick Maupin
    “However, you are still studiously ignoring the court cases I have provided, and you have not shown a single court case that would lead to your conclusion.”

    My conclusion is that the courts define the limits of copyright law. Is there a court case that says otherwise?

    If you think the FSF is wrong and overstretches copyright law, fight them in court. I have no indication that they do not believe in their interpretation. The FSF say they are happy to go to court to settle this matter. You might even get some entity to sponsor your case.

    But if you want an admission that the FSF can act unfriendly and very righteous and might try to stretch the law if they could, you have it. RMS, and the FSF, can be very very consistent. As Luther already said “Jede Konsequenz führt zum Teufel” (consistency leads to the devil). I think they are not there yet. But I know some users of the GPL who have already have taken their precautions by removing the “and later” clause out of the GPL.

  149. @TJL

    The license a medical laboratory gets from a government is orthoganal to your earlier rant

    “Imagine a hospital telling you that you have to bring your surgeon to one of its surgical centers for all surgery…”

    hospital!=government (for now).

  150. @Patrick Maupan
    “I am not at all surprised that you are familiar with these, but did it ever occur to you to wonder why more than one person has told you about them?”

    I came across them in a scholarly role. I can still learn, I agree.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “And I think most present will agree that the ongoing discussion could, in many respects, be more accurately characterized as a “debate” than as a “conversation.””

    Strictly speaking, debates are conversations and follow the same rules, but I understand your point. But a debate requires more structure, so I would still categorize this as an informal discussion, not a more formal debate.

    Back to my original remark, I was “politely” informing eric that I considered his distinctions were mere sophisms based on putting the words in an incorrect context.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “Finally, if you are trying to goad ESR into banning you so you can show some sort of moral equivalence with groklaw, I think you’ll probably have to try a lot harder than that.”

    ???? If eric thinks my presence here is unwanted, he just has to tell me so (he has my email from the comments). I post from several IP addresses, so banning could be less effective. However, it is nice to see people read my musings at Groklaw. Do you remember my tag line?

  151. Eric:

    >I would disagree here, simply because I’ve seen and used Eric’s code. Hacker is a state of mind, not a state of code output, and Eric’s definitely got the code chops to have earned his place in that galaxy.

    Er. This is kind of self-contradictory, Jay. If you really think hacking is not a state of code output, then how are my code chops a qualifier at all?

    I view code output as sort of a threshold requirement: a concrete demonstration that one possesses not only the hacker nature, but also the specific version of it that makes it relevant to discussions of hacking as pertaining to computing. Consider, for example, someone who does hackish stuff, but exclusively in the domain of automotive performance tuning. (Of the old fashioned kind, with balanced pistons and dual 4-barrel carburetors and precision machining.) They have the hacker nature, but is it useful to call them a hacker unqualified?

    ESR says: Good answer. Let’s see if the Jesus Lizzard can do as well.

  152. Winter:

    it is nice to see people read my musings at Groklaw.

    I don’t recall seeing you there in the short time i was welcome (FSVO “welcome”), but I’m not at all surprised you fully espouse the Groklawian groupthink.

  153. @ Patrick Maupin
    >… people who want to build an add-on widget that others can add to their Buick, for the sole reason that the Buick is built from software, not hardware.

    I know this is a simplification of your earlier analogy, but it falls down on at least 2 points:

    1. A Buick isn’t very much like a lump of source code (conceptually buying a Buick is akin to buying a proprietary piece of software in binary only); and
    2. The GPL requirement to disclose source is triggered by distribution. Your model states that the creation of the derivative is the trigger.

  154. >The freedom of users is unspecified, so it should take the maximal interpretation fitting within the context. Ad 1 is squarely within this maximal interpretation, as one of the freedoms a user has under the GPL. Ad 2 Also includes for users to become programmers, or for users to use some, as yet unspecified, non-human agent to do these things.

    Which is all very well, except that the GPL does not protect any of these “maximal” interpretations.

    Take your first claim: the GPL is a good thing because it protects the freedom of users to become programmers. Er…how’s that again? To see how dubious this is, compare it to a slightly different claim: the GPL makes it easier for people to become programmers. This claim is clearly true; access to source code is helpful in that regard. But “protects my freedom to do X” is a different claim from “makes it easier for me to do X”.

    For the stronger claim (“protecting freedom”) to be true, we need to posit that there is some sort of potential active interference with becoming a programmer against which the GPL can invoke legal counterforce. What sort of interference would that be? What could it be? There is nobody using coercion to prevent people from becoming programmers, and if someone were to develop that as an evil master plan preventing access to source code would be an absurdly ineffective way to do it.

  155. >Let us consider a hypothetical XGPL that includes language that says “You have the freedom to hire a programmer to do exercise any of the above freedoms on your behalf”

    You have it backwards. Writing a license that says “You have a right to hire an assassin” won’t stop you from being prosecuted if you try.

    In any case, a license can only confer a right over something to which the licensor has title.

  156. >Well, we certainly ought to give up on our beliefs the second someone laughs at them. Particularly if we’re in the minority.

    If we can’t justify beliefs better than the Lizzard has yet, those are both good heuristics to follow. But I don’t think we should give up on the possibility that he has a justification. Not yet, anyway.

  157. @Tom:

    The GPL requirement to disclose source is triggered by distribution. Your model states that the creation of the derivative is the trigger.

    Were you not paying attention on any of the multiple occasions where I tried to show Winter that the FSF attempts to overreach badly on this issue? They claim multiple ways and in multiple places that if I code up something that can use a GPLed piece of software, and distribute my code without the other code, I am still violating the GPL (unless I place the GPL license on my code). Winter argues this claim could be accurate, because in his view, no court has ruled on it yet.

    @Winter:

    But you do have to acknowledge the truth. A great start would be the simple admission that the FSF attempts to use the license to do things that copyright does’t allow it to do. Once you get there, we can work on the next 11 steps.

    It is copyright law and the courts that determine which works are legally independent.

    I see I screwed up and inadvertently combined the first two steps, and you can’t get that far. Step 1 of acknowledging the truth is a simple admission that there is no moral difference between me designing a widget that can attach to a Buick and selling it without schematics, and designing a widget that can attach to GPLed software and selling it without the source. But I doubt we’ll get there either.

    As far as your rebuttal, yes, the laws and court precedent are powerful things, but neither are on the side of the FSF on this particular issue.

    The FSF has a “liberal” interpretation (in line with their maximizing GPLed code policies) that implies that combining code fragments to create a functional unit could constitute a derivative work which should be GPLed if one of them is GPLed.

    It is absolutely correct that a combined work like this is subject to both copyrights. I already said as much. But if it is the end user that does the actual combining, then the provider of one of the works is off the hook, even if his work was designed specifically to be combined with the other work. Even if it were to incorporate small portions of that other work, the courts have a lot of history in determining fair use vs. not, functional vs. literary elements, etc., that will come down to a finding of non-infringement in all but the most egregious cases.

    You would get the same result if one of the components was copyrighted by MS.

    That will never be directly tested because MS is not going to ship code the user has to link to GPLed software.

    And your “watch” example shows the Supreme court seems to agree with the most extremist interpretation.

    They haven’t decided yet. (BTW, I screwed up when I wrote Oneida — I meant “Omega”)

    I am a proponent of clearly stating what the open interfaces of a program are. Like in the LGPL, all confusion is cleared because it specifically allows dynamic linking to programs not licensed under the (L)GPL. Linus Torlvalds also makes it clear how non-GPLed programs are accepted to access the kernel and how not.

    Well that’s nice of Linus and all. Could it be that he implicitly understands that he shouldn’t attempt to control that which he morally can’t?

    But the coverage and validity of copyright licenses is NOT the choice of the FSF, or whomever. It is the courts that decide what is and what is not a “derived” work.

    Exactly. And I’ve shown you how they have decided similar issues in the past.

    So in this case it is Eben Moglen stating his understanding of the law. Which could be wrong. But I would not bet on him being wrong.

    Oh, I have no doubt he will have a good case if he ever goes to court on any issue. But we probably won’t be seeing that on this particular issue. And if you don’t think he followed the FSF’s party line and overreached in his speech, you haven’t been paying attention.

    Your opinion on this matter is just as inconsequential as mine.

    My opinion has actual real-world consequences for my actions that improve the world.

    And we might want the FSF to behave differently, they are free to act inside the law.

    Absolutely! Free speech gives them the right to spout whatever nonsense they want. It doesn’t make it the nonsense right, though.

    Their standpoint is simple, if your code needs GPLed code to function, we bet on it having to be GPLed by law.

    As I have shown, they take the standpoint with rhetoric even if you code doesn’t need GPLed code to function, but can merely use it if it is present, e.g. clisp.

    And I am afraid all court cases in copyright cases have ended with exactly this conclusion.

    However, you are still studiously ignoring the court cases I have provided, and you have not shown a single court case that would lead to your conclusion.

    My conclusion is that the courts define the limits of copyright law. Is there a court case that says otherwise?

    The courts only define the limit where it is ambiguous. In doing so, they use both the actual definition of the limit of copyright law that congress has codified, and prior court cases which embody additional reasoning about that law. (They are supposed to use the constitution as well, but “limited time” does not appear to mean what mere mortals might suspect it does.)

    I have showed you 3 legal cases where, against the will of party (a), party (b) made some software that interoperated with software written by party (a), and party (a) lost the argument where party (b)’s work was a derivative work. If it is not a derivative work, then party (a) has no control over it. You are still arguing that no case has decided this point, yet you have supplied zero reasoning about how tossing the GPL into the mix will make a hill of beans worth of difference to the fundamental issues already decided multiple times by multiple courts.

    If you think the FSF is wrong and overstretches copyright law, fight them in court.

    They can say whatever they want, however damaging it is. I’m merely trying to offer a more realistic perspective here.

    I have no indication that they do not believe in their interpretation.

    Then you are willfully blind. There are a gazillion non-GPL programs on the internet that can make use of GPLed libraries if desired. This even includes one I contribute to, rst2pdf, which can make use of the GPLed svglib.

    The FSF say they are happy to go to court to settle this matter.

    If the FSF were really interested in this, they could easily find a test subject. Now, it may be they’re looking for a less sympathetic test subject, like a closed-source proprietary software vendor. But they probably won’t find one, because the entire rationale for a purchaser of closed-source software is that, not only do they get functionality, they get the functionality painlessly. So you generally won’t find closed-source software that requires the end-user to download and link to GPLed software, because that would defeat the value proposition.

    My conclusion is that, unlike denying the ability to ship linked GPLed code, this particular posturing does not actually punish closed-source vendors; rather (like most of the features of the GPL) it is simply designed to make it painful for open source programmers to use any license other than the GPL, or even to use the previous version of the GPL. (And they say Microsoft is the one with a forced upgrade path!)

    You might even get some entity to sponsor your case.

    There is no doubt that if the FSF is truly itching for a case, it will happen. As I said, there are a ton of potential test cases available. But I’m sure the FSF has to go first, because most people who believe in permissive license probably also believe the FSF has the fundamental right to lie, even when that lie is damaging.

  158. Writing a license that says “You have a right to hire an assassin” won’t stop you from being prosecuted if you try.

    It is the government that controls whether you can be an assassin or not. Suppose you hold a Letter of Marque and Reprisal authorizing you to assasinate Osama Bin Laden and certain of his lieutenants. If it is written to allow you to subcontract that freedom, then you won’t be prosecuted for hiring assassins. Then it’s up to the contract you have with those subcontractors that determines whether they can hire assassins.

    Now, what if you write up your subcontract before you have that Letter of Marque and Reprisal. You have precisely the same subcontract in both cases, but as you point out, you can’t grant to someone a right you don’t already possess. We can interpret this situation in one of two ways: You declare that because this freedom can hypothetically be abridged by a government, the contract does not convey it. But if that’s your criterion, then the GPL conveys no freedoms even to programmers, because that same government can also hypothetically deny even those freedoms that it explicitly says it conveys.

    I say that the contract is a filter; its nature is not changed by what happens upstream or downstream on the pipeline.

    The default filter in copyright law says a user can’t hire a programmer to modify the code, then redistribute that code to others. Only when it’s replaced by the GPL filter can those freedoms be conveyed through the pipeline. Even though there isn’t a word in the GPL explicitly granting that freedom.

  159. >I say that the contract is a filter; its nature is not changed by what happens upstream or downstream on the pipeline.

    A superficially plausible argument, but it leads to the absurd consequence that you’d consider the GPL to “protect freedom” even if the freedom didn’t in fact exist. Compare: With this license, I protect your freedom to be physically immortal.

    Remember that we’re not actually debating the meaning or ethics of “freedom” here; we’re debating whether “protects the freedom of users” is a sensible justification for the GPL. And once again it has led you into a position where you have to twist the meaning of ordinary words like “protect” and “freedom” into pretzels, or make them vacuous, in order to sound justified.

    This problem is not specific to the GPL; it affects “freedom” arguments for any open-source license.

    This sort of bafflegab is why I urged the hacker community to shut the fuck up about “freedom” ten years ago. Experience has shown that we just confuse ourselves when we try to use that word.

  160. Compare: With this license, I protect your freedom to be physically immortal.

    The difference between that hypothetical and what we’re talking about is that thus far no one has figured out how to be physically immortal, but with the GPL people actually DO have the freedom to hire that programmer to modify the code, and without it (or another open source license) they do NOT.

    If the GPL doesn’t protect the freedom of users, it doesn’t protect the freedom of programmers either, because you have to resort to hypothetical government bans that prevent it from conveying one freedom but not others. Again, if that’s your criterion, then it doesn’t do a damned thing for anyone, since those hypothetical government acts can take it all away tomorrow (and might well do so, the way Congress has been acting lately).

    It isn’t bafflegab if it really works out the way we say it does.

  161. @The Monster:

    This has gone down a rabbit hole. Winter originally said:

    I do support the “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”. … “Freedom of the Code” is about protecting the rights of current and future users that might need to use the code others would like to lock down into proprietary silos.

    No, it’s not. It’s nonsense to justify it on the grounds of freedom for users when it’s a freedom users are almost by definition incapable of exercising.

    Eric implied (and later explicitly clarified when questioned on it) that he means “it’s a freedom users are almost by definition incapable of exercising without the aid of a coder“.

    So Eric’s right — any “freedoms” to be exercised have to be exercised by a coder, which means that, in order to be relevant, you cannot really talk rationally about “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”. Instead, you have to talk about different rights (freedom is too strong a word for this, really) that the coder (again, not the user!) has.

    Now, if we’re going to go around postulating some hypothetical coder that the user has access to, I can postulate a really good coder who can use a debugger and read binary files with no problem. This coder does not need access to the source code in order to accomplish his task, so any requirement that source must be provided is a mere convenience and does not actually provide any additional rights to the user. However, the coder hired by the user to work on a GPLed program must give up his right to withhold source code, in order to receive this convenience that my hypothetical superprogrammer could take or leave.

  162. >The difference between that hypothetical and what we’re talking about is that thus far no one has figured out how to be physically immortal,

    OK, then. I create the DEPL = Doctor Evil Public License: “With this license I protect your freedom to have one million dollars.”

    Claiming that this license protects any user freedom is exactly as silly as claiming that the GPL does, and for exactly the same reasons.

    >If the GPL doesn’t protect the freedom of users, it doesn’t protect the freedom of programmers either

    What makes you think I would view this conclusion as a problem? I actually think that denial is a far more sensible position than claiming the GPL protects user freedoms. There is at least some limited justification for describing the capability of programmers to access and modify source code as a “freedom”, but it’s a rhetorical option I would cheerfully give up if it meant that otherwise intelligent people like yourself would stop talking arrant nonsense.

    It’s not that I’m reluctant to talk about freedom per se. Civilian firearms rights, for example, really do protect freedom, because they change the political power equation. Next to that, anything a software license can do is pretty weak tea. Which is maybe why I don’t have much patience for lofty gurgling about “freedom” from people advocating this or that license, even if they’re on my side.

  163. @Jay> I view code output as sort of a threshold requirement: a concrete demonstration that one possesses not only the hacker nature, but also the specific version of it that makes it relevant to discussions of hacking as pertaining to computing. Consider, for example, someone who does hackish stuff, but exclusively in the domain of automotive performance tuning. (Of the old fashioned kind, with balanced pistons and dual 4-barrel carburetors and precision machining.) They have the hacker nature, but is it useful to call them a hacker unqualified?

    @ESR> Good answer. Let’s see if the Jesus Lizzard can do as well.

    quoting: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2789#comment-287752

    Hackers *make*, non-hackers only talk about hacking. When the mood suits them, they create whole machines, or lovingly maintain older examples of what you probably think of as computing’s equivalent of dinosaurs. If so, you’re just another wet-behind-the-ears n00b who thinks memory and CPU cycles are free until s/he trips one ominous day. (S/he will soon be working all night.)

