hypothetical(?) GPL problem

Marc Eberhard m.a.eberhard at aston.ac.uk
Fri Jun 22 18:15:47 UTC 2001

Hi Frank!

On Fri, Jun 22, 2001 at 04:51:02PM +0200, Frank Heckenbach wrote:
> As others have pointed out, the goal of the FSF(E) is not to spread
> GNU software as far as possible, but to make sure it remains free.

I totally agree. But of which use is free software, if it is not of benefit
to a broader community? Freedom only for freedom's sake?

> So a distribution of a GNU library in millions of copies of
> proprietary programs would not be productive, in fact
> counter-productive because it doesn't give the end-users the
> freedoms. It might give them a technically better, but proprietary
> program and therefore less reason to switch to a really free
> alternative.

I do see this scenario only as a transient state. It will start with one
free library in the closed source program. Later there will be two, three
and eventually the closed part of the code will become so minimal, that it
will be easy to replace it entirely. Thus a program can become free by more
and more free parts in it. It's a matter of time. Each piece of free
software in a closed source program is one secret less, they have in their
safes. And it provides a rather smooth transition from closed source to
free software, something very important to users.

> That's good. However, my experience is that most people will stop
> sending me such formats if I ask them to, but more "out of
> compassion for this poor Linux user who can't use our standard
> formats" (vomit) than because of fear of lock-in or something. I.e.,
> they still write their texts with winword, but export them to plain
> text, HTML, PDF or something when they send them to me.

Well, still it is a step forward. They are concerned about being able to
save their documents in a portable free format. This forces even aggressive
software house to provide this facility. Keep in mind, that their strategy
is exactly the opposite, namely inventing incompatible formats, that can
only be processed with their own software. Even if it looks like a small
step, it is already a very effective counter reaction. I was by the way not
referring to personal mails sent to me, but to mails send to a lot of people
here through internal mailing lists. I start to see comments like: I append
the following document in format xyz, because this can be processed/viewed
on all used platforms here to the best of my knowledge. Hey, they started to

> When I talk about things like freedom or that companies want to make
> them dependent, most of the time I have the impression they don't
> even listen. They seem to have gotten used to being out of control

Don't give up. If you tell them often enough and clearly point out the
dangers ahead, they will listen to you one day. It might be that the idea of
freedom is valued more at universities and thus they are more sensitive to
such problems. 

> of their computer, and they don't seem to care much if they can use
> their documents a few years from now, or if they'll have to start
> from scratch when they get a new machine. Maybe it's because they
> don't have much valuable stuff on their machines, and most of their
> text-processing is like "type it, print it, forget it/delete it", I
> don't know.

But then, they shouldn't care at all, which system they use. Thus it
shouldn't be too hard to make them switch over. Anyway this is different
here too and as far as I know, some manufacturers (e.g. Boeing) insist on
documentation in SGML, because they must still be able to read it in 20
years from now.

> So if it's really easy to convice typical "winusers" with arguments
> based on freedom, please tell me how.

Patience, diplomacy, a guy in an office, that did reboot his computer 155
days and 8:34 hours ago, while they have to do so three times a day. Believe
me, this is very convincing... so my suggestion is: Simply be a positive
example. Not more and not less. And if they ask you, yes, your system is so
stable, because it uses free software, which has the advantage, that... you
know the rest!


email: marc at greenie.net
email: m.a.eberhard at aston.ac.uk, web: http://www.aston.ac.uk/~eberhama/

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