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Making Free Software Work for Users

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 4:20 am by Guest Editorial Team

Another Reply to Mogzagain. By figosdev.


Summary: The latest reply to a non-developer concerned about software freedom; guest post by figosdev

Hello again.

As long as there is a possibility that something said here will benefit or interest the public, I will continue to make these replies public. If I decide not to reply, it does not mean you’re being ignored, only that I don’t have something interesting enough to add to what you’ve said.

“The sad truth I’m afraid is that only so many developers are in it for the freedom of the user.”In my previous letter I made an effort to respond more or less point-for-point, but this time I will probably be more conservative. This is as much for your convenience as mine.

I’m not even spellchecking this one, Roy might fix a couple things if they have a red underline. This is definitely more of a letter than an article, and I’ve spent (at least) four hours writing it. It will have to do, there are probably a fair share of typos. It was worth the four hours, at least for me — and this also includes eating and making tea.

“I understand what you’re saying regarding [Alex] Oliva [who] won’t fork, thus Linux won’t be fixed, and that integral large packages (perl, python) can’t be forked, and too few devs to fork halfbuzz, plus the Gnu Project aren’t making the effort to fork what they could.”

I’m not sure if it’s whether they could or simply ought to, but whether they are able or not I consider it a problem that they won’t. In (very) slightly better news, there are rumours of Raku (Perl 6) leaving GitHub, which would help if it actually happened and GNU (particularly Automake) eventually moved from Perl 5 to 6. It’s far too early to get excited, but there is a glimmer of potential hope there.

“Stopping paying attention to users/devs who ignore problems, who don’t take things seriously, for example, is very uplifting to realise further, too; no more writing to some main linux youtubers (nb not gardner) and receiving no responses, for example! To read that you too are fed up with the attitude to users is very heartening, as nobody says this stuff.”

The sad truth I’m afraid is that only so many developers are in it for the freedom of the user. We have known about Open Source for many years — I actually started as an Open Source advocate, falling for the hype that it was “like Free Software, but more reasonable” — but the “reasonable” part is false compromise with corporations that do not care about users — in fact they care more about maintaining control.

Free Software tries to minimise conflicts of interest (or at least it did once) and Open Source replaces the “sacred cow” of freedom with the sacred goat of courting the interest of monopolies. They pretend that it is not about ideology, but their passivity and neutrality is a facade; you may insult users all you like, and they will not stop you. When you insult a corporation, the gloves will come off.

Due to this manufactured divide (couched as so many are, as a call for “unity” — a unity where you are expected ignore your needs and values, and sacrifice them for the “greater good” of your opponent…) there are many developers who pretend to care about things that they clearly do not.

They care about users, as long as users only speak when they are asked to. They care about users who toe the lie.

Sadder than this is the fact that Free Software has failed to hold down the fort. These apathetic devs who are only interested in development (not freedom, or anything beyond creating software for the sake of whatever) are only the majority, they have moved into key places and even worked repeatedly to usurp GNU development.

Free Software seems to find its hands tied when these problems arise. Among us there are a small handful of people calling this for what it is, but there are not many.

“No longer feeling like some kind of lone crazy person, lol. And when people see mirrored their own real feelings, they definitely feel they can relate, and it can move them to be part of things.”

That is one of the best things we can do, is let people know they’re not the only one. If we work towards that goal, we may find that there are a few more of us than we counted so far.

I’m not the only person talking about “Free Software 2.0″, and for me it’s not about “bigger and better than ever” (though that would be nice) it’s really about bolstering the defences that have failed along the way. It would be nice to see Free Software rise again like the phoenix. It would, however, require a certain degree of general awareness that I don’t think we have reached yet.

You can still choose to be a pessimist or optimist about it. In my opinion we need pessimists, though it’s not difficult to make the argument for both.

“There’s been an unnerving journey of realising what’s going on, but, if the only people talking about this stuff are saying it’s all too rotten to fix, that has to be looked at seriously, along with my own experiences, observations and concerns to date.”

Off the cuff, the first metaphor that comes to mind is dentistry.

Dental medicine and the technology around it has come a long way. We can remove all of your teeth, if necessary, and replace them with implants. If your enamel is weak and the decay is bad enough, implants provide an ideal solution if money is no concern; in the States they cost thousands of dollars each, and if you are under 35 you could find yourself having to replace one or more of them even before you can retire.

A more practical and much cheaper (not to mention less invasive) solution is dental crowns, but these have their own drawbacks. Like implants, they are not as durable as real teeth and even a habit of almond eating can cause a crown to come loose or even break. At several hundreds of dollars each, getting dental crowns means your bite will never be quite as strong ever again — and having to visit the dentist to glue your crown back in is inconvenient at best.

