everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
*originally posted:* dec 2021
i got some (contrived and disingenuous) flack for writing an article titled "the real richard stallman is not coming back". i wrote a followup months (and many notable events) later, saying "the real richard stallman is still not coming back". part of what was disingenous about it was that i was being scapegoated for saying incredibly similar things as the person who was blaming me for saying them. the other reason was i actually meant what i said; that other guy should try it sometime.
i understand there are some people who have a vested interest in taking this the wrong way, and others who simply would unless i did a good enough job with the article.
either way, stallman is still a personal hero. its just that hes inactive. and hes going to remain inactive.
i dont deny (and i take a small amount of comfort in) the fact that stallman is still a free software activist. i realise hes not inactive in that regard. and hes not just any activist, hes the free software activist who basically invented the cause. yeah, we can quibble about the details but its really not an unreasonable claim. im not trying to reduce his career to what hes doing now. i hate when people do that.
but the closest he comes to being a leader is that people still give a shit about him. or at least they claim to.
i still want someone to explain to me how eric s. raymond spends decades co-opting everything stallman did, "accidentally" (or just accidentally) hands the entire operation over to the enemy, and has the fucking nerve to say hes a "friend" who cares about stallman when he had a plan for years to destroy him, and that plan (or one just like it) was in fact finally executed in late 2018 through early 2021. not that it isnt still ongoing.
this isnt about raymond, though ive always tried to give him a fair shake (ive even spoken with him) and ample opportunity to explain things from his side and all of that. you know the thing about cancel culture is that youre not allowed to win. but when youre up against narcissists, theyre at least still allowed to lose. i can find no reason to not call raymond a traitor-- but im willing to hear one out if someone (including raymond) bothers.
systematically planning a friends destruction so corporate bullshitters can flourish doesnt sound like raymonds ambition, unless his sole ambition was to have a half-arsed version of the fsf that never really gave a shit about freedom in the first place-- if so, mission accomplished-- dick.
my actual point however, was how many people like raymond were drawn to open source-- people happy to lie to your face and pretend this is free software, only better-- rather than free software, only bullshit. the latter is what open source is really about: faking it, and a bait and switch. osi is microsoft, we are protecting users from wolves, and the wolves provide the protection. its funny how much at one point, mark shuttleworth was right. eric raymond? not so much.
what open source actually is, explains what happened to free software. open source succeeded in manipulating, overshadowing and ultimately destroying a movement. more and more people (who still claim allegiance) admit that free software has fallen apart, and unlike open source theyre not cheering its demise. the second worst thing to happen to free software is open source-- and the worst thing to ever happen to free software is for it to emulate open source, and become part of its own co-opting. this is the hypocrisy we see today.
in truth, its still infiltrated. only its the movement, not just the fsf that is occupied. thats why shuffling the deck chairs at the fsf doesnt fix anything: the problem goes beyond that. its the broader version of the same problem that the fsf continues to refuse to address.
if the real richard stallman were here, nobody would stand for this shit.
stallman will always be an activist, he will always be the founder of this movement. people who try to take that away from him are people who lose my respect, and trust. many have tried, and there have always been many fakes. whats different now is how much theyve won, and weve lost.
its not unfair to say that stallman is beaten. we all are. and i never meant to make it sound permanent, only thorough. the bastions are broken, the flagships are sunk. not all is lost, only the bulk of it.
thats the truth you see people coming around to. and its about fucking time, because denying this is exactly why nothing got fixed. theres a popular and unfortunate myth thats common in free software (and you cant blame only this movement for it, because people like bono show that this myth applies to progress in general) which they even talked about at lieplanet once:
naming a problem isnt the same thing as fixing it.
yes, the first step is often the one that takes the longest. and in many ways its the most important, as you wont fix problems of this size until you can admit they exist. it is progress, of a sort, to be able to say how bad things are.
but its still only one step, of several.
the idea that problems get solved, and then that entire categories of issues just ceases to exist, is a myth perpetuated by marketing, not honest progressives. theres a word for something that solves a problem easily and forever: its called a product. progress doesnt come from products, it comes (like freedom) from eternal vigilance.
that means that when everything falls apart, no one is going to package a neat one-size-fits-all-solution to fix it all.
actually, lots of people will do just that.
what it really means, is that everyone who sells you that is full of shit. the only "product" that will make us free again is doing what we have to do. products are magical, mythical artifacts that allow us to skip that part. in essence, they help to slow down the one thing we actually need to move forward.
