everything wrong with free software
"free as in speech"
other pages: [[herding-teams]] | **update:** [[oliva-ousted]] | *originally posted:* jan 2021
i removed windows from my last windows machine more than 13 years ago, in 2007. within a few years, i was using a completely free kernel, which i continued to do for most of that time. a few times i setup a non-free wifi driver or firmware, but i preferred not to and tended to simply buy wifi adapters that worked with free software.
i also gave away computers with gnu[lit]/[lit]linux on them. i had tried telling people about gnu[lit]/[lit]linux, i had tried giving away copies of live cd distros, i had offered (and sometimes succeeded in) helping people to dual boot, but none of these methods were a great success in terms of helping people to learn about free software, so i tried giving away computers with it already installed.
that actually worked really well, but theres a trick to doing it. most people dont want a free computer-- wild, i know. i would tell people that i give away free computers, if they have any they want to get rid of (people hold onto them, they dont want them anymore-- they dont care if you can fix them). i would get a computer for free, wipe sensitive data if there was any (you can ask, or just play it safe) and then i would generally put debian on it (free repos only).
when people had computer problems, this is what i came up with to "sell" the idea of a free computer: "ive got one you can use, if you like it you can keep it". people dont want to borrow one, because giving it back is a hassle. they dont want to keep one, because keeping it is also a hassle. people are really conditioned around this sort of thing. but letting them use it "and keep if if you want" generally meant they kept it. then i had one more datapoint that told me anybody could use gnu[lit]/[lit]linux.
until last year, i relied on gnu[lit]/[lit]linux on every device. but since late 2014, id been fighting against systemd (and everything like it). i was an early adopter of (and donor for) devuan, but i found myself getting further and further away from both devuan and debian. in 2013, debian was probably the best operating system in the world. but that was many years ago.
originally i grew up with dos, only trying windows a year or two later, and ive always liked simple, lightweight applications. after debian proved to no longer be a solution i went so far as writing my own language for teaching and automating remastered distributions (several) with that language, but i continued the search for an ideal "base" distro, since i preferred automated remastering to compiling everything from source.
when microsoft purchased github, both gnu[lit]/[lit]linux (which was already suffering under the machinations of red hat and a corrupt debian leadership) and the free software movement got even worse. a coup started in the fsf, hope of ever hearing from official sources that systemd was bad for free software was gone, but i was still exploring what options there were.
my take on bsd for years is that it was "not ready" but it was clearly superior for some purposes, for some people. it became clear that microsoft and others had dealt a serious blow to our software ecosystem, as it became clear that they were ready to put more of their own people in charge of the linux kernel itself. bsd at least, became a small note of hope for the future.
i sought to find anybody on earth who was capable of salvaging the linux kernel, the most obvious choice being either alex oliva, or someone he knew. oliva was a known expert at modifying the linux kernel, even if only to strip out parts that were not wanted and provide a different binary, but still this was years of familiarity. he must at least know someone capable of forking linux if necessary.
but torvalds himself does not seem to know how linux works anymore, it has grown beyond arguably even his ability to fork, and perhaps that is not such a sane or hopeful design. once microsoft gets its claws in, we will never get them out. i am hardly alone in this gloom and doom about it-- i go looking for anybody i can find who can give me a solid reason to be hopeful. i couldnt find one.
people say i am giving up too easily, after a years-long search for hope, though even they do not provide me with a reason to feel things will be ok-- at best they think i am exaggerating. that does not inspire hope.
i put off trying bsd for a long time because i wanted certain efforts to get further along-- the essentially unforkable (in practice, but its forkable in theory) linux is gpl 2, while the gnu project seeks projects with licensing that is "gpl 3 or later". its interesting to note that while bsd itself is not under copyleft, it is gpl 3 compatible while linux itself is not.
so most likely, linux can never be under gpl 3-- but you could modify a version of bsd to be. thus all concerns about the licensing of bsd are sort of peculiar, when bsd can get closer to the license goals of the gnu project than linux can! but i have yet to hear a serious retort to this. ive heard straw man arguments around something barely related, but those were based on falsehoods, misquotes, pure fabrication and alleged "misunderstandings".
