10.17.20

The Sad Story of Mozilla Keeps Getting Sadder Because Mozilla’s Managers Abandoned Users and Chose Companies as Their Clients

Posted in DRM, Free/Libre Software, Standard at 5:47 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The most powerful and versatile Web browser ever to exist is becoming just an “app” with fewer compelling reasons to adopt it because today’s Firefox is less user-centric and more Mozilla-centric (with buzzwords, political pandering and marketing rather than technical substance)

Firefox: At the beginning...

Summary: Mozilla’s business model keeps changing for the worse, as the “app” mentality and/or the “social control media” mindset are chosen over the needs of actual (longtime) users, limiting the extensibility of the Firefox browser in the name of “performance” or “simplicity” (as if all that users need is “dark mode” and a choice of search engines)

OVER the years we wrote dozens of articles about Mozilla and Firefox, mostly congratulatory at the beginning (when releases were stable and infrequent), but in recent times we became more critical because Mozilla is no longer the same company. It’s vastly better than Microsoft, sure, but it’s getting worse — not better — over time. Long before the layoffs we already warned that the direction that had been taken was wrong. It served to alienate both developers and users — the very thing Mozilla relied on for over a decade. Even before DRM and ‘Eich-gate’ amongst other debacles there were issues associated with privacy, which is nowadays just empty rhetoric at Mozilla [1, 2] (or a form of marketing).

“Without momentum from outside the company Mozilla might not be financially viable; it has long relied on an army of volunteers, both developers and ‘marketers’ (or advocates).”Mozilla isn’t a GNU project; in fact, there are Firefox forks that are. We don’t suppose Mozilla will champion freedom to the extent GNU does, but that’s just not the point. Mozilla seems to have abandoned not only freedom but also developers and users. This is a suicidal path. Without momentum from outside the company Mozilla might not be financially viable; it has long relied on an army of volunteers, both developers and ‘marketers’ (or advocates). Losing them isn’t an option, but Mozilla seems to have overlooked what actually made Firefox so popular in the first place.

Firefox: I don't need third-party devs anyway

Daniel (‘Canta’) recently wrote a decent article on this subject, translated/curated from Spanish by both myself and him.

“Some things can be ‘fixed’ by altering the settings, but some are not fixable.”Earlier today I updated Mozilla Firefox, which I barely use anymore (I use a mix of Konqueror, Falkon and QupZilla on older machines). I am actually a bit horrified to find that this update or ‘upgrade’ (much newer version) made things worse in several ways.

Some things can be ‘fixed’ by altering the settings, but some are not fixable. “While some DRM-controlled content can be viewed using the Adobe Flash plugin, many services are moving towards HTML5 video that requires a different DRM mechanism called a Content Decryption Module (CDM),” says the page Firefox directs me to. Embracing DRM did not help or save Mozilla, did it? It likely just alienated many people like myself, who used to advocate and recommend Firefox to people.

Firefox: People are losing passion for Firefox and rapid version inflation doesn't inspire excitement

Several usability problems became apparent when the ‘upgrade’ was done this morning. But there’s even worse stuff. When it was ‘upgraded’ to the latest ESR, Mozilla (likely not the Debian packagers) had “Recommended by Pocket” toggled (on) by default, in effect spewing crap (mental noise/clutter) at me any time I opened a tab…

“Firefox had more useful extensions in 2005 than it has in 2020 (I should know having embraced Firefox in 2004; I had used Netscape and Mozilla before that).”It certainly feels like nowadays Mozilla treats Firefox like an extension of the social control media mindset. It should instead combat/fight back against it. But look who runs Mozilla now… Microsoft and Facebook executives.

