10.31.20

Users Have Nowhere to Go

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 8:38 am by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Out of Place

Summary: “If you want Free software to exist, if you want users to have control of their computing, you’ll have to learn how to stand up again.”

Real freedom leads to real options and choices.

A free license is the first and most important step. Sometimes this is the only step that is necessary; when you put your software under a free license, it becomes Free Software.

1st placeThere are now many years of debate over what it takes to keep it free, and a lot of people who aren’t listening to that debate and don’t seem to care about its implications.

For two decades, Open Source has tried to overload the definition, the same way they try to take over software by extending it. The latest versions of this are about censorship, and people trying to promote nonsense like “ethical source” (It’s nonsense because there is no way to make that work effectively with a license, and effectively it could only drive the military to use more Microsoft projects — cutting Dr. Evil Bezos out of a contract based on Free/Open/Whatever).

Ethical source is a naive vanity license, based on a complete (or contrived) misunderstanding on how licenses actually work, and both founders of OSI “left” (one was forced off the mailing list) over OSI trying to support it. It goes against the Open Source Definition, which Microsoft-controlled OSI wants to do away with, the Debian Free Software Guidelines and the Free Software Definition. It is not free, not open, not tenable. You don’t need to be very cynical to wonder if this is by design.

This is ultimately about IBM and Google as well, but it is prominently about Microsoft, and Microsoft has (for better or worse) decided to “participate” in what they call “Open Source”.

Microsoft has a very long track record of participating in things they want to control or destroy. It was never a good sign.

First, they dismiss new ideas (like the Internet) as unimportant, focusing on their own products. Then they start mixing their own way of doing things into projects or products they want more control over. Finally they come down on it with the full weight of their legal and market power. This is what happened with Internet Explorer (based as Netscape was, on NCSA Mosaic) and it’s what’s happening with everything else Microsoft has their hands in.

“When Microsoft brings you flowers, they’re likely to end up decorating your grave one way or another.” Halloween Documents

Note that warning about “Microsoft bringing you flowers” came many years before “Microsoft Loves Linux”. Also note that the (James) “Plamondon Love Kit” was an old and gratuitous ploy to insinuate Microsoft into the trust of people Microsoft wanted to use.

This is exactly the kind of “love” that nobody ever wanted. But that’s not what the bribed tech press says.

It’s naive to think that the success of any objective from Microsoft happens simply because their products or management are “Better.” If their products are better, why did many of us stop using Windows whenever possible? But it has so many users, right? Why not just follow the largest number of users to the best system?

Oh, right — because that doesn’t work, and doesn’t suit our needs, and it gives one company too much control over our lives. So why have we stopped fighting that, other than the fact that our organisations have stopped fighting it and turned their protests into celebrations and self-destructive levels of compromise?

We used to go to great lengths to get away from that sort of domination. And Microsoft has always, always, worked to co-opt everything we do to get away from them. What’s changed is they’re now prominently on our home turf. They invade, occupy our territory, literally replace existing leaders with people from their own company and then say “Be happy! You guys obviously won!” WHAT?!

We switch to GNU/Linux, they sue us through SCO and assert bogus patents through SUSE (and now GNOME). We develop APM support, they co-develop ACPI (which is a systemd-like mess that Mark Shuttleworth called a “Trojan horse”). We install our software over Windows, they insert firmware into new machines to try to retain control over what we install.

And like everything they’ve ever tried to take over, if you want to push anti-features on people, you NEED extra features as well — like a spoonful (more like a whole vomit-inducing bag) of sugar for their nasty medicine.

A Trojan horse without the horse is just an invading army. When you explain the ways in which Mark Shuttleworth was (USED to be) right, people say “But GEE, isn’t this a lovely horse?”

Who’s the idiot who said “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, anyway? If the horse is large enough to hide Greek troop forces or people from a large corporation inside, you should definitely look in the mouth — that’s the part of the horse where two Greek spies were alleged to be hiding.

OSI should have definitely examined their large donations more carefully, as Microsoft’s troops have already laid siege to the walls of the Linux Foundation as well as the Open Source Initiative.

Who wouldn’t “love Open Source”, if they controlled everyone else’s access to it?

