Friendly Discussion: Free and Open Source


(Miloslav Číž) #1

Hello everyone,

I’m kinda new here but I’ve already gotten into discussing free and open source software (FOSS). My intention is not to spam other threads, so I’d like to move the discussion here.

I am curious about your position on this topic. Do you support free software? Open source? Are you against? Do you not really care? How informed are you on this topic? Are you just pragmatic? What are your experiences?

I personally greatly support free software, as defined by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. I’d like to make it clear that this is not the same thing as open source. I am mostly okay with the open source movement, but do not identify with it. I also support free culture as described by Larry Lessig. Sometimes I feel like going even further and refuse the whole idea of intellectual property… but think I could happily live in a society with more relaxed copyright rules and a more sharing-friendly mentality.

I think FOSS, as opposed to proprietary, is both ethical and more efficient development model, but the ethics is what matters to me the most. Practical advantages are just a nice addition. On the other hand I am not as concerned about my own privacy as some other free software folks - I feel comfortable sharing a lot of info about myself and don’t encrypt that much.

I try to live my life aligned to these ideals - I use mostly free software, though I’m still using Mint distribution and some of the backend stuff (drivers) are proprietary. I contribute to FOSS projects and share everything freely - recently I started giving everything away into public domain. I try to read only freely licensed or public domain literature (can provide) and use mostly FOSS-based and federated web services like Diaspora, Disroot and PeerTube.

Sorry for tons of text, but this is a topic close to my heart and I tend to forget myself.

Let’s keep this friendly and just share some thoughts :slight_smile: I’m mostly tolerant and don’t blame people, I rather blame companies and politicians. Also if you’d don’t know what this is about, feel free to ask, I’ll do my best to explain the details. I’d be glad to find new friends regardless of opinions.


(Simon) #2

I am all for open source software and I respect the right for a developer to protect their IP and efforts. I will pay for software to ensure that I have a warranty, guaranteed bug fixes and so forth but I will also use open source tools. I work for a company that makes a significant chunk of its revenue from selling software and performing related consulting work.

I personally have a very convenient view on licences when it comes to the Arduboy. I have made remakes of some of my favourite games - even though they may have copyrighted content - and have made them freely available via this site. No one is making any money from these copyright violations and no one is getting hurt.

In Australia, the copyright owner could only sue me for actual losses and we do not have the same punitive damage concepts as the US and some other countries. So, what is the loss to a big software company when I create a game and release it for free to an audience of a couple of thousand at most? A big fat zero. As I said, a convenient view of licencing that suits me fine.


(Holmes) #3

I respect developers who do or do not like to open their projects up as open source, but it is not really my thing. I was just telling a co-worker yesterday that I feel guilty when people pressure me to release my source code for stuff I make or to allow outside contributions/redistribution because maybe I am too prideful or something. He told me that I was wrong and that people should be proud of work they have done and there is no wrong answer, which made me feel better.


(Miloslav Číž) #4

No one is making any money from these copyright violations and no one is getting hurt.

One thing I’d like people to realize is this: We typically see the damages (big or tiny) that happen when someone’s IP is reused, violated etc. But almost no one sees the damage to our culture that happens from the extreme “protection” against this, that is disallowing the reuse of practically everything – this damage is hard to see because it happens in the long run and causes creativity not to happen, which is hard to spot. Our creative culture could be much richer than what we have, but it’s being suffocated and a lot of great art and artists are lost. But we’ll only see this when looking back in the future.

The book Fee Culture shows this very clearly. It’s one book that opened my eyes and is freely available, so if you’re curious, you can go read it right now.

the copyright owner could only sue me for actual losses and we do not have the same punitive damage concepts as the US and some other countries.

Didn’t know this, definitely interesting. It’s definitely a tiny bit better than the rest of the world, but:

  • Only applies to your country :confused: With the Internet we need to unify these laws world-wide.
  • If your non-commercial copy of their games become popular, people may prefer if over buying their games which may count as you causing their losses.

So I see this maybe as a step in the right direction, but not sufficient. If non-commercial sharing was allowed by default (something lice CC-BY-NC), that would be a nice start.

I feel guilty when people pressure me to release my source code

I know I pressured you a bit and I don’t want to make you feel guilty, I am sorry. I’ve been thinking about the situation you told me about how your code was “stolen” once. I think a bad experience may have put you off from caring and that you maybe misunderstand what people actually aim for when asking you to license your code.

