Words Myte Bite

Funny can be whatever you want it to be. The Words and Musings of Paul O'Malley. Sort of a Blog!

26 November
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What “not free software” means!

Firstly this is not a side swipe it is an explanation for those who don’t understand the FSF’s reason for not “endorsing” lots of obvious hard work.

The Free Software Foundation has a set of rules about Free Software.

Firstly the four freedoms must be obeyed.

They are:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

As you can see software that is Free in this context has certain qualities. Proprietary software is that which does not allow these four freedoms.

Furthermore these qualities require other behaviours  so that people do not get confused by the software they are running, so Free Software should not suggest to a user that they should have Non Free Software running.

Please read this carefully:

No Free Software should indicate to people that it is ok to run anything that does not conform to this ideal.

An example of this is is Firefox.

But some cry, Firefox has source and it does not fail the above four freedoms.

This is true.

However, and it is a very important however.

In Firefox there is a facility to download add ons. Not all add ons are free software. Therefore with a couple of clicks Firefox you can make your browser not free in the eyes of the FSF as a user not a hacker!!!

And no I would not rather see someone using IE and nor would they, so don’t be so bloody stupid and ask that. ;-)

We all would rather Iceweasel.

Note there are two iceweasels – the Debian one and GNU one.

To avoid confusion please read on.

The Debian one exists to remove the copyright issues that would occur if they were to “rebrand” the fox.

They would be in the hard position of having to get permission every time they wanted to fix a bug.

The GNU one, it does the same as above but also excludes the ability to download the add ons.

When it comes to GNU/Linux Distributions the situation is as follows.

Have your perfectly free distribution.

Great get endorsed.

But some say their distro should be endorsed but the FSF is being argumentative by not doing so.

I don’t concur(, but then you would not really expect me to).

The distribution in its released format may be free. However if it has a collection of add ons that can be pointed to which is not free from within its archives then it is not free.

So if you were to have a distro called NANANA, and you kept it all free then you could get it endorsed.

Then if some of your coders felt they needed to create a collection of non free if it is “supported” and found on the domain of NANANA  then you can say pretty safely that it will not be endorsed.

For this exact reason OpenBSD and Debian failed to get endorsed.

By having a ports collection and not controlling it in OpenBSD’s case.

By having nonfree on the Debian servers.

Does that explain it,  you don’t have to agree, so that is reality. The FSF can’t move  from the position, it is a binary position, all or nothing. Free or Non Free.

Now can we all get on with our lives in harmony to one degree or another.

Personally I have a huge debt to Linus Torvalds, Debian and Mark S, Ubuntu, I could never have helped found gNewSense without them being upstream. It has never been about deriding their position it was about getting the Free Message out there by putting it into a smart format yet sexy wrapper! This article is dedicated to the memory of Rob Levin, he helped lots of people and free software!

And one last time for FreeNode: Imagine finding one in your laundry basket!