“This is ultimately about IBM and Google as well, but it is prominently about Microsoft, and Microsoft has (for better or worse) decided to “participate” in what they call “Open Source”.”But controlling access to Open Source is the opposite of what it’s supposed to be about (and certainly the opposite of what Free Software is about). Free Software is supposed to put the user in charge of their own computing.

Since everyone has forgotten that, let’s just repeat it:

Free Software is supposed to put the user in charge of their own computing.

So what’s this about licenses? Licenses aren’t freedom, they’re a tool for the sake of freedom.

Let’s stop conflating the two. If we have far less control of our computing than we did a few years ago, and people from various groups that already supported Free software and the FSF are complaining about this, let’s stop pretending we can just shove a license in their face and say “Shut up, you’re wrong.” This is a crisis that keeps getting shoved under the rug.

“This simple truth becomes a lie when it’s used to take over the ecosystem for the primary benefit of the same monopolies that Free Software was created to liberate us from!”The most successful lies are built on a kernel of truth, and the truth that this takeover is built on is that “Developers are not required to do anything to please other users.” It’s true! You can make your own Free Software, and provide zero support.

This simple truth becomes a lie when it’s used to take over the ecosystem for the primary benefit of the same monopolies that Free Software was created to liberate us from!

It’s a side point, but since it’s going to come up anyway, let’s take another look at permissive and copyleft licensing.

There are two main proponents of permissive licensing: people who were already developing collaborative software (with available source code, which was not necessarily “free as in freedom”) before the FSF was founded and the GPL written, and people who worked to hijack Free Software using Open Source. Each of these categories includes the people who follow their way of doing things and assume good faith.

Someday we may discover they are the same proponent, but I have not managed to do so yet. In other words, I am a supporter-turned-denouncer of “Open Source” that may have found a pre-FSF, pre-OSI version that behaves somewhat differently in ways that could prove important; scepticism is still a wise course of action.

“There is a war going on, complete with factions, and it is not necessarily simple enough to merely take sides anymore.”The main proponents of copyleft licensing are the FSF and Free Software movement, but just as Free Software was co-opted in the 1990s, today there are also groups that may try to co-opt copyleft itself which we should be wary of.

Arguments for Copyleft sometimes go like this:

1. Copyleft ensures that people can’t take away your freedom.

2. Copyleft was created after someone tried to make Emacs proprietary (this is an interesting and relevant story).

3. Linus Torvalds is glad he chose GPL, and without it Linux might not have more support than BSD (I make this argument myself).

4. Permissive licensing exists only so that people can take your freedom away (this isn’t true, but some people act like it is. It is a bastardisation of reasonable warnings from the FSF).

5. (An expansion of #3) Many other projects would be better if they had used Copyleft instead of letting other companies waste our time with proprietary extensions, such as those made to XX11 (this one comes from Keith Bostic, who did a presentation on this topic).

Arguments for Permissive licensing sometimes go like this:

1. Permissive licensing is easier (it is initially, though you have a more confusing list of options to consider and it could make things more complicated when it comes to defence).

2. Copyright is much simpler than contract law, the BSD license is a copyright license, and the GPL is a contract (OpenBSD supports this argument, which I find interesting and possibly valid at least in part).

3. We just want people to be able to use our code, we don’t care what terms they use it with as long as they follow the few we require. (The BSD license has very few terms, and in many instances it has fewer clauses than the few it started with).

4. For small programs, up to 300 lines of code (I’ve heard it used to be 200?) There may be no real benefit to a copyleft license and a permissive license should be acceptable (this one actually comes from the FSF licensing page).

I deal mostly in very small programs, though there are (recent) times I have used GPL deliberately for larger projects.

Another argument that possibly favours permissive licensing is that you don’t believe in copyright (or government) at all, and thus the mechanism for the GPL is ultimately useless/ineffective even if the GPL itself is not. Thus there is a noticeable tendency for libertarians to lean permissive, on average.

However, many libertarians respect the concept of contract agreements outside of the concept of government, and since the GPL is as much a contract as BSD is a license, even in a hypothetical, idealised post-government utopia, the GPL could perhaps be as feasible as the BSD license — if not moreso. I’m not sure about this, because in a copyright-free, contract-only world, there is probably nothing you can do to prevent publicly available code from being distributed (an NDA wouldn’t work for this purpose.) This side point deserves further discussion and debate, but I don’t have more to say about it at this time.

