everything wrong with free software
"free as in speech"
*originally posted:* sep 2022
in the early days of computing, when computers were too large and expensive for anyone but a government, large business or institution to own, software was not a product-- it was simply work.
in 1980, software became copyrightable in the united states. prior to this, companies were hiring computer programmers out of university settings and using non-disclosure agreements (ndas) to keep them from sharing the source code to their programs. it is from this source code that most software is created.
before there were programming languages to write source code in, there were simple processor instructions that could be keyed into the machine, toggled in on switches, or even punched into cards or paper tape. when you punch a series of numbers along with plus or minus keys on a calculator, you are telling the machine to move numeric values into certain places in the processors. early programming was very similar.
the transformation of computing from work that assists an industry to an industry in its own right, is not unlike the transformation of years and years of cooking and handing down family recipes into fast food chains and best-selling cookbooks. you cant actually create a legal monopoly on putting together certain ingredients and making a certain dish, but as long as there are unique expressions (wording) of a particular recipe, that particular wording is copyrightable.
for several decades, the free software movement worked to liberate every user from a fast-food hell of proprietary computing. its founder, richard m. stallman ("rms") and his organisation, the free software foundation, fought against many efforts to poach free coders for proprietary work in unethical companies.
after nearly 40 years and a number of outstanding successes, free software is still beset with an industry eager to poach free coders. but it has no plan that responds to the new ways the industry has learned to thwart user freedom. in fact it pretty much just watches while corporations take it over and co-opt it entirely.
the goal of free software was both simple and perfect: for all software to be free. this refers to freedom, not price-- you can get paid to work on free software. but what many companies prefer to do is trade concessions and get the user (or developers) to make compromises that put companies back in control again.
for most of his career, people have attacked rms for being unwilling to compromise-- but this is exactly where we want a movement to start: with a no-compromise quest for freedom and liberty. most of the compromises rms has been attacked for NOT supporting, are compromises that would limit the freedom of the user in exchange for some short-term and subjective benefit.
if we allow such compromises at all, we must be certain that they do not add up to a major erosion of user freedom. and where freedom must draw the line, is that compromises should be optional-- freedom remains the first priority. as the threats to user freedom evolve, so too must the response to those threats. so long as freedom is the first priority, worthwhile responses give more power to every user-- and keep limits on how much control can be imposed by developers.
license: 0-clause bsd
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