Mostly people go with ordinary fillings when possible, but if decay settles in deep enough it can necessitate a root canal — which will often weaken the tooth enough that a crown is then required. If there is not enough tooth structure left to support the crown, you are left between the choices of an expensive implant, a partial tooth, or a hole.

The best plan of action is really on a tooth-by-tooth basis, and the same logic applies to Free Software projects. The ideal would be to preserve and salvage every project — but we can’t afford it in terms of the number of developers we have on our side. Mono is a great example of this; in our dental metaphor, Mono is not so much a dental implant as a false tooth made of rock hard toffee and calculus. You wouldn’t want to surgically install such a thing deep inside your gum tissue.

Wisdom teeth cause more problems than they solve, and when they are extracted nobody tends to bother replacing them with straighter or smaller implants. You’re simply better off without them.

If we had enough developers, it would be like the ability to replace all of our teeth with implants. Instead, what we have is like trying to replace all our teeth while money is always tight before the fact. Developers are spread very thin, and many of those (as you’ve noted) do not care in the first place.

People try to do things like move to GitHub to “gain more attention from developers” but they mostly gain the attention of people who will sacrifice more freedom, while caring even less about users.

The point is that (just as a prominent example) Linux is not healing, it is in decay.

If the goal is to salvage all free software, and we don’t have the budget (in terms of people who care) then I would argue that the best triage is to start with projects from developers who are NOT working against you and once our base is solid enough, build onto it by bringing in more of what we can manage.

In other words, we start with the things that require the least amount of salvage work and build on from there.

I have already pointed out that BSD is less trouble (for users, for developers) than trying to salvage Linux.

The difference between my position and yours is that I start with how much trouble it would be to salvage, while you (seem to) start with how much trouble it is to use.

I really do get that angle — but it takes me back to a time when I thought I couldn’t get GNU/Linux working so I had to use Windows. In fact if you go back not very far (less than a year ago) I was making the same argument about BSD — I want to use it, but either it’s not ready or I’m not.

A friend of mine who may have already started to dabble with BSD, upon learning that I had finally cleaned Linux off the last PC it was running on said something to the effect of “Wow, I am NOT ready to do that.”

Neither was I, so I worked on it.

This is what I advocate, but I get that not everybody is ready to do it. I advocate it because it’s ultimately more likely to work. The more people complain about the direction Linux is heading in, the closer they are to throwing their hands up and switching.

I’m acting as a scout here, while many others have already made it there and set up camp years ago.

“A main thing I live by is that there’s a time comes when stepping out and away from something becomes critical; that frees up energies for what is timely and important to move onto, and to not step away would jeopardize what CAN be safeguarded and built in the new space.”

Exactly this.

“You asked directly what sort of hope I want to see … really clear bottom-line summary about how things are, which the letter from you is already covering more. Also, what people can do, and HOW (for non-techs), in order to maintain the freedom/privacy/values that are so important.”

That’s an ongoing discussion for sure — and it’s such a big question “like ‘What’s the meaning of life?’” that there is no possible way that everybody is going to agree.

I like big questions. If I were good at math, I would probably be interested in physics — both Richard Stallman and Bill Gates did extremely well in their Harvard physics classes, but both had other interests that kept them from becoming physicists.

I’m terrible at math, so instead I approach the universe with philosophy — I have also tried to understand the world through the many various lenses of mysticism and religions (I’m agnostic). Modern science of course is essentially by definition uninterested with such methods, and probably should be. But scientists are people too, and Newton for example was very interested in looking at the world this way.

Buckminster Fuller gives a long series of talks (you can find them on the Internet Archive) where he tries to derive rules for better engineering by staring with the entire universe and building laws from there.

Both science and mysticism have toyed with the idea of an almost pantheistic-sounding “holographic” reality, where every single thing ultimately contains everything else — like a giant, fractal, permeable Klein bottle.

To me, this is the conceptual “shape” we want for a community that’s capable of figuring out answers to big questions.

Not a rigid hierarchy, not a “flattened” hierarchy that pretends everybody is the same (but still has a few people at the top lording over them, just to be sure) but a sort of holographic flux. The good news is that long before people figure out what the hell I’m talking about, they will have already sorted out their own words to describe it.

We aren’t talking about a utopia so much as a society, where not everyone has their thumb up their ass.

“I don’t mean about coddling infants, as you reference, but those who don’t have any tech DNA yet want to get on the BSD ship/into the new place, to support free software, respect, privacy, care about users, but know they just can’t get their head around that without clear instruction.”

