FSF Takes New Aim at Enterprise Software

Dennis Byron
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) really gets tiring with its anti-Microsoft bombast and adolescent protests, such as windows7sins.org . If you were in central Boston on Wednesday, and you didn't prefer riding the Swan Boats or the Duck Boats - or touring the Freedom Trail - some FSF nuts were planning to burn Windows 7 in effigy or some such stunt. Its attacks are not simply aimed at Microsoft, but at the entire enterprise software development and distribution mechanism. The FSF really doesn't have much chance of succeeding in its plan to free software (from what is always unclear), but someone probably said the same thing about other statist and communistic movements during history.Now to be clear -- I have no problem with the FSF burning books, CDs or DVDs or whatever they wanted to do on Boston Common, especially in the cradle of U.S. liberty. It's not like it was the burning of the library at Alexandria. But I do watch the media coverage of such drivel because it almost always leads to statements in the technical and business media such as (paraphrasing in some cases): "The open source software movement is involved in this campaign." The open source movement in general and the Open Source Initiative were set up in the late 1990s as a counterpoint to the FSF and pretty much in protest to its nutty behavior. (Again I do defend the FSF's right to be nutty as long as it does not trash irreplaceable things as has happened in some book burnings). And, of course, open source software itself conceptually has been around for 50 years and neither the FSF nor the Open Source Initiative really has any ownership of the idea; they are just front groups."The GNU General Public License (GPL) is the most popular open source license." That is probably true in terms of projects using the license, but unlikely in terms of installed software in production where the Apache license probably predominates."Microsoft asserts legal control over its users through a combination of copyrights, contracts, and patents. Microsoft uses this power to abuse computer users." Actually Microsoft asserts legal control over its intellectual property (IP) and against those that abuse that IP. As a Microsoft user, at least in the United States, I am free to use any software I want. I tend to use Microsoft products over open source software because it is more friendly to the visually impaired, which I am, and because it is less expensive. But I also use a lot of open source software and have followed the movement and its predecessors in my research for 40 years."Software and computers will always have problems, but by using free software, users and their communities are empowered to fix problems for themselves and each other." Similarly I can build my own car or ham radio or (name many similar hobbyist groups) and get together with people that do similar things and enjoy myself. But I don't want to bet my business on someone's hobby; almost any useful software licensed via open source terms and conditions is supported for a fee just as with any other software license arrangement. In fact, that is permitted by the FSF. Free to the FSF does not mean at no cost. In addition, running a business or organization and using enterprise software where it can contribute to competitive disadvantage is more important than worrying about a business expense that averages 1 percent or less of your business' or organization's expense structure."With windows7sins.org, we hope to make businesses and computer users aware of the growing dangers of proprietary software from both Microsoft and other companies such as Apple and Adobe." But not IBM, Oracle, EMC, SAP, etc. which also license billions of dollars of software not licensed via open source terms and conditions? These enterprise software suppliers are never mentioned in FSF material. My guess is that the latter companies have paid tribute' to the FSF activists. Coercing money from vendors is the whole purpose of being for organizations such as FSF and their front groups. This is not just an enterprise-software phenomenon, but is right out of the worldwide front-group playbook. But like I said, at least in the United States, "it's a free country."


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Aug 27, 2009 3:10 AM Dave T Dave T  says:

This is a typical blog written by someone that knows only a little about the subject they are reporting on. I have not yet had a blog or article from this URL come across my desk so I will put in my one response I give to any troll-blog. 

With phrases like "Nutty", or "doesn't have much chance of succeeding", even calling them extortionists, it's clear why you wrote this and to which audience. But since this was written in a gently concealed adversarial fashion, I allow my reply to be much the same. Your blog entry is not about the activities of the FSF in Boston, but really is about your shallow opinions, spin, and little else. It is your blog after all, but since you opened responses on this blog let's chat.

It's interesting to me that you did a fairly long article theoretically about the FSF, even saying they don't "have much chance of succeeding", without mentioning the elephant in the room;the GNU/Linux operating system. The main operating system that Free Software is written for, and how the FSF likely has a good chance of succeeding.

Bullet point 1

I notice that while you mentioned correctly that the concept of software that is generally available to use and modify started at the same time the concept of portable software itself started;while neglecting to mention the fact that the Free Software Foundation is the first group to gather together to actually do something about making sure that having software that is usable by anyone, anywhere, for any reason, including the source code was not just a concept. You also neglected mentioning the GNU Project from which the FSF was founded, nor the founder of the GNU Project, Richard M.Stallman who also authored the GPL Licence.

