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Newer Approach for Advocating Free Software

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 6:36 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Credit: Will Hill

Summary: How awareness of mass surveillance can propel Free software to dominance in more areas of computing

FOR a number of decades people such as Richard Stallman have been trying to persuade the public that Free software should be favoured, not because of nationalism, branding, or even cost but because only with Free software can the user (person or business) be in control. Techrights has covered the NSA’s abuses for a number of years (even well before the leaks) and recently observed great public concern when it comes to mass surveillance. Where apathy used to prevail there are now strong sentiments and people are eager to make informed choices that protect their rights.

When advocating Free software to people (not just GNU/Linux but even browsers like Firefox) it is worth using the privacy card. It really seems to help a lot.

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  1. linuxcanuck said,

    April 30, 2014 at 7:14 am


    To be truthful, Richard Stallman does not “persuade”. He tells without any reservation or compromise. And further he does “favour”. There are no other options for him. He has no place for proprietary anything in his universe. Richard Stallman’s failure IMO is that he does not persuade because of his rigidity and impracticality. He can sit in his ivory tower and make judgements without having to live in the real world. He might win over some people if he was able to put himself in the position of others.

    You are right that free software offers full control to developers. I am not so sure that it offers users similar control. Whether it is proprietary or free, users must take what is offered.

    What is does offer users over proprietary is ownership of their systems. That is the tipping point for me.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Collectively, users control the free/libre program because a proportion of these users will be developers. When dealing with widely-used FOSS, it is likely that developers who are also users will act as ‘regulators’, if not by commits then by forking.

    Stallman represents a principled view, irrespective of what the “real world” expects of him. There’s a saying: if you stand up for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

  2. linuxcanuck said,

    April 30, 2014 at 7:59 am


    I get that Stallman is principled I respect that and have respected him for that for years. That is not the question here.

    The question is whether you can persuade anyone and win them over by taking an uncompromising stand when you are a tenured professor and highly paid speaker.

    If you are trying convince people who live and work in the real world then you need to acknowledge the realities before you can dialogue otherwise you are preaching to the choir and speaking pie in the sky. (Sorry about the idioms, but they are apropos)

    In the real world you do not build your own computer; you buy them. In the real world you do not have the freedom or power to make all decisions unless you are at the top of the food chain. By definition only a few can be at the top.

    So the ideal my be to have free software running on free hardware, but we cannot get to there from where we are without building the stepping stones and you cannot build them without making alliances and convincing people. So Stallman can never be more than our conscience unless he gets off his high horse and acknowledges reality. And a conscience does not persuade. In order to persuade you need to be able to offer something that they need to get from where they are to where they want to be.

    If you are fat and want to be skinny you are not going to wish yourself to become skinny. People need to take concrete steps. Stallman’s failure is not to offer anything concrete. I have lost respect for him over the years because he and his cause benefits from maintaining the status quo, just like the executives of the cancer societies benefit from NOT finding a cure. As long as he has a target he can collect high fees as a speaker and run his foundation. Remove the target and he becomes obscure and his ego will not allow that.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I can’t speak for Stallman, but be aware that the reality of his world is different from what you have described. Stallman is politically active, so his goals go beyond software. Stallman is being closely watched by his foes who would take any opportunity to label him “hypocrite”, so he does need to be stubborn about software freedom and walk the walk, not just talk the talk (by the way, he is not paid much for speeches). His reactions to the licence of Wikipedia and Steam OS show that he does make some compromises.

    Speaking of Wikipedia, compare the lifestyle of Wales to that of Stallman.

  3. linuxcanuck said,

    April 30, 2014 at 3:25 pm


    My politics and Stallman’s are very similar. I will grant Stallman this. He walks the talk.

    But few people are willing to pay cash for everything or able to. Many people need credit cards and ATMs. Few people use the terminal and EMACs shun the GUI and modern interfaces. It is easy to be consistent when you are uncompromising and live in the past.

    There is one thing that you have not addressed. It is Stallman’s failure to produce an operating system, his failure to move computing forward and produce anything new of his own and his failure to convince new users to accept his viewpoint. Basically he is a hollow voice that only his most ardent followers listen to. Obviously his strategy is not working.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Paying cash for almost everything is possible, except for things where your identity is already known (utility bills, flights, and so on). I know it’s possible because I do it and all this requires is a couple of visits per month to the nearest ATM.