Not only do I agree, but it’s actually built into the ten "THRIVE" guidelines as number 6: “Without some greater commitment to the needs and education of users, Free software will soon lose too much ground to corporations that falsely pander to them. This is not a call to make everything ‘user friendly.’ As a user, you are free to develop on your own terms. There are still areas in which progress could be made regarding development.”

When I say “This is not a call to make everything ‘user friendly.’” I don’t mean that making things user friendly is a bad thing, only that it can’t take over everything. This is a caveat; the essence of guideline number 6 is that we should give clear instruction to “non tech” people.

However, lurking at the core of the “non tech people” issue is the true nature of the issue itself.

Non tech people exist, and I’ve done a lot of work with them directly: pensioners, the iconic and stereotypical
“grandma” everyone mentions, I’ve worked with literal grandmas — the homeless, so when people start talking to me about how x or y group can’t do z I at least have first-hand experience in such scenarios. It’s not a statistical cross section but then a lot of what we are dealing with here is the mythology of the non tech person, which places certain designs and developers in the role as savior.

It’s not that non tech people don’t exist, it’s that they are used in an ongoing mythology that both opportunistic and sincerely well-intentioned people rely on as a guide for making things more “user friendly”.

It’s a mythology because it is largely about storytelling and post hoc justification — it is less about the real people in question.

In short, we create designs and then we say it’s for non-tech people. Our first goal should be to find these non-tech people and better understand their needs.

I’m using a GUI right now to type this. I could also do it from the VT, without a GUI. As it happens, my particular workflow seems to be at least as well suited to a simple, Notepad-like graphical editor than Emacs, Vim or even GNU nano. But it also has commands that I can type on the next line and run with CTRL-T — including shell commands.

All the power is right there, in this very application, but if you don’t type shell commands and hit CTRL-T you probably wouldn’t even know it could do such a thing. It looks like a plain text editor, with a file menu, a little dialog box that comes up to open or save files, etc.

It can’t just be about design though. It has to be part understanding, part design, part education. Most people who talk about being “user friendly” are cargo-culting the understanding part, and act like education won’t be necessary, so people still don’t learn. Ultimately users get dragged through one design fad after another, and this is what Microsoft calls “user friendly”.

“The corporate are dumbing people down by the year, ‘bread and circuses’, ‘leave it to us’, ‘we make your life easy’ (as we siphon off ALL your data and make money) … they want people’s energies, power, everything, whereas what I mean is what empowers people, the ladder that can get them into that place, where they can then do what they do best, contributing in other ways.”

Again, you’ve got it exactly.

“You can’t give a jet to someone and expect them to fly it, but if they’re a passenger on the jet, they could be a doctor, a lawyer, anything non-tech, but still play a critical part.”

This is also true. But so is the fact that with the right technology, we could enable virtually any person to fly — with some sort of personal aircraft. This would lead to all sorts of questions about how to make the technology safe enough, and I’m certain it would have some kind of logic like consumer-grade drones already have to stay level and avoid collisions — but no Free Software advocate would propose that it have some equivalent of DRM that only the manufacturer could control.

People would be able to change the programming, I’m less certain that they would be allowed to fly the craft in public without some recertification process. But people modify and build their own cars all the time.

Getting back to your point though, do you have to code to contribute? Of course not. I even mentioned that in my previous reply.

“I see BSD is being pointed to as the ‘bunker’, but that is a big step for any non-tech people. Can there be a beginner series on running an easily installable BSD, to get non-tech people started?”

Of course. I tried FreeBSD first, with a goal to try FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD. Most others are based on these, and most are sadly based on GitHub as well. FreeBSD develops its package management on GitHub, and NetBSD accepts donations via GitHub (though the NetBSD Foundation has other more traditional payment processing options). OpenBSD is the least GitHub-entrenched BSD, and I would recommend either NetBSD or OpenBSD over FreeBSD.

Still, if you’re only able to install one of those three, go for it. I found the OpenBSD installed the easiest to use (that’s probably the opposite of what I expected) and the NetBSD installer is the most tedious. I actually kind of hate it so far.

The first time I successfully installed BSD it was FreeBSD, but the first time I installed OpenBSD it was because FreeBSD wasn’t booting after installing it on a different machine.

There are instructions for installing each of the three flavours of BSD on their websites, but anybody who has installed GNU/Linux by downloading an image and then running dd to copy it to their USB knows how. Unlike with GNU/Linux, with BSD I’ve never tried to install with only Windows as a platform for downloading and creating install media. I know some of them have CD or DVD images.