You know, when you share your code publicly without a license, the “bad” people can steal it no matter if there is a license or not. They can even steal it without the source code with reverse engineering. Putting a license on doesn’t make this easier for the bad guys, it’s there for the good people who will mostly want to help you improve the code, make it more popular by sharing, use it to create something that they’ll give back. Yes, some people may just be in for the money, but you can prevent this with copyleft, e.g. GPL – again, bad guys will break GPL, but they will steal even without GPL, so…

I promise I’ll try not to make pressure on you again, I’d just be glad if you stay open to these ideas. You know what they say, if you love something, set it free :slight_smile:


(Pharap) #5

Personally I like open source and free software,
but I also have nothing against closed source and proprietary software (in principle at least).

I think they all make sense in different contexts.
In the Arduboy’s case, open sourcing things makes a lot of sense.
We’re all doing this is a hobby, very few of us (if any) are profiting from this.
And the main intent of the system is for it to be programmable and educational.

At the same time I think selling closed source games on platforms like Steam also makes sense.
I don’t have enough faith in humanity to believe that open-sourcing triple-A games wouldn’t significantly harm the company’s income.
I believe that most people would happily choose to avoid paying for a game if there was no legal reprecussion for doing so, especially students who often don’t have much of an income.

It’s different when it’s a small indie developer - a lot of people would gladly donate money to a single person who has put a lot of effort in to make a good game.

But for big game companies (e.g. Bethesda) many people just think “they’re a giant, rich company - they don’t need that much money” without stopping to think “actually, they employ a lot of hard working people and not paying money for the game would harm those people too”.

If a big company starts to lose money, it’s usually the little people at the bottom who get the chop first, not the people at the top getting the big bonuses.
Very rarely does a top boss volunteer to have their bonus cut when there are ‘dispensible peons’ around.
(In case that sounds like I’m anti-capitalist, I’m not anit-capitalist, but I accept that every system has its flaws.)


When it comes down to it, I have bigger concerns than whether I can edit the source code.
I use open source software like LibreOffice, VLC and GIMP.
Not once have I attempted to edit the source code. I’ve never needed to.
A lot of the time compiling open source projects on Windows is difficult anyway.
Often they require MinGW because they were written for Linux/GNU environments.

As for what my other concerns are, I’m more concerned about how much of a mess the program makes of my registry and file system, and how much a program is attempting to spy on my activity.
I could write an entire manifesto about those two things.


I was considering airing my views of Mr. Stallman while I’m at it, but as he hasn’t been brought up yet, I’ll leave those out of it.


(Miloslav Číž) #6

I don’t have enough faith in humanity to believe that open-sourcing triple-A games wouldn’t significantly harm the company’s income.

You’re not wrong, it would definitely hurt them. I totally agree companies profit from close sourcing. My point is this behavior is unethical and causes harm, and I think we should find another way to pay the developers even if it means lower pay for the devs or lower quality games. There is a price for freedom.

Take this stupid example I just made up: why should the air be free for someone who didn’t plant the trees that make them? From a business perspective if someone pays money to plant a tree, they should be allowed profits from the air they helped to create. I am convinced if we could control air distribution and create a business industry on selling air, the competition would also drive the air quality up. But would that be an ethical business? Could better air quality justify it? I think we’ll agree it wouldn’t. I think that some areas shouldn’t be allowed to make business of, and software is one of them.

The problem here is people will immediately spot the wrong in monetizing air. The problems with proprietary software lay deep and the general public doesn’t immediately see it and that’s why we allow it to happen.

Why do I think proprietary SW is unethical? Many reasons – it leads to breaking privacy, leads to monopoly and prison-like platforms which in turn threatens free speech and free sharing, it helps censorship, it is by definition denying people resources they could otherwise freely share for education and helping society in general, and so on. I am not talking about being able to play a game for free – there is software that can literally save lives, help medical research, help eliminating poverty, help innovation in general. Everyone on the planet could be allowed access to that software, but it’s arbitrarily restricted, and people suffer as a result.

Not once have I attempted to edit the source code. I’ve never needed to.