    But again, Hackers *hack*, non-hackers stand around and talk about hacking. That’s all I’m saying. I’ve met hackers in many spaces; woodworking, physicians, (yes, Hacker Doctors!), machinists, teachers, etc. The ‘maker’ movement is really about hacking in the physical world, rather than in software.

    Even Eric has pointed out that the hacker culture is a near meritocracy

  164. Now, if we’re going to go around postulating some hypothetical coder that the user has access to,

    No hypotheticals needed here. There are real flesh-n-blood programmers that are available for hire. If you’re working with OSS, you can have one of them customize it for you, but if isn’t, you can’t.

    The analogy of the car is entirely apt. <movie trailer guy > In a world where car hoods are locked, and only the manufacturers designated service people can work on them… </mtg> The General Repair and Maintenance License allows me to hire any mechanic to work on my car, not just a GM dealer. Yes, this is a freedom “of the car” that can only be exercised with the aid of a mechanic. But to belittle it and say it isn’t a freedom is ridiculous. I normally get this kind of argument from the Left; they don’t see the freedom to hire someone to exercise your freedom on your behalf as a freedom at all, because some EVIL BUSINESS is making money off it. Frankly, ESR is about the last person I could imagine going there… and yet he did.

    However, the coder hired by the user to work on a GPLed program must give up his right to withhold source code

    Why, that sounds almost like it confers a benefit on the user that the programmer may not consider so beneficial!

    Thanks for the help making my case.

  165. Why, that sounds almost like it confers a benefit on the user that the programmer may not consider so beneficial!

    Except you still haven’t shown what the user is going to do with the source!

  166. Claiming that this license protects any user freedom is exactly as silly as claiming that the GPL does, and for exactly the same reasons.

    Horse shit.

    If you don’t have an open source license to guarantee the freedom to hire someone to modify the code and then redistribute the modified code, you don’t have that freedom. Without the license, you can go to jail and pay a huge fine for violating copyright, as the FBI Warning on every DVD proudly warns you. With that license, you are free as a bird. How can you say the license doesn’t really convey this freedom to the user?

    You can call it “arrant nonsense”, but it is the simple fact of life in this very real world, not in some alternate reality where Dr. Evil licenses you a million dollars to hire a dancer with broken legs as an assassin.

  167. Except you still haven’t shown what the user is going to do with the source!

    He’s going to give it to the programmer he hires, silly!

  168. @The Monster:

    Claiming that this license protects any user freedom is exactly as silly as claiming that the GPL does, and for exactly the same reasons.

    If you don’t have an open source license to guarantee the freedom to hire someone to modify the code and then redistribute the modified code, you don’t have that freedom. Without the license, you can go to jail and pay a huge fine for violating copyright, as the FBI Warning on every DVD proudly warns you. With that license, you are free as a bird. How can you say the license doesn’t really convey this freedom to the user?

    This whole thread has been about “extra” freedoms for users that “freedom of the code” offers by taking away “freedom of the programmer”. This is a very specious argument within that context, because (a) it applies to programmers as well as users; and (b) any permissively-licensed software provides the exact same freedom.

    Except you still haven’t shown what the user is going to do with the source!

    He’s going to give it to the programmer he hires, silly!

    Which gets back to the fundamental issue that if it’s not benefiting the programmer, then it’s not benefiting the user. (Unless, of course, the programmer is a slave to the user.)

    In thinking some more about “Freedom of the Code” over the “Freedom of the Coders”, I realized that, not only does the GPL not give any extra rights to users over programmers, in at least one case I beleve that this attempt to do so actually backfires, and a user cannot, in fact, hire a coder to do his dance steps for him.

    Try to imagine a useful, valid software patent. (Well, the GPL devotes a lot of verbiage to patents, and even uses the word “valid”, so there must be one of these somewhere, where “valid” merely means that there is an excellent chance enforcement action will be taken if your code implicates one of the claims in the patent.)

    Now imagine that the patent holder is “reasonable” for some definition thereof; perhaps if you pay him $500, then he will not sue you for using his patent in code that runs your website. Further, imagine a GPLed web server program that could be made much more useful, if only it contained the functionality covered by the patent. Finally, imagine that all parties involved are scrupulously legal.

    A programmer who wants to put up a website that uses some GPLed code and requires the functionality covered by the patent is in luck. He just codes up a little function, links it with the GPLed code, and starts using it. Since he is scrupulously honest, he makes sure that he never shares his modified version of the code with anybody else.

    A user may not be in such good shape. According to the “basic permissions” section of the license, the user may:

    .. convey covered works to others for the sole purpose of having them make modifications exclusively for you, or provide you with facilities for running those works, provided that you comply with the terms of this License in conveying all material for which you do not control copyright. Those thus making or running the covered works for you must do so exclusively on your behalf, under your direction and control, on terms that prohibit them from making any copies of your copyrighted material outside their relationship with you.

    However, that doesn’t say anything about the programmer the user hired. What are his responsibilities in the matter of trying to add this patent-enabled feature to GPLed code on behalf of the user?

    If you convey a covered work, knowingly relying on a patent license, and the Corresponding Source of the work is not available for anyone to copy, free of charge and under the terms of this License, through a publicly available network server or other readily accessible means, then you must either (1) cause the Corresponding Source to be so available, or (2) arrange to deprive yourself of the benefit of the patent license for this particular work, or (3) arrange, in a manner consistent with the requirements of this License, to extend the patent license to downstream recipients. “Knowingly relying” means you have actual knowledge that, but for the patent license, your conveying the covered work in a country, or your recipient’s use of the covered work in a country, would infringe one or more identifiable patents in that country that you have reason to believe are valid.

    That’s actually pretty impenetrable. I mean, I know the programmer is “knowingly relying on a patent license” — he is ethical and made sure the user has a license to use this patent on his website. But what does “(2) arrange to deprive yourself of the benefit of the patent license for this particular work” really mean? That’s really, really important, because the programmer cannot possibly do (3), and runs a huge risk of being sued if he does (1).

    If you know there is a patent, and you know your customer has a license that will let you write code that implicates the patent, then it would almost seem by definition that, if you take money for such code, then you are benefiting from a patent license. The only way to “deprive yourself of the benefit of the patent license” would seem to be to do the work for free, and even that’s not a sure thing.

  169. >quoting: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2789#comment-287752

    I think this definition by Jesus Lizzard is pretty good. It closes with:

    >To close, I’ll just point out that someone who is considered a hacker by other hackers meets the test for being a hacker.

    OK, fine. I’ve written similar things in the past often enough.

    But you also said that RMS is a hacker and I am not. That claim kind of takes a torpedo below the waterline from the fact that RMS calls me a hacker, but since I’m not actually pursuing this topic to defend myself I’ll pass to the more interesting definitional question: What is your threshold for person-who-hacks?

    We can deduce that having written all the code I have (lead of 41 projects listed on Freshmeat, collaborator on dozens of others, libraries linked by about every browser in existence on every Unix machine and cellphone and game console in existence, code in both Linux and BSD kernels) isn’t enough. When VA Linux did its audit back in ’99 of who showed up on the most credits lists of every project in the then-known universe, I was like number #45 or something. Are we to deduce that there were only 44 or fewer hackers in the world then?

    The reason I’m pushing on this is that I want you – and my regulars – to address whether a conjunctive predicate for ‘hacker’ defined that narrowly is any use to anybody. There’s always a tradeoff in questions like this that’s independent of the problem I’ve previously raised about common language and peer intuitions. As you narrow the term ‘hacker’, you make it more of a word of power and awe, but you risk leaving people without a word to describe others who are continuous in attitudes and values without having attained a master-level skill yet.

    This is a problem if you’re trying to sustain a healthy hacker culture! It can’t consist of N million people looking up at a tiny handful of elect and thinking “they are the only hackers, I am not worthy”. That’s not stable. People will just bail out of that tribe – that form of status competition – if they don’t perceive they can win, and soon all you have is a bunch of old farts congratulating themselves with all the fun stuff going on somewhere else.

    When I operate as a hacker cred certification authority, I consider it my job to try to set the “you’re a hacker” bar at a place that is achievable for bright people but requires them to stretch themselves, to create beauty and utility and support their fellow hackers. If you’re going to set the bar so high that even “ESR” can’t make it, what’s the point? What would you actually be accomplishing?

  170. Actually, in thinking about it even more more, the “freedom of the code” issue I described does not even require a patent. It merely requires some GPLed code, a proprietary library (perhaps a video codec), and somebody who wants to connect them together.

    The programmer can do this with impunity and start his website. The user cannot contract with a programmer to do this for him, because the contractor would be violating the GPL as soon as he conveyed the linked version back to the user.

    So the idea that “Freedom of the code” provides additional freedoms to users over programmers is complete bullshit. It just removes somewhat different freedoms from the users than it removes from the programmers.

  171. @esr:

    What is your threshold for person-who-hacks?

    I consider it my job to try to set the “you’re a hacker” bar at a place that is achievable for bright people but requires them to stretch themselves, to create beauty and utility an support their fellow hackers.

    I think you’re definitely on the right track with this. Obviously, the number of hackers is greater than 45 and less than the number of would-be entrepreneurs. There’s no hard cut-off for this, but people will naturally apply adjectives to the “hacker” label: master hacker, padawan hacker, etc. Obviously, this should not be discouraged, but just as obviously, it should not be formalized — real hackers won’t stand for MCSE-equivalent bullshit.

    (Thanks to William B Swift for pointing that entrepreneur article out in an earlier comment.)

  172. > But you also said that RMS is a hacker and I am not.

    I said rms meets my test for being a hacker, and you don’t.

    to be perfectly clear, I’ll quote myself, “I think rms is a better programmer than esr, (to be clear, IMO, rms achieves the level of ‘hacker’, but esr does not.)

    I think you’re a damned good writer (when you have an editor, but there are few in the world who’s writing is not improved under the the tender mercies of a good editor.) and a pretty good programmer (in the spirit of the other PGP).

    But I don’t think you’re actually able to clear the hurdle of feats such as have been turned in by:

    Jordan Hubbard
    Tom Lord
    jlg
    rms
    pg
    linus
    Dick Greenblatt
    Bill Gosper
    Don Hopkins
    John Gilmore

    etc. To be clear, nor am I.

  173. > If you’re going to set the bar so high that even “ESR” can’t make it, what’s the point?

    You show a certain proclivity for getting bored of your projects, and dropping support for them, and this doesn’t set the example of someone who will relentlessly pursue perfection in his codebase.

    Seriously, Eric: When the first paragraph is all “we break with thee”… http://www.fetchmail.info/design-notes.html

  174. >If you don’t have an open source license to guarantee the freedom to hire someone to modify the code and then redistribute the modified code,

    Here we go again. The license can’t guarantee you that freedom. You don’t get to walk up to J. Random Programmer waving the GPL like a hypnotist’s pocketwatch and saying “You…will…modify…my…code!”

    In fact, whether you can hire a programmer to modify code for you is pretty much orthogonal to whether the code is GPLed or not. You have source; offer him enough money and he’ll probably hack it without troubling himself over whether you have the right to use or redistribute it. If you’ve received stolen good and redistribute them it’s not really his problem.

    You’re going to say “Aha! Then you admit that FSF grants users freedom to redistribute source!” Well yes, trivially. But it’s a meaningless “freedom” because lacking the ability to turn source into object they can’t use the results. This is yet another instance where an emotional attachment to using “freedom” as a term of rhetoric draws us into talking nonsense disconnected from any user’s actual problem.

  175. >You show a certain proclivity for getting bored of your projects, and dropping support for them, and this doesn’t set the example of someone who will relentlessly pursue perfection in his codebase.

    OK, this is it least defensible in principle even if I think you have your facts wrong about me. Since I’m not pursuing this thread to defend myself, I’m neither going to present countervailing evidence nor point the same finger at, oh, at least three of the people on your shortlist.

    The problem here is that you’ve now added a third difficult conjunct to your definition of ‘hacker’. Never mind that I’m inclined to agree with it; that leads to a couple of questions. Like, when can we expect the fourth through Nth to materialize? And, again, what use is a definition that draws the circle so tight?

  176. Eric,

    I don’t really see a problem. We have differing definitions for ‘hacker’. I think my ‘bar’ is set a bit higher than yours. You can use yours, I’ll use mine.

    I think the fundamental thing, (for me) about hacking iis that central idea found in Eastern philosophies which centers mainly on the pursuit of perfection. The idea that the program isn’t perfect when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to remove.

    Hackers work on their craft, tools and product (no matter the field). They don’t sit around doing spit-takes on blogs.

  177. Here we go again. The license can’t guarantee you that freedom. You don’t get to walk up to J. Random Programmer waving the GPL like a hypnotist’s pocketwatch and saying “You…will…modify…my…code!”

    That isn’t a freedom. That’s a compulsion. The user’s freedom to hire the programmer to do a job is complemented by the programmer’s freedom to bargain over the terms of the contract and refuse if he doesn’t find them acceptable.

    That it is a matter of the two parties reaching mutual agreement, and that no other person may legally demand they desist, is what makes this “freedom” for both parties. Without the open source license, even if the user and programmer agree on those terms, they are not legally allowed to enter into that contract, because a contract to perform an illegal act is unenforceable. No matter how you try to twist things, the open source license guarantees freedoms to the user (whether he is a programmer or not) that he would not have without that license. Of course, all the parties involved have the greatest freedom, which is to just not use the open-source-licensed code in the first place.

    That’s why I use the word “freedom” rather than the more easily-twisted “right” in a case like this. I’ve been around enough people insisting “we ought to have a right to free {health care|University education|Internet access|…}” to use terminology that is less amenable to such sophistry.

    I guess I underestimated you.

  178. >>Hackers work on their craft, tools and product (no matter the field). They don’t sit around doing spit-takes on blogs.

    Appearance are deceiving.

  179. >But I don’t think you’re actually able to clear the hurdle of feats such as have been turned in by:

    This brings up another question, which I’m going to re-emphasize is not actually about me; it’s about how certification authority and gatekeepership work in this culture.

    The username ‘jlg’ I do not presently recognize. And I’ve never met Bill Gosper, alas. But I do know everyone else on that list; with at least three of them (RMS, Hopkins, Gilmore) I go back decades. In 6 of those 8 remaining cases there is no doubt that they would call me a hacker because I’ve heard them do it. In the 2 other cases I’m not in any real doubt, but let’s be as favorable to your position as we can be under the facts; it sharpens our probe of the underlying question about certification.

    So: a minimum of six of eight of the people you call hackers call me a hacker. And you say of yourself that you do not match their level of mastery. What is your authority to say they are wrong?

    You are, of course, free to hold and to argue for any definition of ‘hacker’ that you like. But you’ve now put yourself in a position where, by trying to decertify me, you’ve contradicted a clear majority of the people you yourself give as reference examples. This seems a particularly rum thing to do given that you seem to be tacitly admitting you are not yourself a ‘hacker’ in your tems.

    So, how do you think certification works? Is it like being blackballed at a gentlemen’s club, one dissent and you’re denied? Do you claim the privilege of blackballing me for supposed abandonment of projects even though you’re not actually a member of the club yourself? How is this supposed to work, exactly, in your universe?

  180. > The username ‘jlg’ I do not presently recognize.

    James Gosling.. I’m sure you can look him up on wikipedia, or something.

    Gilmore doesn’t think you’re a hacker. I’ve not asked Hopkins.

  181. Without the open source license, even if the user and programmer agree on those terms, they are not legally allowed to enter into that contract, because a contract to perform an illegal act is unenforceable.

    That it is a matter of the two parties reaching mutual agreement, and that no other person may legally demand they desist, is what makes this “freedom” for both parties.

    I’ve been around enough people insisting “we ought to have a right to free {health care|University education|Internet access|…}” to use terminology that is less amenable to such sophistry.

    You obviously mean “less amenable to other’s sophistry.” The whole discussion has been about additional user rights granted by the GPL’s requirement to deliver source. With a permissive license, as I showed, two parties can reach mutual agreement, and no other person may legally demand they desist, but with the GPL, a third party can demand that one of the parties not actually deliver GPLed code linked with non-GPLed code to the other, even if the parties are in perfect agreement that that’s what they want.

  182. >I don’t really see a problem. We have differing definitions for ‘hacker’. I think my ‘bar’ is set a bit higher than yours. You can use yours, I’ll use mine.

    I can’t make you discuss the subject. But I was hoping to use your answers to explore real issues about how the culture actually works. Oh well.

