everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
*originally posted:* aug 2021
*updated:* dec 2021
i said before that i was eager to find more information about #savegnu, and i was.
and i would still read about it with interest, because leah may have some great ideas.
with that said, leah rowe is not going to #savegnu. and that has nothing to do with leah.
nobody is going to savegnu at this point. im not saying this to be negative, but to be realistic. people have been trying to carve gnu up into products for years, and the response (from stallman, his supporters, from the fsf) is to insist that its impossible to do that.
its not impossible, and it has already happened.
gnu is already done.
some people will think im just being pessimistic, some will think im being unfair. others will think im projecting the fact that i have a working os that i consider free enough (until it is more free, at least-- but then there are already people working on that and thats great). each of these are (relatively) fair assumptions, but i dont think any of them will prove to be true.
when leah fails to save the gnu project, i want to mention that i never liked the way their plan stressed fundraising, as fundraising isnt the fundamental problem that free software has. it never was. there are enough people willing to work for free, until too many of them have to work on bullshit. NO, im not saying gnu is bullshit-- gnu is one of the most important software projects of all time. but i am saying that SOME of gnu is bullshit. rather, too much of gnu is bullshit.
i am throwing out everything oliva ever said about the relationship between gnu and the fsf. they are NOT separate. theyre about as separate as two spouses that live together. oliva stressed the autonomy of the gnu project-- and the fsf even stressed the separation at one point. but this is not realistic for several reasons:
lets start with copyright and trademark. the trademark at least, is controlled by the fsf-- NOT by stallman. so as long as its called gnu, the fsf ultimately determines what that is. whether they are INTERESTED in doing so is irrelevant; they have the authority, literally the ownership. ive had people say this and ive had people try to weasel around it. im not interested in the weaseling. the gnu project cant even be called the gnu project without the fsfs permission. of course its difficult to imagine how the fsf could possibly use that as a lever against the project, but then why make such a big deal (for years) about the lever mozilla used with their own trademark? its different when the fsf-- no, it isnt really different! the trademark is a lever. the fsf controls the name itself. and the fundraising. and the servers.
the copyright (on new changes) is drifting away from BOTH the fsf and the gnu project, towards corporations that are unsympathetic at best and even hostile in practice. this will be downplayed, but eben moglen said its happening and eben moglen wouldnt say this if it were meaningless. eben moglen doesnt chat, or gossip, or schmooze, or bullshit. hes all business (at least when it comes to this sort of thing. he might be the most fun person on earth when you get to know him, but hes clearly all business where it counts).
so gnu doesnt control their trademark or their copyright without the good will of potentially (or hypothetically) hostile parties. thats a major, major fuckup. im not sure that all of it was avoidable, but to whatever degree it was, that was a fuckup.
the magic ingredient that lets gnu entertain +100 hubris when they dont control the name or the copyright or the funding or the fucking infrastructure, is the license. of course the license is extremely important, it is a cornerstone. but gnu doesnt control the license either-- the fsf does.
the fsf can make whatever changes they can get away with (in practice of course, the organisational structure of the fsf and its board make this seem unlikely, then again there was a coup for a year or so within the same structure, but hey) per the "version x or later" application of the gpl (or agpl, where applicable).
im not saying that "x or later" was a bad idea, it may (as i suspect it is) be better than saying "version x" by itself. whether its the better of two options doesnt mean it is invulnerable however, and if gnu cant control its trademark or hold copyright, and its relying on the license to stay autonomous, and the fsf has already been taken over once, it needs to be said that a future version of the license could effectively carve out an exception for as many parties as want to avoid the "sharealike" aspect (i really fucking hate that term right now, but im using it because its very obvious what it means) of the license for their own use. companies that have violated the gpl again and again seem the most likely to seek such exceptions for themselves, and such companies already exist.
if you had put the above to me a couple of years ago or more, i might have said it seemed far-fetched. today, with all that has happened, i think the very best we can say is that its unlikely. those who suggest it is impossible are fooling themselves.
