Free software and open source philosophies differ,, sometimes with radically different outcomes

Mat Witts admin at
Wed Nov 22 06:25:14 UTC 2017

> People that promote Free Software know about what that means, people
> that promote Open Source may or may not, so whereas a Free Software
> advocate is obviously committed to (at the very least) ideas of
> communitarian living, an Open Source advocate is likely to be either 1)
> Confused; 2) Pro-business - which at the very least means pro-capitalism
> and centrist or right of center on the political spectrum; 3) Both
> confused and pro-business

I'd like to qualify here that I mean to say 'confused about the
differences between open source and free software' (it's not a moral
judgment) - see my response to Jonas.

> You are projecting your own political beliefs onto everyone in the
Free Software movement.

Not quite, what I am doing is suggesting that a persons political
beliefs can be broadly predicted using some basic knowledge of Open
Source and Free Software principles and established social and political

You are of course at liberty to reject those theories and the basis for
them if you think they are unreliable.

> My preferred term is Free Software because I believe individual
freedom to be the highest political goal or utility and Free Software
safeguards every individual's freedom and control over their devices.

Fine. I understand that, but the point is about the wider, social
implications of each I think, in that Open Source and Free Software are
just as much cultural realities as they might be personal commitments or
'psychologies'. I say this because the technologies don't only exist as
ideas, they are working communities or 'paradigms' that shape (or
deform) the working lives of millions of human persons.

I would say what you have articulated here seems to strengthen the point
about the confusion (meaning 'mixed up' or 'combinatorial' or 'blend')
between communitarian vs. pro-business imperatives, which is itself an
outcome of a particularly popular political commitment some political
scientists refer to as 'neoliberalism'. I say this because you seem to
have managed to transmit a communitarian ethic wrapped in what I would
say shows signs of a libertarian vocabulary, a kind of 'compassionate
capitalism' perhaps.

If you look at what you said, you used the words 'everyone in the Free
Software movement' and 'every individual's freedom and control over
their devices', and you volunteerd that without coercion or inducement.
This indicates to me a deep social awareness that characterizes the
communitarian mindset not the mindset of a strict libertarian.

If you were really just in it for yourself, unapologetically and without
doubts, you would I think have elected to use the words 'me' and 'my
freedom and control over my devices'.

Even though you claim no 'communitarian leanings', you recognize
'cooperating in communities is a valid exercise of any individual's
freedom of association'.

So, although I can accept that you are interested in respecting the
rights of the individual, you have elected to do so through a
communitarian impulse, which is an impulse not only to work with others
(as corporations also enable that) but in this context it appear to be
in excess of narrow, private concerns, in that here, you are not
thinking of your employer or shareholders of a company or your status
within an advantage seeking company when you say these things, you seem
to be motivated by a concern for 'everyone', which of course is
something that private corporations only invoke at the level of
marketing, while their systems are oriented toward protecting private
property rights.

I am totally on board with the FS agenda not preventing anyone from also
being pro-business on the grounds of individual self-determination
either, but all I would say is that if we wish to talk about
'cooperating with communities' and other peoples rights and freedoms, as
you want to do, it's hard (but not impossible) to disclaim communitarian
motivations, in much the same way it's hard (but not impossible) to talk
about being pro-business without wanting also to talk about private
property, profit and so forth.

> The Free Software definition says nothing about the way Free Software
should be developed.

Neither have I.

> The definition is not pro-communitarian or anti-business, and hence
any movement based on promoting the definition is not pro-communitarian
or anti-business either or it has already failed.

This thread is about 'Free software and open source philosophies
differ,,    sometimes    with radically different outcomes'.

I have been posting on that topic, not about the FS definition which
doesn't get us any closer to resolving the problem as I, and many FS
advocates see it, which is about the problematic of using the terms
'open source' and 'free' interchangeably - as if they are synonyms when
they are really about completely different things which I won't go over
here because FS advocates will know what those differences are I am sure.

Simply, the term Free Software ought not be used for Open Source
Software and Open Source ought not to be used for Free Software, unless
the level of discourse is at such an elementary level that making the
distinction risks confusing the audience, in which case, I'd have to
bring into question the usefulness of talking about Free Software to an
audience that is incapable or unwilling to pay attention.

> people whose preferred term is Open Source also lead to increased
individual choice and control over their device. This is true of
contributions from large corporations too, and where any particular user
disagrees with the corporation's direction, they are free to fork the
project. Less complaining and more use of the four freedoms would be
entirely appropriate in such cases.

I don't think an Open Source has anywhere near the same level of
guarantees as Free Software does, unless you are using the term 'Open
Source' to mean something that is actually Free Software? In which case
that would I think show how using the words interchangeably isn't helping.

Large corporations covers a multitude of entities so you'd have to be
more specific about which large corporations you think safeguard users
freedom, because I would think they are in a small minority, especailly
when you get to look at the largest of them all, which I won't mention
here because we know who they are.

As far as I know, if you are working on an Open Source project with a
non-free licence then what you are able to do will be limited to the
licence restrictions. If the software is being developed under a free
licence then it would make no sense to call it open source software when
we have a better term, Free or Libre Software.

If you are suggesting that Open Source development and Free Software
development can happily co-exist at the level of git then I think that
is very naive and does not properly represent the licensing issues and
massive power asymmetries involved where proprietary software developers
have many times the resources, and very different incentives to (say) an
open government project or a software being developed by the Free
Software community.

Unless we are prepared to use words as best we can, to critically
analyze at different scales then we are destined to be silenced by
corporations that I think would much rather FS was dropped altogether so
they can be free to develop software under the rubric of Open Source,
the trouble is though, I suspect there are too many people like us that
believe that freedom for the individual can't happen unless we obtain
freedom for all individuals, and to do that usually requires an impulse
that is broadly communitarian in tenor and not about competing to
privilege private property rights of corporations and their shareholders.

I uphold the right for every individual to develop software privately
and assert rights that are not compatible with FS definition, but this
topic is not about what we may think or do as individuals but how 'Free
software and open source philosophies differ sometimes with radically
different outcomes'.

I also like to support FS initiatives too, but it hardly matters because
this topic is about the problems when we fail to maintain useful
distinctions. When those distinctions are lost, the outcome is only
confusion about what both terms stand for, and the confusion is not
about definitions as such in my view, but mostly about scope, and
confusion about the very different scope at any level of analysis
between Open Source and Free Software do not offer optimal conditions
for software development, or for discussions about either perhaps?

/ m

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