The Open Source Initiative project you mention is not related to Free Software as much as it is to putting on a business face for it. You see, software that qualifies as OSI compliant does not necessarily qualify as Free Software. Free Software is software that give it's users the 4 software freedoms and passes those freedoms to any derivative works. Open Source simply means that the source code of the application in question is available to look at. There may be restrictions on it's actual use though.

Bullet point 2

The GPL covers the Linux kernel itself, as well as nearly every supporting application, library, driver, and daemon that make up any instance of the GNU/Linux operating system. You may be correct that there are far more instances of Apache and other Apache-licensed software than any single item published under the GPL, but the OS those applications run on are overwhelmingly GNU/Linux systems;therefore nearly everything from the Linux kernel to device drivers, to libraries, to other applications, to the other daemons that provide functionality in the back end of those systems is published under the GPL. Making the GPL the most popular license for Free and Open Source Software.

Your 3rd bullet point is certainly debatable.

You say you use Windows but you could use anything you want...well, besides Microsoft windows, Apple's Macintosh OS, and GNU/Linux, what is there for home users? Remember also that the Microsoft corporation is a convicted felon due to rampant abuse of it's monopoly power. Saying that is is not controlling is really showing how shallow your opinion is. You certainly have the right to use whatever software or operating system you desire, especially if that system gives you some feature you need; Reply

Aug 27, 2009 3:10 AM Dave T Dave T  says:
such as support for people who are visually impaired. Have you looked into whether this feature is available in GNU/Linux? Or even Mac OS? By omission you may be implying to some that this is not present anywhere else.

Bullet point 4

No enterprise-level free software project is anyone's 'hobby'. Most projects at this level are mostly or fully funded by corporations that use the software and it is in their best interest to make sure they development continues and the amount they fund these projects often translates into them having a larger say in it's development's direction. You see, in Free Software, the developers of good applications often directly benefit from their labor.

Another point is that almost most software licensed under Open Source terms are supported by fees to somewhere. The thing is the FSF is not about Open Source Software, they are all about Free Software. As I said earlier, they are not the same thing and you cannot use the terms interchangeably. Yes the FSF recognizes that you can indeed sell software that is Free, but you are almost certainly actually monetizing some sort of ongoing service or customization aspect of that software.

Also, for a small business that is just starting out, or a home business, software costs can exceed 1% of expenses if you include all sundry software needed to perform real work. And that amount can grow if you need many seats, and/or numerous servers.

Bullet point 5

Those businesses that are not mentioned unkindly in FSF literature are corporations and companies that have decided to co-operate with Free Software and to sensibly look at how it can be used profitably. Nothing nefarious about it. They don't pay a license fee to the FSF, the GPL does not require it. Those that do pay to the FSF to get their logos into the FSF literature and on the website so people that are interested in knowing who supports Free Software can do so at a glance. Also to some degree the funds go to help keep Free Software out where people can see it. Such as this demonstration. People will say, what the hell? There is something other than Windows? Show me.

You imply the FSF extorts money, as far as I have seen Microsoft does this as part of it's business model. Convicted Felon, remember? Abuse of monopoly power;they strong-armed OEMs and software vendors, to stifle competition. In the end the user pays the cost in higher software costs and lower quality software. Free Software avoids that entire path by being open and encouraging real innovation.

After all, it's a free country. Why not use Free Software?

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Aug 27, 2009 4:24 AM Dennis Byron Dennis Byron  says: in response to Dave T

It's a free country as I keep saying today so take the above opinions or leave them--both mine and the responder's. But just to correct a few facts in the above response to my blog post:

1. I did not say that "the concept of software that is generally available to use and modify" began with portable software. I said it began more than 50 years ago, when, not that it's relevant, software was very unportable.

2. I think the anonymous responder is involved in some one-man argument between FSF and OSI philosophical principles but I'm not sure.  Either way, my point is that they are both front groups.

3. The word "overwhelming" is used in the above response somewhere to imply that there is some one to one relationship between open source licensed software and  GPL-licensed Linux and that most Apache-licensed software runs under Linux.  I think it was the Open Source Census that demonstrated that almost as much if not more open source software runs on Windows as runs on Linux. That's for the simple reason that there is so many more Windows sites than Linux sites in the world; it is not a qualitative judgment on one or the other operating system.