    One last thing for you to think about. You and I are both old-timers. You have implied a notion that having people carry lots of wildly differing definitions of ‘hacker’ is not a problem; you use yours, I’ll use mine, svaha! I respectfully submit that this was a position that did little harm in 1980 but is rather more injurious in 2010. The reason is simple: change of scale.

    When you and I were new at this, the hacker culture was very small, possibly even below the 250-person threshold that allows everyone to scoreboard everyone else. Thus, having a consensus definition of “hacker” was relatively unimportant; we knew it when we saw it in each other. That was a long time ago and the population is much larger now. Criteria that don’t depend quite so critically on the person applying them are more important.

    Perhaps it’s indicative, in restrospect, that I felt a need for “How To Become A Hacker” to exist almost exactly halfway through that span in 1996.

  183. >Gilmore doesn’t think you’re a hacker.

    Then either he’s changed his mind or you’re hallucinating. I know which seems more likely to me.

  184. The question about the GPL is, what problem does the GPL solve that the MIT license, say, does not? People say it protects a freedom of the user–what freedom? No one in OSS is disputing that they would prefer to get a GPL’d piece of software than one under an MS EULA. The debate over the GPL is precisely the debate between the GPL and non-viral licenses, most prominently the BSD, but including many others. The claim that I’ve seen is that it protects a freedom of the user to modify the code. Let’s assume that the user is a coder, in the position of a user (thus, not a developer on the program or with any access to its repository, but simply receiving the program for use in the way a non-coder could). The only freedom that the GPL affords them is the ability to modify the code more easily than they could under a proprietary license. However, this is duplicated entirely by non-viral OSS licenses; the GPL, in fact, removes the freedom of a user (who is also a coder) to redistribute their work under whatever license they choose, if it connects to or derives from the GPL’d code in any way (in an extreme case, having looked at the GPL’d source before writing their own program might contaminate it). Thus, the freedoms of the user under non-viral licenses are strictly greater than the user’s freedoms under the GPL.

    Having said that, let’s address the GPL-vs.-proprietary debate. Software distributed under the GPL comes with source, and hence users who are coders can easily modify it. This might be a ‘freedom of the user’ that the GPL protects. However, the implied freedom is irrelevant to the GPL, or source code specifically. You can postulate a user-who-is-a-coder who is also really good at reverse engineering, and hence doesn’t actually need the source to modify the program. The only thing that would abridge that freedom is a proprietary license that specifically forbade it. And while that is indeed reprehensible, it’s once again irrelevant to the GPL. I personally believe that proprietary licenses of the latter sort should be disallowed by copyright law; however, the GPL doesn’t fix that potential violation.

    From what I read of Stallman’s writings, the laws that he would like to change are those that allow licenses like the one I discuss above, which would legally prevent the user from modifying the program for his own use. In this regard, I quite agree with him. However, what he and the FSF rail against is the distribution of software without source code at all; and legally forbidding this is even more reprehensible. Really, I’m not sure what point the GPL has. It doesn’t protect the software in any sense; the only thing it forbids is others making derivative works and distributing them non-GPL. This action does not harm the software in any way. The rhetoric used is ‘prevent the software from going closed’; however, if the software was ever publicly available under any OSS license, that version is still available under that license. Nothing can make the software unavailable at that point. Having other, closed versions in existence does not threaten the openness of the original software.

  185. > Perhaps it’s indicative, in restrospect, that I felt a need for “How To Become A Hacker” to exist almost exactly halfway through that span in 1996.

    And it shows a 1996 mindset:

    1. Learn how to program.
    2. Get one of the open-source Unixes and learn to use and run it.
    3. Learn how to use the World Wide Web and write HTML.
    4. If you don’t have functional English, learn it.

    I think the maker movement, especially around the use of CAM methods, with the early outputs of things like arduino, processing, cupcake / makerbot / reprap, linux-based CNCs, and open source CADEM tools is going to have a far larger impact on the real world than people being able to write HTML.

    Currently I’m working on a G-Code generator in (Common) Lisp.

    > Then either he’s changed his mind or you’re hallucinating.

    Others have been banned from this blog for pointing out your mistakes herein. I won’t fall into the same trap.

  186. >>Hackers work on their craft, tools and product (no matter the field). They don’t sit around doing spit-takes on blogs.

    Appearance are deceiving.

    I know I certainly have been the past few months…I’ve learned far more about C++ in large projects than I ever thought I wanted to know. Yech bleagh pooey. Oh, for a natively compiled language with wide cross-platform support and GUI bindings that isn’t covered in crap.

  187. >Others have been banned from this blog for pointing out your mistakes herein. I won’t fall into the same trap.

    Right. I’m not a hacker, but you won’t do what you (incorrectly) think might put you at risk of being banned from my blog. The inconsistency in your behavior backs up the “you’re hallucinating” hypothesis.

    >I think the maker movement [...] is going to have a far larger impact on the real world than people being able to write HTML.

    You may be right, but I was writing an entry document for software hackers. Actually I hope you are right, but I’ve been hearing some disturbing things about physical limits on 3D fabrication lately.

  188. @Tom Dickson-Hunt:

    I agree with the bulk of your post, but I would like to address one thing:

    Really, I’m not sure what point the GPL has. It doesn’t protect the software in any sense; the only thing it forbids is others making derivative works and distributing them non-GPL.

    It is instructive that a lot of the companies offering GPLed software make money off the same software under proprietary licenses. It’s advertising, and it can build a community, and a lot of people in that community might also have some reason to use it in a proprietary product. So, it can be a win/win in some commercial scenarios. The downside to this is that the company cannot accept patches without a contributor agreement. It’s no accident that the FSF requires a contributor agreement, or that the FSF’s methodology winds up being like the corporate one — the cathedral. It’s amusing to me that the revenues of a lot of companies that are hard-core GPL are all based on proprietary license sales, and to their true customers (the ones paying them cash), the transaction is almost identical to buying a license to a source code library from any other proprietary software vendor.

    Another point of the GPL is to encourage recalcitrant programmers to share their creations — “tit for tat” as Torvalds says. It wasn’t as obvious back in the 90s that this isn’t strictly necessary in order to have a vibrant open source project. Some people are obviously still quite hung up on this. They often cite “the golden rule” but always seem to forget that the golden rule is something that one applies to oneself; that, by definition, it cannot be mandated on others.

    The final reason is patent protection. The jury’s still out on how important this will be, because software patents are still in a state of flux, and the worst patent trolls are NPEs.

  189. > Actually I hope you are right, but I’ve been hearing some disturbing things about physical limits on 3D fabrication lately.

    The real world is full of limits, Eric. Blinded hearsay is just FUD, and FUD coming from a guy who’s friend accuses that he can’t/won’t even fix his own car, damnation of micro-machining and its kin seems faint.

    (I will remind that there was a time when they spoke of linux as a “toy” OS, too.)

    If you’re interested, share the details of what you’re hearing, and I’ll try to evaluate.

    Micro fabrication doesn’t really have any inherent limits that aren’t shared with its bigger siblings. If you like, you may think of its as “small versions of traditional manufacturing tools made smarter with software (and there is a group who share these innovations via an open source process, too)”.

  190. @TJL:

    I think the maker movement, especially around the use of CAM methods, with the early outputs of things like arduino, processing, cupcake / makerbot / reprap, linux-based CNCs, and open source CADEM tools is going to have a far larger impact on the real world than people being able to write HTML.

    “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” I don’t think the maker movement could have existed (in its current form — there were always people like that, but not in a huge community) in the absence of everything about the internet we now take for granted, and I don’t think everything about the internet we now take for granted could have existed without a sufficient cadre of hackers bothering to learn HTML.

  191. > I’ve learned far more about C++ in large projects than I ever thought I wanted to know. Yech bleagh pooey.

    “C++ is like jamming a helicopter inside a Miata and expecting some sort of improvement. — Drew Olbrich”

    > Oh, for a natively compiled language with wide cross-platform support and GUI bindings that isn’t covered in crap.

    They call that LISP, but perhaps you are not yet ready.

  192. I don’t think the maker movement could have existed (in its current form — there were always people like that, but not in a huge community) in the absence of everything about the internet we now take for granted, and I don’t think everything about the internet we now take for granted could have existed without a sufficient cadre of hackers bothering to learn HTML.

    The internet would not have existed without NeXT, UUNET, DARPA, or WinAMP.

    If you don’t know why, then you’re still full of hope and hype.

    Next question!

  193. >They call that LISP, but perhaps you are not yet ready

    Huh? I like LISP, very publicly – Wikipedia goes so far as to credit me with helping revive interest in the language – but even I have to admit that “covered in crap” succinctly describes the OS and GUI bindings of every LISP I’ve ever seen. If this has changed, point me at documentation.

    The rest of you will all know it’s changed if I throw over Python…

  194. @ Patrick Maupin
    >Were you not paying attention on any of the multiple occasions where I tried to show Winter that the FSF attempts to overreach badly on this issue?

    Yes, I’ve heard what you’ve been saying. But that’s precisely where this debate jumps off a cliff.

    In simple terms, the GPL is either legally enforceable or it isn’t. The FSF have a view as to how particular aspects of the GPL apply and would be enforced if tested in a court of competent jurisdiction, you have another.  Each of you are of course entitled to express your views. Those views may or may not influence whether a programmer chooses to licence her work under the GPL or another licence.
     
    Yes, if a programmer wishes to use or link to a piece of GPL code, that person needs to consider how or if the GPL will apply. The person may wish to seek legal advice on this – and no doubt the FSF would be happy to proffer a view if asked (as would you). However, ultimately whether the FSF’s interpretation is “overreaching” as you assert is one that may be determined by the courts.
    If the overhead or uncertainty this presents for a programmer is too great, the programmer is of course free to choose to use or link to a piece of code that is not licensed under the GPL (or indeed to re-implement the necessary functionality herself).

    I still don’t understand why this upsets you?

    (As an aside, I actually agree with Eric’s economic arguments regarding the efficiencies of open source development – I just think there’s something to be said for the GPL having some teeth, too.)

  195. > Huh? I like LISP, very publicly

    Comment was directed at Jay, who asked for a “natively compiled language with wide cross-platform support and GUI bindings that isn’t covered in crap.”

    Python isn’t natively compiled (and its threading sucks balls.) Other problems with Python:

    1. It is slower than Java. (Come On!)

    2. Limited expressiveness. No multiline anonymous closures like in ruby. Guido stated that this it is syntactically impossible. Not nearly as DSL or macro friendly as other languages.

    3. self self self self – it’s as if OOP was just tacked on.

    4. Redundant or meaningless symbols and keywords like the colon at the beginning of a block, and all the underscores. What is “def”? Why “elif” instead of “else if”? “lambda”?

    5. The python community is full of RTFM jerks, rude to all newbies or new ideas. Zealots about python (Guido called them the NIMPY crowd: not in my python), and they spread absolute FUD about everything else. Shot down most proposals for python, including ones Guido has proposed himself, like optional static typing or case-insensitivity.

    Python is just another blub.

    > “covered in crap” succinctly describes the OS and GUI bindings of every LISP I’ve ever seen.

    (someone never used a lisp machine.)

    > Wikipedia goes so far as to credit me with helping revive interest in the language

    Interesting. I thought it was Paul Graham and Peter Seibel. Paul Graham has some very public things to say about your cite of the “conventional wisdom”.

  196. @TJL:

    I think the maker movement, especially around the use of CAM methods, with the early outputs of things like arduino, processing, cupcake / makerbot / reprap, linux-based CNCs, and open source CADEM tools is going to have a far larger impact on the real world than people being able to write HTML.

    I’ll give you a more qualified ‘maybe’ than esr: I’ve spent the last 15 years working with automotive and aerospace engineers, so I’m something of a subject matter expert on these systems.

    I think in the long run, software will be at least as important, and probably more so than hardware. CAM tools, by definition, require good systems software and the difference between a good fab system and great fab system lies in the quality of its software. Sadly, most of its software sucks badly. Furthermore, the ability of its programmer/operators cannot be discounted, either.

    CAD/CAM is one area where open source needs lots of help. None of the open source CAD systems can hold a candle to the big proprietary systems in terms of usability and features (no, Blender is not a CAD system. BlenderCAD is useless garbage. No, Wings3D is not a CAD system, QCAD is 2D-only and therefore irrelevant, etc.). Probably the one tool that actually might succeed in commoditizing this market is Google Sketchup, which, like Android, is an attack from the low-end. (Sadly, Google’s product manager for Sketchup lacks the first clue about how to take Sketchup there, but that’s a different story). Anyway, I’m convinced that an open source Sketchup-alike program would wipe the market on the CAD end, especially if good CAM interfaces and methods were implemented.

    Better open standards, open formats, and open source could revolutionize CAD/CAM, but there is a long ways to go. But for the maker movement to gain more traction, the software has to get more affordable. Open source can do that, but there doesn’t seem to be enough interest.

  197. > Better open standards, open formats, and open source could revolutionize CAD/CAM, but there is a long ways to go.

    > I think in the long run, software will be at least as important, and probably more so than hardware.

    Agreed to both. Right now, ‘consumer’ tooling isn’t quite there, but a lot of the precision required for high-volume production isn’t required when you can slow down the tool path.

    You don’t mention BRL-CAD or FreeCAD.

    (I’ve been working on CADEM since 1980.)

  198. >1. It is slower than Java. (Come On!)

    Fair cop. I suspect something’s not right with the p-code model, but a lot of people who are better than me at language design have yet to succeed at improving it.

    >2. Limited expressiveness. No multiline anonymous closures like in ruby. Guido stated that this it is syntactically impossible. Not nearly as DSL or macro friendly as other languages.

    Guido is right; I’m intimate with the details of this one. The resulting hole at multline lambdas is probably the most serious semantic gap in the language. I’m not so sure being macro-unfriendly is a bad thing; you can pull some stunning tricks with them, but the flip side is that transparency and maintainability tend to go to hell when you do.

    >3. self self self self – it’s as if OOP was just tacked on.

    No, this is a win. “Tacked on” would be better unpacked as “orthogonal to the rest of the primitives in the language core”. ‘self’ is the one place where the resulting surface features look a little awkward.

    >4. Redundant or meaningless symbols and keywords like the colon at the beginning of a block, and all the underscores. What is “def”? Why “elif” instead of “else if”? “lambda”?

    There are good explanations for all these, but they’d add up to a thousand-word infodump that I’m not going to do in a blog comment. I’ve written several compilers and more DSLs than I can remember; trust me that there isn’t anything really stupid here. (Well, “elif” vs. “else if” is more historical than principled, but even one that isn’t really wrong.)

    >5. The python community is full of RTFM jerks, rude to all newbies or new ideas.

    I dunno. They were pretty nice to me. YMMV.

    >(someone never used a lisp machine.)

    That is true. During the brief summer of the LISP machines I was working on micros.

    >Interesting. I thought it was Paul Graham and Peter Seibel.

    I would have thought it was mainly Paul, myself. But part-crediting me isn’t completely crazy; my hacker-howto has been exhorting newbies to learn LISP for many years now.

  199. @esr
    “For the stronger claim (“protecting freedom”) to be true, we need to posit that there is some sort of potential active interference with becoming a programmer against which the GPL can invoke legal counterforce. What sort of interference would that be? What could it be? There is nobody using coercion to prevent people from becoming programmers, and if someone were to develop that as an evil master plan preventing access to source code would be an absurdly ineffective way to do it.”

    A lot happens while you sleep. I will try to get my view straight and into a formulation that is readable. It will also answer a lot of the other comments in this thread.

    This will be about the definition of “Protecting the Freedom”. So I will try to put my idea of Freedom in words. First, English has the concept “Freedom of Pain” which can somehow be equated with “Freedom of Speech” as in the puzzling “Four Freedom Awards”. There is also this confusion between Free and Gratis.

    My native language has no such confusions, so my brain is conditioned to not conflate Freedom with the Absence of Want. I am from the tradition “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, so I think of Liberty when I say Freedom.

    Furthermore, the freedom to find out how to make a key that will open your chains is not a Liberté I care for. For my freedom, the chains themselves must go. So indeed, my Liberty requires that the prison guards are forced against their will to open the doors of the prison. Not just go home and give me the freedom to find out how to open them myself.

    Liberty describes an aim about social relations. It is meaningless without other people. So any discussion about my Freedom that does not talk about my relations with other people is meaningless. So my “Freedom” to write my own OS distribution on my own is completely meaningless. The work involved is impossible for any individual and corresponds to $1B (David A Wheeler’s estimate for RedHat). If I have Freedom with respect to my computer, it has to do with a Liberty in relation to other computer users and coders.

