hypothetical(?) GPL problem

Xavi Drudis Ferran xdrudis at tinet.org
Wed Jun 27 22:45:50 UTC 2001

El Tue, Jun 26, 2001 at 09:25:18AM +0100, Marc Eberhard deia:
> Hi !
> On Tue, Jun 26, 2001 at 12:32:16AM +0200, Xavi Drudis Ferran wrote:
> > Hey!. I want you in my company (or should I look for a job in yours?). 
> Go to http://jobs.ac.uk and enter the keywords "Aston University". Had a
> quick look at your companies web page... is it Spanish or Portuguese?
> Couldn't really understand anything. :-))))

Thanks, but I wasn't serious. If what you looked at was tinet.org that's 
not my company, that's my isp. A very competent, trustworthy and useful 
free net. And the language is Catalan. 
> > Pity it must be too far away to commute. When I try to convince people 
> Yes, I'm afraid it is.
> > in my workplace to send stuff in free formats or at least PDF I am not 
> > too successful. And when I joined I thought they knew their stuff... 
> >   

You see?. I loose my nerves too quick. They know their stuff. And many 
of them even know what to attach to a message, but some do not. It is 
just that I get easily angry when I get an MS Office format attachment
> > If you have a web page somewhere with your usual arguments, it might help...
> > In any case I think it is not my arguments, it must be my lack of tact 
> > or something...
> I don't really argue that often. I usually just send them an answer, that I
> could not read their attachment, because it uses a proprietary file format.
> Since they want me to read their stuff, they have to think about it. And if
> they ask me to send them something, I send them a TeX file. That usually
> makes them very happy. :-)
That's what I do at home, but I don't think I can do it at my job.
Well in fact I don't send them TeX files at home, I try to give example 
and use formats that are both open and widespread enough for the recipient 
to be likely to have a viewer, instead of taking vengeance. But maybe
your strategy is better.

> > Back to the original thread. I think in many cases we don't want 
> > too much freedom, just the optimum. One's freedom ends where their 
> > neighbour's begins.
> Who said that? Wasn't it Matthias Claudius?
I don't know. I heard it somewhere, but I don't remember. 

> Well, I do see a problem here with your argumentation. Source code is not
> useful forever. The problems we want to solve and the algorithms to so, do
> change over the time. So some source code becomes obsolete with the years
> passing by. Although the number of lines of free software only increases, it
> doesn't say, if the number of "still useful" lines of code does the same. It
> could well go down to zero again. So if we want to have a decent set of free
> software tools, we do need to produce a certain amount of new code every
> year and we do need to keep up with the state of the art. Just imagine a new
> CPU and a manufacturer not releasing the instruction set without a NDA. All
> your free software could become pretty useless pretty fast.
Mmmm... You may be right in part, and I may be wrong in another part.
I think that frozen code becomes obsolete over time, but the code is not 
usually frozen. It evolves gradually. And the GPL guarantees that this 
evolution does not result in the code being propietary. The BSD style license
(if I'm not mistaken) does not guarantee that a company (or an individual)
won't take over and evolve the code fast enough that the original 
freely available version becomes obsolete and nobody updates it because 
they can still use the binary only proprietary version. This way what
was originally free is at least partially lost.

You can argue that the original code is still there and anybody can 
bring it up to date if he or she wants to. But I think that is less 
likely to happen in BSD than in GPL, because in GPL that is the only 
way to evolve the software (other than keeping the updated version 
private). The benefits of having an up to date version usually outweight
the benefits (if any) of the rest of the world not having it, so there
is an incentive to take what is free and give back the update.

> > So I don't care if a company is scared off by the GPL and does not 
> > contribute free software. With the GPL we can wait an infinite time 
> > until one does. With BSD we have to make sure that  
> > total net contributions outweight the loses in every period. 
> I strongly doubt, that we can wait an infinite time for the above given
> reasons. I don't think, that we can win against companies that way, we have
> to convince them. And we can't do that by completely ignoring their needs.

I'm probably generalising too much, and I'm basing my arguments mostly 
on intuitions, so you don't have to believe me, but I think that 
it is not that hard to take an old free package and patch it a little 
or port it to a different platform if the only alternative is to 
start from scratch. If there is the alternative of using an up to date but 
closed, previously BSD licensed software, then that may never happen. 

I don't want to win "against" companies. I want to win "with" them, 
or without them, or not to win. I don't even know what to "win" means.
Does it mean to do what one thinks is right?. Does it mean to see what 
one uses or makes used by most people?. Does it mean to "destroy the enemy"?.
I don't see that the fact that companies can use BSD software in 
more ways than GPL software really helps to win anything, if winning 
means getting more freedom for all. 

I don't know. I have nothing against people (or companies) contributing 
free software under BSD licenses. They can do what they please. But I 
don't think I'll use a BSD license if I ever make something worth 

> > You can't defend unlimited freedom because it is unsustainable, 
> > but you can defend a fair balance of freedoms that sustains itself 
> > and tends to bigger freedom.
> Yes, and the question is: Is the GPL or the LGPL the better "balance of
> freedoms" for free libraries? None of them offers unlimited freedom. Both
> still have restrictions and these are a very important part of them.
Yes. But the question is also what of the two licenses' balance 
of freedoms sustains itself better? 
It's not easy, but I think the FSF position is reasonable, it is a 
matter of strategy.

Xavi Drudis Ferran
xdrudis at tinet.org

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