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04.21.19

A Reader’s Suggestion: Directions for Techrights

Posted in Site News at 6:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

4 directions

Summary: Guest post by figosdev

OUR site’s growing impact has not changed its focus. We carry on irrespective of temptations and I habitually reject invitations to interviews on TV if I distrust the channels that invite me. The site’s traffic almost doubled in the past half a decade and last week I was reminded of the impact when there was another SLAPP attempt from the former CEO of Novell. I never responded to his legal representative and instead did a story on Hovsepian's crocodile tears (basically, Novell’s last CEO cannot find a job). We’ve done a lot of Novell coverage (thousands of articles, with insiders’ tips included in these). In recent years we’ve been focused on the EPO — to the point where (within only months) the EPO’s management surrendered and went into panic, sending several law firms to harass me. For over 4 years the Web site Techrights has been banned in the EPO (blocked) for merely transmitting accurate information about the EPO, based on insiders and people close to the EPO. No site covers EPO affairs more than Techrights. Censorship of this kind is a timely warning about the EU’s “filters” agenda.

Yesterday a longtime reader sent me a 6-page document he had written about the site. It wasn’t originally intended for publication/dissemination, but he has agreed to make it public as follows.


Techrights began as Boycott Novell, a website dedicated to exposing and standing against corporate corruption in software and technology. When Novell was purchased, the rebrand to Techrights found the website exploring new directions — with a focus on bad patents.

Other themes of Techrights would include censorship, "openwashing", calling out propaganda and corporate/media lies, and companies pushing people away from free software towards bad compromises like "open core."

While the Open Source Initiative spent time cozying up to monopolies, calling out free software on being "arbitrarily" different from open source — when it was the latter that split off from free software, and "arbitrarily" different meant the very attitude towards monopolies that free software was founded to stand against — OSI at least spent some time talking about the problems for open-whatever in a world where Microsoft and Apple want to retain control over the user.

Now that all pretenses of being about openness or the user are dropped, the OSI-Linux-Ubuntu-whatever foundation seems more about how to get corporations to steal the free software ecosystem. And Techrights takes the advice of OSI-cofounder Bruce Perens, who resigned OSI a year later saying "Its Time to Talk About Free Software Again".

Meanwhile, the Free Software Foundation is talking about "deals with the devil", acknowledging and partially accepting for the first time in years that many users simply aren’t going to go with a fully free system — if only because hardware OEMs haven’t gone in the direction of supporting free software. Instead, manufacturers have actually gone the other way towards standards designed to shut free software out (except where blessed in an "open" way by Microsoft, Red Hat, Google, etc.).

Open source has achieved every goal — to get all the big corporations to use free software, even if they adapt it towards use by monopolies who dont want the user to be free. It has packaged and sold free software to the very foes that made the free software movement necessary in the first place. The only thing left for OSI and the Linux Foundation to do now is take people’s money and do all the things that O’Reilly dreamed of, while selling out users.

Techrights is easily the #1 voice on the Internet for calling out shills and open source hypocrites, and brings you daily the sort of news that the FSF brings you on a monthly calendar. Although it speaks to open source fans, it doesn’t stand for the corruption and hypocrisy. At worst, it is "Open Source done right." At best, it is a constant reminder of how much we have lost (or stand to lose) in the fight for user freedom.

Without misplaced loyalty to any organisation, only to the truth, Techrights does what the tech press seldom does: journalism. But in these modern times when people know about the Snowden leaks and still open their phones with facial recognition and actual fingerprints, while Mark Zuckerberg puts tape over his laptop camera, we have to ask if journalism alone is enough?

To be certain, journalism is always important. But with the FSF failing (or at least being undeniably set back) in their mission for half a decade without even mentioning it, one might ask if a "Be The Change" direction is one that Techrights wants to take on. When it comes to the tech press, Techrights is the change — when ZDNet publishes its usual corporate pablum, Techrights puts things back into perspective. This by itself is very useful — most of all to people who already care about these issues.

The corporate world is uncompromising when it wants to change something — it lobbies for public education to tell things more exclusively from its side of the story, it buys its competitors, and it uses bogus patents to steal the work of others. We don’t need to be corrupt, but we do need to be relentless in our stand against the corruption.

The biggest enemy of all is apathy and lack of awareness. Journalism can make people more aware if they listen, but it can’t help them do anything if they don’t know what to do, if there are no practical solutions (practicality in the sense the FSF would mean — not being handcuffed is extremely practical) then people will go back to ignoring what they’ve learned about these companies. "What can we do except go back to bed?"

This is where activism and education can do more than journalism. Good journalism educates — but then it stops there and lets the rest take over. What if no one is taking over? Perhaps the best possible journalism would find the people trying to fix these problems and highlight their efforts and ideas on a regular basis. If that means that the journalism does a bit of editorialising, so does Techrights– probably for the better.

It’s good for an organisation to be partly neutral, just to be sure they aren’t becoming an unquestioning mouthpiece — but no journalism is purely neutral, it always leans a bit towards a certain kind of story. Techrights has a bias towards the user, and that’s very tolerable bias.

The main public-facing function of the FSF — both in what it asks of users and what it achieves — is to raise funds and create an army of free software mouthpieces. This is the area where the FSF is most lacking — because it has certainly done a great deal (more than any other organisation) to give freedom to the user, from developing the software open source then uses to capture and sell users back to former owners like Microsoft — to funding important software projects and offering server bandwidth to users all over the world.