People sometimes say this. Here’s the thing: the right to access the source won’t make many people actually do it. Most people won’t, don’t know how to, don’t have the time etc. The key thing is a few, skilled, determined individuals will do it and everyone will greatly profit from this. Take some examples of great software – e.g. the original Doom game – it was created by maybe five people, but millions have enjoyed it since, to this day. That’s the beautiful thing about software, and information in general – everyone can benefit from it once it’s out there.

I was considering airing my views of Mr. Stallman

Well, we might get there eventually too :slight_smile: There’s also a nice book about him, Free as in Freedom (also freely available) – I’d just like to mention it here for potential readers, it nicely sums up the history.

EDIT:

Just not to misunderstand – I don’t think the individual people who make proprietary software are evil. Some are, but most are not. It is the industry, the system as a whole that has this effect and most who help run it can’t see it, they’re just doing their job. The problem is the lack of education on this issue.


(Simon) #7

Just to be clear, Australia has punitive damages but you cannot go to court and sue for $100 actual loss and $1,000,000 in ‘pain and suffering’ like you can in some jurisdictions. We call the fines ‘exemplary’ and they are usually dished out by the state rather than demanded by the victim.

We just don’t have a litigious mindset like the Americans. Hunting down individuals for small infringements (like the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ fiasco) would just never get to court in Australia.


(Holmes) #8

In my opinion, freedom isn’t being able to freely download low-quality games off of the internet just because the code exists. In my opinion, freedom is being allowed to purchase incredibly high-quality games because they’re closed-source and proprietary. We wouldn’t have God of War if we didn’t pay developers to make it. There is freedom to get both the open as well as high-quality, big-budget titles.


(Pharap) #9

Before I get to the specific points, I’ll raise the really big point:

I think this is one of the big reasons you’re going to hit a lot of resistance here.

A significant number of regular users here are employed in the software industry,
be it as programmers, UI specicialists or hardware specialists.

You’re effectively saying that they shouldn’t be doing a job that they’re skilled at and that they probably enjoy doing (to some extent) and should instead be doing something else.

It’s like saying “people shouldn’t be paid for making art” to an artist,
or “people shouldn’t have to pay for books” to an author.


Firstly, the questions.

Why is it unethical? Precisely what harm does it cause?

Define ‘prison-like’?

Can you give examples of these?
And importantly, would these pieces of software exist if they had not been funded by for-profit companies?


Now the counterpoints.

This is a bad analogy:

A) Because humans need air to breathe, it is a basic biological requirement. Humans do not need software.
B) Lack of air does harm, lack of software does not.
C) Not all trees were planted by humans. You could equally say “why should someone who didn’t plant a tree be allowed to cut it down?”, in which case a lot of the planet would still be woodlands or jungles (and a lot of endangered species would be better off because of it, meanwhile humanity would probably be worse off).

That’s a fair point, but I also think that tougher legislation would go a long way to reducing that issue.
I think many legal systems are lacking suitable privacy legislation because a lot of governments don’t keep up with technology.
A significant number of politicians probably don’t even know what beacons or tracking cookies are.

Not necessarily.

Often there are other options but people just aren’t interested in the other options for various reasons.
A lot of non-techy people I know still use MS Office because they don’t know about LibreOffice/OpenOffice or aren’t willing to try them.
The monopoly doesn’t come from the software, it comes from people refusing to vote with their feet.

The restrictions are usually in the interests of keeping the companies making the software afloat.
If a company gives its software away for free then the workers don’t get paid and the business collapses.

That’s fair, but equally those skilled, determined individuals could just write their own version by examining the behaviour of the original.
This is essentially how a lot of open source software starts - because someone wants to provide an alternative to a piece of proprietary software.

That’s how most Arduboy games based on old arcade games are made.
Most of us are just skilled, determined individuals who are good at looking at gameplay elements and figuring out how to implement them without the source code.

Which was originally closed source.
They didn’t open-source it until after they’d made substantial profits from it.

If they’d released it as open source from the start then they probably wouldn’t have made enough money to justify making sequels.
(In fact if they’d been open sourcing from the start, they might not even have made it to Doom.)

Doom may have had a demo version released as shareware,
but the full version was still paid-for and both versions were closed-source.


(Simon) #10

As I mentioned, I am one of these and you are right you need to be careful when suggesting that my efforts should be given away for free.