    As a European commie, I make absolutely no distinction between chains put on to me by local government, labor unions, law enforcement, corporations, grocers, or neighbors. So I do not care who censors me, my government, my ISP, my employer, or the BSA, and for what reason, political or commercial. If I cannot get an ISP that allows me to get a fixed IP address and run my own web-site or to upload my own software, I am just as censored as if there would be a law against it.

    If I look at the Four Freedoms (from the FSF) I do agree with them. I should have the right and ability to run, study, share, and change what is running on my computer.

    If I have only GPLed software, I can (under the law) obtain the source of the code running on my computer. If I use MIT licensed software, I can end up without the source. The counter argument is that the market will create a supply to my demand for source. As a good commie, I do not believe the markets are efficient. I have the strong believe that the fact that I cannot buy pre-installed Gratis (GPLed) software in a shop even if I am prepared to pay for it, shows massive market failure. Without an efficient market, a user of a MIT licensed product can still end up without the source. And I do not care for any prediction that the markets will be efficient in the long run. I will be dead by then.

    So with the GPL, I have a small, extra, “insurance” that I will have the source and am allowed to use it. And I need the source to study and change it, or have that done by someone else.

    Counter-arguments:
    1 I have no right to demand a person who gives me the binaries to give me the source too.

    I interpret this argument as saying that I have no right to demand the keys from the person I buy a house or car from. You might think so, but I simply consider the sale not completed until I have the keys. In the same vein, I do not have the full use of my software until I have the source.

    2 I can reverse engineer, I do not need the source.

    Fake argument. Reverse engineering is not easier than rewriting. There is no way I can recreate $1B of software. Reverse engineering is only useful to find out secrets. Yes, I can pick the locks and find out what key would open my chains. But having to save yourself from other people’s chains is not Liberty in my book.

    3 The Freedom Of The Coder. The GPL forces Coders to they give their secrets to users and give up control over their work. They chain them in slavery.

    Grow up!

    The abolition of slavery forces the owners of plantations to pay their workers. Now they are slaves and lost all the right to farm without paying.
    Do I have to add more? Yes? OK.

    It has been said many times in this blog, coders simply have to compete for users. If they decide they will not work for hire and will never ever steep as low as to give their clients control over the source, they can do that. They will simply have to convince their users of their superior qualities, and not use GPLed software.

    They do not have to use GPLed software, because they can reverse engineer the GPLed software (or read the source) and create their OWN implementation. So they are free to find users who want to use their binaries and who will not want the source. Those who wrote and distributed the GPLed software did so under the condition that the source would be delivered. Any demand that you do not have to abide by that condition, but users should respect your “freedom” and accept any condition you set is hypocrisy.

    So, I am a person who does not believe (software) markets are efficient and I want to have control over the software running on my computer. Within the current market and law, my access to the source, and therefore my independence and Liberty, are better protected by the GPL than by MIT/BSD style license. I see this as the GPL protecting MY Liberty better. And if the market fails so badly that I cannot get any developers to write me GPLed software, then it is game over for my Liberty, but that is not something any license can amend.

    What do I think of coders who demand the “freedom” to keep code secret from the users of their programs?

    The same I think of guards who keep the keys that would open the chains. Indeed, I consider them prison guards.

  200. >As a good commie, I do not believe the markets are efficient.

    That pretty much ends the discussion right there. If you don’t believe that free markets are sufficient to accomplish your aims, you have no option to pursue them other than using force to compel others to do what you want or fraud to fool them into it.

    At that point, you can talk all you want about being pro-”freedom”, but I will never believe you, because your premises are corrupt.

    The only “good” Communist is one too dead to spread his poison. You might as well have said “As a good Nazi, I…” to a Jew.

  201. @ esr
    > The only “good” Communist is one too dead to spread his poison.

    Really? Wishing someone dead because of his political ideas smacks more than a little of the very totalitarianism you claim to abhor.

  202. @esr
    “That pretty much ends the discussion right there. If you don’t believe that free markets are sufficient to accomplish your aims, you have no option to pursue them other than using force to compel others to do what you want or fraud to fool them into it.”

    Ahh, the perils of inter-cultural communication.

    That markets are not efficient is an empirical observation. I do believe “free” markets are the most efficient mechanisms for allocating scarce resources known to man. Just that they are NOT perfectly efficient. So any argument that starts with “The markets will correct this imbalance” raises the question, “Is that market efficient enough?”. I am really convinced the software market is NOT efficient, and very far from efficient too. The fact that I want insurance against market failure is not some call for armed intervention.

    And there is more than force or fraud to correct market inefficiency. But then we get in a completely different discussion. Let me just say that I do not believe the software market is very efficient and I want other tools as insurance against this inefficiency.

    @esr
    “At that point, you can talk all you want about being pro-”freedom”, but I will never believe you, because your premises are corrupt.”

    Probably because my understanding of Freedom (Liberty) is different from yours? It probably is. But corrupt also means “morally wrong” and “evil”. Do you really think I want to use armed force to get other people to do my biddings and silence their voices? Where did I say that?

    @esr
    “The only “good” Communist is one too dead to spread his poison. You might as well have said “as a good Nazi, I…” to a Jew.”

    As far as I know you never suffered under a self-called “communist regime”. I know people who did (and even fled) and they do not talk different from me. I know people who are/were self-proclaimed communists. I know what a communist is and how they think. And they are not baby eating monsters. They are just humans like everybody else. Hoping for the death of people with different political views is not my vision of “Liberty”.

    I have been called all kinds of names on your blog, most implying I am a communist living on a communist continent. As a non-native speaker of English I have had to relearn the meaning all kinds of words. I understood that my political views were best described under the label “Communist” as used on this blog. Except that these commentators think that if you believe in “free health care for all”, “high taxes”, and “Welfare”, you also should support Gulag work camps and censorship.

    So I chose to preempt rants about me being a communist by putting that label onto myself. But I forgot the irony tags. And humor does not translate I find out again.

    If it eases your mind, I have never ever been a member of a communist organization, I never thought Marx, Lenin, or Mao were right, and I condemn censorship and violence.

    Now, why did you not get into the meat to the comment? I was expecting you to show me where my view of Liberty was in error. I really believe in what I wrote, no posing or political word plays. So if my views are wrong, I would really like to know.

  203. > Really? Wishing someone dead because of his political ideas smacks more than a little of the very totalitarianism you claim to abhor.

    I have no desire to get into an argument on communism, but I don’t think you interpreted that right. What it really means is that communism is bad by definition and there can be no “good” communists from a non-communist’s point of view.

    ESR says: That is exactly correct.

  204. > What it really means is that communism is bad by definition and there can be no “good” communists from a non-communist’s point of view.

    Yes, I know that is what Eric thinks and what he meant. But as is often the case, Eric chose to express himself using words of violence. I think that is worth noting.

  205. >So if my views are wrong, I would really like to know.

    You are in the exact position of a person who (1) first claimed to care about truth, then (2) told me he is a pathological liar, and now says (3) “I didn’t really mean it!”

    I am not interested in discussions with such persons. You have put yourself beyond the pale, and have no one to blame for it but yourself.

    Let this be a lesson to you. If you call yourself a Communist (or, for comparison, a Nazi) you forfeit your claim to be treated as anyone with whom civilized discourse is possible. All I see when I look at your kind is tyranny, megadeaths and lies.

  206. @esr
    “Let this be a lesson to you. If you call yourself a Communist (or, for comparison, a Nazi) you forfeit your claim to be treated as anyone with whom civilized discourse is possible. All I see when I look at your kind is tyranny, megadeaths and lies.”

    So be it. Irony does not translate and it seems that Anti-Communism is sacred here, you do not joke with the sacred.

    But to paraphrase a popular saying: “Ideologies do not kill people, people do”

    This fits on a lot of what happened in Europe in the 20th century.

  207. >>As a good commie, I do not believe the markets are efficient.
    @esr> That pretty much ends the discussion right there. If you don’t believe that free markets are sufficient to accomplish your aims, you have no option to pursue them other than using force to compel others to do what you want or fraud to fool them into it.

    He said ‘efficient’, and you said ‘sufficient’.

    It’s already been shown that markets are efficient IFF P = NP!.

    @esr> All I see when I look at your kind is tyranny, megadeaths and lies.

    You can say that about the Catholic church, too.

    @esr> I would have thought it was mainly Paul, myself.

    Peter wrote the popular book, though it was someone you banned from this very blog who managed to convince O’Reilly to change their long-standing position on books about Lisp. (Ask Chris DiBona.)

  208. >You can say that about the Catholic church, too.

    That’s right, you’re new here. I do in fact say this. Rather frequently.

  209. I feel compelled to point out that TJL seems to be holding himself out as an elder statesman, personally knowing some of the elder luminaries of the hacker world.

    There’s only one problem with this. His personal attack on me bears all the hallmarks of those launched by a small group of people who have been following me around and commenting anonymously in various forums, most recently my LiveJournal, all along the same lines. I first came to know these folks in the mid- to late 1990s, as teenagers who shared my enjoyment of the series Animaniacs.

    Do the math. That makes them no older than the mid-30s, hardly enough to be an elder statesman of a culture that easily is older than I am at 50.

    I’m not quite sure why TJL felt compelled to link to my LiveJournal entry in the comment above, mainly because he seems to have misinterpreted the situation: the vehicle in question is my own, and I did indeed fix it myself (as I have been doing for the two most recent vehicles I’ve owned).

  210. > That’s right, you’re new here. I do in fact say this. Rather frequently.

    And Islam, too? (as he panders to the crowd…)

  211. @Winter The improper and proper use of force is central to an anarchist’s worldview.

    We do not view that coercion, or the initiation of violence should be used to achieve ethical or moral goal. A wrong does not make a right. It is certain to many anarchists, that copyright violate that principle.

    The free market is simply a peaceful mean to achieve goals.

    This is why anarchists refused to concede any ground to you. If you don’t take into consideration this fact, this discussion will change nobody’s mind.

  212. @Tom:

    I still don’t understand why this upsets you?

    The primary things that upset me are moral, not legal issues.

    1) RMS espouses this “holier than thou” attitude, calling things “evil” which aren’t, and doing real damage in the process, cultivating a cult.

    2) IMO, the “widget for a Buick” is, in fact, an excellent analogy of what some software programming does (from a moral, if not legal, perspective). As I mentioned earlier, if RMS is so worried about technology transfer, software is the least effective place to start — he should be demanding schematics and industrial recipes for everything. So, it’s really just about his personal wish for a pony, which he makes into a moral issue, which is wrong on several levels. The examples I found of where a user really doesn’t have the same rights as a programmer with the GPL also feed into this same moral issue — the GPL explicitly affords rights to programmers that it denies to users in the name of affording the specific rights to all users.

    3) Yes, the FSF is free to say how they think their license applies. But a bit more nuance would be good, especially for the things that haven’t been tested by them in court, especially for those things where some courts have ruled against their position. I defend their right to say the things they do, but those things are not necessarily right and, in a few cases, most probably wrong, and I think they do a lot of damage by offering inflated claims for the capabilities of their snake oil. So this is a moral issue, too.

    So, in short, I think their legal conclusions on this one issue are almost certainly in error, but in one sense it doesn’t matter. If someone is doing something immoral under the color of the law, it’s still immoral. If someone is doing something immoral and calling it freedom, it’s still immoral. My purpose in harping on the legal conclusion is to offer a counterbalance in case somebody who has never seen “the other side” is inclined to unthinkingly take Stallman’s word about what his license does. The more that people claim unambiguously that his license does “x”, the more I find it imperative to counter that when I believe that his license does not do “x”. I believe this eventually does some good — you can see the retreat right here on this thread from “Stallman’s license does x” to “well, even Moglen believes Stallman’s license does x, and he may be wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” That may seem subtle, but to me that’s a huge, if begrudging, shift in position.

    Now, if you think I’m some sort of GPL denier who is fighting some sort of retrenchment here, you should think again. AFAIK, the GPL was not “tested in court” until some time after I made the 2003 mailing list post I just quoted from. In that post, I did not claim that the GPL was unenforceable or would not hold up in court, just that the GPL does not (and cannot, I think, unless perhaps it is made much more onerous, like a shrinkwrap license) have this particular capability that is claimed for it. In the intervening 7 years, to my knowledge, this issue has not been “tested in court” and, as I pointed out, there is no shortage of potential test cases if the FSF is serious about this.

  213. I’ll offer a comment where Eric won’t:

    understood that my political views were best described under the label “Communist” as used on this blog. Except that these commentators think that if you believe in “free health care for all”, “high taxes”, and “Welfare”, you also should support Gulag work camps and censorship.

    The problem is that the former inevitably lead to the latter. The common complaint from true believers, when historical examples of communism are raised and their manifest abuses pointed out, is “that’s not real communism!” To which I reply “as many times as communism has been tried and as reliably as every attempt has devolved into totalitarianism, it’s obvious that so-called ‘true communism’ is not possible.”

  214. I know what a communist is and how they think. And they are not baby eating monsters.

    They built the “Berlin Wall” and posted snipers along it with orders to shoot to kill anyone who dared attempt to flee their Glorious Workers’ Paradise. That’s what a communist is. They think their utopian vision justifies killing people who don’t want to be a part of it.

    To a minarchist like me (and, I believe to a self-proclaimed anarchist like ESR) the worst thing a civilized person can do to you and remain civilized is to leave you alone, provided that you reciprocate. If you don’t want to enter into some relationship, you have the freedom to say “no” to it. A thief, robber or rapist forces his victim to participate against her will. She has the moral right (if not obligation) to pull out her Ladysmith and blow his sorry ass away.

    But communists have to force people to participate in their scheme. That puts them in the same moral position as these other thugs. If you choose to self-identify with thugs, there are consequences. I defer to Cee Lo Green for the appropriate response to thugs.

  215. @Winter:

    Because I’m sure it is not strictly necessary to be a full-on Libertarian or anarchist in order to find your arguments unpersuasive, I will address a few of your arguments for the benefit of any less rigorously principled readers:

    Furthermore, the freedom to find out how to make a key that will open your chains is not a Liberté I care for. For my freedom, the chains themselves must go. So indeed, my Liberty requires that the prison guards are forced against their will to open the doors of the prison. Not just go home and give me the freedom to find out how to open them myself.

    The root liberty is the freedom to make the key. There will always be others trying to chain you down again, and it’s much easier to do that when you don’t care to learn how to make the key.

    Liberty describes an aim about social relations. It is meaningless without other people. So any discussion about my Freedom that does not talk about my relations with other people is meaningless. So my “Freedom” to write my own OS distribution on my own is completely meaningless. The work involved is impossible for any individual and corresponds to $1B (David A Wheeler’s estimate for RedHat). If I have Freedom with respect to my computer, it has to do with a Liberty in relation to other computer users and coders.

    So, I am unfree because my theoretical freedom to build my own rocketship is impractical and some big corporation which builds rocketships won’t let me help out in exchange for a ride?

    As a European commie, I make absolutely no distinction between chains put on to me by local government, labor unions, law enforcement, corporations, grocers, or neighbors. So I do not care who censors me, my government, my ISP, my employer, or the BSA, and for what reason, political or commercial. If I cannot get an ISP that allows me to get a fixed IP address and run my own web-site or to upload my own software, I am just as censored as if there would be a law against it.

    If I am not allowed to speak, then I am censored. Yet, earlier, you claimed that if you cannot force others to speak, you are censored. So how does the GPL guarantee you an IP address, anyway? I hadn’t seen that claim before.

    If I look at the Four Freedoms (from the FSF) I do agree with them. I should have the right and ability to run, study, share, and change what is running on my computer.

    But why aren’t you equally concerned about the actual schematics of your computer, so you can modify and study it, as well?

    If I have only GPLed software, I can (under the law) obtain the source of the code running on my computer. If I use MIT licensed software, I can end up without the source. The counter argument is that the market will create a supply to my demand for source. As a good commie, I do not believe the markets are efficient. I have the strong believe that the fact that I cannot buy pre-installed Gratis (GPLed) software in a shop even if I am prepared to pay for it, shows massive market failure. Without an efficient market, a user of a MIT licensed product can still end up without the source.

    If you don’t get source when you install the software, the only thing that gives you the ability to get it later is the fact that somebody has it. You can blather about the license all day, but somebody who no longer has the source to package ‘X’ probably isn’t distributing the binary any more, so they don’t care.

    Show me one MIT-licensed package you have on your computer that you cannot get source for.

    So with the GPL, I have a small, extra, “insurance” that I will have the source and am allowed to use it. And I need the source to study and change it, or have that done by someone else.

    No, with either MIT or GPL, you can get the source when you get the binaries. If you forget to do that then, it is only the dreaded market that allows you to do so later.

    I interpret “I have no right to demand a person who gives me the binaries to give me the source too” as saying that I have no right to demand the keys from the person I buy a house or car from. You might think so, but I simply consider the sale not completed until I have the keys. In the same vein, I do not have the full use of my software until I have the source.