4. I think the term is "convicted felon" referring to Microsoft is inaccurate but I am not a lawyer. Anyway that red herring had nothing to do with what I said which was that I primarily choose to use Microsoft products because I find them friendlier to the visually impaired.  That is of course totally irrelevant to operating systems such as Linux or the MacOS but applies to applications such as browsers and word processor and...

I do agree with the anonymous responder that there were many things I "neglected to mention." There are approximately 1000 pages of statistically valid open source research (most of it free as in beer) written by me available online if someone would like to dig deeper into my "shallow opinions." I don't agree that my adverse opinion about the FSF protest against Windows 7 was "gently concealed."  If it was, I failed.  I think it's whacko.

thanks

-- Dennis

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Sep 1, 2009 6:34 AM Dave T Dave T  says: in response to Dennis Byron

Ok, I was not going to post here again to re-rebutt you Dennis, but I just got an email from ITBusinessEdge(I of course had to volunteer to get spam from this site so I could post here originally) that was pimping your column here. I am very sure you are indeed getting lots of eyeballs glancing at this, nodding "yes, those FSF folks are clueless" and going on their day.

And I have to hand it to you, you sidestep very well. Allow me to try to tie some things down here just a bit.

1. In the time before software was portable there was no concept of open or closed. So, no...the idea of Open Source did not begin that early. Very few people understood what software even was and fewer yet could reason out the logic to create the steps needed to perform even simple functions. The idea to bar the user from viewing the source code of software did not come about until after software became generally portable and therefore potentially a marketable item. You are therefore flatly mistaken that the idea of Open Source Software was around 50yrs ago in the context it is used in today.

2.What is a 'front group' to you Dennis? Both, the FSF and the OSI are nonprofit groups of people that perform several important duties. For instance, one of the jobs of the FSF is to keep the GPL legal and provide for it's legal defense. It also helps to get large and small businesses that are interested in doing business using Free Software to talk to each other and provide a forum where that can be accomplished. They are also there to help drive the point to the general public that there is in fact, an alternative to proprietary software and operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and Apple's Macintosh;that being the GNU/Linux operating system and the depth of full applications that are licensed under the GPL.

3.You continually confuse Open Source Software with Free Software. All through your original post and your rebuttal I see the word Open Source used, when the theoretical target of this post was supposed to be the FSF who is only concerned with Free Software. Software is Free(as in Freedom) when you can do what you want with it, get it's source code and change it if you want to, and the result is also Free(as in Freedom). Note that Free Software can be sold, although it is more common to acknowledge that the cost is not for the software itself, but for some other service or convenience the seller is providing.

Software you cannot change but is free of charge can be called free(as in free beer), but is not what the FSF cares about. And Open Source Software as defined by the OSI does not guarantee all of the requirements to qualify as Free Software, and again should not be confused with anything the FSF concerns itself with. I wonder at your apparent lack of understanding of this if you have written 1000s of pages of statistically valid research.

Also, as far as the Linux Sites in the world vs the Windows sites numbers go...Netcraft is pretty clear. Apache currently has double the number of Microsoft servers. "Many more windows sites"? Oh wait, Apache can be run on top of a Windows server...but according to friends of mine in data processing, this is a rarity. Apache is invariably run on top of a GNU/Linux software stack. So, again...more windows sites?  Or do you want to rephrase that?

4. Reply

Sep 1, 2009 6:34 AM Dave T Dave T  says: in response to Dennis Byron
According to the Sherman Antitrust act of 1890, section 2, any person or corp found guilty of monopolizing and/or conspiring to monopolize trade is guilty of a felony. Microsoft stands convicted as a predatory monopoly in clear violation of the law. Therefore as much as it can be, the Microsoft corp.is a felon.

No herring here;My goal here was to respond to your third bullet point. You said "I am free to use any software I want.", of course this is true! But there is precious little software available for you to use. This is predominantly due to Microsoft's predatory "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" philosophy to stifle potential competitive innovation outside of it's walls. If it were not for the predatory practice of the Microsoft corp.it is likely we would see many more products than are currently in the wild. Perhaps even one better than what you currently use. But absolutely use the software that works best for you, regardless of what logo is on it. That goes for the operating system as well as the applications.

In the end, I do agree that the stunt of burning DVDs was prankish, and that the website 'windows7sins.org' is very weak.

There is almost no end of compelling reasons to use Free Software that could have been posted onto that site, and phrased so much more powerfully. More grist for me to provide more, and better, fare on my non-profit's website I suppose.

***I also noticed you changed the term extort in the last bullet point to Coerce. Good choice.

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