i researched literally hundreds of active gnu[lit]/[lit]linux distributions, so that while i waited for bsd to become "ready" (based on whatever criteria seasoned users of some other operating system wish to make the comparison, but it was not unlike my attitude when switching to gnu[lit]/[lit]linux itself years earlier-- more for my own comfort than any "scientific" or objective comparison) i could at least determine which distro was least encumbered by things that require software developed on github.
github is a dangerous monopoly, controlled by a company that hates free software. i didnt spend years migrating away from windows just to have everything i do on the computer controlled by microsoft again. thats a dealbreaker, guys.
based on hundreds of distros (which i sorted into categories by how much they depended on github) the winner for me personally was going back to tiny core. id tried it when it was fairly new, but puppy is developed mostly on github, ditto mx, antix, too much of the highest-quality "systemd-free" work is developed on github (thats a dealbreaker) and id already walked away from devuan due to lack of interest. (ok, we can call it that).
systemd itself is a project with mission creep as a feature, which is also developed on github, so your choices seem to be coming to microsoft github, or microsoft github. no thanks, guys. i didnt spend 5 years working to get away from that, going as far as to create my own distro, just to rely on github either way.
tiny core isnt perfect, but it was the best option at the time-- some time in the past year or two. so i moved everything to tinycore except one machine, and eventually i started experimenting with bsd.
i wont pretend that bsd "simply worked" and did what i wanted right away. i didnt expect it to, either. what happened is that i did manage to install it-- then it booted, which is a nice followup to installation, and within a week or two i managed to install some packages.
i was so excited about the first installation i tried putting it on a second machine, though i tried freebsd at first, but only openbsd installed on the second machine. openbsd was my first choice you know, so i started with something else-- if freebsd didnt go well, i didnt care much about it anyway.
i worked with freebsd, netbsd and openbsd, which is also the order theyre ranked in from most github-dependent (freebsd actually develops some things on github) to netbsd which seems to only use github to accept donations (i dont like it, but its better than what freebsd does) to openbsd, which is the least-github-entrenched bsd. it is also the closest bsd to being "fully free" in terms of what software it allows in the default installation. i dont consider github mirrors a problem.
within weeks, i had solved many issues with getting openbsd to work and could deploy it on more machines. i sometimes use netbsd as well. i encourage people to make a fully free version of bsd, which i would be interested in using, but openbsd is very close-- it has some non-free firmware, but it is very strict about software not being proprietary. it is more free (as in freedom) than netbsd or even freebsd.
beyond that, bsd is demonstrably forkable. a piece of software with a free license that even its own author would not be able to fork and you cant find anybody but a large corporation who can take advantage of it is "free in license only"; thats a problem for our ecosystem.
gnu[lit]/[lit]linux cannot make, and certainly can no longer keep any promises that it made about freedom-- including the promises that free software made on its behalf. but with an fsf happy to focus increasingly on projects controlled by microsoft while doing little to nothing to encourage real solutions based on the further co-opting of free software and its own "free" as in "free speech" operating system, i am expected by some to cling to broken promises rather than look for solutions with greater potential for the *four freedoms* in software and in society.
the more superficial and half-true those promises get, the more disgusted i am. but it is not freedom that disgusts me-- it is people who demand i settle for lies, corruption and broken promises. no thanks-- bsd is closer to what the fsf promised originally, than what contemporary gnu[lit]/[lit]linux can offer in practice, or potential.
please note again, it was not my intention to migrate fully to bsd at this time-- i did not think it was possible, and i wouldnt even say its "as easy" as gnu[lit]/[lit]linux, if the latter is what you are used to. after i found out i was able, i did just that. the more people who experiment with bsd at least, the better the odds that people will discover a future for the free software movement with actual working software that people have demonstrated can be forked even by small teams. gnu[lit]/[lit]linux has never done that-- it more forkable in theory than in practice, and it is thoroughly co-opted by companies fighting against your freedom.
so even if you dont fall in love with bsd, i still think it is better to try it and keep watch.
[lit]*[lit] [url]https://www.freebsd.org/[url] (github is already a problem)
[lit]*[lit] [url]https://www.netbsd.org/[url] (github is a minor problem)
[lit]*[lit] [url]https://www.openbsd.org/[url] (*the most free, and the most independent of github*)