    Do you have the schematics for your car? The blueprint for your house? Seriously, I have mentioned this multiple times, and you have never explained why software is so fundamentally different. The only difference for you, like for Stallman, is that it’s something you dabble in. But that’s hard for you to admit, because it’s not a very good moral argument.

    What do I think of coders who demand the “freedom” to keep code secret from the users of their programs?

    The same I think of guards who keep the keys that would open the chains. Indeed, I consider them prison guards.

    Then the same is true of anybody who sells you anything without giving you the recipe, unless you can come up with a rational basis for this purely arbitrary distinction.

  216. She has the moral right (if not obligation) to pull out her Ladysmith and blow his sorry ass away.

    My only objection to your posting is this, and it’s a mild one: the concept of a women’s firearm bothers me, simply because there’s nothing inherently masculine about the others. If you’d said “Glock” instead of “Ladysmith”, I wouldn’t have a quibble. (I’m not particularly fond of S&W on this and a few other accounts, either.)

  217. the concept of a women’s firearm bothers me, simply because there’s nothing inherently masculine about the others.

    It’s sized to fit an average woman’s hand, which smaller than the average man’s. For the rare woman like Monsterette 2, who isn’t quite as Monstrous as I am but at 6 feet and [REDACTED] pounds is larger than the average man, go ahead and buy that Glock. But the thug will probably be smart enough to not even try anything with such a large woman.

  218. The only proper use of force is defensive.

    >The free market is simply a peaceful mean to achieve goals.

    That is why I part company with many anarcho-capitalists, such as David Friedman. In The Machinery of Freedom, he wrote that he believes in anarcho-capitalism more than libertarianism but that a-c will probably result in mostly libertarian societies. I think he has that backwards. Capitalism, to any extent, is a manifestation of freedom. An anarcho-capitalist society that was not libertarian would be like a dog that wasn’t a mammal.

  219. This gets tiresome. I will sweep the comments together. I apologize for again such a large comment. I hope I finally get to understand what you actually want to say.

    1 The communists I know, do not condone murder in any form. I do not know why only the murderous types should be “real” communists? As I wrote “Ideologies do not kill people, people do”. The Gulags existed before communism, and they will exists after them. I must admit that I am underwhelmed with the grasp of European political history by the readers of this blog. Do you really want to claim the UK and Germany have Gulag style work camps?

    2 If I can always get the source to my MIT/BSD licensed binaries, then what is exactly the point of this discussion? There were many here that were explicitly stating they wanted the right to keep the source hidden from their users. If they promise to not exercise that right, again what is the point.

    3 This discussion is about software licenses. If you want a discussion about electronic schematics, be my guest. But hardware is not the same as software. The economics of information are fundamentally different from those of material goods. Anyhow, I can much easier assemble a new computer than recreate a software package.

    4 Software is a tool. A necessary tool for many parts of life. So the ability to really control the software on your computer is important. The ability to be able to get your car repaired the way you see fit is on the same level.

    5 The “Freedom to make the key to your prison cell” is a concept which defies my intellectual abilities. I must concede that I am not up to that level of thinking.

    6 If I am censored by the state, it is evil, if I am censored by a cartel of corporations, it is OK? That is what I see often written (or implied) here. The market is always right and just, it seems. So if the government outsources its evil doings to the market it is OK? I disagree.

    7 I consider the USA legal system completely dysfunctional. In any case, if anyone thinks the FSF oversteps the boundaries of copyright law, sue them. It is your legal system, not mine. But from what I have seen in the USA, if your code needs a program licensed by someone else, any program, you are toast. You will need the permission of the copyright holder. So, simply get a program licensed under the MIT/BSD license if you cannot stand the GPL.

    And if you do not like me posting here, please just say so.

  220. @TJL:
    BRL-CAD is certainly the most mature of the open source CAD systems, however, it’s based on constructive solid-geometry rather than BREP hybrid solids, lacks decent support for components, and it lacks support for snapping and working with rendered models. All of this means that modelling anything in BRL-CAD takes forever and a day. That being said, BRL-CAD’s use of Tcl as an extension language is a big win. (And so is SketchUp’s use of Ruby as an extension langue, for that matter)

    FreeCAD looks promising, but it’s a very young and immature project. We’ll see where it goes; so many of these promising projects have started and died.

  221. @ esr: sort of off-topic, feel free to erase this post.

    @ Winter

    “As far as I know you never suffered under a self-called “communist regime”. ”

    Self-called communist regime? Now you listen you little POS. I was born in Romania in 1979 and for 10 years (yeah, I was able to realize the aberation and terror of that system) I was able to see what Communism looked like for 23 million people. There’s no such thing as good or humane Communism.

  222. Additional note: yes, I know about sketch in BRL-CAD. The sketch editor, however, sucks. Badly. An sketchtosvg and svgtosketch would partially fix this, but there is the problem of dealing with N-degree Beziers. (SVG supports only cubic and quadratic Beziers) This is harder than it sounds when dealing with the limitations of Tcl.

  223. >I’m not quite sure why TJL felt compelled to link to my LiveJournal entry in the comment above, mainly because he seems to have misinterpreted the situation: the vehicle in question is my own, and I did indeed fix it myself (as I have been doing for the two most recent vehicles I’ve owned).

    I think he was trying to insult me, actually.

    Lizzard: Be aware that while insulting me is not one of the things for which I will ban, a pattern of content-free insults to other commenters is.

  224. @esr I have alway wonders why people disclaim your competency as a hacker.

  225. @Winter:

    2 If I can always get the source to my MIT/BSD licensed binaries, then what is exactly the point of this discussion? There were many here that were explicitly stating they wanted the right to keep the source hidden from their users. If they promise to not exercise that right, again what is the point.

    You made the point that you can choose GPL vs. proprietary, so you will choose GPL because the source is available. I was merely responding that if you want to make sure that you get packages where the source is available now, then simply do so. Download and use only that software which has source available. OTOH, if you want a guarantee that you will be able to download source later, there is no such guarantee. People who distributed GPLed objects may be out of that business. Conversely, I have never seen people who distributed MIT objects with source stop distributing the source for any version they previously distributed, unless they cease distribution entirely. So in my book, the only guarantee is that if the source is available now, well then, the source is available now.

    3 This discussion is about software licenses. If you want a discussion about electronic schematics, be my guest. But hardware is not the same as software. The economics of information are fundamentally different from those of material goods.

    And here, I thought you were making a moral argument, not an economic one.

    Anyhow, I can much easier assemble a new computer than recreate a software package.

    When you “assemble” a computer, you are dealing with thousands of parts, that have been preassembled by others and given to you with zero insight as to what’s going on. Sure, a monkey can do that, but a monkey can likewise insert a CD and reinstall some software. Why do you find it necessary to be able to modify your software down
    to the bit level, but are happy to operate on much larger blocks with hardware?

    4 Software is a tool. A necessary tool for many parts of life. So the ability to really control the software on your computer is important. The ability to be able to get your car repaired the way you see fit is on the same level.

    So, do you have the firmware for the engine controller for your car?

    6 If I am censored by the state, it is evil, if I am censored by a cartel of corporations, it is OK? That is what I see often written (or implied) here. The market is always right and just, it seems. So if the government outsources its evil doings to the market it is OK? I disagree.

    The only thing that could remotely be called “censorship” that happens here is with proprietary offerings with a license forbidding you to copy. If you don’t like that, you can use shareware, freeware, or other programs that don’t give you source. Them not telling you the recipe is not the same as them forbidding you to do anything. You compelling them to tell you the recipe is forced speech, a different kind of censorship.

    In any case, if anyone thinks the FSF oversteps the boundaries of copyright law, sue them.

    I told you — they will have to go first. The only way this changes is if some big company who really cares needs a judgment of non-infringement. But if the FSF really cares about this particular issue (hint, they don’t) then there are plenty of targets for them to choose from.

    In fact, something I forgot to post about earlier when discussing what I don’t like about the FSF is the damage that the posturing on this very issue has done. The fear that the GPL bogeyman was going to come and take corporate source code public was fanned by this exact same posturing. It was only after the corporate world sat back, thought about it, and realized (partly through the help of a good lawyer) that this was, in fact, merely posturing, and could be safely ignored, that the GPL took off in the corporate world. So, the FSF slowed acceptance of open source back then, and they are still doing it to some extent, one programmer at a time.

    But from what I have seen in the USA, if your code needs a program licensed by someone else, any program, you are toast.

    I showed you three different court cases where that was demonstrably false. You have not showed any evidence to the contrary.

    So, simply get a program licensed under the MIT/BSD license if you cannot stand the GPL.

    I do. But to improve the size of the ecosystem I play in, I try to convince others to use permissive licenses. Sometimes it even works.

    And if you do not like me posting here, please just say so.

    That’s not my call. Eric tolerates a lot. I’m sure he finds the arguments on both sides quite tedious because he’s seen them all before multiple times. Personally, I think this is a great thing, because the full record of this sort of debate can remain here and be easily discoverable from google, unlike, for example, similar debates on groklaw.

  226. >@esr I have alway wonders why people disclaim your competency as a hacker.

    It’s pretty standard-issue primate politics, I think – a way to look brave without any actual risk. Amplified by the hacker-culture’s quasi-instinctive distrust of authority figures…which I wouldn’t change if I could, but it does complicate life if you happen to be one.

  227. > but it does complicate life if you happen to be one.

    A primate? Good to know. :-)

  228. @TJL:

    JM>> Oh, for a natively compiled language with wide cross-platform support and GUI bindings that isn’t covered in crap.

    > They call that LISP, but perhaps you are not yet ready.

    Could you please clarify this on a practical level? I’m not nearly a LISP expert, but I thought that (at least outside of custom designed LISP machine which don’t exist anymore), the GUI bindings thing is kind of not there. I’m genuinely curious – I *like* LISP. But most people, myself included, have nil to negative chance of having access to said LISP machine.

    ESR>> Wikipedia goes so far as to credit me with helping revive interest in the language

    > Interesting. I thought it was Paul Graham and Peter Seibel.
    > Paul Graham has some very public things to say about your cite of the “conventional wisdom”.

    Having just re-read Paul’s linked article, I think there’s something lost in translation. I kind of hesitate of accusing Paul Graham of inaccuracy, but he seems to be arguing (correctly so) against an idea which is false *but which ESR NEVER expressed*.

    He points to a statement by ESR that says “LISP good, even IF you don’t use it in practice”. ESR doesn’t actually anywhere say that you should NOT use LISP in practice, merely reflects the current state of the world, which is that any random J. ProtoHacker reader of his article is more likely not ever use LISP.

    And then Paul disputes the popular notion that lisp CAN NOT be used in practice – something which ESR’s article never said or implied.

  229. >And then Paul disputes the popular notion that lisp CAN NOT be used in practice – something which ESR’s article never said or implied.

    To be honest, I did feel like Paul was setting up a bit of a straw man there. But we’ve been pretty good friends and I’m not inclined to fight with him about it.

  230. @Winter
    ESR>> “The only “good” Communist is one too dead to spread his poison.

    > As far as I know you never suffered under a self-called “communist regime”. I know people who did (and even fled) and they do not talk different from me.

    Since I HAVE suffered under a self-called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and you didn’t, you have no right to have an opinion on this (i’m just following your political comrade’s view on say racism). 99% of former USSR immigrants are strongly anti-statist/left wing. QED.

    > I know people who did (and even fled) and they do not talk different from me.

    Can you specifically point to a large group of ex-commie emigrants who did in fact *flee* and think this way?

    Cubans don’t, that’s for sure (except the ones in Big Entertainment). fUSSR people don’t, and on this one my word is a lot more weight than yours since I interact with a lot more of them than you are likely to. Hell, even Leftie idol Bill Clinton (along with a bunch of stinking slander) agreed that fUSSR immigrants are “right wing” (if he had any clue he’d know they are mostly libertarian and anti-left-wing instead). Don’t know any ex-NorthCoreans. Ex-ChiComs are a different story but waaaay to many of them aren’t in the USA because they fled China that any meaningful statistics are hard to get.

    > I know people who are/were self-proclaimed communists. I know what a communist is and how they think. And they are not baby eating monsters. They are just humans like everybody else. Hoping for the death of people with different political views is not my vision of “Liberty”.

    There are too many points to make in response to that, but I’ll only bother with two.

    1) The only way you can achieve communism, considering human nature’s approach to property, is to FORCE people to relinquish their property in favor of the commune. They already tried it in Russia – google “kulaks” for a good example. So you either threaten me with (in the end) deadly force to take away what I own, or you don’t HAVE communism. You merely have a small commune that everyone joined voluntarily. Want to give me an example of said commune the size bigger than a small village that actually worked?

    2) In any ACTUAL state, the thugs will take over and be “more equal than others”. That’s just human nature. So the idealists like presumably you are will be the first to be put up against the wall when you find out that your political views are different from theirs (which is they are Big Boss). See how many old school idealist Bolsheviks survived past 1938.

  231. @Jay Maynard:

    I also thought LISP was interpreted, not compiled, be it natively or to a VM.

    Native instruction set lisp compilers (even some pretty good optimizing ones) have been around for a very long time, and (a) have arguably helped drive improvements in compiler technology (since lisp is dynamic and requires garbage collection) and (b) arguably got good enough fast enough to cause the demise of dedicated lisp hardware companies.

  232. >(b) arguably got good enough fast enough to cause the demise of dedicated lisp hardware companies.

    I was there, not as a LISP-machine user but as someone with friends who worked at LMI and was paying attention, and I don’t think so. What did them in was pretty clearly the Moore’s law effect on general-purpose processors making special-purpose hardware an increasingly poor investment.

    I never saw LISP compilers being deployed in any major way on the general-purpose hardware. If that had happened, your point (b) would have force. What actually happened was sadder than that; LISP died, or next to it. Hung on by a thread at a handful of shops with strong enough LISP cultures to buck the hardware-efficiency trend, but basically just stopped attracting new interest at all until a brief spike of unrelated activity in the mid-1990s.

  233. > Could you please clarify this on a practical level? I’m not nearly a LISP expert, but I thought that (at least outside of custom designed LISP machine which don’t exist anymore), the GUI bindings thing is kind of not there.

    I use Nu http://programming.nu/index

    > I’m genuinely curious – I *like* LISP. But most people, myself included, have nil to negative chance of having access to said LISP machine.

    You can find them for sale, occasionally. There is also a VM for a Symbolics with Genera loaded up floating around the net.
    See: http://www.advogato.org/person/johnw/diary/12.html

    > And then Paul disputes the popular notion that lisp CAN NOT be used in practice – something which ESR’s article never said or implied.

    Eric did say, “That experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use LISP itself a lot.”

    Eric doesn’t use LISP. QED.

  234. @Winter -

    > Except that these commentators think that if you believe in “free health care for all”, “high taxes”, and “Welfare”, you also should support Gulag work camps and censorship.

    Again – someone has to PAY for your “free health care for all”. And that pay in the form of high taxes is done **under a threat of deadly force**. Guess what happens if I refuse to pay my taxes and resist arrest? And once you raised those taxes to the point that the most productive people **want to leave** your welfare paradize, you either leak the only people you had to sqeeze (and stagnate), or you DON’T ALLOW THEM TO LEAVE. Again, under a threat of deadly force.

    As far as Gulag, guess what. Its purpose was NOT to suppress free speach. It was to provide USSR state with nearly free state labor. Wanna take a guess as to WHY USSR required said nearly free labor?

    > never thought Marx, Lenin, or Mao were right, and I condemn censorship and violence.

    Out of curiocity, please explain specifically HOW your idea of being a communist differs from what Marx and Lenin said. After all, THEY are the main theorists of communism.

    However, that is pretty much beside the point. Communist ideas, when combined with human nature, rationally and scientifically leads to mass murders, Gulag and censorship. Whether YOU personally wish it to or not is immaterial – that’s just the stable equilibrum reached from statist/leftist game setup.

    > But to paraphrase a popular saying: “Ideologies do not kill people, people do”

    Ideologies provide a justification for people to kill people. And as you may have notice **in practice**, some ideologies led to a lot MORE people being killed, with a very high correllation.

    > Do you really want to claim the UK and Germany have Gulag style work camps?

    UK and Germany (and especially France and co), so far, coasted on military support from the USA. When they have to defend themselves from the Russian Empiure, and spend the corresponding amount of resources on it, let’s see how their economies handle things. And they can only handle things 2 ways: either become more efficient by allowing productive people to be productive, or become inefficient because productive people are leaving for greener pastures. At which point you either shoot those who leave (see Wall, Berlin) or get free labor from a labor camp. The second possible end game is of course being taken over by one of the emerging powers (unlikely Russia, more likely Islamic Caliphat – I’m talking many decades long horizon here, not next 5 years).

