press release critique

Frank Heckenbach frank at
Thu May 3 04:03:40 UTC 2001

josX wrote:

> Wavering away from RMS mostly results in chaos, does it not ;-) ?
> At least, I agree so much with him, it would be best from my POV
> to follow in his mighty footsteps, at least for the start... and
> yes I can think very good for myself, I just happen to get to the
> same conclusions every time I do :-).

I agree on this, but not with your conclusions. So let me start with
a quote ("Funding Free Software", e.g. in the GCC manual):

:    If you want to have more free software a few years from now, it makes
: sense for you to help encourage people to contribute funds for its
: development.  The most effective approach known is to encourage
: commercial redistributors to donate.

> And isn't the best part of it giving the stuff away? If we are
> going to make money with it, or support that notion... what is the
> difference between this bisnis, and standard bisnis...

The difference is, of course, freedom! If I have to decide whether
to buy, say, a Linux distribution or a M$ product, I don't choose
the former because it might cost a little less, but because I can
actually use it the way I want to.

> This money-thing is a trojan horse. Don't let it in, or it will make
> Linux just another bisnis-model with exploitation and everything that
> entails, or it will make suits out of the old hackers.... remember
> what happened to the hippies of the sixties? Now they ride BMW with
> a boring tie and try to make as much money as possible.

Do you think this happened because they "let the money it", or
because they didn't, and (many of them) were lured away from
hippydom by money?

> and how long is the whole thing going to hold if money gets
> involved. Let me tell you in advance: very, very, very short
> indeed. Sorry.

How long has the FSF been distributing free software for money? How
long have commercial Linux distributors been around? How long have
commercial companies been making worthwhile contributions to free
software (Red Hat/Cygnus, Sun/Star Division, Troll Tech, TCX
DataKonsult (MySQL), to name only a few prominent *and* GPL

> Isn't it great to work for hours and then just put it on the
> web and let everybody enjoy it?!!!

Yes, but only in some situations I think, like when you start a new
exciting project. But when I think of such things as writing
documentation, putting together an easy to install distribution,
testing the software of a wide range of machines, maintaining a
project over a longer time when there are no more interesting
features to add, handling user requests and bug reports, etc., it's
usually not so much fun to do that while I could be hacking on the
next exciting project. But for the quality of software to remain as
high as we like it, these things have to be done as well, and
getting paid for doing them would increase the motivation.

Obviously, this does not imply that one has to pay money to use the
software. You can always get the code from CVS, try to install it on
your machine, fix the bug you encounter, and then copy the whole
thing on your friends' machines.

But most people are no hackers and are not going to become hackers
-- even though free environments make it easier and encourage people
to progress from mere users to good testers and bug reporters to
occasional coders and finally to real hackers, while most
proprietary software distributors try to drive users more and more
away from any real insight and leave them only to memorize some
idiotic user interfaces and come to accept that computers just do
strange things they cannot understand. But even if all people were
using free software, still most of them would not become hackers
because they have other inclinations and preferences. And so they
will value good documentation, easy installation/use and support
(which is not the same as brain-dead user interfaces and morons on a
phone line, though it's often made to appear so), and they're
willing to pay some money for it.

So, ideally it can work like this: Those who can, contribute by
writing code etc. Others ("normal users") pay some money to
companies which in turn can pay salaries to programmers to write
more free software. What's wrong about this?

Also, don't forget that a large fraction of software development
(ISTR RMS once said it was the vast majority of software
development, but I can't find the quote right now) is done as
in-house development by large companies or as contracted work by
software companies for not so large companies. Often the companies
might not object to release the result as free software (e.g.,
because the software is so specific that they couldn't mass-market
it as proprietary software, anyway, or because their business is
something entirely different, and the software to them is only a
tool, not a ware) -- but only if they are aware of this possibility
and the possible advantages to them (like bug-fixes and improvements
from outside, programmers to hire when the original authors leave
them, good karma, etc.). FSFE could be one origanization to make
them aware of it, but if it said no to business categorically, it

> Maybe you can't earn your living with it... but, when was that
> the goal, the goal was having fun, not make a coal-mine out of
> it so we can live from it, devoid of the pleasure of making it
> and giving it away.

But, face it, most (potential) free software hackers have limited
amounts of time to spend (typically not more than 24 hours per day),
have at least some basic material needs like food, housing and
computer hardware, and are no millionaires. So they have to make
some money, and the question is if they can produce free software
while doing so, or only in the remaining time.

To make up an example, say you could work for a commercial company
that produces some free software (maybe only free software, but
maybe it also makes some proprietary software), and you could be
hacking your favourite projects in the evenings. Or you could reject
the job (because you don't like the combination of free software and
money), work as a taxi driver or something, and only hack in the
evenings. So, which one would be more beneficial for the total
amount of free software being written? Which one would be more fun
to you (supposing you like coding more than driving ;-)?


Frank Heckenbach, frank at
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