The installer for OpenBSD is going to be pretty intuitive for most people who have installed GNU/Linux before. So the best way to get a friendlier install guide together is to get someone who is familiar with both easy-to-use GNU/Linux installers and basic text mode installers to write a guide.

But for you personally, if you can install GNU/Linux I think you can manage OpenBSD as well. My advice to people trying a new OS is not to do it on a machine they care about the files on, but to start with a machine they are happy to blank and experiment with. I started the journey on a server I had previously dedicated to sifting through GNU Project code.

And I didn’t even technically install it. I just downloaded the image, booted to Tiny Core (any distro that could boot to ram with enough resources free for a ramdrive would have worked) and copied the image to ram, then used dd to write it to the drive. Then I rebooted. That was the “install”.

Roy and Tom don’t “get” the idea of videos that show how to do this stuff, but I found them useful. I can talk to you in detail about installing BSD, but if you go to YouTube you can simply watch people do it.

The video may not show the preparation, just the install itself — but then you know how easy that part is. Making install media isn’t that bad — you write a DVD or if you have dd (never had much luck with it from Windows, yes, there is a Windows version but Windows does some funny things) it’s basically like making install media for GNU/Linux.

“How many non-tech users, who deeply care about privacy/freedoms, read Techrights? Are most of them lurkers, since privacy/being offline is so important to them?”

If you put an article on Techrights, it will probably get more views than if you put it somewhere else. If it’s distro-related or BSD related, and it’s not about the application, you MIGHT get more readers from DistroWatch? I’m not sure how many they get. Techrights may give you more readers, but Techrights also covers a much wider range of topics.

With regards to lurkers, the number of readers is definitely not reflected in the number of comments.

“If a series were done, it could be shared all across the Linux places? So even non-techs, who could number far more than realised, can take part? adding important numbers of people who really care.”

I think this is already happening increasingly.

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m talking about bringing more on board those who care about the values. I have no ability or desire to code, or become more tech … I want only to support the freedoms, values, respect, the space where people can be themselves and as happy as possible. That is the only reason I crossed over to Linux. I leave the technical aptitude to those who practice that so well, who have that DNA, while I do what I do best.”

There really isn’t more to coding per se than breaking things down into steps and talking to the computer.

Of course it depends on the language. But even if you can contribute without coding, being able to code just a little bit would help you better understand the issues around your advocacy. It would help you understand developers, and make you feel a bit less helpless.

Naturally, Free Software is not only for people who can code. But everybody should still learn — it is not just a job skill. It is a modern form of literacy.

Before you think that I’m going to try to get you to ever write an application, that’s not the idea here.

Do you know how to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Can you break that down into steps? Can you express those steps in English? If so, you are already halfway there.

The breaking things down into steps is the hard part, and functions make it so a lot of that is easier work that doesn’t have to be repeated over and over.

The syntax is the part that looks hard, though it’s the easy part. Some languages are difficult, others are easy.

1. Put peanut butter on bread.
2. Put jam on bread.
3. Put two pieces of bread together.

That’s the bug-ridden version. You need to open the bag the bread is in, take out two slices, put the slices down on something and make certain the jam side is placed over the peanut butter side. But the thing is, you know how to do it and if you had to explain it, you could “debug” such a program if the person you’re talking to didn’t make the sandwich the way you wanted it.

The problem with this example is that nobody who is actually going to make you a sandwich is going to need such detailed instructions, so it’s nothing more than an illustration.

A better example is telling a robot to draw a house:

Go forward 5 units, turn right 45 degrees. Go forward 5 units, turn right 90 degrees.
Go forward 5 units, turn right 45 degrees. Go forward 5 units, turn right 90 degrees.
Go forward 7 units, turn right 90 degrees. Go forward 5 units, turn right 90 degrees.
Go forward 7 units.

   /  \
  /    \
 /      \
|        |
|        |
|        |
|        |

But those instructions get abbreviated to something like:

fd 5 ; rt 45 ; fd 5 ; rt 90 
fd 5 ; rt 45 ; fd 5 ; rt 90 
fd 7 ; rt 90 ; fd 5 ; rt 90 
fd 7

Functions make it possible to say things like: “drawrectangle 7 5

Without functions, we would have to say this instead: “fd 5 ; rt 90 ; fd 7 ; rt 90 ; fd 5 ; rt 90 ; fd 7

With functions, our program to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich becomes:

makesandwich("peanut butter and jam");

If you want 20 sandwiches:

repeat 20
    makesandwich("peanut butter and jam");

So what’s this do?

repeat 10
    makesandwich("peanut butter and jam");
    makesandwich("egg salad");

It makes 20 sandwiches, half of which are egg salad.