  235. >Eric doesn’t use LISP. QED.

    Lizzard, I think you’re not actually stupid enough to infer that from what I said and are just being obstreperous. Be warned that my patience for such games is finite.

    I used to write LISP a lot, but stopped because my work on micros demanded compiled languages with better runtime efficiency. By the time this was no longer true, the horrifically bad state of POSIX bindings in the LISPs of that day turned me off. After a brief fling with Perl, which at least solved the POSIX-binding problem, I settled on Python as an acceptable LISP substitute. I kept my LISP chops alive by writing Emacs modes. And I’ve written a *lot* of Emacs modes – I did an audit once, in the 1990s, and determined that I had more code in the Emacs standard library than any other single person bar RMS himself.

    I’d love to go back to LISP as a main language. But my requirement, at this point, is that it not cost me any of the range Python gives me. That is, the standard library has to be as rich, and cross-platform compatibility has to be as good. This is certainly possible, I’m just not aware anyone’s actually done it.

  236. I’d love to go back to LISP as a main language. But my requirement, at this point, is that it not cost me any of the range Python gives me. That is, the standard library has to be as rich, and cross-platform compatibility has to be as good.

    You also need to find a keyboard with industrial-strength 9 and 0 keys. :-)

  237. @Eric:

    Yeah, my point B is definitely weak and probably wrong. I meant to type “help cause” but even that is somewhat weak, especially if, as you imply, the actual LISPers involved were moving to other languages on general purpose hardware, instead of moving to LISP compilers on general purpose hardware. I guess I see the explosion of LISP implementations and subconsciously erroneously assume that there is a reasonably large community, when it’s obviously just that LISPers are so smart, and it’s so easy to parse LISP compared to other languages, that every remaining LISPer has his own compiler :-)

    Which, interestingly, ties back in to this article and the Eliezer Yudkowsky post, and helps to explain why nobody’s written good GUI bindings — they’re not cooperating and are still too busy with the basics. So, if you want to try another social engineering experiment, that might be a good target group.

  238. >the actual LISPers involved were moving to other languages on general purpose hardware

    More accurately, they were being pushed. Like me, a lot of them didn’t want to move.

    >that every remaining LISPer has his own compiler :-)

    Disturbingly close to being true. The LISP community manages to be both small and highly fragmented, no mean feat.

    >So, if you want to try another social engineering experiment, that might be a good target group.

    Indeed. Expect results in approximately 20 years, maybe. :-)

  239. Which, interestingly, ties back in to this article and the Eliezer Yudkowsky post, and helps to explain why nobody’s written good GUI bindings — they’re not cooperating and are still too busy with the basics. So, if you want to try another social engineering experiment, that might be a good target group

    OTOH, why bother? Python is “LISP with wacky syntax,” right? *ducking*

  240. All right, so I’ll have several hours on an airplane the next few days. I’m sucking down Kubuntu 10.4, and have the Lisp Machine stuff. Any suggestions for what to poke at should I manage to get the thing running?

  241. @Morgan:

    Python is “LISP with wacky syntax,” right? *ducking*

    Well, I think it’s safe to say that many if not most LISPers will be happier programming in Python than in Perl or C, and that many if not most Perl/C programmers will be happier programming in Python than in LISP. You can probably find most any other point in this debate you wish to make or refute by starting at this page.

  242. I’d love to go back to LISP as a main language. But my requirement, at this point, is that it not cost me any of the range Python gives me. That is, the standard library has to be as rich, and cross-platform compatibility has to be as good. This is certainly possible, I’m just not aware anyone’s actually done it.

    If you haven’t already, you should take a look at Clojure.

  243. >If you haven’t already, you should take a look at Clojure.

    I have. It’s not far from what I want, except for having Java underneath. :-)

  244. >2) In any ACTUAL state, the thugs will take over and be “more equal than others”. That’s just human nature. So the idealists like presumably you are will be the first to be put up against the wall when you find out that your political views are different from theirs (which is they are Big Boss). See how many old school idealist Bolsheviks survived past 1938.

    You might like to look at Hayek’s last book, The Fatal Conceit, where he talks a good bit about this. It is much more readable than his earlier books, I don’t know if it was experience showing or if he had a ghost writer (I heard his health was starting to fail before it was done) but it is a good read.

    Also, this is the natural extension of Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, that those more interested in their own power tend to take over a bureaucracy from those interested in the problem the bureaucracy was supposed to address, when everything gets folded into the bureaucracy.

  245. @DVK
    “And they can only handle things 2 ways: either become more efficient by allowing productive people to be productive, or become inefficient because productive people are leaving for greener pastures. At which point you either shoot those who leave (see Wall, Berlin) or get free labor from a labor camp. The second possible end game is of course being taken over by one of the emerging powers (unlikely Russia, more likely Islamic Caliphat – I’m talking many decades long horizon here, not next 5 years).”

    You are talking about Germany? The world’s 4th economy? The second largest exporter in the world? The one that produces the machines that power China’s export?

    To quote a famous Austrian (almost German) ‘That’s not right. It’s not even wrong’.

    Anyhow, Germany has been a Welfare state for half a century now. Where are the camps? The UK for longer, again, where are the camps?

  246. >>You can say that about the Catholic church, too.
    >
    > That’s right, you’re new here. I do in fact say this. Rather frequently.

    “The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are Nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.”

    Last rites declaration of Ioannes Paulus PP. II (Karol Wojtyla, aka Pope John Paul II) 2nd April 2005

  247. @Patrick Maupan
    “”You made the point that you can choose GPL vs. proprietary, so you will choose GPL because the source is available.”

    I was almost exclusively talking about GPL versus MIT/BSD licenses.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “And here, I thought you were making a moral argument, not an economic one. ”

    Economics IS a moral endeavor. That as much we agree on. More precisely, if you go from only positive externalities to definite important negative externalities, different moral choices have to be made.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “Why do you find it necessary to be able to modify your software down to the bit level, but are happy to operate on much larger blocks with hardware?”

    Given the commodity status of PC hardware parts, controlling hardware is less urgent. And I have easy access to many hardware specialists who can indeed control much of the parts. To go any deeper I would need very heavy equipment and use poisonous chemicals. With software I only need a compiler. We start with those things that are achievable.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “So, do you have the firmware for the engine controller for your car?”

    I do not have a car. But I get the point. I do have a phone with locked down GSM and Bluetooth hardware. That is a problem, and not a small one. One that the law forbids me to solve, I understand. It is said to be ILLEGAL to create Open Source Bluetooth firmware. It is impossible in practice to create an Open Source GSM stack. If you know a way to solve that, please tell me.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “You compelling them to tell you the recipe is forced speech, a different kind of censorship.”

    A binary is the translation of the source. I only demand the original to the speech you already gave me. You are not forced to speak, you already spoke in no uncertain terms. Now I want these terms in writing. Two analogues: You would want any verbal contract in writing. That is not a new contract nor is it forced speech. And you would want the keys to a house or car you bought. That is not forced robbery.

    @Patrick Maupan
    “But if the FSF really cares about this particular issue (hint, they don’t) then there are plenty of targets for them to choose from.”
    “I showed you three different court cases where that was demonstrably false. You have not showed any evidence to the contrary.”

    You consulted a lawyer and she told you you were right and could ignore anything the FSF says? Then you simply wait for them to sue you and you win. I cannot give you legal advice as that would itself be illegal. Moreover, I could not predict the outcome of a US court case if my life depended on it. And I certainly am not going to waste my time trying to understand the details of the dysfunctional US legal system.

    But that is not the point, isn’t it. You want to use GPLed software but do not want to support the GPL. The FSF does not need your software and does not want to support whatever you were planning to do. So you are good and they are bad?

    @Patrick Maupan
    “Personally, I think this is a great thing, because the full record of this sort of debate can remain here and be easily discoverable from google, unlike, for example, similar debates on groklaw.”

    Groklaw was gamed by pump and dump con men. Money was spend to send PIs after Pamela. She received serious death threats. Her blog was inundated with comments that would make her liable for some pretty serious private and criminal prosecution. Closing down the comment section from Google was one way to protect her from criminal prosecution and slander suits. It is regrettable, but understandable.

  248. @Patrick Maupin:
    “But, if it’s morally unacceptable for a company to give me software without source code, why is it morally acceptable for a company to sell me a gadget without schematics?”

    I’m guessing that you’re too young to know this, but it used to be standard practice for manufacturers to provide a schematic with any kind of electronic device.
    A couple of examples:

    As a teenager, I once modified the family TV set to give it a composite video input socket, so that I could get a really good picture from my computer. This was possible because the user manual included a schematic. I also managed to blow up the same TV, but was able to fix it myself (one transistor & a couple of resistors) because I had the aforementioned schematic.

    I also modified a Vic-20 to add a heap of RAM, plus a bunch of software hacks to the video system, because it came with schematics & some source code. Yes, I probably could’ve reverse-engineered both, but it would’ve been a hell of a lot harder.

    So to get back to the point, yes, I actually do think it’s immoral for a company to sell a gadget without supplying the schematics.

  249. @Winter :

    > You are talking about Germany? The world’s 4th economy? The second largest exporter in the world? The one that produces the machines that power China’s export? Anyhow, Germany has been a Welfare state for half a century now. Where are the camps? The UK for longer, again, where are the camps?

    Neither of them was a full on welfare state (still aren’t), though UK flirted closely pre-Thatcher. If you want to make a comparison, compare the economies of West and East Germanies right before the unification.

    If you want an example of what happens to full on western welfare state, look at Greece or Spain. If not for external influence (e.g. begging money from less welfare neighbours), they’d have been bankrupt by now. As another example, look at what happened at France – they realized they needed to at least raise retirement age from 60 to 62 and a bunch of population rioted extensively. Why? Because the “me generation” – in France as elsewhere – didn’t feel like inconveniencing themselves by raising enough children who could pay for their retirement. So now they want SOMEONE to pay for that retirement, and they don’t care who it will be and don’t really feel like violence is a Bad Thing to get what they want,

  250. I never saw LISP compilers being deployed in any major way on the general-purpose hardware.

    Define “major way”. SBCL, Chicken, and Gambit are packaged for use on many Linux distros now.

    Anyone whinging about Lisp’s bindings to the outside world should really, really have a look at Chicken or Gambit, popular and well-regarded Scheme implementations with easy-easy C bindings. Both of these compile to fast C, too: Gambit was used to write iPhone games and is currently being used (by me) to write a software synthesizer.

  251. >Define “major way”. SBCL, Chicken, and Gambit are packaged for use on many Linux distros now.

    I was talking nearly thirty years ago at the time of the death of the LISP-machine vendors, not today on Linux machines. But it says a lot that though I keep a weather eye out for things LISP-related, I hadn’t heard of any of these three before now, except maybe Gambit and that only as a whisper. These implementations – and LISPs in general – simply aren’t scoring enough design wins to make them visible. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s reality.

  252. Speaking of Germany, which way is the net immigration pressure between Germany and the US? And, what kind of people are moving each direction?

    I ask because I think that “voting with your feet” trumps any argument about what’s better.

    Of course, if you believe that people don’t know what’s good for them, you disagree. Curiously enough, some countries that didn’t believe that people can decide ended up building walls to keep people in.

  253. I am currently hacking my way through about 4 scheme and lisp books, and I can definitely say that I love the language and the ideas behind it. But I am confused by some of the comments on this page particularly regarding Java. TJL says that a strike against Python is that it is slower than Java. But guess what, so is Lisp, and pretty much every language not named C(++). Check the Computer Language shootout if you don’t believe me. The most performant Lisp implementation benchmarked, SBCL is on average 2x as slow as Java. Python averages 35x slower.

    The next comment, from esr this time, says that a strike against Clojure is that it has Java underneath. All this means is that it has access to likely the largest body of cross-platform libraries that currently exist! Clojure in fact fulfills almost all of Jay Maynard’s criteria except for the fact that it is not strictly compiled, although of course the JVM can compile the code at runtime.

    Clojure seems to me to be the Lisp with the largest chance of succeeding, largely because it piggybacks on the Java platform and thus can offer a tremendous body of already implemented and tested code, while offering all the traditional goodness of lisp (macros, first-class functions) over top.

  254. >Clojure seems to me to be the Lisp with the largest chance of succeeding, largely because it piggybacks on the Java platform and thus can offer a tremendous body of already implemented and tested code,

    My ick reaction is partly a a reaction to the baroque topheaviness of Java itself (which admittedly, isn’t nearly as bad as C++ on this score, and perhaps shouldn’t be held against a language that merely uses the JVM as an engine) and partly uneasiness about the known problems of the JVM (ask a numerical analyst, you’ll get an earful).

    Still, you are very likely right about Clojure being the top candidate. The Java libraries may be a messy pile of mess, but they’re an awfully big pile. Quite hard for other aspiring LISPs to match.

    A CS-professor friend who teaches a comparative computer languages course, knowing of my time-depth in things LISPish, actually asked me to evaluate Clojure for him a few months back. His question was whether the LISP part of the design had gotten anything basically wrong. I read the book on Clojure he handed me and said “No, not as far as I can tell from this.” There are a handful of places where I think the language primitives are slightly distorted by the JVM underneath (no, can’t list ‘em, I’d have to reread), but I didn’t see anything that seemed actively broken.

  255. I am curious what known problems of the JVM you are referring to. Are you referring to the floating point semantics, which were criticized in the widely distributed paper “How Java’s Floating-Point Hurts Everyone Everywhere”? Clojure implements a full numeric tower and so in large part you don’t have to deal with the base primitive types such as int and float, except of course where you are interoperating with Java code that specifically requires those types. Otherwise you still get the same lisp goodness of (expt 2 64).

  256. >Are you referring to the floating point semantics, which were criticized in the widely distributed paper “How Java’s Floating-Point Hurts Everyone Everywhere”?

    Yes, that’s why I said “ask a numerical analyst”. Thanks for the additional information about the numeric tower.

  257. If you will pardon my rambling…

    After reading this post and the previous one regarding hacker culture, to the extent that Eric has made a deliberate attempt to shape hacker culture and draw in others, to be ‘infected by its primary memes’ as it were, I consider myself sucked in.

    I admit, I aspire to hackerdom. But would this have been the case had I not already been of the hackish frame of mind, before ever knowing about ‘esr’, or open source, or RFC 1149? I doubt it.

    To give this some perspective, my first computer was a well-worn C64, bought in 1991 for the princely sum (for my family) of $300. So I first learned to program in BASIC, writing a program to help me run the pencil-and-paper RPG group I had (Rule #1: scratch the itch). Junior-high computer science at that time consisted of “This is a computer, this is the keyboard…”, etc., along with some small amount of BASIC on an Apple IIe. Fast forward to high school CS, which was taught in Pascal. I remember distinctly thinking ‘How does any real work get done like this?’ I still hacked on my C64 at home, trying to learn graphics programming, which involved a long series of PEEKs and POKEs (which caused me no end of grief and heartburn every time I broke something). I think because my parents never really saw the computer as anything other than a toy, I was encouraged to put my neurons to other uses (read: go be a doctor), so moving on to college it never occurred to me to revisit computing in a more modern setting (with the Internet!), even as I did work-study in the school network infrastructure group (!) until it was far too late to change my major and actually study computing.

    So I graduated with a useless biochem degree, having never made it into med school, newly married, and a lot of time on my hands due to conflicting work schedules. Around this time I had taken possession of my sister’s G3 iMac (for which I got this new-fangled thing, ‘cable internet’, and no cable TV, which my wife found irksome), for which no BASIC interpreter existed, or that I could find. So I tried some other languages and happened on Python. Again, without an itch to scratch, I piddled with it, but nothing else.

    Then, kid(s), job, life…and the accidental discovery of the Jargon File, which I found hilarious, and other bits attached to it. And it sort of dawned on me, ‘huh, this is creepily self-descriptive.’ Then I found an itch: game modding, in Python no less.

    So I dove back into programming again, and enjoyed it. And read the Jargon File again, and again, and each time more started to make sense. Then I read ‘How to become a hacker’ and thought, ‘Hell, where was this 6 years ago?’ Then, back to school, given that my useless biochem degree was only good for getting me into grad school, for chemical engineering, and more programming, where I found Python was very useful for crunching large tables of data. I bought my very first, shiny new PC. I tried out a Linux, SuSE 10.0, which wasn’t very good, and my wife hated it, and the games weren’t good, so off it came. After grad school, back to work (I am sandbending engineer!), with ironically more opportunities for programming, and less encouragement to do so (‘You’re not IT, so stop writing database front-ends’).

