07.07.20

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Monopolies Erode Freedom, Freedom Erodes Monopolies

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 6:26 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Article by figosdev

Welcome to Gitrepo, professor

Summary: “There are so many reasons that GitHub makes projects less free.”

Recent articles from Techrights have spawned discussions with a hundred comments or more, and one of Tom’s articles was translated into both Spanish and Czech.

Many of these comments contain confusion as to what the “big deal” is about the GNU Project being eroded by GitHub, while one claims that singling out the GNU Project is “sensationalism” — wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that all software is being eroded by GitHub?

If you haven’t heard it before, it’s news to you (or to me). The recent articles have possibly led to more responses than all the similar articles we did combined; one problem in the article (my fault, really) was that I had made a single comment about how the redirects appeared to be made after Stallman was ousted.

“Whether you dispute or agree with this point, RMS is no longer the FSF President, and this is the context in which the phrase “rms was ousted” was written.”That was probably an error — note that when that comment was made, it was not intended for an article. It was intended as a “heads up” or a lead for people at or close to Techrights.

But it certainly has sparked a debate. I honestly felt that this was redundant and too small a thing to cover, but the responses have proven otherwise. It would be foolish to squander the opportunity to address some of the misconceptions about the GNU-Hub:

1. RMS wasn’t ousted

Actually, we have reasons to believe he was deliberately given misleading information, leading him to step down. Various factors (some of which we predicted months ahead of time) make the realistic definition of what happened to rms closer to “being ousted” than voluntarily resigning.

Officially of course, he resigned. More truthfully, it seems that several deliberate and dishonest actions fed into his stepping down. The reasons for our predictions and the confirmation of our suspicions came from very different places. It’s not at all unrealistic to say he was “ousted”. It’s almost ridiculous, however, to say his resignation was “voluntary”.

2. RMS is still head of the GNU project

Again, this is officially true; and Elizabeth II is still technically the head of state, but she can’t actually use her power for very much except bestowing it on other people.

Whether you dispute or agree with this point, RMS is no longer the FSF President, and this is the context in which the phrase “rms was ousted” was written.

“There are so many reasons that GitHub makes projects less free.”Note also that there have been two further coups since he “voluntarily” resigned as President; one to fake his resignation from the GNU Project, and another to try to “vote” him out of the GNU Project. It would be naive to assume that these various (and closely timed) efforts to unseat him from all forms of influence were unrelated; though it is technically possible they are not from the same groups of actors.

This is all highly relevant, however, since rms has made it clear that GitHub is wrong for Free software. To quote, “GitHub does things that are quite bad for Free software and is not interested in changing them. If you want to move off Savannah, please pick some other place.”

3. GitHub doesn’t make software projects less free

There are so many reasons that GitHub makes projects less free. The FSF lists several of them — when people “refute” this notion, they always seem to leave part of the reasons out. Perhaps this is because there are so many (it’s also because the people who refute this don’t care about or necessarily even consider your freedom).

Above all, joining GitHub helps one of Free software’s most tenacious enemies — it hands control over to a company that continues to promote software patents, attack copyleft, and attack (and try to control) various software projects, including the Linux kernel. Let’s not pretend there is any reason to trust Microsoft. There are plenty of reasons not to.

4. GitHub isn’t controlled by Microsoft

This one is just funny. Microsoft’s M.O., not just recently, but throughout the history of the company — has been to try to control every competitor in the industry. Along those lines, GitHub is probably the best thing they could have ever purchased.

Microsoft goes out of their way to control companies they don’t own — you think they don’t control companies they literally own? That’s marketing/P.R. nonsense. It’s pure nonsense.

5. Git is distributed, GitHub doesn’t lock users in

Git was developed by Linus Torvalds, and its future is tied into Microsoft via the Linux Foundation — which is practically a Microsoft front group by now.

“Let’s not pretend there is any reason to trust Microsoft. There are plenty of reasons not to.”But the lock-in that makes GitHub so successful is a “side-channel” attack on project autonomy, not unlike their similar tactics against proprietary software. Techrights has covered side-channel attacks on software freedom for years now — if you can’t attack GPL-licensed directly, just attack copyleft, attack the FSF, attack rms, and lock users in with years worth of community exchange they can’t practically move to any new service.

The effects of lock-in are obvious to behold, but somehow the lock-in itself remains something users (and fans) are in denial about.

In short, if you suggest that people leave GitHub, they will state the reasons why it’s not practical to do so — this includes naming the very causes of lock-in as things they can’t afford to leave behind. But if you suggest that lock-in occurs, they will say it doesn’t exist.

Discussions of lock-in efforts that work around the license will invariably shift towards mentioning the license. Do people not know how much effort Microsoft has made to erode and minimise the effects of the licenses that are supposedly impervious to Microsoft? This is a corporation that seems to take over entire organisations, just to get at their code, activists and licenses.

6. You can’t blame the GNU maintainers, they only move to GitHub because Savannah sucks

Of course you can blame the GNU maintainers. Both the FSF and rms have made it perfectly clear that moving to GitHub is a bad idea — you can blame the developers for not heeding the warning. RMS is still the head of the GNU Project, right? Officially, at least.