This is pretty self-explanatory:

repeat 10
    makesandwich("peanut butter and jam");
repeat 5
    makesandwich("egg salad");

…Makes 15 sandwiches.

If people don’t know how to code, they likely weren’t taught properly.

“So many new users have come over in the last year. People who care and want to contribute tend to want a clear list to get on with, to know how serious things are, at the same time as beginner instruction on HOW to exit from Linux. They’re the sort of people we want, who care about privacy/freedom/respect/values, so how do we get them to the ‘bunker’, even if that ‘bunker’ is e.g. at first a non-ideal BSD install, but at least a starting place to learn, and with clear tutorials as a main priority?”

This might not even be the first step.

Suppose for the sake of argument we had 5 billion dollars, and we decide we are going to pay 5 million people $1000 each to switch to OpenBSD. And we actually find 5 million people to take us up on this deal. Now we have 5 million new OpenBSD users.

So that’s good, but most of them are going to be thinking: “Why is this better?”

“Nobody was going to fork Linux anyway.”

“Not even for 5 billion dollars?”

Certainly this doesn’t make promoting OpenBSD any less worthwhile — it enables some of us to move away as quickly as possible — and anybody else who wants to come along in the quest for freedom is welcome to join us.

But switching to BSD without knowing why is just a cargo cult move, and I’d rather people appreciate the goal of what they’re doing. The GNU Project wasn’t just a project to give people a free operating system; it was meant to give people freedom — and until people understand that, GNU helps though they won’t know (or care) why.

If more people use OpenBSD, then more are available to help reboot the GNU Project on top of it. But if they don’t know or care about that, what are they switching for?

And hey, it’s great even if their reason is “I know Linux isn’t going to get fixed and I want a fixable option”. OK, that’s a valid reason. But until they have that, at best we can give them an OS with less support for DRM and systemd. And if that’s enough, hey, great.

So you said these people already care about freedom. That’s good. Do they already care about the specific problems that this is going to fix? If not, it would be ideal to find a way to make them aware. The Trisquel developers are not aware of the problem. They think they still care about freedom.

Roy says that Stallman is aware, for example, of the problem caused by systemd. He says that Stallman is afraid of the trouble it will cause if he makes a fuss about it — I should just find the quote, but this is news to me. If we are hiding problems, and Trisquel developers (there was a time when Trisquel was basically the flagship of FSF-approved distros) are unaware of this, that’s a major problem.

They’re going to keep telling people that any software under a GPL license is not a problem, since users already have the 4 Freedoms. They’re not the only ones.

So we have these problems, we have people working on solutions, we have the original co-opting by Open Source and they completely misrepresent and twist Free Software into something it isn’t; we have former allies like Trisquel who used to fight for us but now (probably NOT deliberately) help sweep major problems under the rug, and pretend it’s business as usual –

We have people like Stallman who still know important things that other Free Software advocates (who only parrot things he says instead of thinking about these philosophical issues for themselves) don’t know, but he’s in a position where he’s afraid to do the one thing we all know him for — which is tell us more about Free Software and how to make it work. And if he’s afraid to, few care as much as he does.

All in all, I think it will help substantially to switch to OpenBSD, for the same reasons I said before; it’s less work to make OpenBSD fully-free (and even use it as a new platform for the GNU Project) than it is to fork or salvage Linux.

But it’s still part of a larger picture, which is part of an overall advocacy of freedom and (vitally) autonomy, at the very least autonomy compared to the GitHub dystopia we have spent the past few years helping Microsoft to build.

Switching to BSD is just part of that. If people are unaware of the other parts, the benefit will be smaller indeed.

“Get everyone who cares to the best place possible, where they can function and have a foundation that doesn’t feel like shifting sands; then the new can come through when possible.”

That is the idea. But the foundation of free computing isn’t BSD, it’s the philosophy that the user should have control over their own computing.

Over and over again, this comes back to advocacy and education. We need to rebuild that.

“I can’t possibly be the only privacy-conscious and non-tech person on Linux?! So please don’t mistake any of what I say as me trying to get personal help for me”

No, it’s great, it’s seriously great that you care. I don’t think that you’re the only person who feels the way you do, certainly — as for going offline, there are many things that I simply won’t do — for example, I won’t date with an app. It’s not that I don’t have or don’t care about having a personal life; I simply find the idea of my personal life (including who I sleep with) ultimately dictated by software controlled by Google to be beyond the pale.