    RMS uses a GUI. I know this because we sat together in front of his computer some months ago. He uses a Web browser under GNOME (Epiphany IIRC). Software freedom may be associated with terminals, but it’s an old stigma. Torvalds works from the terminal a lot (pine, git, and other tools), so let’s not single out RMS.

    There is one thing that you have not addressed. It is Stallman’s failure to produce an operating system

    The GNU/Linux operating system is mostly RMS’ work.

    his failure to move computing forward and produce anything new of his own

    The opposite is true and many awards that RMS has received support that. I can provide examples.

    his failure to convince new users to accept his viewpoint.

    I actually know a lot of people, my wife included, who accept his viewpoint, especially in recent years (the age of Wikileaks, Snowden and the war on dissent, e.g. NDAA 2012).

    RMS is regularly invited to some TV channels such as RT, so he does seem to be receiving growing exposure and even acceptance. I also know ardent bashers of RMS who turned into supporters.

  4. linuxcanuck said,

    May 1, 2014 at 6:45 am


    It is the second time that you have introduced someone else in your defence of Stallman. The first was Wales and now Torvalds. What they do or don’t is not an issue. It is just a distraction.

    RMS does not use ATMs as far as I know because I have heard him talk about the evils of ATMs and debit cards.

    I knew that Stallman uses a GUI and a browser. He does not go much further than that. I read his political posts and they are in basic text files. As far as I know he does not even use a word processor. My point was that his needs are very basic and he criticizes and judges people based on his needs rather than other’s needs. That is not going to win him friends and take him to where he wants to be as an influencer.

    I am not criticizing Stallman for the sake of criticizing him. I am criticizing a whole range of people and not just him. I respect him for what he is. He can never be influential with the people that he wants to change taking the positions that he does. Time is bearing me out. I have followed him since I started using Linux in 1999.

    I acknowledge his contributions to GNU. He is doing nothing IMO to move us forward, but criticises for the sake of criticising. He needs to be constructive in his criticism if he is to help the situation and he has not learned that. I think he does it to make headlines.

    As we move to a new paradigm of tablets and devices with Linux, GNU is getting left out. The desktop is dying. The irony is that if HURD ever gets finished it will be a generation too late. Sad really. By his own admission the kernel was the hard part and the fact that it is taking him so long to develop HURD bears that out. I disagree strongly that GNU is most of the operating system. It is part, but certainly not most. And it is mostly invisible from the user’s point of view.

    I am sure that he feels that time is passing him by. Desperation is evident in the posts that I get from him and the FSF. He needs to just be quite sometimes but he just can’t help himself and I find myself feeling sorry for him and losing respect. Ten years ago my opinion would have been quite different.

    Anyway, I respect your point of view. I read everything from TR/BN, but do not agree with all of it. You do good work. Just take a lesson from RMS and not relegate yourselves to the sidelines by being too hardline.


    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The way you put it in your last comment, I tend to agree with quite a few of the points. A lot here is subjective, so I would like to focus on what’s measurable:

    As we move to a new paradigm of tablets and devices with Linux, GNU is getting left out.

    This is quantifiably true. The same goes for smartphones.

    The desktop is dying. The irony is that if HURD ever gets finished it will be a generation too late. Sad really. By his own admission the kernel was the hard part and the fact that it is taking him so long to develop HURD bears that out. I disagree strongly that GNU is most of the operating system. It is part, but certainly not most. And it is mostly invisible from the user’s point of view.

    So is Linux. Torvalds calls it “invisible magician,” or something along those lines, bragging that the less visible they are, the better.

    But in the wider context, remember that GNU has far more lines of code in a distribution like Debian than Linux has. Around 7 years ago I saw it measured at about 1:5 in GNU’s favour. Remember that “G” in GNOME is also GNU. A lot of projects without the “G” at the start are also GNU projects.

    An operating system comes with a lot of tools. Many of the underlying CLI tools/functions that your GUI uses are GNU. BSD utilities are also enormously useful, but they are not as widely used as GNU’s.

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