Once upon a time Mozilla appealed to geeks, who then recommended Firefox to friends, colleagues, and especially family (like kids and parents who were not necessarily passionate about computers and just clicked “the Internet”, which is what they called a blue “E”). Nowadays Mozilla fosters planned obsolescence for developers (I’ve made some contributions to Firefox in the extensions/themes sense), or ‘digital rot’ for plug-ins/extensions that worked just fine at one point (or for over a decade!). Firefox had more useful extensions in 2005 than it has in 2020 (I should know having embraced Firefox in 2004; I had used Netscape and Mozilla before that). XUL, for example, should not have been abandoned, but then again they care about money (paying their CEO over $2,000,000 per year, plus bonuses) than users and volunteer developers.

“Monoculture that revolves around GAFAM would make the Web proprietary with DRM, necessitating a move to alternatives (to the Web itself, not just to Web browsers, as DRM is now incorporated into Web standards).”Mozilla may have worked fine for the bottom line of the current management team (millionaires), but it’s not working for many of us who need a “big browser” to challenge an increasingly proprietary monopoly/oligopoly in Web browsing. Other than Firefox, all the “big browsers” (that are widely supported and considered to be “must support”) are proprietary, usually with some openwashing slant.

If Mozilla can no longer champion a free and open Web, and if Waterfox became an extension of the surveillance industry (same owners as Startpage’s), then the whole Gecko family is becoming a lost cause or a losing strategy. Monoculture that revolves around GAFAM would make the Web proprietary with DRM, necessitating a move to alternatives (to the Web itself, not just to Web browsers, as DRM is now incorporated into Web standards).

Final note: while I agree with Mozilla’s political orientation on most issues, I’d appreciate not having Mozilla’s words shoved down my throat (or up my head) every time I open a new tab. This kind of “UX” (User eXperience) is a hallmark of non-free software and it’s a symptom of what Mozilla is fast becoming. The user of the Web browser should be in full control of the browser, not having to rely on any third party to assess or rank or censor pages while pushing somebody’s editorialised messages. The browser should render pages, not be somebody’s billboard. Respect people’s judgment, resist the temptation to become a ‘net nanny’ (even at the application level/layer).

10.04.20

The World Wide Web Has Become a Pile of Crap (Even Worse Than What Microsoft Turned It Into)

Posted in Standard at 7:45 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Letters of Web and laptop

Summary: The World Wide Web (or WWW, or Web) is becoming more and more user-hostile over time; it has gotten so bad that people are pushed to use proprietary browsers (mostly Chromium-derived binary blobs) and are being spied on down to the level of mouse motion

THE DAYS of ActiveX may be behind us (more on that when we revisit deposition tapes, then scrutinise the contents).

Java? Mostly gone, but not JavaScript (it’s everywhere and it actively obstructs access to many sites).

“We’ve long explored alternatives to the World Wide Web…”Flash? Well, it’s gone like Adobe Shockwave, but in its place we now have DRM/EME and YouTube is practically inaccessible without a big pile of JavaScript. Most Web browsers I use in 2020 are no longer allowed anywhere near YouTube (it worked fine last year, but of course Google had to break it). Konqueror and QupZilla receive no love from YouTube any longer, but then again, remember that a couple of decades ago video on the Web typically meant downloading a bunch of Windows Media Player files, which would barely be playable on GNU/Linux (RealPlayer was hardly better). Days ago youtube-dl became broken again (Google’s fault, API changes apparently), which means that Techrights is waiting for a fix and isn’t publishing a bunch of planned videos (except Bill Gates deposition tapes, converted to Ogg format over a decade back).

The Web is not improving. Each time we think there’s a “win” for the so-called “Open Web” (like Adobe burying Flash officially this year, being the Trash Player that it is) there are actually new setbacks, including IRC being replaced with JavaScript-intensive tools of corporate espionage. A lot of today’s World Wide Web — like the Internet at large — is a massive surveillance machine. We’ve long explored alternatives to the World Wide Web (we’re still constantly looking and assessing substitutes), as HTTPS alone hardly tackles the big issues and many use certificates of questionable legitimacy “because it’s free!” (No, it’s not; nothing is really free when there are operational costs and considering the Linux Foundation‘s biggest sponsors we know it’s all about ‘surveillance capitalism’ or companies with spying interests)