If 95% of people (and I don’t think it’s that many) only found people to hook up with through apps, my criteria for meeting a person would include that it be one of the 5% who do not rely exclusively on apps to find people. To me this is no more “idealistic” or “Luddite” than not having Mark Zuckerberg managing and monitoring every friend I have. I consider not relying on Google for something that personal to be a point of sanity. (Which doesn’t mean that everybody who doesn’t use Tinder or the like is actually sane, of course).

Still, “privacy” means so many things to so many different people. Fundamentally I don’t think it’s that complicated — but it is to them.

I have never been against the idea of baby monitors, for example. Knowing how often they get hacked, I would never use an older one based on simple wireless technology, nor a new one based on home networking. If I had a baby right now, I would wire the baby’s room for sound.

Is that privacy? No, it’s definitely a compromise — but it’s one that doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

Putting a video monitor in the baby room goes too far though, because it teaches someone (even retroactively, if you hide the camera and they find out about it later in life) that CCTV surveillance is a natural part of life. I feel bad enough bugging the room, but it’s arguably safer than just checking up if something happens while people are outside of the ordinary range of hearing.

You are after all, actually supposed to monitor your baby for their health and stay nearby for that purpose. But I wouldn’t be comfortable with a baby “fitbit” (let’s look up if those exist yet… God damnit..) or any other cattle-herding technology that seems retrofitted for use with humans.

“I’ve believed for a long time that there must be many users similar to myself, but who won’t speak up or ask … that’s been a theme in my life, and anyone’s life who can’t stand by and say nothing, when it comes to the crunch … and there’s always others afterwards who say they agreed! Those people can read and ACT independently, no head above the parapet stuff, via clear tutorials, and that shifts things away from the negative corporate who treat Linux as their resource to mine, and it really matters that the corporate, and corporate-supporting, lose the numbers and influence, and any kind of attention. Providing very clear tutorials would end up being very low-maintenance overall, once the tutorials are done.”

Those are great points, and they’re probably not made often enough. I would venture to say “lurkers for freedom” (I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean) is probably a somewhat foreign concept to most people who are actively fighting (or think they are). So it’s good that you mention this.

“Gathering those in one place is also very important, rather than lots of bits everywhere that may be old or new, accurate or not. I understand you will have your own life and commitments, so my question is an open one, about if there are people who would do tutorials.”

Rather than say “in one place” implying centralisation, I would say “consolidated in many places” to distinguish it from the present state of being “scattered” or disorganised. I don’t think this is just a nitpick, as centralisation is ultimately the problem that GitHub has created. It begins as centralisation and finally becomes a leash on expression (Codes of Censorship and that sort of thing). So I get the idea of consolidating things so they’re easier to find, but let’s do that it more than one place. In other words, mirrors.

“To jump to covering the depression part a bit more … it is definitely not about avoiding the real truth, which ends up freeing people up to go where IS positive. If others are reading messages mainly pointing out what is depressing, they can get the message nobody else is going to do anything, and everything’s too difficult, which makes their fight harder, and makes getting involved just about impossible. It can seize them up. ‘Let’s all be depressed together’ doesn’t work, in this instance, except briefly at the start, to know we’re all on the same page.”

Let’s not give people false hope, or treat them as more fragile than they really are. Denial is a real thing, and we have to poke at that to prevent people from being glib and pretending that problems aren’t real — which people do a lot, including many who should know better.

We have to be able to fight that. If we can make any progress at all, people can find hope there and we can share both. Stallman and I are pessimists — Roy is the sunshine and happy days writer at Techrights. This is a funny idea if you know his darker stuff. Sometimes I find myself in a cheerful mood and try to share it with people, but eventually it wanes and lets me get back to worrying about more important things.

I deliberately worded that paragraph in a way as to amuse myself. There’s plenty of truth to it, but it’s also a bit tongue-in-cheek.

“Rolling over and saying we’re defeated is what the corporate want … no freedoms, privacy, respect, happiness, stable space to function, etc. There’s loads can be done about shifting across to BSD, that can bring in a lot more people that normally can’t, or have tried, to be involved in the movement.”

Agreed, and fair point. It’s definitely a good thing that we have people on board who think solutions are still possible! (We may need more of them.)

“Would expanding the range of articles be something useful to do? … focusing on other things e.g. those stepping away and how they’re doing it, those dropping big tech and how great that is, those who left working for big tech and how they’re doing better things now, how hyperbolaBSD is coming along/interview … after the critical tutorials about how to cross over! Articles from non-techs who’ve been able to go to BSD via the tutorials? How many more users does BSD have this year? By all means, the clear truth, but also articles that cover the features of the better place we all want to inhabit. Just throwing out some ideas, in case anything is useful.”

