everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
*originally posted:* aug 2022
freedom 3 is the most fragile (and most assuming) of the four freedoms. the assumption is that freedom 3 being granted in a license is the same as having that freedom.
my stance on the 4 freedoms (originally 3 freedoms, but freedom 0 was added as 0 instead for being considered fundamental) is that there are other freedoms (at least one) without which the 4 cannot exist. this argument is not made for the sole purpose of sheer intellectualism, but for the purpose of and after spending years asking how and why free software is faltering and what can be done about it.
the periodic table of elements arranged the information about known elements in such a useful fashion, that it made it possible to predict the existence of both gallium and germanium. of course, it also predicted a few elements that still havent been discovered, and may never be discovered. when i read this:
> 3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3).
i note that the part about modified versions came up in freedom 1, only free distribution is introduced by freedom 3.
as a nuance however, the sort of changes you might make to software you dont plan to redistribute may differ from changes you would make to software you do plan to share-- in terms of quality, a non-distributed change can tolerate more "quick" (sloppy) fixes and less testing, at least in theory. this implies a need for more work being necessary to create a change worth distributing.
on the other hand, there are changes that are difficult enough to make that they wouldnt be worth the effort unless it were of benefit to more people-- some mountains are worth climbing if it helps more than the sole user making the change, but that same effort is hard to justify if its just to scratch a personal itch. rather than distribution being different because of the required quality or demands, distribution is not the "problem" in this instance but instead the motivator that makes the effort worthwhile.
either way, its a moot point if the freedom to study and change the software first introduced in freedom 1 is (relatively) close enough to impossible. while the word freedom implies a lack of unnecessary barriers, the world of free software today is far, or at least farther, from being free.
this could be (but isnt) an introduction to an article about inclusion theatre or the post-structuralist thought policing (double standards) at lieplanet. what has happened to lieplanet is sabotage with an authoritarian, stalinist bent. the problem with stalin wasnt that he had rules, it was that they were fuck-awful rules and they were enforced in a way that was incredibly oppressive, self-serving and one-sided-- even while being imposed in the name of greater equality.
wherever there is a truly scientific approach, there seems to be a "safe space" for difference of opinion and the relative freedom of thought that comes with that. this hasnt stopped authoritarians on both sides of the political compass from trying to make science and logic their own, even when it isnt.
if we are willing to talk about tiny things that affect the four freedoms indirectly, and allow theory to take us miles or even continents away from the reality of project creation and maintenance (there will be notable exceptions on both sides of the argument) then there is perhaps no end to the list of issues that may IN SOME WAY affect software freedom. as far as i know, i have no problem with a proportional discussion of those topics or even disproportional discussion, provided that those who wish to continue to advance software freedom are still able to do so.
but i also consider the freedom to remove the software you dont want (within reason) to be one of the things that is most affecting the 4 freedoms today. software that used to be more modular and even potentially (depending on configurations and CHOICES) relatively "lightweight" is all incredibly bloated and increasingly useless.
but didnt you know, you can just change the software and share the changed version? i mean it says so right there in the free software definition!
and it was true, too. i mean it was never PERFECTLY true, that is maybe YOU personally dont know c (i dont either, really) or cant even code at all-- maybe the program in a language you DO understand is simply too complex-- but its possible to find someone who CAN do SOMETHING to improve it, of course. lets assume (as i do) that this is true enough to satisfy freedoms 1 and 3.
so, whats happened to that? i would say that simply more people cared about bloat and modularity, which is probably true enough, but i dont think its the whole picture. rather, projects became less about avoiding bloat and reasonable levels of modularity as control of those projects shifted-- and, as projects become more bloated there is a shift in who controls the projects. its a cycle of moving free software AWAY from user control and TOWARDS corporate control, or greater influence.
when this process happens to government regulation, its called regulatory capture. someone else has proposed the idea of "organisational capture", which applies to organisations like the fsf. when organisations like (and including) the fsf are put in charge of software projects, what we end up with is the capture of free software (that is, literally the actual software) itself.
some people call this "open source proprietary software" but i think that reinforces the incredibly bullshit "open source" brand, even if it is accusatory. i prefer "free in license only" or "filo", but as a compromise ive settled for borrowing another familiar acronym:
"formerly libre, openly sleazy software".