By no means is propaganda the main function of the FSF. But it is the main public-facing function, because free software developers are pretty much always a smaller part of the userbase than "users," so the function FSF serves to developers is by nature less public-facing — most of the public doesnt know anything about it. Likewise, the number of developers who make use of the FSF’s infrastructure (Savannah, etc.) are even smaller. By far, the most public-facing aspect of the FSF is fundraising and training people to speak for them.

Where this is failing, in spectacular fashion — and a threat more grave to the FSF than WSL and Snap packages — is that they are using the mouths of their 5,000 active users while barely making use of those 5,000 minds. The FSF is a parrot training centre: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html

This may seem like a very unfair critique, but it’s entirely relevant and if you look at the results, it is not so unfair, untrue or unrealistic. At worst it is a slight exaggeration, but the FSF takes itself a little too seriously (regardless of whether it earns the right or not, which really isn’t the point) and expects other people to as well. A counter-argument goes "it’s a bit tongue in cheek" and so far as that’s true its completely alright. It becomes a problem when the actual result is 5,000 parrots — because parrots dont think very much about what they’re saying.

By comparison, Techrights has an ideologically diverse community without the typical open source antagonism towards freedom — such as people telling you that choosing software based on the licensing is stupid or that free software is arbitrary and obtuse for the sake of it — or Simon Phipps explaining how the problem is that Stallman is autistic. Open source promoters are the "cool kids" who go to the big parties, and "freedom" (it’s really a confusing word, folks!) is a nice idea, but its not "practical."

With Open Source you can talk about everything, except how Microsoft is doing something wrong — sort of like the mainstream media can talk about anything, but it can’t show you a clip of civilians being laughed at while they’re being murdered by remote control.

Maybe the elephant in the room is — what are we actually going to do with all of this information? Because the FSF isn’t even sharing it — they’re either quiet or in denial about the direction the war against free software has taken. Of course they’ve talked about it for longer than anyone else has — and perhaps that’s why they think nothing is really new. But those of us who just got here 10 or 15 years ago, have certainly noticed new problems — if the FSF is silent about some of that, then not being silent should be the first thing that free software advocates do. They’re trying to sound the alarm, and the FSF is almost plugging their ears.

Open source development does not have any protection from "ego-driven" destruction — when some ‘coding maniac’ hijacks the development and makes the system [unnecessarily] complex ,destroying the conceptual integrity of earlier, simpler versions: http://www.softpanorama.org/Commercial_linuxes/Startup_and_shutdown/systemd.shtml

“if you write your tools in a way that is pushy and monopolistic, which causes years of problems for the ecosystem to work around– you’ve advanced redix.” (https://freemedia.neocities.org/redix-watch.html)

When you are already talking about these things all the time, and it isn’t enough to help change the world, the next item on the agenda is to stagnate, give up or move into trying to change things. There’s no amount of reporting that Techrights can do that is going to accomplish far more than it is already doing — it’s a wonderfully relentless effort. The best it could do at this point is work smarter, not harder — perhaps "smarter" would mean helping people put their information to use.

At that point, it moves from journalism and editorialising to advocacy and education — not education in terms of schools — education in terms of OER and online learning.

Nor would it move to advocacy in terms of training parrots — but advocacy in terms of providing people with information and tools to become an active part of the development of ideas to win back our freedom. The Free Software Foundation might offer you that opportunity if you write software, but that alone isn’t enough anymore.

We really need to teach people how to become more journalistic — how to become savvier users — how to care about freedom, of course — and how to think critically and innovatively, and assist each other in terms of fighting new threats.

Eric Raymond is the lesser co-founder of OSI (at least in terms of his help towards making the user free) but he has achieved with the bazaar his aims that thwart the cathedral of the FSF. Sure, this is apples and oranges because the cathedral tried to give more power to the user, and the bazaar has sold the user back to corporations. So perhaps Raymond’s book title should have read, "The Cathedral, the Bazaar and the Wealthy Landowners."

Nonetheless, we may need a bazaar of ideas to win, because the cathedral of ideas is all tapped out.

Techrights can be a giant part of that bazaar, it can be the biggest group of tables — not because its goal is to be the biggest, but because most of the energy in the free software movement right now is flailing around in the throws of the very effective attacks from Microsoft, Red Hat and the many different sellouts who have helped us get to this awful place in free software history. Techrights is showing less wear and tear than the FSF or OSI — so whether or not the goal is to be large, it is the de facto state of Techrights — a steam locomotive that has outlasted both Groklaw and any pretense of OSI to care about users.

As much as this is about what can be done with its momentum, it is about what free software can do to harness (and continue to fuel) that momentum. We are at a stage in free software where many organisations are needed, and overlap was never a problem — overlap in organisations, as with posix in distributions, is where organisations are working together towards a common goal.

Like with distributions, different organisations work best for different people — they have slightly different audiences or needs. With regards to the current state of war, the FSF is floundering or crawling at an inch-per-years pace, more like ReactOS in its progress than Debian.

But Techrights could help people learn to code, it could provide a beginner-friendly atmosphere to bring in users, and it could be a voice for everyone fighting systemd, keeping a watch of the undeniably corporate effort to destroy posix and replace it with things like systemd and Azure — "But systemd didn’t start as a corporate thing" (neither did WebKit or the Linux kernel.)

The free software movement doesn’t have a war room anymore. It needs one. Techrights can be that war room, or it can be the next best thing. Either way, we need it — every resistance needs a voice, and Techrights is arguably doing more in that regard, at this point in time, than any other organisation.

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