All in all there’s plenty of cause for the permissive/copyleft debate to rage on for decades to come. I side with the Copyleft proponents who are hard sceptics of projects that try to make either the GNU Project and Linux kernel permissive. OpenBSD is permissive, deliberately — but it is based primarily on BSD, not GNU — and it is not based on the Linux kernel at all. I do not consider OpenBSD a threat in this regard, but strongly think we should be wary of efforts to neutralise copyleft in projects that feature it — already, a few such efforts seem to exist.

There is a war going on, complete with factions, and it is not necessarily simple enough to merely take sides anymore. However, Open Source should be prevented from overthrowing Free Software for the sole benefit of corporate monopolies, and at least most of what is now called “Open Source” is a scam and a distraction from serious reform.

I support OpenBSD doing things as OpenBSD sees fit, but I do not support Open Source in general; I continue to mostly categorise it as a calculated, opportunistic threat to freedom. Note that “OpenBSD” was using the term “Open” years before OSI was founded and “Open Source” was “coined” by Peterson.

The problem with using the fact that developers are not Obligated to do the bidding of users as part of a bigger lie, is that many projects already exist to help liberate the user. This kernel of truth is used as an excuse to overthrow and neutralise such projects.

If Free Software didn’t care about users, it would have nothing to do. Simply saying “you’re free to create your own software” does not sum up what the GNU Project was about.

Free Software wasn’t created just for you to run a fully-free text editor on a platform that lets a giant corporation spy on everything you do, while rewriting your system with arbitrary updates whenever they please. That would be a cynical and relatively useless movement, though it’s also closer to what we are moving towards these days.

Free Software was (allegedly) created to liberate the user and give them control over their computing. So when there is an organised effort to create software based (design-wise, not directly) on UNIX, so you can actually replace your non-free system with a free one — saying that “developers don’t have to work to liberate the user” is a way of missing the point. If we care about freedom, we should care about keeping the user free — not go about making them less free.

But the problem that’s doing so much to sustain itself against our freedom is complicated, so we can hardly just leave it there. Open Source has spent years adding complexity and caveats to everything we do, but when we have a point to make they glibly reduce our philosophy to soundbites and straw men — all while demanding that they should speak for us, and that we should generally be silenced for the greater good.

“Open Source is a Mount Everest of hypocrisy, and it eats its own founders as well as the founders and proponents of Free Software.”That sort of shtick has gone on for 20 years. Even Eric S. Raymond has said as much — to me personally, regarding the founder of the Free Software movement. I was not too impressed, as ESR is a backstabber who pretended to be his “friend” after his own plan to cancel him was finally executed from 2018 (at LibrePlanet) to 2019 at the FSF and the coup within the GNU Project itself. Torvalds said similar regarding Free Software supporters years ago.

Open Source is a Mount Everest of hypocrisy, and it eats its own founders as well as the founders and proponents of Free Software. Open Source will never be our friend, nor a symbol of freedom, except the “freedom” for monopolies to infiltrate and destroy free projects.

But if developers had no obligations to freedom, and this were the true stance of Free Software (rather than a cynical twist on a simple fact), then there would be no point in the GNU Project at all; if developers have no obligation to freedom, we certainly don’t need a free operating system; we can just keep building freely-licensed toys on top of Windows, Mac and Android.

But if there is a point to the GNU Project at all, then we should be far more concerned than most people are about the events of the past few years.

What once were donations in support of what we do, today are now bribes that get bigger when we cede control to monopoly control and surveillance. A donation is made in support — a bribe is made to get what some other party wants instead.

We got rid of the one person at Mozilla who actually gave a shit about surveillance and DRM. That was a mistake. Mozilla depends heavily on corporate support, and the corporations that support it also love surveillance and DRM. Mozilla is thus co-opted, and hasn’t cared about your freedom in many years. But that won’t stop them from lying to you while they continue to ratchet up the fuckery in their browser, year after year.