as far as changes to gnu are concerned: they cant count on the trademark without counting on the fsf, they cant count on the copyright without counting on other parties, they cant count on the license without counting on the fsf either, so lets compare this idea that gnu is really autonomous from the fsf by comparing it to a marriage:
perhaps you think you can just fuck off to hawaii for a month, and not consult with your spouse about it and spend a years income there, because you and your spouse are of course, two separate people. good luck with that! im not saying its impossible, just that in 99% of marriages this would not be an example of autonomy. "separate" does not mean autonomous. if you think you are free to go to hawaii for a month without your spouses approval, you are more likely delusional than not.
now, JUST FOR FUN, lets talk about some fun coincidences. im not presenting them as anything other than coincidences, but theyre SO MUCH FUN im going to talk about them anyway:
1. the fsf and gnu stressed separation during the most difficult point in the history of either the organisation or the project
2. when someone tried to make it look like stallman resigned from gnu, when he didnt
3. at a time when BOTH debian and red hat were becoming less autonomous from ibm, and each other
4. when ibm was attacking the autonomy of the FSF directly (via defraduing the public regarding its leader)
5. when someone who was recently separated from ibm was telling me that the fsf and gnu are VERY VERY separate...
6. even as ibm was attacking the autonomy of GNU (via further co-opting gcc itself)
7. EVEN AS IBM WAS SAYING RED HAT (which they outright purchased) WOULD MAINTAIN THEIR AUTONOMY! (which is their standard post-acquisition lie that everyone has heard before!)
this is really an "all roads lead to rome" kind of "separation" or at least, it sure LOOKS like one.
but whatever, its a hell of a coincidence. (7 or 8 coincidences).
oh, and the fsf isnt autonomous from microsoft github either.
POINT BEING: what is gnu autonomous from?
NOTHING! GNU HAS NO FUCKING AUTONOMY TO SPEAK OF!
so leahs plan to "save" gnu by finding more people to co-opt (sorry, "fund") gnu is dubious IN THAT REGARD. im not being sarcastic (nor was i before) when i said im interested in their other ideas. i wasnt being sarcastic when i said i admire their passion about this-- we need passionate people to care about free software. i think even if leah doesnt #savegnu, i think they have (demonstrably) plenty to offer the free software movement and they should basically just keep trying to do that. if you want to know my opinion about leah, thats what it is.
but my opinion about gnu is the real issue. and if i dont think that gnu can be saved, then i dont think we can blame leah for not saving it.
im not saying they shouldnt bother trying, only that it wont work. by all means, if they try they may learn some interesting things that they can use in a different way to help free software. so even if they cant savegnu, maybe its worth the effort regardless.
but since this is NOT about a person, but the project itself, i should probably describe what i mean when i say that gnu cannot be saved.
i have talked about people working to salvage gnu. when i think of salvage, i mean recovering pieces of a wreck. gnu is wreckage, it is not viable as-is.
when i say gnu is not viable, i dont mean it isnt usable. i used gnu wget SEVERAL TIMES today. ive got a handful of libraries from gnu installed, which i cant remove because theyre actually being used.
i still think gnu wget is better than curl. i am very familiar (as much as i need to be) with curl and wget, i have used various features of both (even written applications before that require curl to function, where wget cant simply be dropped in in its place). i prefer wget because it is less encumbered.
in this, wget is a partial success. it has dependencies that pull in code controlled by microsoft, just like the raspberry spy. unlike the raspberry spy, wget can probably be compiled (at least, modified) to not have those dependencies. (you think i mean the vscode thing, thats why youre thinking that you can remove the dependencies from the spy). i compiled gnu bash recently, so maybe i can compile wget without libpsl (github). but both netbsd and debian (openbsd too) bring in libpsl for their wget binary, and if i want to be autonomous from github, what are my options?
according to roy, github dependencies include practically everything. that means practically everything (and it does, because ive spent loads of time checking this) depends on microsoft github. thats probably a bad thing. other parts of gnu actually rely on github for hosting (thats a terrible idea) but even wget (for which i have no real suitable replacement) seems to rely on libpsl.
mincer makes an interesting point when he talks about trying to make software with no dependencies. however, we arent talking about software with no dependencies, we are talking about software with no microsoft dependencies. the real problem is the amount of reach that microsoft still has (which roy downplays, even as he points out correctly that it is like the former british empire).