    Then I discovered another itch: rather than write code, I wanted to write code that writes code, for the previously mentioned game mod. Here I discovered the lack-luster GUI options for Python (Tk/Tcl? Really?), and sought other languages, first C#, then Java. I discovered that the more languages I learned, then less learning that went into it. I knew HOW to program: the rest is just figuring out the libraries. Here I discovered how tedious writing a reasonably large, useful, working piece of software can be for one person, especially when there are other demands on one’s time (sandbending, family, etc) and you’re not getting paid to do it. I have yet to finish it, and other itches are waiting to be scratched.

    Assuming you’ve made it this far, you’re wondering what the point of all this is, because I would be. I am an engineer (not a doctor, dammit!); I make things and solve problems. I take great delight in bending computers to my will. RFC 1149 is freaking hilarious (and the implementation was even better). Are these the qualities of a hacker? Perhaps. Am I one? Not until I’m ‘knighted’.

    ESR says: This is a good story. I’ve added a couple of paragraph breaks to make it readable.

  258. >I admit, I aspire to hackerdom. But would this have been the case had I not already been of the hackish frame of mind, before ever knowing about ‘esr’, or open source, or RFC 1149? I doubt it.

    I agree. Exposure to all the all the hacker-culture artifacts in the world won’t do it if you don’t have the right posture of mind.

    >Are these the qualities of a hacker? Perhaps. Am I one? Not until I’m ‘knighted’.

    Also correct, though the ‘knighting’ is less important than the posture of mind. You sound like a hacker to me.

  259. @Matt Minton:

    An awful lot of your story is eerily similar to mine, though I started later, with MS QBasic on a 386 in third grade.

    The Jargon File, which I discovered maybe two years ago, was definitely my entryway to the culture itself, purely due to my own utter fascination with the history. I can’t say that I saw myself in it (at the time!), but it definitely drew me in well enough. And it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to finally sit down and try to grok C in fullness.

  260. @esr:

    Any time a subculture increases in infectivity and prestige, you get an influx of people who want to talk the talk, but are unwilling or unable to walk the walk.

    Are these the qualities of a hacker? Perhaps. Am I one? Not until I’m ‘knighted’.

    Also correct, though the ‘knighting’ is less important than the posture of mind. You sound like a hacker to me.

    I was actually thinking about this last night, because I am currently, slowly, haltingly, following a path that, if it results in my other goals being met, could eventually result in me being called a hacker in some quarters (even if not by TJL). And, to pull together two threads, this bears heavily on my choice of license, which I’ll get to in a minute.

    Making contributions to a public code repository is, even if not a mandatory prerequisite, certainly one of the more usual paths to being ‘knighted’ as a hacker in the wider world — what better demonstration of “walking the walk?” (And, of course, it doesn’t hurt the resume to be able to point to actual code that you’ve written.)

    And I don’t (yet) have enough code out there to qualify.

    I finally got some traction at my day job a couple of years ago that allows me to contribute to a few projects, time permitting, so I can slowly build a public portfolio.

    But, like legions of programmers who work for more traditional companies, and unlike somebody who works at, say Red Hat, if I incorporate anybody else’s open-source code into my workday, I have to be very careful that GPLed code doesn’t wind up near any non-GPL code that might be going to customers. So, when Winter says “it’s about the money”, in one small but real sense he’s right. It would be quite easy to bury some GPLed code deep inside a library for internal use only, and then a few years later different people could release something that used the library because of inadequate internal documentation and with no intended malice, so IMO those people who mock the potential for “accidental infections” are dead wrong. If permissive code inadvertently leaked like that, you’d have to update the docs with new license info, but if GPL code leaked, you might have a huge problem that would cost real dollars. The risk is actually very small, but the potential reward is huge and comes with its own minus sign.

    The primary point of this post is that I am not alone. There are probably more programmers who want to contribute, who work for organizations that are just now starting to let them contribute (other than simple bugfix patches), than there are existing contributors to open source projects. This is the next wave of hackers and I think it is huge. Some of these will use the GPL, and some will use permissive licenses, but they will all implicitly know that the GPL doesn’t actually guarantee that people will “give back” code that builds on top of it (because they will have seen internal apps that legally use GPLed libraries), and they will all implicitly know that, if their organization ever delivers proprietary apps (even if that’s not its main focus) they have to be careful not to use GPLed code there. So, any of them who, like me, prefer to use permissively licensed code because it’s worry-free, and want to follow the golden rule, will make their contributions under permissive licenses whenever possible.

  261. >I was actually thinking about this last night, because I am currently, slowly, haltingly, following a path that, if it results in my other goals being met, could eventually result in me being called a hacker in some quarters (even if not by TJL).

    Heh. Patrick, I for one haven’t got any hesitation about calling you a hacker right now. As with Jay Maynard N years ago, we’ve communicated enough that I think I know how your mind works – I don’t actually need to see your code (though that would be nice). Nor are you a novice on the path; what you write shows maturity, engineering judgment, and sensitivity to the context in which you do your tool-building. You’d be quite welcome on any dev team I’m running; if you didn’t know the application domain, I’m certain you’d just vacuum it up in the first couple weeks.

    >Making contributions to a public code repository is, even if not a mandatory prerequisite, certainly one of the more usual paths to being ‘knighted’ as a hacker in the wider world — what better demonstration of “walking the walk?”

    Indeed. One of the subtler effects of the whole culture and toolkit around public repos is that the transition from ‘outside’ to ‘inside’ the hacker community is both easier and more sharply defined than it used to be. There are exceptional cases, and you are living one of them, but to a pretty good first approximation the set of hackers and aspirant hackers now coincides with “people who regularly push code to public repos”. It used to be more difficult to grade your degree of insideness.

  262. > I for one haven’t got any hesitation about calling you a hacker right now.

    Thanks!

    > I don’t actually need to see your code (though that would be nice).

    You can see info about my limited public contributions to date at google code. Warbler hasn’t had any code released; it suffers from the enemy of the good being the great, and my initial reluctance to fully embrace the bazaar model. The other stuff is all functional at some level, and of course, rst2pdf is a large project that existed well before I ever helped it out any.

  263. >It used to be more difficult to grade your degree of insideness

    This is part of what I was thinking about when I wrote in the OP that we’ve done a pretty good job of distributing the “gatekeeper” function. You gate yourself by whether you have the minimum level of competence, motivation, and communication skills required to function in an open-source collaboration. Most hackers now accept this as a sufficient credential for “one of us”, although it’s still bad form to claim to be one of us until you’ve been “knighted” (as Patrick Maupin put it).

    Actually, hackers have offloaded the gatekeeping task onto our collaborative machinery with a vast semi-conscious sigh of relief, because an objective criterion like “does he/she push commits to a repo” seems more fair than “is he/she buddies with the right crowd?” and we have other core values that make this kind of fairness important.

    The point I want to re-emphasize is that it wasn’t always this way. TJL and I date from a period when, lacking today’s networks, the culture was a much looser assemblage of comparatively tiny groups of hackers in face-to-face contact. Who you hung out with day-to-day was more important then. There weren’t any public repositories. Hell, until five years after I joined the culture there weren’t even any version-control systems. (Yes, I know. Uphill! Both ways! In the snow!)

  264. @esr:

    > There are exceptional cases, and you are living one of them, but to a pretty good first approximation the set of hackers and aspirant hackers now coincides with “people who regularly push code to public repos”. It used to be more difficult to grade your degree of insideness.

    I must disagree here about the accuracy of your approximation. IMHO you are severely underestimating the amount of people who’d easily qualify as hackers both skillset and mindset wise, but who work in corporate environments and for a variety of reasons don’t participate in OSS. I can elaborate on reasons if you’re interested.

    An aside consideration for you: people in REALLY large shops push code into company VCS repository used by hundreds or even thousands of developers (and the really good ones I referred to above actually push the code that **IS** used by all those 1000s of developers, as part of a frameworks imposed by corporate coding standards). How is that *functionally* (as opposed to politilcally/eithically) different than someone pushing a little project onto a public repository with an expected user base of 50 people who care about that domain?

  265. >I must disagree here about the accuracy of your approximation. IMHO you are severely underestimating the amount of people who’d easily qualify as hackers both skillset and mindset wise, but who work in corporate environments and for a variety of reasons don’t participate in OSS. I can elaborate on reasons if you’re interested.

    You don’t have to, I think I can anticipate your argument pretty well. But I’ll stick to my guns on this. Patrick Maupin does contribute, if sporadically, and that makes him part of the hacker culture’s defining collaborative game. People who don’t contribute to public code aren’t in the game. Now, if you want to claim that industry has a lot of worthy and bright hacker-types who are separated from hacker culture only by the fact that they haven’t joined it, that I won’t argue because I think it’s obviously true.

  266. @jsk

    I would argue that my experience (and yours) is similar to a lot of would-be hackers our age: we’re shaped at an early age by the hardware/utilities available, plus the culture at the time (rise of console video games, coming-of-age at the beginning of the open-source movement and the era of cheap hardware, etc). My kids are going to grow up in a world of always-on network connections and the ubiquity of mobile computing devices running Linux. I can only imagine what it will be like for my grandkids (‘Grandpa, tell me the story of dial-up and dropped connections!’,’Those were sad days, lad, sad days indeed!’)

    @Patrick

    Making contributions to a public code repository is, even if not a mandatory prerequisite, certainly one of the more usual paths to being ‘knighted’ as a hacker in the wider world — what better demonstration of “walking the walk?” (And, of course, it doesn’t hurt the resume to be able to point to actual code that you’ve written.)

    And this is were I fall short, since I have but one thing I can point to and say “This I have wrought”, a little file format converter for 0 A.D.. Again, it’s a matter of priorities. I don’t get paid to write code, as cool as that would be; it is pure hobby.

  267. >I would argue that my experience (and yours) is similar to a lot of would-be hackers our age

    And I think you’re quite right. I’ve probably read as many such stories as anyone – they show up in my mailbox a lot – and the parallels in tone and details are often quite striking.

  268. I was talking nearly thirty years ago at the time of the death of the LISP-machine vendors, not today on Linux machines. But it says a lot that though I keep a weather eye out for things LISP-related, I hadn’t heard of any of these three before now, except maybe Gambit and that only as a whisper. These implementations – and LISPs in general – simply aren’t scoring enough design wins to make them visible. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s reality.

    SBCL, a fork of CMUCL has emerged as the de facto Common Lisp implementation of choice, rapidly displacing Allegro CL and other proprietary implementations which have been historically used by commercial Lisp shops. Gambit has been used to develop several iPhone games and has gotten plenty of positive bloggery because it’s fast, largely stays out of your way and integrating with C, or C++ or Objective-C, code is a cakewalk.

    And you missed all this despite keeping a “weather eye” out for Lisp? Maybe the frustum of your vision was too tightly focused in the wrong direction? Lisp aficionados tend to congregate at the newer, hipper hangouts like news.yc and the programming subreddit. We’re still small, especially compared to the tidal wave of Ruby hipsters that emerged over the past five years or so, and we’re still regarded as those weirdos with “My Other Car Is A Cdr” bumper stickers who only deign to use C and Python because we have to, but invisible we are not. :)

    Oh, and by the way, don’t fear the reddit. Over on /r/programming we tend to keep the Obama and Assange fanboyism and the encroachment of 4chan memes to a minimum. :)

  269. Somehow I missed seeing these two messages in the thread until now. Anyway:

    @Winter:

    You made the point that you can choose GPL vs. proprietary, so you will choose GPL because the source is available.

    I was almost exclusively talking about GPL versus MIT/BSD licenses.

    That’s fine. I like how you selectively quote part of what I said that you can refute, but not the part where I say that, for your stated purposes, GPL is no better than MIT/BSD.

    And here, I thought you were making a moral argument, not an economic one.

    Economics IS a moral endeavor. That as much we agree on.

    Who the hell said we agree on that? Economics can be done morally or immorally. Truly sustainable economics might require morality, but the jury’s still out on whether there is such a thing as sustainable economics in any case.

    More precisely, if you go from only positive externalities to definite important negative externalities, different moral choices have to be made.

    No, the morality should be the same. The economics might need to change. But your implication that not showing someone your source code is a negative externality is unsupportable — or at least, you haven’t supported it. (Hint: lack of a positive externality does not a negative externality make.)

    Why do you find it necessary to be able to modify your software down to the bit level, but are happy to operate on much larger blocks with hardware?

    Given the commodity status of PC hardware parts, controlling hardware is less urgent.

    OK, so you’re willing to spend money for black boxes you can’t peer inside as long as their are atoms involved. I got that. But why would you claim that no software has status commodity, and how can you support that?

    And I have easy access to many hardware specialists who can indeed control much of the parts. To go any deeper I would need very heavy equipment and use poisonous chemicals. With software I only need a compiler. We start with those things that are achievable.

    Thanks for making my point that you and RMS view software differently because you like dabbling in it; in fact, because it is easier to work with than anything else. Of course, you never refuted my point that this is exactly the reason why software is much less of a problem than hardware, for someone who feels that, morally, they ought to have the recipe for everything they use, for the simple reasons that you can much more easily create your own recipe from scratch with software, and that you can more easily dissect someone else’s object code than you can their physical compound.

    So, do you have the firmware for the engine controller for your car?

    I do not have a car. But I get the point. I do have a phone with locked down GSM and Bluetooth hardware. That is a problem, and not a small one. One that the law forbids me to solve, I understand. It is said to be ILLEGAL to create Open Source Bluetooth firmware. It is impossible in practice to create an Open Source GSM stack. If you know a way to solve that, please tell me.

    The folks who do the Light-weight bluetooth stack might take issue with your characterization of it as illegal. But even if it is, there must only be patent or trademark issues. Arguably, free speech means you can always write and share software that would violate a patent if executed. That software could even be shared under the MIT or BSD license, but perhaps not the GPL. Then, there are the guys with the Open source GSM network. What, exactly, do you need help solving? Your studied ignorance of how to use google to find facts?

    You compelling them to tell you the recipe is forced speech, a different kind of censorship.

    A binary is the translation of the source. I only demand the original to the speech you already gave me.

    Short answer: Fuck you.

    Long answer: If you really feel that morally strongly about it, you really should concentrate on the hard problem of industrial recipes, not the easy problem of software (where equivalent functionality is much easier to achieve). By concentrating on the easy problem, you really are showing yourself to be a dilettante, who couches his concerns in “what is achievable” while he really means “what is most interesting to me.”

    You are not forced to speak, you already spoke in no uncertain terms. Now I want these terms in writing.

    Maybe I write in hexadecimal. How are you going to force me to prove that I don’t? This is a very slippery slope — are you sure you want to go there?

    Two analogues: You would want any verbal contract in writing. That is not a new contract nor is it forced speech. And you would want the keys to a house or car you bought. That is not forced robbery.

    How the HELL is giving you a binary you can run on your computer equivalent to a contract? How the HELL is the source like a car key and not like a schematic? Why the HELL can you not give a decent analogy?

    “But if the FSF really cares about this particular issue (hint, they don’t) then there are plenty of targets for them to choose from.”
    “I showed you three different court cases where that was demonstrably false. You have not showed any evidence to the contrary.”

    You consulted a lawyer and she told you you were right and could ignore anything the FSF says?

    You’re studiously ignoring the part where I agree they are right about some things, but claim that they overreach on others (as I have been consistently claiming since at least 2003). Or, to put it bluntly, you overreach in your speech as badly as the FSF.

    Then you simply wait for them to sue you and you win.

    I will be quite surprised if they sue any open source project, simply because it is capable of interoperating with GPLed software. And, as I said, they have lots of potential targets to choose from and have had for several years, so laches would be an excellent defense at this time. No, I fully expect them to keep spreading the FUD on this issue, because in order to sue someone, they would have to actually believe their own claims.

    I cannot give you legal advice as that would itself be illegal. Moreover, I could not predict the outcome of a US court case if my life depended on it. And I certainly am not going to waste my time trying to understand the details of the dysfunctional US legal system.

    I don’t recall asking for your advice, but I do recall asking you for any evidence whatsoever to back up your claim that any judge might believe the GPL is correct on this issue. Thank you for finally admitting that you don’t have it.

    But that is not the point, isn’t it. You want to use GPLed software but do not want to support the GPL. The FSF does not need your software and does not want to support whatever you were planning to do. So you are good and they are bad?

    First off, that sweeping claim makes the assumption that everybody who licenses their creations under the GPL fully supports the FSF, and views the GPL as an entity in and of itself that needs to be “supported.” This is demonstrably false. Next, the question/statement “you are good and they are bad” allows for no shades of grey. Finally, you insult me by (again, and on multiple occasions) arguing that I want to disregard authors’ wishes, when all I want is for potential authors to understand all the ramifications of their license choice, and the first step in doing that is to combat FUD from whatever quarters it is emanating.

