everything wrong with free software

 "free as in speech"

### the-end-of-the-free-software-era---chapter-05---the-psychology-of-developers *originally posted:* sep 2022 imagine that someone shows up at your door; you offer them a seat, have a conversation with them, get to know a little bit about them. as it turns out, this person is looking for a place to stay. theyre willing to be your personal assistant, and all they ask in return is a desk to sit at, a small cot to sleep on and an internet connection. things go well initially. your new assistant is constantly making various aspects of daily life easier. want to buy something, see a film, go somewhere to eat? your assistant takes care of everything, except driving. you notice they ask lots of personal questions, but you trust them-- you cant imagine anything would go wrong if you told them more about your life. technically you have an assistant, but they seem more like a good friend. besides, your friends dont do all these things for you. one day, your assistant is about to take a pile of envelopes to a post box. they drop them on the floor, and as you help to pick them up you notice theyre all addressed to the same corporation. curious, you ask your assistant what theyre for. "oh, i tell them everything i learn about you in long, boring detail" your assistant says-- "when you wake up, when you eat, how long you use the toilet, the path you take from room to room, when you leave, where you go, who you talk to, when you come back-- you know, mundane things like that." "thats not what what i hired you for," you say. "no," your assistant replies-- "thats what THEY hired me for." you run upstairs and move the vase of flowers your assistant put in your bedroom, and find a small microphone. you move other objects your assistant put around the house, and find microphones and cameras. you ask your assistant what the hell is going on, but they tell you to relax. "look, they dont do anything BAD with all this-- it just helps me assist you! the more i know about you, the better i can help!" you get some geeks from a nearby university to help you find and get rid of the rest of the corporate gadgetry in your home, and ask a lawyer how you can sue this person and their company. but when you go over the employment contract for your assistant, it turns out you agreed to all of this-- it was put in broad, vague terms that you didnt stop to think about the implications of. now imagine that the assistant is a robot. you buy it on sale and bring it home, and the rest of the story is more or less the same-- they dont even ask for a cot to sleep on. youre told the microphones are voice activated, and work out for yourself that they only listen when you talk to them. later on you find out this isnt quite true, but youre already used to thinking of it as something inert that only becomes active when you want it to. maybe you find that whole idea creepy, and wonder why people would actually shell out money for such intrusive technology. meanwhile, actual companies are turning your phone and your pc into the same thing, and eventually you will have the same "features" in your home whether you go out and buy these robot assistants or not. as time moves forward, your thermostat, toaster oven, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner become just as creepy and presumptuous. sadly, this sort of thing is no longer fiction. the layer of technology between you and the people doing this puts people at ease, and they forget that its there and get on with their lives under constant corporate surveillance. there is a word for the sort of narcissist that cons you into giving them this much power: "developers". not all developers are evil, or narcissists-- but with great power comes great responsibility. this includes the responsibility to reduce the unnecessary excess of power that developers have over users, but people who gain that sort of power seem to find it convenient, if not addictive. at that point such power is ripe for abuse, and not only in theory. if its privacy youre trying to preserve, then the sure way to have it is for developers to not collect your data in the first place. if you want control over your own work on your computer, then you need to be able to put limits on what developers can do without you granting them full (or perhaps any) access. how did we get to this dystopian reality? arent "developers" the same people who make harmless toys like pong, mario and final fantasy games? absolutely. on their own, most developers are harmless. its not like theyre a different species, you could even become one if you wanted. developers sometimes form groups, groups sometimes create development frameworks and toolkits (more likely this starts as a one-person project which a group takes over later) and eventually if a framework or toolkit becomes powerful and popular enough, some developers get corrupted ethics and start to IMPOSE themselves on users. sadly, they will even do this over trivial "applications" such as video games or even a program that simply sets the brightness and colour of your screen to double as a torch. it changes colour and brightess? yes, and then it also talks to two dozen different websites and feeds them your personal data. funnily enough, its often the most corrupt developers that expect the most gratitude. a humble developer is a wonderful thing, and if more people learned some coding skills and put a few more projects together, it might erode some of the power complex that has led developers to virtually become spies and sell out users. however, there are reasons its not quite that simple. you might have no interest in technology, and that is very understandable. but you are also surrounded by it-- this technology exists in your pocket, your car, in the skies overhead and it is carried around by most people. technology does have a good side-- it can build the largest library that mankind has ever created. it can let you talk to your loved ones practically anywhere on the planet. either way, technology is here. much of it is programmable. will you decide what it does, or will it decide what you do instead? knowledge is power, and being able to say "no" to the people that wire your home for eavesdropping and spy on everything you do is power as well. the strongest recommendation that can be given is: if you dont wish to understand technology at all, avoid it as much as possible (within reason). better yet, try to understand technology (again, within reason). henry david thoreau was a minimalist for several reasons, among them not wanting to support unjust wars. if you do not wish to learn more about technology, or even if you do wish to learn more and want more control over the technology you own, being able to say "no" is one of the most important lessons you can learn. say "no" to turning everyones home into part of a corporate spy network-- say "yes" to basic human rights. as for developers, we can try to set a better example for them. and we can call them out when they stray from creating ethical software. but that will require better education for users. the best place to start that education is free software, and coding. that is... it could be. note this dichotomy between the idea of "user" and the idea of "developer". while there are bad things that developers can do that users may not be able to do themselves, per se (a user can use software to do bad things, while a developer can design it to do them) the line between "user" and "developer" is artificial. a term like "operator" (probably still in use if you use farm equipment or other industrial machines) weakens the dichotomy between user and developer. not that language is the solution to everything. i