All perfectly good ideas, though none of them are things I’m tracking at the moment. Some of them are slow-going, so tracking them is a bit like watching paint dry.

However, sometimes I’m wrong — and ultimately we are looking for things to pick up. So for another person, it might be less like watching paint dry and more like the simple everyman’s parable of being patient enough for a fish to bite the line. If someone wants to sit and wait for a fish, I welcome them to do so. Some people find that relaxing. I don’t think they’re crazy for it.

“The tech sites that promote the corporate etc want us to believe there aren’t enough good people out there to make a difference, and such as Red Hat, showing their cards the very next morning like that, wasn’t very bright, so not crediting them with lots of real wisdom seems a wise thing to do!”

Indeed. And you’re completely correct that we need people who are going to try no matter the odds. Subjugation is an inhumane state that we should be fighting for the sake of our own souls. Being agnostic, the concept of “soul” is very hypothetical and sometimes metaphorical or even a bit pedantic, but it is not meaningless. Certainly we can say that our alleged “humanity” depends on taking the idea of fighting subjugation seriously.

“It would be great to see the article about that, and maybe others reading, or just finding, TechRights don’t know about it also.”

Try here.

I can honestly say that you would be more likely to appreciate it if you were slightly less averse to coding.

I watched people remaster distros for years, but it’s a very tedious process. They would start with a tool that was surprisingly brittle, so just to get it running you would need to have things installed that could be tedious to set up. This wasn’t always true, but it happened.

Then it would open the distro up, or simply use what you had installed on your computer. To make a “new” distro you would:

1. Have to start with the specific distro(s) it was designed for.

2. Very possibly have to install the distro itself before you could remaster it.

3. Do a lot of tedious things like install programs, change settings, move files, copy/erase whatever.

But if you wanted to change just ONE thing, you might well have to change ALL the other things on your list as well. If not this time around, then next time on the next distro.

Instead, I wanted to make it so that anything I changed was something that it would change, unless you disabled it. most of these changes would still work from one version (of the distro) to another, or sometimes even across distros (but that depends).

Taken to the extreme, what you end up with is basically an “.ini” file or a “manifest” of changes, and to prevent a change all you have to do is comment out or delete the line.

Commenting out a line is as simple as this:

# Commenting out a line is as simple as this.

The “#” makes it a comment, so the line doesn’t run — it is just ignored, as if it isn’t there. It’s code you can turn “on and off” by changing a single character. Then again so is this:

InstallFirefox = 1

I mean if you take a random remastering tool, remove Firefox, or take something where you can just change “1″ to “0″ and run an automated tool, the second one is definitely easier.

But behind that “ini” file is a program written in fig — a language designed to be a friendly first language.

And behind that fig program is Python — a mainstream language used in education at a wide range of grade levels.

So you get a choice to work on the simplest ini level, the very simple but very powerful fig level, or the relatively all-powerful but more complicated Python level.

You get to choose. At least that’s the idea. The problem is that even if you control every file in a GNU/Linux system, you’re still using Linux.

That’s the thing about pessimism, incidentally: it’s difficult for the optimist to call someone a sellout or a traitor, even when there are many. It’s not so difficult for a pessimist, even if they’re trying very hard to be fair.

I still like the idea of automated remastering, it’s not the same priority now that it was. I never set out to do it originally, you know. I was trying to make a simple demo program to analyse the contents of distros. It got so close to a remastering program that I changed it into one.

“The more I think about this, the more I think creating that place we need involves bringing in all types of user and very clear and basic documentation, as numbers and the how-to are integral to that creation. Potential new users today, who’ve just realised they need to make a shift, could see a set of BSD tutorials that are actually easier to understand than Linux documentation, and just go straight to BSD, for example. People need to be informed, included, and to have the tools…”


“I agree that a non-corporate community/usergroup(s) is very important; no egos, no diversity, no PC, but just basically be decent, which I think would be there, when people are making effort to do something because they care about people being free and are all working together on the same page.”

They won’t all agree, of course. I mean, there are things we can’t negotiate on — Open Source wanted us to negotiate heavily on whether freedom was really important, or incidental; that’s a deal-breaker and it should be.

But some people are still going to want to focus on certain things, like bringing underrepresented groups into this. I actually have no problem with that.

“It is better to have communities divided over politics than to have software development and repos hijacked and repurposed by a single political faction.”