(Miloslav Číž) #11

I think this is one of the big reasons you’re going to hit a lot of resistance here.

A significant number of regular users here are employed in the software industry,
be it as programmers, UI specicialists or hardware specialists.

This is true, and it’s why I added the EDIT to my post. Please let me repeat that I do not say people making proprietary software are bad people. I’m rather talking about the system so please bear with me. Although I see that it is very difficult for anyone to admit that what they’re participating in might be wrong, even though they don’t have bad intentions. I do not blame the individual people.

You’re effectively saying that they shouldn’t be doing a job that they’re skilled at and that they probably enjoy doing (to some extent) and should instead be doing something else.

As I mentioned, I am one of these and you are right you need to be careful when suggesting that my efforts should be given away for free.

Not necesarilly, I indeed realize people can’t just drop out of their works like that. Even if they wanted to do that, I wouldn’t recommend it in many cases as it may cause much harm, depending on situation. What I’d like to see is more support from people who make proprietary SW, admitting the points that free software supporters make and aiming to replace proprietary with free in years to come. We won’t be able to transition to full free software in one step, this is a very long process during which using and maintaining proprietary software is inevitable. We just need to aim to eliminate proprietary SW eventually.

Please do not take offense, it’s not my intention to offend you and I think you don’t want to offend me by close sourcing your software either. So far I am glad we’ve been able to keep this very civil and friendly. Let’s keep it this way :slight_smile:

Define ‘prison-like’?

One example: Facebook.

I used to use facebook for years even though I hated it with my life. Why? Because it was the only was for me to keep my social contacts. I wanted to come over to Diaspora and redirect my personal feed there so that I could see what my family and friends are talking about, but this is not possible, because obviously Facebook will prevent this as much as they can. It is a prison that keeps you in unless you’re willing in to sacrifice your online social life, which I eventually had to do.

there is software that can literally save lives, help medical research, help eliminating poverty

Okay, OpenStreetMap has a program where volunteers map unmapped areas to help rescuers find victims of disasters.

Another examples include medical software, communication software, navigation software, education software, crime prediction software. You get the idea.

B) Lack of air does harm, lack of software does not.

In nowadays society, lack of software does harm too. You see, it’s just not immediate like with air so people think there is no harm – this is exactly what I am talking about.

The monopoly doesn’t come from the software, it comes from people refusing to vote with their feet.

Of course monopoly is something for economists to care about, but as far as I as a programmer can have my say, I will hold the opinion that proprietary SW is a tool that helps enormously in creating monopoly. Here’s a nice quote from the GNU manifesto:

“The paradigm of competition is a race: by rewarding the winner, we encourage everyone to run faster. When capitalism really works this way, it does a good job; but its defenders are wrong in assuming it always works this way. If the runners forget why the reward is offered and become intent on winning, no matter how, they may find other strategies—such as, attacking other runners. If the runners get into a fist fight, they will all finish late.”

The restrictions are usually in the interests of keeping the companies making the software afloat. If a company gives its software away for free then the workers don’t get paid and the business collapses.

Open source companies are not doing as great as the proprietary companies, but that is caused by the current system, the framework that is set up to favor the companies that focus on winning “the fist fights” (from the quote above) rather than contributing to society. However the fact alone that there are open source companies that are doing just fine even in the current system is proving this can work very well. With the right laws all companies could be (free and) open source and would be doing very well.

That’s fair, but equally those skilled, determined individuals could just write their own version by examining the behaviour of the original.

I totally messed up my answer there, let me try to reword my thought to better capture what I really wanted to say:

The right to freely access (study, modify, …) the source code is there not so much to let you yourself excercise it, but it is a guarantee someone without commercial interests will always be able to provide their version of the software.

That is you shouldn’t look at it as: it brings me nothing because I don’t ever modify the code. It bring you the guarantee that if the owner of the software makes changes that are bad for you as a user, someone will be able to revert the changes, keeping the software a tool that truly serves the users, not the companies.

Which was originally closed source.

Sure, I just wanted to show the fundamental property of information (as opposed to tangible property): a small team of people can create it and then infinte amount of users can profit from it. (I don’t doubt you know this, just making this clear for the readers of the thread.)

The fact it was proprietary is again just a way to throw money at these people, it could just as well have been e.g. crowd funded and open source from the start.