FAQ for giving lectures about Free Software

Yavor Doganov yavor at doganov.org
Wed Jul 5 20:29:09 UTC 2006

Shane M. Coughlan wrote:
> OK, so it's about two months since I worked on this. 

Thank you very much, it is quite useful.  Some slight comments, which
can be ignored, of course.

> 3) What about questions regarding the legality of Free Software?
> A: You can point out that Free Software has attracted virtually no
> lawsuits.  In the case of SCO the lawsuit is falling apart because SCO
> actually have no evidence.  Free Software is not illegal.

Not only that Free Software is perfectly legal, but non-free software
should be illegal because it's antisocial and unethical.  This may
sound shocking to some people, but remember: the same was valid for
slavery in the U.S. in the past -- many people thought that it was
something absolutely normal and legal (indeed it was, at that time).

It is important to point out that we must change the system and the
common attitude, it is unfair and wrong.

> 6) What about questions about the difference between Free Software and
> Open Source?
> A: "The fundamental difference between the two movements is in their
> values, their ways of looking at the world. For the Open Source
> movement, the issue of whether software should be open source is a
> practical question, not an ethical one. As one person put it, "Open
> source is a development methodology; free software is a social
> movement." For the Open Source movement, non-free software is a
> suboptimal solution. For the Free Software movement, non-free software
> is a social problem and free software is the solution."
> (From http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html)

While this is perfectly true, perhaps it is not so correct to call it
"Open Source Movement".  A "movement" is an organized effort to a
achieve particular goals and ideals.  I'd call it an "initiave" or a
"campaign", or something in this spirit.

In case the audience is educated (e.g. Free Software activists, some
of them not so oriented and using the "open source" flag), then it
might be a good idea to explain further why it is crucial to support
the Free Software Movement rather than "Open Source".

> 7) How should I characterise software companies like Microsoft?
> Microsoft is a natural product of a wrong approach.  They are the worst
> freedom-restricter, but that's only because they've been the most
> successful.  Others are trying very hard to restrict the freedom
> of users in the same way as MS currently does.
> We need to fix the general approach.

I like this very much.  It is a common mistake that many speakers do
when concentrating on "anti-Microsoft".  This moves the point from the
general issue, also leads to a blurred view and confusion among some
of these speakers/activists -- for example, I've seen that some of
them consider proprietary systems as AIX, Solaris, HP-UX not so bad,
because they're Unices.  Or, some of them justify the usage of Sun
Java because Sun supports the community (other examples with other
companies are valid as well, especially Google).  It's a terrible

It is important always to be able to spot the evil.

> 9) Where should I point people to find out more?
> A: The Free Software Foundation Europe website (www.fsfeurope.org), the
> Free Software Foundation website (www.fsf.org).  Perhaps you could point
> people to FSF Latin America, FSF India, 

And definitely www.gnu.org, the most comprehensive resource.

> Mozilla, 

Everywhere at their site they talk about "Open Source".  It is also
disappointing that they list Mozilla/Firefox/Thunderbird
download/version for Linux, not GNU/Linux.  I'd avoid it.


Likewise, open source again.  A further disappointment that this
project is steered by Sun, who try to integrate it with their Java as
hard as possible and do not tollerate contributions (I'm talking about
translations, but I've heard that the same is valid for code as well).
I would avoid this referrence.


Contains non-free software thus undermining the goals of the Free
Software Movement.  They call it "Linux", again, rather
disappointing.  Also I find this disturbing (from the main page):

|  The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu
|  Philosophy: that software should be available free of charge [...]

This has nothing to do with our ideals -- the purpose is not at all
that software should be gratis.

If I'm about to give a speech, I wouldn't mention Ubuntu (although it
is, perhaps, the most popular GNU distribution nowadays).  Instead, I
would expect questions and would answer them underlining the issues I
consider crucial.

In the GNU Project, discrimination against proprietary software is not
just a policy -- it's the principle and the purpose.  Proprietary
software is fundamentally unjust and wrong, so when we have the
opportunity to place it at a disadvantage, that is a good thing. --RMS

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