Here’s an example: Roy is vegetarian, I’m not. Roy isn’t vegan yet. I don’t have a problem with GNU/LINUX/BSD people promoting vegetarianism or veganism, but if that becomes a higher priority than Free Software then it means that the movement is being hijacked for another cause.

Vegetarians and Vegans don’t always agree on everything, and Free Software really doesn’t care whether you’re vegetarian or not.

I appreciate sincere efforts to get underrepresented groups into Free Software. What I don’t agree with are some of the divisive tactics that make user freedom or software freedom a second priority to those particular tactics.

Even if everybody agreed that diversity is important, making it priority one (“PID Ein” in Lennartspeak) ultimately puts someone in charge of free software that may not care about free software at all.

The first priority for our cause really should be our cause. This doesn’t mean other causes are unimportant, even to us — it simply means that we won’t all agree to have everything we do hijacked and put under control of a different group of people (corporations in this instance) which is ultimately and cynically what has happened.

People already get divided over these issues. Rather than have them divided into “Free Software” and “Go Fuck yourself”, I would like them more often divided into “Free Software A” and “Free Software B”.

The problem is, that under the current regime, if I support both “Free Software” and include those who have found their way (not always under the most honest or transparent of “community” processes…) into the second group, now people want me to be in that second group for that “crime” which is only a crime according to a certain group of infiltrators.

What you should be able to do is say you support “Free Software” without letting someone else come and redefine it in an incredibly divisive, co-opting sort of way.

Not everybody has to agree, but it’s dangerous to let people come in and hijack the entire movement. We need a better option than that.

“None of your ‘giafam’s okay’ half-hearteds!”

Sadly / NOT sadly, there is no simple reliable test for loyalty in this movement. We are far too welcoming for that. We probably should be. What we should not tolerate is ongoing, increasing betrayal. We aren’t all going to agree on that either, but for many years, Free Software and Open Source has sort of bled together into FLOSS, which really just means Open Source. It has successfully pushed freedom and basic human rights not like not being under mass surveillance off the table. That’s unacceptable.

We need to have some way that we can extract ourselves from the farce of Open Source, knowing full well that it is extremely commonplace and impossible to have zero contact with.

We need a way to be more about Free Software and less about Open Source, and that’s something I talk about all the time.

But, there is no way to make a loyalty test work. I’m sort of thankful for that, because it would only create a very ridiculous mindset and make the whole idea less political and more cult-like.

We should lean towards being careful, away from being paranoid; towards being political, away from being apathetic; towards some ideal, away from the most cynical sorts of so-called “pragmatism” that is really just (as Home of slated.org more or less put it) ceding to your opponent on the assumption that will for some reason do the same.

“It would also need to be solidly private/encrypted, so no big tech can get in and threaten or harm people.”

That’s an ongoing issue that Eben Moglen has promoted for at least a decade, but if you make it a prerequisite we will probably need to wait another 10 years (maybe more) to get started. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, in much the way that I’m not saying interstellar flight is a bad idea.

“I can’t access the Slated site, but understand what you’re saying about big tech’s agenda and the ways they try to take people’s freedom and power.”

When I checked most recently, the website was down.

“I haven’t heard Free Culture spoken of, and need to look up Lessig, for sure, so thanks for pointing me that way.”

Sure. Lessig is great people, and Free Culture is a great idea, but I actually focus on the overlap between Free Culture and Free Software, namely cultural works under licenses that give you the equivalent of the 4 Freedoms in the Free Software Definition.

Examples of licenses for cultural works that give you those freedoms are CC-BY, CC-BY-SA and CC0. On the other hand, I hate to promote works that have an “ND” (NoDerivs) clause, but Stallman is oddly enamoured with it. He and I have very different ideas about what he refers to as “works of opinion”.

Then again he is correct that too many Free Culture advocates underplay the importance of Free Software. They do, and IMO, vice versa. Thankfully, Alex Oliva at least uses a Free Culture license on his blog. This implies (to me, maybe not to Oliva himself) that Oliva is more in touch with Free Culture than Stallman is.

To be fair, a lot of criticisms of Free Culture by Stallman were helpful. “Anarch” is a just-released game by Drummyfish under a CC0 license. He is an advocate of both Free Software and Free Culture, and both his software and his other works are under a free and even GPL-compatible license (he generally uses CC0).

“From this self-advocator, who will never stop championing what enables people to have choice and freedom, and who doesn’t feel quite as out in the forest as I did, thanking you again for not being one of those who shunned, and instead is refreshingly direct and fair, signing off for now.”

Keep doing what you’re doing.

Long live rms, and Happy Hacking.

Text in quotes is included as fair use; all else licensed: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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