01.27.19

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Just Because It’s Linux Doesn’t Mean It’s Free (as in Freedom)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Patents, Site News at 11:13 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

One does not follow or imply the other

Sand freedom

Summary: The corrosive effects of technology on human rights and freedom will again occupy more of our time, bearing in mind that it’s a growing issue and high priority

TWO decades ago I became aware of “Linux”. I was in high school back then. I didn’t know about GNU, which had already been around since the early/mid eighties. The concept of “Open Source” was still associated with intelligence-gathering activities (sharing thereof) and “free software” typically meant freeware or warez and gamez — things one could share over floppy disks, compact disks, the Web, or BBS (depending on the year).

“Technology has in many ways turned against human rights and Linux powers just about everything (except most laptops), so it is integral to the workings of society or the operations of corporations.”Techrights has several types of readers and among those are patent professionals (e.g. examiners) and GNU/Linux enthusiasts, who are often themselves scientists and engineers, so there’s an overlap. This post is not about my childhood but about my interpretation of how technology develops. I worry greatly seeing how Linux gets ‘adopted’ — as in “winning!” — in drones, listening devices, surveillance-intensive back ends and so on. Technology has in many ways turned against human rights and Linux powers just about everything (except most laptops), so it is integral to the workings of society or the operations of corporations.

Several weeks ago I remarked rather briefly about the issue of freedom (not in the Libertarian sense) as it pertains to cars, which are now being spun as “smart” or “self-driving” or “computerised” and whatever…

“My personal belief is that the Linux Foundation just serves the Linux Foundation (i.e. its nontechnical staff) and by extension its sponsors; there’s no concept of “community” there and it is entirely detached from a moral compass.”Over the years we wrote many articles about GNU and we have, with little restraint, warned about the growing corporate influence in the Linux Foundation. My personal belief is that the Linux Foundation just serves the Linux Foundation (i.e. its nontechnical staff) and by extension its sponsors; there’s no concept of “community” there and it is entirely detached from a moral compass. Money talks. Money also gags (self-censorship). This is a problem.

More than half a decade ago, even when we harshly criticised Florian Müller, he said that we were more independent and purer than the FSF. He said this after he had pointed out corporate ties that jeopardised independence. We’ve managed to maintain our independence all these years; we recently moved to hosting in an environment that was offered to us free of charge by a GNU/Linux developer, ensuring our continued independence. Hosting would otherwise cost us about $10,000 for 3 years (we checked).

“At the end of 2018, seeing the site was becoming a tad repetitive in its position against software patents, we made the decision (after consultation with some longtime members) to focus again on GNU/Linux, with the usual emphasis on freedom.”But I digress…

The main point to make here is that it’s easy to lose sight of the original goals as put forth 35+ years ago by the GNU project. It is easy to be lured into the idea that to “win” is to gain a lot of “market share” or attract a lot of corporate funding — the very toxic (or intoxicating) trap many have fallen into. Persistence with one’s core values and pursuit of software freedom or societal solidarity (e.g. privacy, sharing) is the thing to strive for. Back in 2007 people wrongly assumed that we were tied to the FSF or were an FSF project, perhaps conflating Techrights with the FSF because of the strong stance on software patents.

At the end of 2018, seeing the site was becoming a tad repetitive in its position against software patents, we made the decision (after consultation with some longtime members) to focus again on GNU/Linux, with the usual emphasis on freedom. The month of January has thus far showed no signs of regressions on the 35 U.S.C. § 101 front. This will hopefully help clear time for more technical posts, at the expense of legal(ese)-oriented ones. And no, it won’t be blind cheerleading for “Linux!” but sceptical scrutiny of underlying issues and various players (like we did Red Hat yesterday). If some feathers get ruffled, so be it.

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