Open Source vs Free Software – a Philosophical discussion

Everyone is aware of the huge fuss going on at present. What we have appears to be a conflict between two philosophical viewpoints, fueled by claims that one community is under attack by the other community. This is wrong, and here’s why:

Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985, with the aim of restoring the freedom that had been lost with the advent of the Proprietary Software companies, most especially Microsoft. Specifically the freedom he was talking about was the freedom for the end user to do whatever they want to with the software, with the exception of preventing anyone else from having the same rights. This freedom is often misunderstood to cover programmers only, thus the rise of the Open Source Community.

The Open Source Community has a different view. To quote Wikipedia:

Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code. Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities.

So we have a conflict between those who want the user to be free to do what they want, and those who want to build more efficient software faster. Both groups agree on many things, so you would think that there wouldn’t that much of a conflict. But those who are closest, often have the biggest fights. Just think of all the brothers and sisters you know.

Where the biggest conflict occurs between Free Software and Open Source is Free Software’s insistence on rights for the end user. The Open Source Community tends to be elitist. If you aren’t a programmer, you don’t matter.

So the Open Source Community feels under attack. We are pushing for user freedom, which means giving the user the same rights as the programmer, which appears to be anathema to them.

The reason I’ve decided to write about this today, is that I had a rather interesting exchange with Lefty Schlesinger yesterday. I gather that Lefty is very interested in mobile software, and that the GPL V3 scares him. If Linus decided to take the Kernel to Version 3 of the General Public License, Lefty feels that wouldn’t be able to use Linux on mobile devices, like cell phones (certain jurisdictions have legislation which states that mobile devices have to be designed in such a way that the user cannot modify them).

While I understand Lefty’s problem, I also understand the end user’s problem. He can’t modify his phone. His rights have been taken away by politicians.

One of Lefty’s comments to me was that if the GPL V3 was applied, then companies wouldn’t be able to use Linux in mobile devices, and millions of people in poor countries wouldn’t be able to afford cell phones. I’m afraid he didn’t appreciate my comment that the cell phone manufacturers could do what Apple did, use the BSD licensed kernel instead.

The problem now is that Lefty seems to think he is the head of the Open Source Community, and he is blocking those who disagree with him from posting. If he was sure of his standing, he wouldn’t block people.


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