as for the difference between the phrases "openly sleazy software" and "open source software", they are synonymous. open source is a scam, a counterrevolution, that subverts the very thing it pretends to support. the only way in which this could be an honest mistake is if the founder is both an egomaniac and a fool. the possibility is too real to ignore.
rather than making users more free, we shifted (via open source) to making free software more like a product. while free software never considered that a problem (as long as you had the four freedoms) they did not seem to predict, let alone plan against, corporations taking over free software development to the degree they have done so.
the problem with this is that corporations dont WANT users to be free-- they want (for whatever reasons) to control users. theyre willing to BUY OUT competitors and even politicians to keep them from competing. when they (after decades of fine-tuning) adapt this process to free software projects and organisations, all the worthless fsf can say is "no they havent, because THATS NOT EVEN POSSIBLE".
well, fuck you, liars-- go scam some more members then. you dont fight for their freedom, you fight just for relevance in a world where you cant keep any of the promises you made when you mattered.
its not even really the fsf.
but the thing is, if you bloat up software enough:
0. you cant actually use it for any PURPOSE (at all), let alone ANY purpose-- except perhaps slowing down your own machine.
1. you cant make changes to the software, because theres too much shit to do for a sole person or a small org to take care of.
3. (sic) you cant redistribute the software because its too big, too unstable, and so (apparently) you end up putting microsoft in charge of hosting it-- the worst free software enemies/offenders of all time.
"but theyve changed!"
yeah, theyve definitely STOPPED trying to take over all users and competitors now they they OWN all users and competitors... NEW MICROSOFT indeed! now that theyve won, theyll be NICE from now on and not abuse their co-pilot, i mean censorship, i mean support of bogus patents, i mean their position.
and this is just an example, although it does seem to be THE biggest example.
it makes me wonder how long the fsf is going to push open-source-by-any-other-name bullshit (theyre not the same thing for certain, but at the fsf theyre no longer different things in practice, as free software is no longer free software) and pretend they werent taken over just because they havent literally hoisted the osi logo.
if you think the above list is a list of "gotchas", where i just attack the THEORY of free software based on what it SOUNDS like, youre missing the point entirely. im only talking about the theory because of what has already happened in practice-- the "theory" of free software doesnt do much to explain any of the disasters that have taken place from 2014 to the present, so (in theory) they dont exist!
its sort of like saying its impossible for heavier-than-air flight to exist in 2022 because it had always failed before the wright brothers. imagine booking a jet to talk about this, and then asking people for money for the ticket, on behalf of the heavier-than-air-flight-is-impossible foundation. but enough about the fsf, because theyre a fucking farce, this is about FREE SOFTWARE. which despite countless assertions, is not too SIMPLE to fail. its too oversimplified, to continue working.
i definitely wouldnt want to make free software more complicated than it needs to be. this is in fact exactly what im warning about: free software is being made too complex to be sustainable, so it can only exist by being propped up with additional labour, which we need for other free-software-related tasks. ibm can co-opt lots of things, but we have REAL work (not bullshit busywork) to do. projects like debian and systemd (each on their own, but of course together as well) have plenty of bullshit to demand.
microsoft SPECIALISES in unsustainable software. it makes hardware unsustainable, it makes its own operating system unsustainable, it makes competing projects unsustainable, which used to be illegal-- but thats regulatory capture for you. it has even made free software unsustainable, but thats only beneficial to their goals. it no longer has anything to offer in terms of competition then.
the free software definition DID actually work. it rested on a few "other freedoms" that we took as givens, because they were so obviously THERE that the idea of losing that support was too silly to account for. but as those freedoms fail, the four freedoms stop doing what they do-- they fall apart.
when software becomes unsustainable, people dont fix it-- the inability to fix software thats been destroyed, not just by those without the necessary skills but those WITH the skills-- NO ONE can fix it.
when something really big is destroyed, like debian or libreoffice, people will spend literally years working their arses off trying to fix it again. its sort of like the economy, in that its fucking doomed but there are lots of ways to prop it up for a little while longer-- each time a little crazier than before. devuan cant fix debian, ever, but theyre still trying more than half a decade later. gnu will become like this.
