At the risk of being flamed : State of software

Attila Csipa plists at
Thu Aug 30 01:30:50 CEST 2007

On Wednesday 29 August 2007 17:52:44 Ian Stirling wrote:
> So 'true GPL' systems should discourage users installing commercial
> software?

Closed source (proprietary) software, yes. Note that OSS _can_ be commercial, 
and I don't have a problem with that. OSS is ok and proprietary software is 
OK, but proprietary riding on OSS momentum for personal benefit without 
returning anything to the community is the thing I don't like. The word 
discourage is actually very good here - the users SHOULD have the freedom 
making that choice, but also should know the drawbacks and implications (do 
you want to chroot it ? how will you manage package upgrades and 
dependencies ?) that it has on their machines AND the community as a whole. 
Take the case of a small scale closed source app done in a one-man-show 
fashion. If it does a decent job at a small cost, and we embrace it, it 
brings the actual OSS/GNU developer (like members of the OpenMoko team whom 
we cherish, right ?) in a bad position - he suddenly becomes the bad guy who 
is robbing the fair coder of his income, makes it hard to return the money 
invested in the unit (especially gets nasty if the closed source programmer 
actually IS a nice guy). On the other hand, if there IS a properly made close 
source app it will eliminate the 'itch' which most of the times result in 
the 'scratch' - a really free, community application. This might sound good 
at first, but gets bad quick, but let's not get into a Cathedral vs Bazaar 
discussion. An example of such a free-project-gone-bad which comes first to 
my mind was perhaps Sveasoft and their Linksys WRT54G firmware, which on one 
side was great bc it allowed many owners to get extra features not available 
in the factory firmware (and thus was the reason for many to buy the unit in 
the first place), but on the other hand did nothing for the community, and so 
delayed the transition for many users to the from-scratch OpenWRT effort 
which, in the end, did prove a technically more advanced solution which is 
available to everybody for free in all senses, but that transition ended in a 
LOT of bad blood and many many very heated license debates (for which, IMO, 
the WRT54G communities are unfortunately quite reknowned). 

> If there is no open-source alternative, and I choose to sell commercial
> software that users can install on their phone, how is this wrong?

Not wrong, but (IMO, but I understand many will disagree) not in the spirit of 
free software either. That's why I didn't say it's illegal, just that it has 
nothing to do with the freedom GPL actually gives to the end-user (rights to 
(re)distribute, rights to get the source and tinker, right to give code to 
the community to be continually improved, that - at least in theory - can't 
by just resold for a profit). I must stress you already HAD the choice of 
what sort of software you install on most phones, or to develop software for 
minimal/no cost for J2ME, Symbian, there is no additional freedom there 
(what's barring me from making a GPL Symbian or J2ME project ?). The 
non-existence of certain apps bc of non-feasibility or lack of interest is 
NOT a limitation of freedom (the fact that I can't pay for a 
Neo1973+shipping+taxes doesn't mean that I'm not free to buy one) ! If you 
only use Linux and GPL as a vehicle for closed applications, then you are in 
effect doing what Motorola is doing - hiding the system behind the JVM for 
the proprietary parts (which is roughly what a chroot would do, too).

In any case, I'm finished with this thread. I've said how it looks from my 
viewpoint of an OSS supporter (I'm really not a GPL zealot, I just feel that 
in many areas a consistent OSS approach gives superior results to traditional 
business models), feel free to disagree, nothing wrong with opposing 

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