What are your choices there? There’s IceCat and Ungoogled Chromium and other WebKit crap (I don’t hate WebKit half as much as it sounds like) though both are subject to bloated and hijacked standards. If you want real freedom, you should be rebelling from the browser altogether. Corporations will say this is bad for the Web, but the Web has turned into a tool of corporations that is bad for our freedom in the long run. In the short run, we can always buy a little more time. As we do that, the Web gets worse, because it is remade for monopolies. Getting worse, while we pile on layers and layers of bandages, is all the Web will ever do.

The Internet is not the Web, and we should be rebelling. Unfortunately, at this time the only notable rebels are gopher and Gemini. Gemini needs to get out of Microsoft’s clutches before it can prove itself as a project that cares about our freedom. Other than this we need more things like gopher and Gemini. Some of the most prevalent internet protocols in use today began as quick and dirty solutions, never intended to take over the world. We need to bring back the frontier, not slave away to the hegemony of online gentrification.

IceCat develops LibreJS based on a library (Jasmine) that is developed on GitHub, other than this I think it’s a very nice idea. IceCat itself depends on Rust which is another thing GitHub controls, and as Tom researched, it is necessary to have access to GitHub to be able to compile IceCat.

“The Internet is not the Web, and we should be rebelling.”Emacs recently brought in HarfBuzz. HarfBuzz is controlled by Microsoft, as well as the bulk of lisp libraries. Someone should try to liberate Emacs.

Systemd is developed on GitHub as well, as is Raku, as is NPM, as is Python. But even if we solved the amount of control GitHub has over Free Software, that is only a (very) large part of a still much larger problem.

While Mozilla has sold out users to corporations, Python has gone from a simple and friendly language to an increasingly corporate behemoth — both in terms of management as well as syntax. If that were optional, it would be one thing. Instead, along with the move to Microsoft GitHub it has had the overall direction taken over first by Google, then by Microsoft. These takeovers happen piece-by-piece, and begin with small increases in influence — increases that get larger over time until users are just peons to be kicked around and told to get with the program, like they were when they were stuck with Windows.

“But again, in order to take control over people, you have to pretend that you care.”If isn’t just the software being rewritten these days, it’s what users are expected to do with it: like whatever we do to it, or basically go fuck yourself. Gosh, that really does bring back the shit old days before we switched to GNU/Linux.

GTK was originally a GUI toolkit created for the GIMP application. It has eventually been taken over by the GNOME Foundation, a pro-Microsoft entity which has sold us out to bogus software patents. The leader of the GNOME Foundation is a liar and a monster, and perhaps more of a backstabber than Eric S. Raymond. The GNOME Foundation is completely corrupt, and nobody should support GNOME as much as they can possibly help it. GNOME HATES your freedom. GNOME HATES users.

But again, in order to take control over people, you have to pretend that you care. Microsoft pretends that they care, and they hate your freedom even more than GNOME does. We wouldn’t let Microsoft into our lives as much as we do (remember when we used to actively fight this?) if they were honest about their intentions. Here’s what Eric S. Raymond used to say about them:

“Sleazy behavior, covered by utterly brilliant marketing, has been a pattern in Microsoft’s business practices since they were a garage outfit”

Sleazy behaviour: crapping on your freedom.

Brilliant marketing: pretending to give a shit about you.

Other organisations (especially those bribed by Microsoft) have adopted their tactics — tactics which Microsoft themselves learned from IBM.

People that care about your freedom aren’t obligated to support your software, but they are probably obligated to not take over serious efforts to liberate the user and then control or neutralise them.

When something doesn’t benefit Microsoft directly, they neutralise or knee-cap it. This is just as true when it’s a product they developed originally, or one they purchased outright. They send people like Stephen Elop in to gut a company, so that it’s cheaper to take over. I call this the Scooby-Doo maneuver, as it’s hardly a new idea:

Scooby-Doo maneuver

* An acquisition technique that is a favourite among Microsoft execs and writers of Scooby-Doo episodes, where someone hoping to take over a property first makes it look undesirable (by dressing up as a ghost and scaring people away) so that others don’t bid higher, show interest or have competition for the property at all.

Once they’ve taken over, they either exploit their winnings, like they have with Skype and Minecraft, or if it doesn’t suit them they simply drop the product altogether, neutralising the competition. They can do first one and then the other, and often do.