people who are interested in doing nothing and just blogging non-facts and innuendo have the luxury of pretending that the british empire just casually fell apart one day. but the costs of this failure were enormous, and the costs of microsofts empire falling apart will also likely be enormous. im glad the british do not still control as many countries-- at least they dont as blatantly and directly as they once did-- but the costs were painful, tragic and deadly.
at best, the cost of microsofts empire falling apart will be painful and tragic, even if we are as much in favour of microsofts reach diminishing as we were of britain not ruling half the planet directly anymore.
either way, if it happens its going to be because people worked against that monopolistic hold on everything, not because they sat blase about it like a douchebag and made fun of people for even trying, from their blog full of lies and innuendo and bullshit.
you cant fix this stuff by just waiting for everyone else to do it for you, even as you tell them not to bother... but anybody still relying on debian (i didnt say using, but relying on) debian for their day-to-day everything isnt likely to get this anyway. and if they dont get it, they can just make shit up.
(should i mention that i think leah uses debian too? i dont know, but i think leah could EASILY replace debian with something else if they wanted to. so at least theyre not relying on it the way that i mean. though its too bad that theyre supporting it).
the freedom gnu promises is the freedom to control your own computing. the reality is that the control of your computing is being won by ibm and microsoft, at cost to the user controlling anything. gnu developers are only buying this corporate bullshit if they think it isnt a problem. and thats what they tell me.
richard stallman is still quiet, so he isnt going to save gnu either.
who said he would be ousted? that was me.
who said that he would still be quiet after he came back? that was me.
who noted hes still quiet now that hes back? that was the person who tries to blame me for being right about this stuff.
how can you say i wasnt right, if i said he would still be quiet after he returned and hes back, and youre saying hes still quiet?
its basic fucking boolean logic, do the single-digit math.
so the gnu developers arent going to fix it because they dont think theres a problem.
stallman isnt going to fix it, but we fucking knew that already (i dont blame him any more than leah, its not his fault).
the fsf isnt going to fix it, because when you need their help theyre separate, but when youre counting on autonomy, youre fucked.
who is going to fix it then? not stallman, not the fsf, not the gnu developers-- the users?
right, it will be the users who SALVAGE whatever parts of gnu they need.
but then what are they going to use for an OPERATING SYSTEM?
gnu/linux? oliva is saying we should celebrate linux on its REAL birthday, when it became free software. but linux (the kernel, the only thing with good reason to be called linux) will never be free!
> "bought, and sold, and bought again..." anthem, leonard cohen
people who want to be free cannot count on gnu, because gnu cannot offer freedom-- just a license they dont control, on copyrighted software they dont control. controlled by a company hostile to freedom (and truth, and stallman himself) with a kernel that microsoft controls, with libraries that microsoft controls, all compiled with a compiler that ibm (again) controls the development and (increasingly) the copyright of.
if you think the real picture is less bleak than this, its because im talking MOSTLY about the bleak parts. but it isnt all this bleak-- if you factor in the good parts, then there is some hope at least.
but seriously, not for gnu there isnt.
the argument i hear most in response to this is "no, thats not true" or "no, thats wrong" but mostly "it isnt controlled by..."
and they are content in that. by ANY MEASURE we can come up with, it IS controlled by... but they say it isnt.
im glad thats settled, then. no, they seldom elaborate. and when they do, its usually not something too relevant.
dont get me wrong, i dont think im 100% right about this. i think im about 90-95% right about this. and whatever percentage it is, i think im right enough to say that the gnu project is done.
i dont just welcome people to prove me wrong, of course (but i welcome them to prove me wrong).
i also think exploring options for salvaging gnu is key.
there are parts of gnu that have made things worse, not better for freedom.
we do not need guile, at all.
we do not need nano. we do not even need bash (though the best shell for gnu is either ksh or more likely, a lighter fork of bash).
im not saying bash should just close shop, just that its too bloated and unstable to be the de facto standard gnu shell. they should replace it with something simpler-- something closer to ksh at least. it can be based (directly) on bash itself, even the bash codebase. but i dont think gnu should bother with bash. gnu should focus more often on what it actually needs, and worry less about (but still welcome) extra projects that show a committment to freedom. (which gnu radio for example, is openly hostile to).
