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Frank Heckenbach frank at g-n-u.de
Fri May 11 01:14:54 UTC 2001

Stefan Meretz wrote:

> Hey, could we cool down a little bit?!
> And maybe could we come away from those black-white views?
> Frank Heckenbach schrieb:
> > <cynical> Oh, great. Now we may not even take money for the good
> > work we do if someone is willing to pay for it, we must also spend
> > our own money in addition. This is really going to encourage people
> > to write free software, isn't it? </cynical>
> Turn it round: You want to encourage people to write free software for the money
> goal?

That depends on where the emphasis is: Encourage people who would
otherwise write free software without money to do it for money now?
No. Encourage people who otherwise would write proprietary software
or do something completely different for money, to write free
software for the money instead if they can? Sure!

> All money-game defenders sound like ESR, and I ask (me) why.

"All"? I thought you wanted to get away from those black-white
views, didn't you? Remember, RMS in one of them (I and others have
quoted various passages from him several times).

> > I don't actually think so, or you have a very odd definition of
> > freedom. Take a look at your own draft: it contains a long paragraph
> > full of "It is not allowed to ..." and "must not". To me, freedom
> > reads like "you *are* allowed to ...". And also to RMS -- the main
> > "must not" he uses is "you must not restrict others' freedom"
> > (paraphrased).
> This is an important point: "you must not restrict others freedom" - and
> therefore you have the most important restriction of GPL: you cannot change the
> license using or modifying the software. Jos' question is now - as I understand
> it - in the same spirit: Is becoming a business a danger for freedom of free
> software? Take this question seriously, please!
> I see this danger. Some wrote: hacking free software for money is better than
> hacking prop software - want is wrong with that? I answer: the goal changes. I
> try to explain it.
> Hacking free software always is a very personal thing, which has a lot to do
> with fun, have cool experiences, get acknowledgments, feel community, and stuff
> like that. It has to do with _me_. I am the ground for hacking and nothing else.
> This (and the community) is where the power comes from.
> When money comes into this, grounds for hacking changes - maybe slowly. First I
> think: Oh what I cool idea, I combine a thing I like with the necessity of
> getting money from a job or a business. But then logics of business take place:
> What does the market says? How can I combine free software with a thing (a
> service or what else) to get money for it? Etc. These are _external_ demands.
> Primarily they have nothing to do with _me_, but I must follow them because I
> want to survive.

OK, I see your point -- though I'd like to add that external demands
are not always evil: if you make, say, a Linux distribution or a
(free) database and you get reactions from your customers (normal
users or programmers using the db), they can force you to develop
the program in a direction you didn't plan to, but it might actually
turn out a good direction because it makes it more useful for
different people's purposes (and that's also a criterion for good
software, isn't it?). (Yes, I'm well aware that user feedback can
also work well without money involved.)

My point is: If you have a non-free software related day job, you
can hack your favourite projects at night. If you have a free
software one, you still can do that. So the worst the market could
do is to make the software written in the free software day job
"useless" (if it develops in a direction no real hacker likes, and
even no part of it is usable for a better free project), but it
can't ruin your own projects. So in the end, it didn't do any good,
but it didn't do any bad, either. (And that's the worst case.)

BTW, the higher in the (commercial) hierarchy you are (ideally, if
you run your own free software company), the more influence you have
on *how* to meet the external demands. E.g., if some customer wants
some foobar program which does 3 particular tasks and has a nice GUI
interface, you could do it the "Windoze" way, write a program to do
exactly these 3 tasks in M$'s language of the day, deeply involved
with its API, not usable for anything else and worthless in a few
years when the OS and language have changed again. Or you do it in
the free software spirit, implement some general functionality first
(and chances are you will find some of it already from other free
projects, so you don't have to start from scratch), and add a quick
Tcl/Tk or whatever GUI that does what the customer wants.

When the next customer comes and wants something similar, the first
programmer would try to mangle the new functionality in the program
and soon have yet another unmaintainable bloatware, while the second
one already has a rich functionality available (and if it's not
enough, it's well structured and therefore cleanly extendible), so
he just needs to write another Tcl/Tk GUI for the special wishes of
the new customer.

That's only an example how the external demands can be directed
(internally, without the customer noticing anything) to influence
mostly the user interface (which hackers who want to use the project
for themselves can just ignore if it's too ugly) while the real
functionality can be kept in a nice form (so other hackers can enjoy

> I conclude: market is not freedom (as some rumors tell) it is a danger for
> freedom.

I agree completely. I'm definitely not a capitalist (unlike ESR ;-).
I'd never claim that the market supports free software per se, but
since we have the GPL to protect us against *some* of the dangers,
it is possible to get some useful free software "out of" the market
-- not the same amount and the same kind than what would result if
all programmers would only write free software according to their
own ideas during their jobs, but that's not an option currently[1]
-- the alternative (which was real until a few years ago) is that
they don't write any at all.

[1] As I said in another mail, changing the society so this would be
    possible is a noble goal, but it's a different and a long-term
    goal and I don't see many concrete plans to reach it. So let's
    not mix this up with the concrete action we can (and should)
    take to support free software right now.


Frank Heckenbach, frank at g-n-u.de
PGP and GPG keys: http://fjf.gnu.de/plan

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