“As you can perhaps tell from this list, a lot of excuses are being made for doing the wrong thing — against the Chief GNUisance’s advice and/or leadership.”In practice, the maintainers aren’t listening and quite a few have moved to remove rms from his position. They are hopefully in the minority, though the problem isn’t “all GNU maintainers” — it’s many of them. It’s enough that we can certainly blame GNU maintainers.

As you can perhaps tell from this list, a lot of excuses are being made for doing the wrong thing — against the Chief GNUisance’s advice and/or leadership.

As rms pointed out in 2015, if people aren’t happy with Savannah (a platform forked from SourceForge when it was still Free software, which provides the GNU project with more autonomy than most other solutions — a clear advantage in and of itself) there are better options than GitHub — GitHub was already among the worst options even before Microsoft owned them.

So hating Savannah isn’t a legitimate reason to use GitHub; it is a legitimate reason to consider other options, the worst of which by far is GitHub. Yet due to lock-in and network effect, people take the path of least resistance (a path associated for centuries with erosion of freedom and autonomy — freedom requires vigilance, does it not?) and then try to paint that as a reasonable, logical decision.

If you don’t care about freedom — which is exactly the accusation being made here — then yes, it is somewhat reasonable and logical (within the context of a very glib and superficial decision process).

“The GNU Project couldn’t move to GitHub without drastically changing the nature of the GNU Project.”If on the other hand, freedom still matters — there is absolutely no reasonable way that anybody would move a GNU project to GitHub.

This is basic litmus test stuff here. The GNU Project couldn’t move to GitHub without drastically changing the nature of the GNU Project.

7. The GNU Project isn’t that important anymore (we’ve actually heard this recently).

The various attacks we’ve documented on the GNU Project over the past few years suggest otherwise. It’s also really a change of subject; like a bank robber saying “I only took Pound notes, and they’re in a giant slump anyway since Brexit”. They were still valuable enough to steal though, right?

Also, if the GNU Project doesn’t matter, why haven’t all GNU/Linux distros switched to the BSD versions of everything? Like the BSD version of Emacs, for example. (Wait, there isn’t a BSD version of Emacs?) I don’t use Emacs, though I know there are several clones. Most of the Emacs fans I know are using the “real” Emacs though.

8. Why single out GitHub and Microsoft? There are other monopolies

This comes up so often, it probably originated at Microsoft (I’ve read stories on Techrights that suggest it might).

“It’s good that people are making all these excuses. It means they suddenly feel the need to justify this series of very bad decisions.”It really shouldn’t be necessary to explain, when one company is doing far more than any other to control Free software and the GNU project, why we would single out that company above the others. That’s just common sense, but it gets questioned anyway because that’s just how P.R. campaigns work — against common sense.

IBM also does a great deal of harm in this regard, but we talk about that all the time. So not only is there a perfectly good reason to single out Microsoft — we really don’t single them out, at least not to the exclusion of talking about other problems with other companies.

It’s good that people are making all these excuses. It means they suddenly feel the need to justify this series of very bad decisions.

We are (and were) aware of the fact that not all the changes are recent; for example, GNU Radio and GNU Aspell moved to GitHub in 2016; Microsoft didn’t purchase it until 2018. And we’ve known this since May.

That doesn’t change the fact that the GNU Project has continued to erode. Perl (which is not part of the GNU Project, but the most important parts of the GNU Project rely on Perl) just moved to GitHub two months after rms resigned. ALSA (GNUsound has modules for ALSA and Jack, which are both now based on GitHub) and NPM both moved farther into GitHub since the Microsoft acquisition was announced, and Techrights has talked about Python being bribed into Microsoft’s clutches for months.

“GNU is THE Free software project, the cornerstone of the Free software ecosystem.”We are singling out the GNU Project for the same reason we put stress on Microsoft’s efforts to control it; Microsoft is one of the worst actors in this regard, even bribing people to join GitHub (people defending the GNU-Hub debacle have said perhaps they enjoy getting “free” hosting on the enemy’s dime; we think the bribery suggests that Microsoft is clearly investing in control — there is nothing “free” being offered here, and it’s pretty naive to think there is) while the GNU Project is the most important Free software project. GNU is THE Free software project, the cornerstone of the Free software ecosystem.

Funnily enough, the only thing that led me to notice this happening to the GNU Project, was trying to get an idea of how much it had happened to other important projects. We started tripping over projects close to (then within) the GNU Project. So of course we wanted to know how compromised the GNU Project had managed to get.

Certainly people dispute GNU’s importance, because (as with Nokia Handset) you have to devalue your enemy first, before you can destroy (or own) them. Whether that’s rms or the GNU Project, you can’t expect people attacking your freedom to say that it matters.

You can tell that freedom is under attack when monopolies gain influence. One erodes the other, if you are giving into Microsoft and Github you are sacrificing freedom and autonomy. They’ve gone to great lengths to get people to do just that — and they still do. The fact that people are denying this is a story by itself; it might as well be the 11th coup in the past year.

Long Live rms, and bring back GNU someday.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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