dont sympathise very strongly with the linguistic theories put forth in orwells 1984. but i at least agree that some language is designed to mislead the public-- "intellectal property" (as richard stallman has noted) is an example of such a term. its fun to make dictionaries of alternative terms that are less misleading, though i think this should be a process that belongs to the public, rather than for an organisation to have any sort of monopoly on it. its very important for (at least) certain things to be in the public domain, and this includes our vocabulary and related definitions. a developer is someone who makes software-- computers are designed for making and running software. not only is a user a potential developer by definition, but the line between the two used to be a lot smaller. as chapter 2 explained, people used to buy magazines with programs to type in. if you could write an article for a magazine, you got to call yourself a writer. if you could write a program that other people would enjoy or find useful, you got to call yourself a developer, or (a more popular term at the time) a "programmer". but the line between the people buying the magazines and writing the fun programs in the magazines wasnt really so hard to cross. and it isnt that much harder to cross (in some ways, its even easier) today. it could still be useful to explore the politics and group behaviour that turns developers into unethical software authors. understanding how that happens might give the rest of us a better idea of how the world can say "no" to software that takes advantage of the user. for many years, free software made incredible progress along just those lines. the politics have adapted, and now you have authors of (allegedly) free software doing oppressive things that users hate and resent. but dont you worry, free software says-- the license means you can change it! so why are things getting worse instead of improving? it turns out, there are ways around a free license-- you can make software "less free" or more imposing, without changing the license at all. that too is part of this subject of ethical developers vs. corrupt development groups. and you will barely find the "free software foundation” talking about this anymore-- they prefer to sidestep the topic and reframe it in old rhetoric, when very curiously the things they used to say to address such issues went in another direction (against it). if free software wont tackle this issue, and no one else will tackle this issue, so-called "free" software will become just as oppressive as "non-free" software-- in practice, if not in theory. there are already real-life examples of this happening, and very few people have stepped forward to say "no" to any of it. in practice, developers and projects alike get "less free" which leads to more users complaining-- these users (some of whom have used the software for years or even helped fund its development) are condescended to and shut down as troublemakers, a handful of people throw their hands up and try to fork the project, only to find it is practically unforkable. the fork either fails to ever reach its goal (devuan) due to upstream complexity (which makes software less forkable, thus less of freedom 1 and 3)-- or it gets dismissed and sidestepped (mate, trinity) or maybe it is even successful because enough developers went over to the fork, but even the fork gets taken over by bullshit corporations (libreoffice). the best way to ensure that these things happen (and that even developers cant-- and WONT manage to do shit about it) is to introduce excessive complexity and "simulated" lock-in (sometimes referred to as "osps" or the term i prefer, "free in license only"-- FILO software). debian will never be forkable, and devuan will always be trailing behind trying to clean up its mess, gradually compromising its mission as it realises that one thing debian will never be is free (also, devuan has no commitment to software freedom and actually introduces non-free components at a faster rate than debian generally has). but back to the rhetoric over the reality of free software: some people act as if the license itself is written for free software, then the software it applies to can surely be freely used, studied, modified and shared-- but as was just mentioned, the people co-opting such software take it and string it all together in ways that make it increasingly difficult to do those things. if non-free software is undesirable, and free software is the solution-- and less-free software is undesirable, then more-free software (and a better understanding of free software in practice) would be the solution to that. pity then, that practically no one is making software more free. on the contrary, practically everyone is adding bloat, complexity and lock-in-- if not anti-features. once they manage to find a way to "simulate", or simply create-- lock-in despite a free license, you can be certain that unwanted features will follow. but when free software becomes less-free in practice, most organisations stress theory over reality. it is unscientific to let theory dictate reality when the evidence for reality is more compelling. at that point, theory becomes dogma. traditionally of course, it WAS sound theory and free software up against marketing, open source and well-funded bullshit. but the well-funded bullshit was compelling enough (by fiat rather than fact) to change the game, and free software has (for the most part) not caught up to the reality of the situation that resulted. you now see legitimate complaints, you see reasonable and honest citations of what free software is ACTUALLY supposed to be about, and you can tell that free software is coming up short against what we actually need for users (or operators) to "control their computing". open source is the problem here, it is not the solution. and free software is the solution, but it has not remained adequate. thus the solution, obviously, is either to find something better than free software-- or alternatively, to bring free software back up to adequacy (back up to serving its own mission). meanwhile, if you have ideas about improving free software (WITHOUT abandoning the advantages it already had, as too many people have proposed some sort of "trade" instead) you are encouraged to pursue them. the more people with a sincere (honest) goal of bringing free software up to fighting 21st century threats, the better. rewriting history, overthrowing leaders with lies, selling out to corporate sponsors, will neither be desirable nor necessary. free software was built on integrity-- without that, "eternal vigilance" is just a slogan, a catchphrase-- a marketing gimmick: "going for that 'eternal vigilance' dollar, thats a good one. our research shows activists respond to that..." license: 0-clause bsd ``` # 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 # # Permission to use, copy, modify, and/or distribute this software for any # purpose with or without fee is hereby granted. # # THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS" AND THE AUTHOR DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES # WITH REGARD TO THIS SOFTWARE INCLUDING ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF # MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHOR BE LIABLE FOR # ANY SPECIAL, DIRECT, INDIRECT, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES OR ANY DAMAGES # WHATSOEVER RESULTING FROM LOSS OF USE, DATA OR PROFITS, WHETHER IN AN # ACTION OF CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE OR OTHER TORTIOUS ACTION, ARISING OUT OF # OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OR PERFORMANCE OF THIS SOFTWARE. ``` => https://wrongwithfreesw.neocities.org