03.15.11

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Interlude: Promoting Ideas, Not Companies

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Kernel at 7:22 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Avoiding the risk of personifying issues rather than address the issues themselves

LINUX is a registered trademark. Ubuntu is too, and in fact it is actively enforced by Canonical. Some of these brands are used by freedom-respecting and proprietary players alike. This means that in order to promote freedom one ought to stress values like GNU, not Linux.

There is nothing wrong with Linux. It is one of the most successful free software projects out there and it typically brings along with it other Free software such as Apache. To better position the site with the goal of freedom in mind, we’ve been debating the format in IRC and elsewhere (logs will be uploaded at a later date). It was decided that RSS feeds will continue to play the same role as always. It seems sensible, however, to teach ideas rather than name brands. Ideas last, companies don’t. In fact, many names such as Progeny, OpenMoko, and Moblin no longer mean all that much. It’s not a coincidence as brands come and go, unlike insights. Some formerly open source companies are not disowning proprietary, either (they call themselves “Dual” or “Open Core”). When we return to regular posting there will be greater emphasis on ideas and not just on companies, which relate ideas to groups of people. This site is educational, not promotional. Education survives, whereas marketing is a moving target. One day in the near future names like Apple and Microsoft may be replaced by names like Amazon and Facebook, once again illustrating the fact that phantom threats are ‘umbrellas’ that bring together potentially sociopathic types, who can move from one company to another (people usually outlive companies). If people are taught to ban particular brands (Novell may soon be renamed), they may never learn the reasons to avoid what these companies morph into, sometimes owing to a rename. Lessons that last are based upon characteristics, not names. To use an example, be a patent bully which bribes, sabotages, lies, and avoids tax is not the same as just “being Microsoft”; to teach the roots of the problem is to equip people with the critical skills they will need to identify future enemies and alienate them early enough so as to expel mistreatment of one’s community.

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12 Comments

  1. TemporalBeing said,

    March 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

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    FYI – GNU/FSF has registered trademarks before too – http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4008:4r801m.2.11 (currently dead). So I hope you’re not saying to promote “GNU” over “Linux” simply because “Linux” is a registered Trade Mark. A simple search for “trademark GNU” reveals discussions with Eben Moglen and Richard Stallman which reveals that neither is opposed to having a trademark.

    In fact, “Linux” primarily only has it because of bad actors in other communities that tried to utilize the name. The community pursued said bad actor and registered the trademark, initially giving it to Linus.

    I can understand from POV that Linus has no qualms with how TiVo and others use Linux in a semi-proprietary way that prohibits users from updating the hardware; but in itself, Linux is just as strong if not stronger than GNU/FSF.

    Adrian Malacoda Reply:

    He didn’t say to promote GNU over Linux just because of trademarks. But the name of GNU (regardless of whether it’s trademarked or not) stands for a specific philosophy, whereas “Linux” really doesn’t (Linus prefers it that way, I think). “Linux” is a brand name, and he’s saying that he wants to emphasize general ideas in lieu of specific brand names.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Yes, exactly.

    TemporalBeing Reply:

    “GNU” is a brand-name too, albeit one more closely affiliated with F/OSS and (especially) Richard Stallman’s ultra Free idealistic of F/OSS than “Linux”, which while F/OSS leaves out the ultra free idealism in trade for pragmatism.

    In that respect, pushing F/OSS is probably the better way to go, though we really do need a better acronym for it. ;-)

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It can gets worse with “FLOSS”.

    Adrian Malacoda Reply:

    You can deride Mr. Stallman’s idealism all you want, but that idealism is the reason we’re here on this site discussing it today. As for “pragmatism”, that means different things to different people. Even Mr. Stallman considers himself pragmatic to some degree (see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/pragmatic.html). His type of pragmatism complements, rather than abandons, the idealism.

    But for others, “pragmatism” means proprietary or “open core” and for some of us (including myself), there’s no point in throwing away the base philosophy of free software for short term gains.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    GNU got it right all along. It is better to explain people the concepts, like talking about ideas rather than people and events. I shall try to realign the site’s message when I resume next week.

    TemporalBeing Reply:

    @Adrian Malacode:

    I am not deriding the idealism; just pointing out the difference between FSF/GNU and Linus/Linux.

    Fact is, we’re hear having this discussion because of both of them – GNU for providing a varied suite of tools, including GCC; and Linus for providing the Linux Kernel. Even today GNU Hurd Kernel is no where near usable from what I understand – over 20 years since it was started.

    @Roy

    I don’t know that GNU got it fully right in their message – mostly due to the “our way or the highway” approach they’ve had, including some things (e.g. Copyright Assignment) that not everyone agrees is either necessary or useful (and yes, I have argued both sides on some of the issues). I do agree with you in that its better to be talking about ideas, etc. over specific people and events, so I do applaud the effort to realign the sites message in that respect; but please also don’t lose site of applauding the efforts of all the various folks that are taking the more pragmatic approach while not being “OpenCore” or proprietary – neither of which Linux is, though there can be a very fine line that pragmatists have to be careful not to cross.

    twitter Reply:

    Roy does an admirable job with his news links and should not be accused of ignoring anyone. He even covers non free software that runs on gnu/linux, which no one should promote. Credit is given where credit is due and the appropriate actors are tracked.

    Ethical lines are only fine or confusing when you listen to the promoters of non free software. The four software freedoms are easy to understand. It is the social implications of violating those rights, such as the future of public libraries, that is less obvious. These are the issues that free software proponents should worry about. Non free software proponents hide those problems as they pretend their products are enablers rather than enslavers. When you listen to them and adopt their terms and definitions, you end up confused, misdirected and helpless.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I am not against some of the things I’m accused of being against.

    TemporalBeing Reply:

    @twitter, Roy,

    Never said Roy was against anything or that Roy/TechRights have not been doing a great job – they are.

    @twitter,

    OpenCore/Proprietary/FLOSS/etc. are not ethical issues. So there is nothing to be confusing about their ethically. The fine line comes in how the communities around a FLOSS project allow their works to be utilized, and how they may “flirt” with Open Core style usages. Those are not ethical issues, but market and community choices. I’m not saying I agree with Open Core, or anything that way either.

  2. Dr. Roy Schestowitz said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

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    Open Core is not the main issue but more of a distracting fight; the same goes for Ubuntu, which draws a lot of misplaced criticism. As Simon Phipps pointed out, it’s like that inner fight a la Life of Brian.

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