Radar

It may take another decade or two for the “Web” (WWW) as we know it to be phased out, probably for something better (or more malicious, depending on our action/inaction) to gradually replace it. We cannot predict the nature of this thing, but it won’t be Gopher and we rarely move in the direction of growing simplicity, only growing complexity and obfuscations. To a lot of people around the world the “Web” is synonymous with “Facebook” and Facebook went out of its way to ensure people never navigative out of Facebook (or that moreover they use Facebook as their ISP/VPN).

There’s a lot of sinister stuff going on behind the scenes, putting aside the fact that Facebook wheels its data to Microsoft by the truckload. The Linux Foundation further encourages such “data sharing” (mass surveillance euphemised), as we noted last year.

Very few geeks will challenge the allegation that the “Web” (HTTP/2 or later) went the wrong way; what’s sorely needed is a good alternative that can gain inertia/momentum. The creator of the Web (Tim Berners-Lee) foolishly enough put his own alternative in Microsoft’s proprietary trap (GitHub). Can he not remember what Microsoft did to his ‘baby’? Pure sabotage.

Microsoft broke my Web. So I will use Microsoft's Proprietary monopoly to fix it?!

Keep an eye on GNUnet, which Wikipedia describes as follows: “GNUnet is a software framework for decentralized, peer-to-peer networking and an official GNU package. The framework offers link encryption, peer discovery, resource allocation, communication over many transports (such as TCP, UDP, HTTP, HTTPS, WLAN and Bluetooth) and various basic peer-to-peer algorithms for routing, multicast and network size estimation.

GNUnet's logoGNUnet’s basic network topology is that of a mesh network. GNUnet includes a distributed hash table (DHT) which is a randomized variant of Kademlia that can still efficiently route in small-world networks. GNUnet offers a “F2F topology” option for restricting connections to only the users’ trusted friends. The users’ friends’ own friends (and so on) can then indirectly exchange files with the users’ computer, never using its IP address directly.

GNUnet uses Uniform resource identifiers (not approved by IANA, although an application has been made). GNUnet URIs consist of two major parts: the module and the module specific identifier. A GNUnet URI is of form
gnunet://module/identifier where module is the module name and identifier is a module specific string.”

Keep a close eye on GNUnet; we’re always eager to defect away from the broken “Web” and hop onto something else, whatever it may be.

09.10.20

The Web is Becoming More Proprietary and Means for Accessing the Web Likewise (Now With DRM and With Limited — by Design — Compatibility)

Posted in DRM, Google, Microsoft, Standard at 3:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

It’ll get harder to stay a “Gnu”

Wildebeest and Zebras in the Maasai Mara
The first time I installed IceCat was about 15 years ago (it was still difficult to install); Mozilla has changed its spots since, so more Firefox alternatives may be needed

Summary: The Web is becoming a sordid jungle of Google-oriented proprietary browsers with DRM built in; this is a very sad situation and various people are increasingly sounding the alarm about it

THE LATE 90s were terrible for the World Wide Web. All the major Web browsers were proprietary (I used Netscape when it was still primitive, but I cannot recall the exact version number; prior to that I used pre-Netscape browsers, which were light and surprisingly simple although good enough to enter every Web site). Years later I used Konqueror, which I still use today, along with Falkon/QupZilla (the latter on older machines). Sometimes, especially when it comes to WordPress, I use Firefox too (I was a very early adopter of it, some time around spring of 2004 when the name “Firefox” was set in stone; I used “Mozilla” prior to that, along with Konqueror in S.u.S.E. 8.3). I’ve tried almost every browser over the years (as part of my job I had to test compatibility). Chromium is of no interest to me and the monoculture that develops around it reminds me of the MSIE monopoly days. Sure, it’s Google as opposed to Microsoft, but the threat is still real and oughtn’t be underestimated. Google plays a big role in insertion of DRM into Linux (yes, the kernel itself). Thanks for nothing, Google! You’re part of the problem and your bribes don’t sufficiently disguise that.