together, freedoms 1 and 3 describe forkable software. and while forking is feared, because it divides pools of talent that has time to contribute fully to one or the other-- thats okay, when it divides people who want to keep the project free from those who want to sell it off to monopolies.
bloat is the antithesis of forkability-- if you can bloat a project up enough, there wont BE forks. there will only be collapse. projects keep hitting "peak project" before their time. this is not a mistake (on the parts of those who actually benefit from this).
clown computing exacerbates this further, deriving itself from many more redundant layers on layers of bloat and planned obsolescence than even recently conventional computing (including itself!) had. many industries are more profitable when theyre wildly less efficient-- consider individually wrapped everything. based on some myth about computing im sure, people act as if information technology is some exception to this waste, rather than one of its most shining examples.
the more we let industry control our software, the more of a farce "free software" becomes. packaging systems were not originally intended as a weapon against users, for example. its just one of the many new tricks the industry has learned in its never-ending struggle against user freedom.
its harder to migrate from bloat, and thats not accidental. thats been a very obvious (and long-parodied) strategy used by microsoft since no later than the 1990s. somehow when you slap a free license on the same practice, it magically becomes a non-problem in theory, even while in practice nothing changes at all. when exactly did they literally kill richard stallman and replace him with a talking inflatable doll? does he know where the real linus torvalds is? (only joking, linus torvalds never was a real person-- just a corporate avatar "going for that tech disruption dollar, thats a good one-- very profitable").
its harder to host bloat online, whether youre talking about a download or (moreso if its) an online service. just today, the bloat on one of the few services i use became so bad, i have to migrate. ONCE AGAIN.
BUT WAIT! WE CAN JUST FORK IT!
THE SOURCE CODE IS ON GITHUB!
and heres the crux of the issue. it doesnt matter how many people like it now, or how important it is to my plans for the future, NO ONE is ACTUALLY GOING to fork it.
the collapse has already started, and its JUST going to DIE.
this is non-free software with the trappings of free software. theres nothing free or sustainable about it-- its just a giant "blob" of unusable source code. of course im aware that the term "blob" is intended EXCLUSIVELY to describe binaries. but it does such a good job describing mountains of unforkable source code that ACT IN NEARLY EVERY PRACTICAL WAY LIKE binaries that i FORKED the term, et voila!
ive watched this happen again and again, with MAINSTREAM projects people LOVED.
and every time they hear the same thing: fuck you, just deal.
as pointed out in "a new dawn for free software" by alex oliva, this is NOT a free software mentality.
rather, its a symptom of a disease most of the free software movement denies the existence of-- free software that acts SO PERFECTLY LIKE non-free software, you must limit your gaze to the license alone to even know its free.
even the fucking source code wont help you tell the difference.
when the OWNERS of non-free software decide the ride is over, you get kicked off. theres no recourse, so you do you what you have to do-- you MIGRATE to another solution somewhere else.
but with FREE SOFTWARE, when the OWNERS decide the ride is over, you get kicked off. theres no recourse, so you do what you have to do-- you MIGRATE to another solution somewhere else.
in theory, and HOPEFULLY in practice, enough of this stuff is still forkable so that when the open source ride itself is over, we can still rebuild the free software movement.
but less and less of this stuff IS ACTUALLY forkable, as evidenced by the endless exodus from one shit-mountain to another, and another.
its just like what we did BEFORE the move to free software-- when we had no other way.
libreoffice? numbered days. devuan? failed experiment. mate? trinity? the "free" software "community" has always been hostile to such things (except libreoffice, for whatever reason-- but collabora will destroy it and honestly libreoffice is shit anyway, ive fucking hated it for years now despite 0 similar alternatives) because the "free" software "community" isnt about user freedom.
its about open source, sponsors, and whatever the fuck else free software turned into. they just havent hoisted the microsoft flag over it.
i mean, the microsoft flag doesnt have a cat with tentacles, does it?
my advice: whenever youre able to do so easily enough, migrate from something more bloated to something less bloated. and then when you do, ask yourself why the most likely future for that something isnt to be forked or still in use 10 years later, but to be abandoned, just like a non-free product would be.
then try to find the process that leads to this happening over and over again. and if you really care about users being free, maybe try to find a way to stand against that process. because for now, "free" software developers are slaves to it-- while free software users have become its hostages.