I use my Free Time for Free Software!

Some people like to talk about Open Source Software. The original term for this was Free Software. The reason I prefer the term “free” is exactly the ethical connotation.

There is, of course, also an economic argument for Free Software: It is bad for our economy if we charge money for licenses instead of effort spent. The money adds incentive for software companies to redevelop software all the time. As customers grow accustomed to paying enormous fees, reinventing the wheel prevents our society from allocating resources efficiently.

Usually software as sold by IT companies is effort based. If the IT company is willing to carry the risks, the software will be sold for a fixed price, if the IT company does not want to carry the risk (ie., most of the time), the software is sold as a project. I should know. I work in such a software company.

In every project, part of our energy is spent developping stuff other people have already done. And we cannot reuse it, because developping things as Free Software is not (yet) a tradition. Slowly, things are changing for the better, luckily enough. We prefer free application servers, free development tools – Free Software is changing the way we do business.

The term “free” indicates, however, that the economic argument is not the only argument. There is more to it. People feel better if they know they are helping others. Developpers like the knowledge that their work is valued not only by paying clients but by fellow developpers all over the world.

The term “free” also indicates that eventhough we think software tested and examined by more people has less bugs, we think it even more important that newbie developpers can learn using our code, that other people can save time using our code – we want our code to do good.

Once we earned our money writing the code, we want it to be free – to spread, to improve, to teach, to grow!

See also: HowToFindFreeSoftwareDevelopers, FreeSoftwareAndDevelopment


There is one thing I found very paradoxal about free softwares is their developement process.

Often, this process is at the opposite of freedom, one leader, or some leaders with a bunch of blind followers have the full power as to where the software should go.

If your ideas did not have the ok from these leaders the only choice you have is to fork.

Of course leaders in the free software community are generally people that are able to listen and with which you can discuss but I do think there is often no sense of democracy in this process.

The other thing that is causing me problems is the FSF. The FSF is The Free Software Foundation is a tax-exempt charity that raises funds for work on the GNU Project. Ok that seems good, but on their site I don’t see any report of how this way is spend.

Moreover you can become an FSF member but this does not seems to give you any influence over the FSF. There is a board and staff members but no information on how this people are choosen, what these people are actually doirng and even who they are (I was able to gather some names from various pages but no clear organigram).

To conclude: I think FSF lacks transparency, a lot. And I think this is a problem because lots of people are blindly giving money to the FSF, considering it like a church and RMS as a Messiah at least (sometimes ironically but...).

Of course I would love if someone proves that I’m wrong.

– Pierre 2003-06-23 19:08 UTC

This might be a good topic for Meatball! MeatBall:BenevolentDictator and MeatBall:RightToFork already discuss some of this. The lack of democratic legitimation (or the need for it) is not addressed. In associations such as the FIFA (an association according to Swiss law), every member gets one vote at the general assembly once a year. Perhaps RMS feels that we vote with our money and if we don’t like the FSF’s work, we can just create a new movement... Ignoring the discussion on MeatBall:RightToLeave and the discussion about increase the of switching costs due to emotional attachment. Want to move this to Meatball?

AlexSchroeder 2003-06-24 0:07 UTC

Sure, you can move it to Meatball if you want (you know better what will fit where). I didn’t post there because I didn’t think it was relevant... especially the part about the FSF. And I was looking for your opinion about that because you are much more involved is free software that I am and because I know you can answer something else than FSF rules, RMS is a saint and the like...

Regarding the FSF you vote with your money but don’t know what you money is used for; you can create your own movement, but the FSF has the copyright on all GNU software. If the FSF fears (Based on this advice, RMS has concluded that incorporating some code copyrighted by another entity into a work such as Emacs puts the copyright of all of the work at risk of being unenforceable in court in the case of a violation.) that multiple copyrights is a problem then what can a new movement do at all? The FSF is not an open organization (well, you can freely give your work and money) and thus what happens if the board suddenly decides to change the license terms? Can a new leader gain enough popularity considering the actual demi-god status of RMS?

I may be a little paranoid (so far so good) but I’m very troubled by the fact that the now powerfull FSF is a very closed organization under the total control of a very few and that we know very little about its activities (except for the work given by others to the fsf) and what it uses its money for.

For instance I miss a place where people can exchange ideas about what the FSF should do, to whom it should give prizes, where you can criticize its actions (at least the ones we know about) or propose new ideas....

– PierreGaston 2003-06-24 6:59 UTC

Hm, I think the licensing terms can be changed for future distribution of the software. We would still all be able to fork all the code and continue releasing it under the GPL. They cannot retroactively revoke their license, because when you got the software, you also got the GPL. The democratic legitimation and transparency remains an important issue that will be raised eventually. When I have the time, I will move some of this over to Meatball. :)

AlexSchroeder 2003-06-24 9:56 UTC

Here is a potential sign for power abuse... Thomas Bushnell was “dismissed” as Hurd maintainer because he has publicly spoken against the GFDL, with RMS saying that a GNU maintainer must support and speak in favor of GNU policies, according to a posting to a mailing list. [1]

AlexSchroeder 2003-11-21 14:21 UTC

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