i used to argue for gnu being top-down. but ive said, if someone like stallman cant maintain (its not his fault if his ability to was attacked, but we are talking about autonomy here, not stallmans integrity which is vast, but really a side issue in this matter now) gnu and i am always spoken to as if NOBODY controls gnu, including (though not BY) stallman, which is probably partly true but just reeks of bullshit and excuses for all this...
without someone suitable controlling gnu in a top-down fashion, which certainly is not happening and has not happened for years-- and without being able to count on the fsf (which seems to hold all the actual keys to this ENTIRELY SEPARATE project) then there is no serious advantage (other than IMAGE and promotion-- but wait, promotion of WHAT? the fsf? gnu? "freedom?" WHAT FREEDOM?!) to keeping every project as "part" of gnu.
gnu has deprecated projects before-- rather than becoming more impossible to maintain autonomously, gnu should drop any ballast that holds LITTLE PROMISE for making people more free.
so now, we talk about what "promise" means. i will say that gnupg is extremely unique, because it seems VERY key to freedom (at least in the short run) but politically, in terms of fsf and gnu and the movement, gnupg is a fetid dogs arsehole. not because of this, but DESPITE this, you can say that it holds some SERIOUS "promise" for freedom. im not SURE that it will help, but its so damned promising that we shouldnt be hasty, i guess?
you cant really say that about gnu nano. its just a fucking text editor. write a new one and be done with this shit. nano should change its name to "lies" (lies isnt exactly special) because THATS what nano fucking stands for, not your freedom.
and people using ksh are not REALLY less free than people using bash, though i suppose its possible they could potentially become less free. people using bash continue to watch it become bloated and unstable, and its harder to learn if youre just getting the command line. bash was a mistake. fix it-- fork it. gnu should ditch bash. and the developers can keep dicking around with it as they please. and leah can find some sponsor to pay them, so it becomes even more of a product instead of a way to be free. but thats bash. fork it already. with copyleft, of course.
guile will always be a political tool for fucking the entire movement. the only people it makes more free are the fucking guile devs, who work against the movement and who lie to users and defraud stallman as well as the public. stop kissing and making up with actual literal traitors-- set them free. open source and the corporations that use it for cheap labour can always use more narcissists, liars and sociopaths. free software cant afford one more!
IF YOU SALVAGE GNU based on FREEDOM, then it will be a mix of focusing on whats about FREEDOM and whats practical (in terms of education, hosting, in terms of whats lightweight and not hopeless to maintain).
gnu never cared about that.
hey! thats why gnu is fucked.
like a typical ngo that sooner or later only operates in terms of funding and image (on top of the actual cause, of course!) gnu operates MORE like an ngo than anything meant to liberate anybody.
it has (quite a few) corporate-apologist developers. its not like everybody has to be, for this to be a problem.
it has corporate sponsors constantly weaseling in based on HOSTING, LIBRARIES and LIES.
it has an increasingly bloated, corporation-serving DESIGN which is fucking unsustainable, and makes gnu helpless.
if you want to be a helpless pawn, you can keep using gnu.
if you want relative AUTONOMY and freedom, you will still be looking for REAL solutions.
gnu isnt that anymore. it simply does not satisfy any reasonable criteria for freedom.
unless youre happy with just the fucking license.
i mean, youre very free to put all your eggs in THAT basket, and watch as it gets sold off to the same corporations that controlled the industry british-empire-like through the very decade when gnu and the fsf were founded!
the license is part of a broken promise, and thats not the licenses fault either.
its a perfectly good license. what happened was the people claiming to give a shit about our freedom started bullshitting and saying no matter what the software does, the LICENSE will fix everything!
the license doesnt DO anything without people to stand for what the license does.
its a bit like the united states constitution (the free software definition even moreso) in that it makes nobody free.
its just a piece of paper.
its a very important piece of paper, which is the basis for so much of what we do.
but if you dont actually DO it, if you just say "blah blah blah, FREE LICENSE!" or (boris the clown-based solution style) "FREE MEANS FREE!" (GPL MEANS GPL!) and you dont STAND FOR THE SAME THING.