people love quick fixes-- they love to believe in them. the only things a quick fix needs for many people to try it are good marketing and being something new-- and the marketing can make it sound new, even if it isnt.
im not against ideas that do what theyre intended to in a reasonable amount of time, im against falling for bullshit quick fixes. some fixes are indeed simple, only theyre part of a larger scheme that is going to require a great deal of rebuilding.
but no matter how the fsf tries to bullshit you into thinking theyre up to that, they dont have the will, they arent honest enough, they dont have any leadership. i said that when stallman was gone-but-not-really-gone (so we are told) and i said it when he came-back-but-never-really-left (but hes not really back, either).
the whole thing is bullshit-- put "fsf" in it, and its bullshit. so much so that gnu has disingenuously tried to say its more separate from the fsf than it really is. a nice thought, but not very true though. the fsf ONLY holds the trademarks, infrastructure, copyright AND pursestrings.
microsoft and ibm hold the fucking source code. this is a fucking farce. what is gnu? a farce.
but it wasnt-- it was a very, very important operating system. in some ways, the most important operating system ever. and now? its not going to make you free. gnu has changed its name to gnu/linux, and while that used to be ONE of the things gnu did, its truly becoming the ONLY thing gnu does.
and linux will never be free-- neither will gnu/linux, and so neither will be gnu.
yes, i am well aware of hurd. traitors.
i also know that gnu was never designed around, nor required the linux kernel. this is utterly common knowledge.
the problem is that every part of gnu, while modular-by-default was never modular-by-intent. it was easy to port, and stallman has said he never cared about unix philosophy. of course modularity and unix philosophy were never exactly the same thing, but they are certainly relatives.
gnu doesnt care about modularity, and if it did, it doesnt anymore. it was something that gnu had, but always took for granted. even stallman took it for granted, and its the reason why gnu will continue to fail.
the reason i dont think gnu will ever be rebooted is that the will is simply not there. i dont think its a matter of waiting ten years, theres no evidence that a sufficiently modular gnu (minus the kernel i suppose) was ever on the table, and the microkernel was a prohibitively expensive design. im not saying it was impossible, it never was-- but so improbable that it was too costly to succeed. i can find no evidence to the contrary. maybe some can make the claim, without evidence. hurd was a cool idea, and im happy to be wrong. regardless, the project is led by a traitor and i consider hurd a fraud until he is removed from the project.
meanwhile the rest of gnu is turning against freedom. oh, not all at once. at first gnu needs various things to "unify" it so it can be further destroyed.
i dont want people to think im against all sorts of unity, either. only so much of the time, unity is an excuse for people in control doing what they want, and others having no choice or say. that sort of unity is a raw deal, it really means "shut up and do what we tell you".
again, there are other sorts of unity that are worth pursuing. my point is that so much of the time, the trappings of unity are merely an excuse for a soft authoritarianism. this happens more often than any sort of reasonable unity is actually sought. maybe we should consider this more common, vulgar (and imitation) unity another product. its certainly brought about by marketing.
i said years ago that we need more stallmans-- that we continue his legacy not by parroting his words, but by caring about the meaning and thinking for ourselves.
of course that sort of independence is also often used as an excuse-- to abandon the core ideals of free software and "upgrade" to a more cynical and shallow alternative, which is always open source.
free software was always the more honest version, but today it is neither honest nor free. open source is still bullshit, but the will to reboot the free software movement was not here.
today, i see the will to reboot the movement continuing to mount. i wrote about this in the latest version of my book, "the gnew frontier", but this is about the movement-- not the book.
the reboot is coming. gnew already welcomed stallman to this reboot. others have welcomed stallman to their own reboot.
time will tell who is being honest here, however i dont believe the next free software movement will be centralised. i also dont believe in the fediverse (its another farce, completely fake) but the idea that free software 2.0 will be decentralised seems inevitable.
unlike some (and not as many as they wanted you to think, but still more than many are willing to admit) we dont want to lose stallman at all. we want to preserve.
the problem is, we arent going to be able to bring stallman back. we probably wont even be able to save the gnu project. whats more possible, is to do what gnu did all those years ago, start to build up a new flagship, and (hopefully) be able to reuse some of the components of the old one.
some of them-- i guarantee we wont salvage all of it. even the gnu project itself has decommissioned various parts of itself.
we need to decommission or abandon (or fork whatever we truly need) that which does NOT stand for your freedom. telemetry needs to be thrown out, traitors need to forfeit the trust we misplaced in them. they lied to our faces and tried to cut our heads off. fuck them, walk away and never trust them again.