You’re nothing but a fool to trust GitHub at this point, unless you’re a shill. Microsoft has never changed this way of dealing with competition, but we are supposed to feel safe because they pretend we aren’t competition.

“They send people like Stephen Elop in to gut a company, so that it’s cheaper to take over.”What they’re doing today is exactly what the Halloween documents said they wanted to do in the late 1990s. When they say “Open Source won”, you might as well s/Open Source/Microsoft/, though watch out for Google and IBM as well. Today, “Open Source” is like sharing a tank at SeaWorld with sharks and killer whales, and saying that everything is alright because “the whales are a match for the shark.” We shouldn’t be in the water, especially when the sharks are hungry. If we built a proper shield from these attackers, we shouldn’t cast it aside for someone who smiles while pointing a gun at us.

But it’s not until after these organisations are taken over through large corporate bribes that they start telling us what to do and start expecting everybody to do things their way.

Python doesn’t just offer Python 3 and drop support for Python 2 — that would be fine. Instead, it tries to force and campaign people to use what doesn’t work for them — campaigning for not only themselves but countless other developers and all library authors and application developers to drop support for what users actually want and need.

It doesn’t just drop support for alternatives, it campaigns against alternatives — it even lies about whether they exist. “Python 2 is unsupported” is really only half true, and it’s a half-lie that doesn’t benefit freedom at all. It benefits monopolies, and hurts projects like PyPy — it also hurts users who rely on PyPy.

Stop being a shill, or a useful idiot for Microsoft by spreading this lie. It’s just as bad as when Debian does it with systemd.

Debian didn’t just knee-cap support for sysvinit, it campaigned against all alternative inits and attacked people who had no use for the corporate invasion. This was among many other attacks on volunteers. Devuan split off to do the work for maintainability, but Debian (which pretends to care about your freedom) has gone out of their way to push systemd while fighting rather than supporting compatibility efforts like Devuan, Mate, Trinity…

When a group drops support, other people should be free to pick it up. We should encourage that if we care about freedom, but instead we shit on them just like a corporate monopoly would. That is a great disservice, both to users and hard-working developers. When you say something isn’t supported, when people are working very hard to support it — then you tell those same people to stop supporting alternatives, how can you ever say that’s honest? It’s circular and authoritative. Stop being a shill against users.

“You’re nothing but a fool to trust GitHub at this point, unless you’re a shill. Microsoft has never changed this way of dealing with competition, but we are supposed to feel safe because they pretend we aren’t competition.”We participate in Microsoft’s tactics in fighting both competition and choice, then we say “freedom is more important than choice.”

Yeah it is, but freedom tends to create choice. To fight the choices that projects maintain for us when support is dropped by Python, GNOME, KDE, etc., you have to fight both freedom as well as the user.

But if all you care about is the license, then you will ignore and do nothing about other efforts to make certain the user has no say. You’ll even pretend they don’t exist when people point right at them and explain how they work, what they do and who funds them.

So users will be ejected from communities, as will people working hard to maintain compatibility when others have abandoned it — we will paint them all as troublemakers and campaign against both choice and freedom.

At the same time, we will drag people into a single place that Microsoft controls, and — shit, there really is no Free Software movement anymore.

Free Software is Dead, and Open Source DID win. But that’s nothing to celebrate. We need Free Software 2.0. Notice, I said Free Software, NOT Open Source.

“If you want Free software to exist, if you want users to have control of their computing, you’ll have to learn how to stand up again.”Don’t look at me like that, it’s not any worse than saying that GPL 2 failed. We need FS3, to go with GPL3 — for very similar reasons. GPL3 happened because GPL2 had one too many workarounds (vulnerabilities) against it — and Free Software now has a similar problem; not just in theory, but in common practice.

But the fight for Free software has more or less ended. If you want Free software to exist, if you want users to have control of their computing, you’ll have to learn how to stand up again. Because (next to) nobody is doing it now. Instead, they’re aiding the takeover and giving credence to corporate takeover’s bullshit. Didn’t you hate that back when you realised it was being done to you?

Long live Free Software, long live rms and happy hacking.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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