a constitution without people who stand for what it says-- does nothing.
a license without people who stand for what it says-- does nothing.
and these days, people just say "blah blah blah, constitution"-- they TALK about rights, but they dont GET those rights; at least not as much as they used to, and likely not any year soon either.
people TALK about free software, but nobody actually has much freedom.
they have all the freedom theyre allowed to have.
its gone from hypothetical, to happening in practice, back to hypothetical again.
gnu will not withstand that level of superficiality and hypocrisy.
and THAT is why it will do nothing for your freedom.
oh, you can throw your exceptions at this. for example, wget is more free than curl. im glad it is. i dont use it because i like the syntax better-- i use it BECAUSE it is more free.
stallman said, the first thing you can do to help is USE free software. it makes perfect sense, because everything else (helping, documenting, developing, teaching, advocating) is unlikely if you dont even use it! and what actually took over? the one thing that you dont have to use it to do: fundraising! (not the same as advocacy, not at all).
today, the movement is controlled MOSTLY via people who dont even fucking use the software! people like linus torvalds, who doesnt use gnu (he only uses linux! that one was tongue-in-cheek) and jim zemlin, who only uses torvalds! (but not his kernel).
not to say that jim zemlin controls the movement or anything. hes an uppity cog in this thing, and happy to be.
there are far too many uppity fucking cogs in free software, and not enough gnuisances.
i dont mean to say its all hopeless. but you wont find much hope from gnu, unless youre salvaging it. go ahead, its what ive long said is the thing to do. but you wont save it (the whole thing) now-- its too expensive, too entrenched, too encumbered. you can try, it might even be worth it, but the only that is going to save gnu at this point is becoming something very, very, VERY different than anything gnu has been so far. but thats what i would definitely call salvage.
and we know the gnu.fools cant do anything other than sell out and lie to their users about stallman, so fuck every single one of them. stop forgiving liars, backstabbers and traitors-- and salvage whats left of "free" software.
free as in freedom? CERTAINLY NOT, if its ibm!
free as in speech? CERTAINLY NOT, if its gnu.fools!
free as in 501c3 tax-free donations? SURE! whatever, if thats freedom you can keep it.
id GLADLY pay tom to help me (figure out how to) compile wget without github dependencies, but he wont take my fucking money!
you see what i mean, leah? money cant fix a corrupt organisation!
but leah has other good ideas. i am in favour of them trying those, since they are more likely to make us free.
of course i dont (generally) want to discourage people from trying to do the impossible-- it worked for the wright brothers. it even worked for stallman.
my gripe is more along the lines that some impossible feats are more likely to salvage whats left of gnu, while others are going to try to save bullshit instead. whichever choice they make, leah is talented and will surely continue to inspire developers, as will stallman. my money just isnt on gnu anymore.
i dont want corporate-co-opted freedom, i want what we were promised-- the real thing.
lies and bullshit are that much more offensive, when the promise you were counting on most is already broken. and the lies have little more to say than "no it isnt, no it isnt, no it isnt".
have fun in hawaii! im sure the people at ibm (and debian, and kernel.org) who sold gnu up the river already do. theyre thaking volunteer work for freedom, and converting it into corporate labour for the practical equivalent of zero wages.
whos going to stop them? certainly not the fsf! maybe they could just change their name to the unpaid labour foundation!
but wait, isnt that the very thing leahs proposing we fix?
no, not really-- i believe thats what they sincerely wants to fix. they probably realise that other organisations are doing this and they want to do it DIFFERENTLY. the key is differently, of course!
what they probably dont get (at least if they think the fsf can help, rather than make things worse at this point) is that the fsf has a different part of the same problem, and its not that they cant put money in the hands of the developers-- its that the fsf DOESNT GIVE A SHIT about your freedom!
if all we wanted was paid labour, microsoft has that already. microsoft could (if enough money was poured into it) give developers a raise three times a year, and they still wouldnt make people more free. the fsf is the softer version of this exact problem. theyre not making people more free anymore. not unlike microsoft, what the fsf cares about mostly is their ledgers and their image.
the fsf is free! microsoft is open! gnu isnt microsoft! dont ask the users, theyll tell you a different story.