people who have NOT participated in a global corporate coup and whose treachery was truly minor and forgettable, i have less of a problem with honest mistakes and general human foibles. the real traitors have shown no remorse at all, for years or more at a time-- they are shameless and dishonest and opportunistic. they dont care about your freedom.
stallman is already left without a foundation and his flagship is burning. at least some of it can be salvaged. id really like to see a free version of emacs in the future. look at fucking elpa, for fucks sake-- its not free! elpa is a farce working its way to a mozilla-like status.
gnu isnt free either, its controlled by ibm and microsoft. if ibm and microsoft control your computing, and you say "no, the license is still free"-- fuck you, the project and contributors are controlled by ibm and microsoft. you failed. you abandoned the fucking mission. the mission was not to get ibm and microsoft to relicense, it was FOR USERS TO HAVE CONTROL OF THEIR COMPUTING. the license was just a part of it, and it became a deadly compromise to focus too much on that sole issue while (practically) ignoring the others.
we already have some ideas of what a reboot would look like-- harder to attack the way the fsf was, more honest than open source (so all open source solutions are false starts and yet another bait and switch open source vista, open source 10, open source 11...) and more introspective than the fsf, because the fsf stopped giving a shit about anything except fundraising YEARS ago. they stopped caring about the real mission-- and it showed. and some of us said so even then. and we got shit on, but more to the point-- it was true, and (practically) nobody cared that it was true.
stallman will never lead us again. not because he cant, not because hes unwelcome-- but because weve asked him to lead us year after year and hes handed the reins over to a corrupt and lifeless not-for-profit that is run by corporate monopolists. freedom wont come from that.
i said to stallman personally, you should restart the movement with a more grassroots way of doing things. he asked me what that would look like. i never answered because the way i proposed what i did, and the way he responded, it sounded rhetorical. i really should know stallman better than that by now, but he will get the answer anyway.
a bunch of people are going to try to do this. some are already trying. whatever comes of it, that will be a more grassroots free software movement-- as its built by people who know the fsf had too many eggs in one basket, and when it was raided and manipulated it was by the same corporations the fsf USED TO stand against.
you can join the fsf today, but all youll get is ibm and microsoft github: "free as in friedman".
i think its a waste of 30-something years, but we can learn from it. and salvage what we can. and actually do things differently next time, because joining the fsf certainly isnt enough-- it doesnt exist anymore.
stallman still exists, he just doesnt lead anymore. you can ask him, he just wont do it.
thats what i meant by the real richard stallman is never coming back. i meant stallman the leader (and it was pretty obvious to anybody who gave a shit what i actually meant) will not feature in this reboot.
and unless something wonderful and drastic happens that i never predicted, he isnt going to feature. not as the iconoclast, the loudmouth-- the qualities that shills truly hated and renegades admired.
THAT stallman is the real stallman. the one we get is the retired one.
i think he still deserves our respect and admiration. i think if he has input, we should hear him out. i think if he says joining the fsf is the solution, hes wrong. what the fuck is the fsf? im a former member. i dont think the fsf can answer that question. but they can sure bullshit you for years at a fucking time.
dont do like the marketers and conflate the fsf that stood for something with the one that exists. the two have fuck-all to do with each other.
the fsf has spent the past half decade reenacting the dead parrot sketch. it just isnt funny anymore, and those who are serious about free software have better things to do than pay the fsf to move more projects to github, and pretend theyre going to spend the money fixing core problems rather than advertising the fact that (officially at least) they still exist.
when an organisation gets stuck in this mode, fundraising is the real mission and recognition of the problem is the entire solution.
it isnt, really-- but its all theyve had for a long time now. first the traitors who destroyed it abandoned ship. now the people who tried to save it are leaving.
good, we wont get anywhere spinning our fucking wheels with knauth, or any other joker who tells you to fund a sinking ship-- while refusing to plug the holes!
stallman gets a pass because-- of course, he INVENTED the fucking thing! hes still the reason we are here, no matter what he does... or doesnt.
that doesnt change the fact that he wont. or that if we dont, no one will. that makes todays fsf a scam, but i already said that open source is a scam and todays fsf is open source.
now its time to see if those licenses really work.
if its free, you can fork it; if its free, you wont need microsoft or anyone else that pretends to care about your freedom. and if you cant fork it, then how the fuck is it free?
### wait, you complained that gnu wasnt modular, and that the hurd kernel was?
no, i complained that gnu never had a goal of staying as modular as it was to begin with, and that hurds design was too expensive. its easy enough to falsely compare these two things, but that doesnt make it terribly hard to avoid.