Comment on "Nine Attitude Problems in Free and Open Source Software"

Noah Slater nslater at
Fri Oct 24 12:18:41 UTC 2008

> > Cannot Debian teach users about freedom, simply because they also
> > provide means for installing non-free software?
> Yes, they cannot.  It's like someone convincing you that alcohol is
> very bad for your health and at the same time drinking and offering
> you the very same alcohol.  It is self-defeating.

This was the point of my email, you refuse to see that things are valuable if
they are done in ways that you think could be improved. Just because they
disagree with you on a few points does not invalidate their work.

> > I run Debian on all of my systems and never install non-free software.
> If you use Debian's stock kernel, or X/Mesa, you have installed non-free
> software.

I was trying to illustrate that I do all that I can for free software and yet
somehow I am still made to feel like it is all worthless because I may have some
small collection of free software installed on my machine.

Don't you see how harmful this attitude is?

> > have no wireless access, install a non-free driver, or buy a new
> > laptop.
> That is your personal decision, it has little to do with what we're talking
> about.  Wireless is only convenience, so you have chosen the convenience, like
> many others.

It has everything to do with what we're talking about, i.e. problems within the
free software and open source movements, which I think primarily come down to
intolerance on both sides.

Your arguments are ones of principal, so it should not logically matter if I use
myself as the focus instead of Debian. This was a useful way to discuss things
for me because it is lot more concrete than talking about an organisation.

> It doesn't make you a bad guy, it just weakens your "I am a free software
> supporter" statement.

In YOUR eyes, naturally. Perhaps from my perspective, lack of tolerance for
other people's value systems weakens YOUR position...

> >   "You support non-free software, you are the enemy."
> Please, I did not say that Debian or you are the enemy.

Of course not, I was paraphrasing.

But you must understand that this is how it comes across.

The "hard" free software supporters have a damaging habit of separating the
world into two camps: freedom supporters, or freedom haters. There is no middle
ground, no space for "freedom supporters who make a few pragmatic compromises."

I understand that you view compromise, no matter how small, as unjustified, but
using this as an excuse to for vilifying people/organisations is insane.

When you separate people into these black and white groups, i.e.

 * "no true free software supporter would do X"

 * "Debian isn't about freedom, it's clearly about popularity"

... you are implicitly separating these people into the "enemy" camp.

> I only correct people when they say that Debian defends users' freedom.  Sure,
> they do more than many other distros (mostly by separating non-free while
> unfortunately still distributing it), but it is wrong to claim that software
> freedom is their top priority.

It's disappointing that you lumped a very reasonable statement, "they do more
than many other distros", in with that last sentence.

It's not that Debian's top priority isn't freedom, in fact I would think that it
is, it's just that freedom isn't Debian's ONLY priority, hence a compromise is
drawn. To deny that is absurd.

Noah Slater,

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