    “Personally, I think this is a great thing, because the full record of this sort of debate can remain here and be easily discoverable from google, unlike, for example, similar debates on groklaw.”

    Groklaw was gamed by pump and dump con men. Money was spend to send PIs after Pamela. She received serious death threats. Her blog was inundated with comments that would make her liable for some pretty serious private and criminal prosecution. Closing down the comment section from Google was one way to protect her from criminal prosecution and slander suits. It is regrettable, but understandable.

    I understand that public persons have it hard sometimes, but making the comment section unsearchable from google is not in any way a solution for any of those problems. For you to suggest that it is shows either that you are stupid, or that you expect that your audience is stupid.

    @Lionel:

    “But, if it’s morally unacceptable for a company to give me software without source code, why is it morally acceptable for a company to sell me a gadget without schematics?”

    I’m guessing that you’re too young to know this, but it used to be standard practice for manufacturers to provide a schematic with any kind of electronic device.

    Bzzzzt!!! Bad guess.

    So to get back to the point, yes, I actually do think it’s immoral for a company to sell a gadget without supplying the schematics.

    Obviously you’re in the minority, or people wouldn’t be buying cheap chinese crap without the schematics. But, as I have mentioned multiple times, I think this is a perfectly good religious position. I just would like to see it consistently applied from the practitioners of the religion, and more so on the issues that affect society as a whole (drug manufacturing techniques, for example), and less so on those issues that make it harder for you to mod a level of your favorite game.

  270. @Patrick Maupin
    “Who the hell said we agree on that? Economics can be done morally or immorally.”

    Economic choices are moral choices. Adam Smith was a philosopher of morals. If you do not agree, then I misunderstood you.

    @Patrick Maupin
    “But your implication that not showing someone your source code is a negative externality is unsupportable — or at least, you haven’t supported it. (Hint: lack of a positive externality does not a negative externality make.)”

    ???? Making hardware induces negative externalities. More exact, making and distributing hardware creates costs (externalities) that must be internalized in the prize of the product (but hardly ever all of it is). Creating and distributing software does not create costs other than “some” electricity and a lot of human time. After the first copy, all other copies can be created and distributed at almost zero cost. How to internalize and divide these hardware costs is an economic question that requires “moral” choices, eg, about price. Different ones than those for pure software.

    Your position seems to be that I should not care about software source because I cannot create CPU chips myself, and I consider this positio rather odd. Doing nothing for software because I cannot obtain or use chip masks is a moral choice too. I prefer to make another choice.

    @Patrick Maupin
    “Or, to put it bluntly, you overreach in your speech as badly as the FSF.”

    That is because I simply cannot see your point. You are mad at the FSF because they say things they think are true and you think are false. I simply do not get the point. If they are wrong, your are right, and vice versa. Only the courts can decide. If you say they already decided, then it is clear, isn’t it? And I cannot read US court cases, so I cannot tell you one way or the other whether they apply to your case. I give up, sorry.

    @Patrick Maupin
    “First off, that sweeping claim makes the assumption that everybody who licenses their creations under the GPL fully supports the FSF, and views the GPL as an entity in and of itself that needs to be “supported.””

    Unless told otherwise, I assume that anyone who choses the GPL to license her works does that because she supports the obligations the GPL creates. I cannot see how I can do this different. I do not see how the FSF comes into play?

    @Patrick Maupin
    “How the HELL is giving you a binary you can run on your computer equivalent to a contract? How the HELL is the source like a car key and not like a schematic? Why the HELL can you not give a decent analogy?”

    See next answer.

    I simply do not see why you make a fuss about promising to give the source of your FREE and OPEN SOURCE binaries to whomever asks. You already wrote them, or else you did not had the source (and if you wrote them in HEX, you could give them in HEX). And you are creating FOSS. I do not see why there is so much fuss. Except if you want to DENY your users the source of the FOSS binary they get. Then why use FOSS at all?

    @Patrick Maupin
    “I understand that public persons have it hard sometimes, but making the comment section unsearchable from google is not in any way a solution for any of those problems. For you to suggest that it is shows either that you are stupid, or that you expect that your audience is stupid.”

    I pick the choice that I am stupid. I did, and do, see the logic in PJ’s decision (it has to do with mirroring illegal comments on Groklaw using Google cache before PJ has a chance to remove them, and using these mirrors as evidence). If that is stupid, I am the only one to blame, so I must be stupid.

  271. Who the hell said we agree on that? Economics can be done morally or immorally.

    Economic choices are moral choices. Adam Smith was a philosopher of morals. If you do not agree, then I misunderstood you.

    Well, then, I guess we do agree, in the sense that immoral choices are moral choices.

    Making hardware induces negative externalities. More exact, making and distributing hardware creates costs (externalities) that must be internalized in the prize of the product (but hardly ever all of it is). Creating and distributing software does not create costs other than “some” electricity and a lot of human time. After the first copy, all other copies can be created and distributed at almost zero cost. How to internalize and divide these hardware costs is an economic question that requires “moral” choices, eg, about price. Different ones than those for pure software.

    I misunderstood you. I thought you were arguing that software created negative externalities, but instead you are apparently arguing that someone who creates negative externalities like, for example pollutomg the environment should be rewarded by being able to extract money from customers and keep his secrets, but somebody who treads lightly on the environment should be forced to divulge everything and not charge? I guess I still misunderstand you.

    Your position seems to be that I should not care about software source because I cannot create CPU chips myself, and I consider this positio rather odd. Doing nothing for software because I cannot obtain or use chip masks is a moral choice too. I prefer to make another choice.

    Not at all. My “odd” position is that it is so easy, comparatively speaking, for a group of people to get together and build whatever software they want, that it’s pretty transparent it’s just about saving a bit of your labor and making things easier on you, as opposed to, say, solving some real problem for somebody else.

    Or, to put it bluntly, you overreach in your speech as badly as the FSF.

    That is because I simply cannot see your point.

    Or wish not to. For example, below, instead of addressing my pertinent question about your bogus car/key analogy, you simply redirect the question.

    You are mad at the FSF because they say things they think are true and you think are false.

    I have said many times that I am mad at them because they say things they don’t think are true, and I gave my reasons for my belief, which you studiously ignore.

    First off, that sweeping claim makes the assumption that everybody who licenses their creations under the GPL fully supports the FSF, and views the GPL as an entity in and of itself that needs to be “supported.”

    Unless told otherwise, I assume that anyone who choses the GPL to license her works does that because she supports the obligations the GPL creates.

    That’s a terrible assumption. In any case, how do you view Torvalds’ views of those obligations, which appear to be significantly different than those of Stallman? People obviously read different things into the license, and use it because it is close to what they want, and/or because they are interoperating with software that is licensed under the GPL, and/or are making a small enough contribution that they don’t really care, and/or simply haven’t thought it through, and use that license because “everybody else does.”

    I cannot see how I can do this different. I do not see how the FSF comes into play?

    You’re the one who said “The FSF does not need your software and does not want to support whatever you were planning to do. So you are good and they are bad?” so you tell me what you were thinking, and why it is important for you to address my relationship or lack thereof with the FSF, but irrelevant for me to respond.

    I simply do not see why you make a fuss about promising to give the source of your FREE and OPEN SOURCE binaries to whomever asks.

    It’s not about what I write. It’s about not restricting what other people do with them. It’s the difference between a gift and a Trojan Horse.

    You already wrote them, or else you did not had the source (and if you wrote them in HEX, you could give them in HEX). And you are creating FOSS. I do not see why there is so much fuss. Except if you want to DENY your users the source of the FOSS binary they get. Then why use FOSS at all?

    You’ve completely ignored my question of why I have a moral obligation to deliver the source. You’ve backed off to the whine of “but why wouldn’t you do this? I don’t underSTAND!!!”. That must be an admission that I don’t have a moral obligation. As far as why I would want to support people who directly use my source code and perhaps contribute back to me, over whatever people they deal with, who probably won’t actually contribute any source back to me in any case, well that should be pretty obvious if you think about it.

    As far as getting your knickers in a twist about people who take, but don’t give back, Linux currently has the opposite problem. Too many people want to give back, and it’s very difficult for them to deal with it. That’s because the economics support not having to constantly remerge changes. The idea that it is OK for users to take and take and take (which I absolutely agree with, if someone gave them code), but not for a programmer to take is pure communism, not even anywhere near close to socialism. The implementation of that idea, as I showed, is significantly flawed in that, sometimes, it places a programmer above a user, actually allowing the programmer to take something that the user can’t. As I wrote before, the golden rule is something that I apply to myself, not something I try to force on others through the use of a legal document.

    I pick the choice that I am stupid. I did, and do, see the logic in PJ’s decision (it has to do with mirroring illegal comments on Groklaw using Google cache before PJ has a chance to remove them, and using these mirrors as evidence). If that is stupid, I am the only one to blame, so I must be stupid.

    People are responsible for whatever they say, regardless of whether PJ tries to destroy the evidence they said it or not. I really don’t get it. I understand she doesn’t want the comments easily searchable, but that’s just an excuse, not a real reason for that.

  272. @Patrick Maupin
    “I misunderstood you.”

    Likewise. I have seen now several comments where we correct each other’s misunderstandings about our words. Furthermore, I see myself repeating arguments I wrote before.

    In short, we are running in circles. Everything I contemplated answering, I have already written above.

    My summary is that “We disagree about the responsibilities and obligations of developers and the requirements and demands of users” That determines our license choice. The rest is only tangentially involved, eg, why (or whether) software is different from hardware and music.

    For all the rest:
    GOTO http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2793#comment-287867

  273. @winter:

    Do I understand you correctly that you would ban distribution of software in binary form without the sources? If not, please disregard the following; maybe it will be instructive to someone else.

    A ban on the distribution of binaries without source counts as censorship, because it sets conditions on a person’s speech. No one would argue that writing software without distributing it at all should be banned–it’s an obviously insane position (what, you’re legally forced to make every individual bit of software you write–down to what level? do Perl one-liners that you use once count?–available to everyone with source? yeah, right.). Thus, a ban on distributing binaries alone counts as a ban on speech unless it fits a certain condition–in this case, distribution of the source code as well. It’s precisely the same logic as banning newspaper articles unless they append a declaration of total agreement with and allegiance to the Supreme Leader.

    My general heuristic on these sorts of issues is ‘whatever would end up happening if the government only enforced contracts, do that’. I’ve probably seen some cases in which this wouldn’t work, but I can’t bring any to mind right now. Without a good reason, you don’t mess with compulsion under threat of lethal force. Your desire to be able to freely and easily modify any software you receive–which is a desire I fully share–doesn’t count.

  274. >Without a good reason, you don’t mess with compulsion under threat of lethal force. Your desire to be able to freely and easily modify any software you receive–which is a desire I fully share–doesn’t count.

    The ethically correct way to express that desire is to refuse to enter contract with closed-source software vendors. It’s what I do.

  275. @Tom Dickson:
    “Do I understand you correctly that you would ban distribution of software in binary form without the sources?”

    No, but I will clarify it anyhow.

    If there would be no Copyright on software, I do not seek any restrictions on the flow of bits. None at all.

    However, while there IS a copyright law restricting the use of software, I (strongly) prefer the use of the GPL over licenses that do not require the distribution of the source. Both for bits I produce myself and bits I receive.

    I do not seek to force others to use the GPL. Somehow, this accusation comes up time and again. Everyone can do with their software whatever they like. But if they can take their software private under the law (or hide it), I can keep mine open under the law. So it is Tit-for-Tat and a more “leveled” legal field.

    For the rest, I will not repeat the discussion above. I see I am repeating myself again.

  276. @Winter:

    Thank you for the clarification. In this case, I do not disagree with your position at all, at least as regards policy. I personally do not use the GPL on what I write, because I see there being a decent probability that it will make some people wary of using it, while the MIT license (which is what I use) is unlikely to scare off anyone (GPL users can link to MIT code just fine). However, I do not call the GPL evil, and I have no argument with those who choose to use it.

  277. “2. Get one of the open-source Unixes and learn to use and run it.”

    This is the source hacker groupthink that I find annoying and dangrous. Hackers today are deeply unixcentric – and I’m admittedly sensitive to it, because I loath unix. Given a credible non-unix open-source OS (one that wasn’t just a retrocomputing stunt) I might have become a hacker myself, at least for small values of hacker. But as it stands, I’m definitely not a hacker and have no interest in being one as long as “if it ain’t unix, it ain’t hacking” remains the rule.

    Firefox gives a hint of what open-source could be, when unix-user-hostility doesn’t cause open-source to shoot itself in both feet. If an open-source OS had 23% of the desktop, rather than the low single-digits of the Linux variants…

    (Android, to stretch the analogy further, is a case of unix-user-hostility trying to shoot itself in both feet but missing because a smartphone’s feet are such small targets. But my prediction is that the current Android success will evaporate if smartphones ever become the main computing platform for a majority (or even a large minority) of users. Of course, I don’t believe that this will happen: I believe that something resembling a current desktop, running a non-unix OS, will remain the main computing platform for most users.)

  278. >This is the source hacker groupthink that I find annoying and dangrous. Hackers today are deeply unixcentric – and I’m admittedly sensitive to it, because I loath unix.

    I’m more sympathetic to this complaint than you might think from someone who wrote The Art Of Unix Programming. Yes, we might have ended up with a common hacking platform that was better – LISP all the way down, or Hydra-like persistent-object systems. The brute reality is that we didn’t. Rather than interpreting that advice as a normative “if it ain’t unix, it ain’t hacking”, please read it as: “That’s the lingua franca; you’ll need to learn it, even if you eventually end up doing (or better yet, inventing) something else better.”

  279. @Deep Lurker & esr
    “I’m more sympathetic to this complaint than you might think from someone who wrote The Art Of Unix Programming. Yes, we might have ended up with a common hacking platform that was better – LISP all the way down, or Hydra-like persistent-object systems.”

    The point I took home from “The Art Of Unix Programming” and whatever experience I have in *nix is that the “better hacker platform” will never materialize. The whole point of POSIX/*nix is weakly linked modules. Links between “apps” are the weakest possible, eg, ASCII streams. In my limited experience, all improvements required more tightly linked applications with better defined communication links. Say, the difference between “good” hypertext with two way links and “bad” HTTP/HTML with only one way links. There is a reason the “good” two way links never took off.

    I think all tightly linked systems do not scale in the real world. Some links will break at some point bringing the whole system down. In a loosely linked system, broken links only affect their local environment.

  280. I think it would have been better if we could have had two major open-source OSs, even if one of them was unix, rather than one non-unix hacker OS. As much as I loath unix, I do admit that there are places where it works well. More, I suspect that I’d loath unix a lot less if it weren’t for the persistant efforts to sell it as a great OS for domains where it isn’t a good fit.

  281. @Deep Lurker:
    “I think it would have been better if we could have had two major open-source OSs, even if one of them was unix, rather than one non-unix hacker OS.”

    Competition is great, more competition is greater ;-)

    I agree. But the other thing you can get from “The Art Of Unix Programming” is that UNIX is not an OS, but a discussion. What we see as the OS is nothing but the shared vocabulary of the developers. Behind the scenes, all kind of different OS models are invented, tried out, and discarded. Think about Memory Management, Paging, or scheduling. These are all core functions of OS’. Linux alone has completely redesigned them several times.

    What is preventing real competition between OS’ is the fact that developers will gravitate to a single “vocabulary” of recognized functionality. They will continue to make new implementations of the old vocabulary, but the vocabulary itself is very resistant to change. That is why I am convinced that in the end, there will be only a single vocabulary left. And it looks almost certain that that vocabulary will be called after one of the *nix’, and I suspect it will be Linux. Not because Linux is better in any meaningful sense. But because it is the place where most developers learn their basics.

  282. >More, I suspect that I’d loath unix a lot less if it weren’t for the persistant efforts to sell it as a great OS for domains where it isn’t a good fit.

    That’s fair. It’s not, as one obvious example, a good fit for hard realtime. In the nature of things, nothing with the assumption of a round-robin scheduler wired so deeply into it really can be.

    I agree with others who are pointing out that what is most valuable about Unix is the cluster of ideas, almost at a philosophical level, that travel with it — modularity and loose coupling, open source, and others that I listed in the first chapter of my book.

    Also…well, I respectfully suggest that much of what you read as “sell[ing] it as a great OS for domains where it isn’t a good fit” is actually a result of one of Unix’s most important virtues – the capacity to reinvent itself in response to challenges the designers could not have foreseen. Yes, there are things it’s not good at and for which it’s oversold, but the range of things it is good for is astonishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <pre lang="" line="" escaped="" highlight="">