“Chromium is of no interest to me and the monoculture that develops around it reminds me of the MSIE monopoly days.”Mozilla Firefox is not inherently bad, but when shipped by Mozilla (not via Debian, which I use, as an ESR) it contains some bad things. Thankfully there are forks and branches of Firefox, including some that are (or were) associated with the GNU Project. I’ve used a few over the years. Some projects like WaterFox are in fact connected to surveillance giants and should thus be shunned (same surveillance company that covertly runs Startpage), so not everything Gecko-based is harmless. Mozilla really blew it with XUL because it betrayed a lot of developers and yesterday it revealed plans to charge extension developers (basically volunteers) to become visible.

Not a good direction. Is that like some new effort at finding a business model? Charging developers to participate or get more hits/users?

A lot of people don’t seem to understand that Chromium-derived browsers are “proprietary garbage”, as Derek explains in this new video. That’s true for Opera, Vivaldi, Edge, Chrome and many more.

“Mozilla helped save the (digital) world from MSIE monopoly, which deliberately held back development/advancement of the Web (Microsoft didn’t even bother with newer versions for many years). For that alone we should eternally be grateful to Mozilla.”However, there are pitfalls and gotchas. For instance, Firefox comes with what it calls “telemetry” (basically surveillance) and Google is the default search engine (because Google, a surveillance company, pays for it). Then there’s DRM which is right there ready to be enabled (EME) and there are some side issues such as Firefox hosting sub-projects or components under Microsoft (developed on Microsoft servers, using GitHub). There’s also that concern that Microsoft veterans are now in the board of Mozilla and Facebook veterans are in top management positions. Those are people who came from the surveillance industry, nothing less!

In our Daily Links we include as many links as possible about Mozilla because it’s still important to support this company (it also makes Thunderbird with PGP support after all) and right now all the major alternatives are proprietary and Google-centric.

Mozilla helped save the (digital) world from MSIE monopoly, which deliberately held back development/advancement of the Web (Microsoft didn’t even bother with newer versions for many years). For that alone we should eternally be grateful to Mozilla.

I will, for the time being, keep Firefox installed and use it to compose/publish posts (for 4 years prior to today I used QupZilla to do this). Mozilla relies on the goodwill of geeks and their eagerness to promote it to friends/family. My wife only uses Firefox because I advised her to avoid Google. If Mozilla messes up and throws away all this goodwill (to appease the wrong groups/interests), its market share will continue to erode. Putting Microsofters inside your board is a breach of trust, as was this move. Who are you trying to impress these days?

08.28.20

Linus Torvalds Explains Git (Not GitHub, the E.E.E. Against Git, Now Controlled 100% by Microsoft)

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Standard, Videos at 12:14 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Distributed nature, not centralisation, repeatedly emphasised during this talk

Summary: Now that Microsoft is pushing against E-mail (decentralised and standards-based) workflows in Linux it’s time to understand why Linus Torvalds made Git in the first place (meanwhile they tell us that the real issue is branches being named “master”)

The master tempo

08.14.20

It Was Mozilla — Not Google (or Chrome) — That Liberated the World Wide Web From MSIE Monoculture and O/S Vendor Lock-in, But Firefox is Likely Dying

Posted in DRM, Standard at 7:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A lot of people could not and would not leave Windows behind if it weren’t for Firefox

Panda/Firefox
It became fat like a Panda, not light like a Fox, as F for Freedom no longer matters

Summary: Mozilla’s attitude towards software freedom, privacy, and the most widely used free/libre operating system (O/S) isn’t helping the “protected media” (DRM) Fox because its biggest selling point is becoming outdated/irrelevant/neglected

THE FIREFOX Web browser is a very important piece of software. I first used it in 2004, after a colleague had recommended it to me. I installed it in S.u.S.E. and over time let it replace Konqueror and even more ancient browsers. Back then a lot of sites were inaccessible or barely accessible to me; multimedia features barely worked (think ancient MPlayer and no sites such as YouTube).

