08.06.20

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User Libre: Free Computing For Everyone, Start With Perfection

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 6:29 am by Guest Editorial Team

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  • You are here ☞ Chapter 1: Preamble/Introduction (Start With Perfection)

Canadian Thanksgiving perfected
Intro / Chapter 1: Start With Perfection*

Summary: “As the threats to user freedom evolve, so too must the response to those threats. So long as freedom remains the first priority, worthwhile responses will give more power to every user, and keep limits on how much control can be imposed by developers.”

In the early days of computing, when computers were too large and expensive for anyone but a government, large business or institution to own, software was not a product — it was simply work.

In 1980, software became copyrightable in the United States. Prior to this, companies were hiring computer programmers out of university settings and using Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to keep them from sharing the source code to their programs. It is from this source code that most software is created.

“You can’t actually create a legal monopoly on putting together certain ingredients and making a certain dish, but as long as there are unique expressions (wording) of a particular recipe, that particular wording is copyrightable.”Before there were programming languages to write source code in however, there were simple processor instructions that could be keyed into the machine, toggled in on switches, or even punched into cards or paper tape.

When you punch a series of numbers along with plus or minus keys on a calculator, you are telling the machine to move numeric values into certain places in the processor. Early programming was very similar.

The transformation of computing from work that assists an industry to an industry in its own right, is not unlike the transformation of years of cooking and handing down family recipes into fast food chains and best-selling cookbooks. You can’t actually create a legal monopoly on putting together certain ingredients and making a certain dish, but as long as there are unique expressions (wording) of a particular recipe, that particular wording is copyrightable.

For several decades, and for at least a decade or two longer than “Open Source”, the Free Software movement has worked to liberate every user from a fast-food Hell of proprietary computing. Its founder Richard M. Stallman (“rms”) and his organisation, the Free Software Foundation, have long fought efforts to poach free coders for proprietary work in unethical companies.

“For several decades, and for at least a decade or two longer than “Open Source”, the Free Software movement has worked to liberate every user from a fast-food Hell of proprietary computing. Its founder Richard M. Stallman (“rms”) and his organisation, the Free Software Foundation, have long fought efforts to poach free coders for proprietary work in unethical companies.”After nearly 40 years and a number of outstanding successes, Free Software is once again struggling with an industry eager to poach free coders. And to stop that from happening to this generation, Free Software will need to “bootstrap” a slightly new approach, to respond to the new ways the industry has learned to thwart user freedom.

The goal of Free Software is simple and perfect: for all software to be free. This refers to freedom, not price — Free Software does not mean that commercialisation itself is a problem; you can get paid to work on Free software. But what many companies prefer to do is trade concessions and get the user (or developers) to make compromises that put companies back in control again.

“Most of the compromises rms has been attacked for not supporting, are compromises that would limit the freedom of the user in exchange for some short-term and subjective benefit.”For most of his career, people have attacked rms for being unwilling to compromise — but this is exactly where we want a movement to start: with a no-compromise quest for freedom and liberty. Most of the compromises rms has been attacked for not supporting, are compromises that would limit the freedom of the user in exchange for some short-term and subjective benefit.

If we allow such compromises at all, we must be certain that they do not add up to a major erosion of user freedom. And where freedom must draw the line, is that compromises should be optional — while freedom remains our first priority. As the threats to user freedom evolve, so too must the response to those threats. So long as freedom remains the first priority, worthwhile responses will give more power to every user, and keep limits on how much control can be imposed by developers.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)
________
*Each chapter includes its own license information; most of the chapters are CC0.

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