This morning someone sent me Mozilla is dead and Web browsers need to stop. I agree with the latter, not the former. Mozilla can still rescue/salvage itself.

“…we regret to see how Mozilla left out GNU/Linux on occasions (no cross-platform support, just Apple and Microsoft malware) despite the fact that GNU/Linux is the only mainstream operating system that typically preloads (bundles) Mozilla Firefox without asking for anything in return (like financial incentive).”I am very thankful for what Mozilla did to the World Wide Web. It really opened it up and in the early days it was open to many third-party developers, who contributed extensions (I even made a couple of themes for it myself). But that Mozilla is gone. Nowadays it’s spying while calling it “telemetry”, talking about justice while talking people down, outsourcing to Microsoft (GitHub) while bemoaning the closed Web, and hiring executives from Microsoft while talking to us about the harms of monopolies. Mozilla just isn’t consistent and sometimes it feels like it lacks a direction and inspiring message.

For a number of years we’ve followed Mozilla blogs very closely and promoted their messages; we regret to see how Mozilla left out GNU/Linux on occasions (no cross-platform support, just Apple and Microsoft malware) despite the fact that GNU/Linux is the only mainstream operating system that typically preloads (bundles) Mozilla Firefox without asking for anything in return (like financial incentive).

“This, we believe, is to do with a project’s leadership as in Mozilla they have more activists than engineers.”Learning about the Mozilla layoffs is painful, albeit somewhat predictable. It’s the second time in less than a year. Mozilla already divided its userbase (developers pool alike) by entering politics where there was no justifiable reason to. Canning XUL also alienated their most important fans: developers, not users. Maybe it thought that the most compelling reason for people to still choose Firefox was some shallow messaging, even in one’s newly-opened tabs. Free software is inherently political, but rarely does it shove politics right into people’s faces. This, we believe, is to do with a project’s leadership as in Mozilla they have more activists than engineers.

I wish Mozilla well, I hope Firefox will survive another decade (Gecko keeps us from complete monoculture) and I hope that Mozilla’s strategic mistakes will serve as a cautionary tale to Free software projects everywhere. See the following old posts of ours from 2014 as well as this one from February:

Keep safe, Mozilla, and keep wise. Charging people to use Firefox is a misguided strategy, as LibreOffice/TDF recently found out (and withdrew from). Making money isn’t unethical; you received billions from Google and paid millions to 'fat cat' executives. Don’t be the Linux Foundation.

08.12.20

Twitter Appears to Have Taken Vendor/Platform Lock-in up Another Notch, Having Become Almost as Malicious as Facebook

Posted in Standard at 4:24 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The long-lost data or what’s sometimes known as ‘Internet rot’ is only a matter of time (planned obsolescence when the monopolistic business model says so); information destruction assured as addiction-optimised Twitter gets worse and worse (now it seems to be rejecting landlines as one’s phone number, which becomes essential for identity under circumstances in which an account gets locked; Twitter uses mobile numbers and harvesting these by blackmailing users — all this to profit through third parties, to which it illegally sells all this data, with impending fines for the unlawful practice)

Twitter lock-in
Oh, wow! Has Twitter jumped the shark?

Summary: As yesterday I had my 800,000th “tweet” posted — or automatically exported from Diaspora as I don't post directly to Twitter anymore — I was going to make a backup of the Twitter account, originally exported from Identica (account backups may be essential assuming it can be ‘locked’ or terminated at any time without due process, as happened many times before); shockingly, at first sight it seemed like Twitter may have silently removed the “download” option (perhaps for more platform lock-in), but instead I always get (perpetually): “The download your data feature is unavailable right now. Try again at a later date.” (see screenshot above; it’s supposed to look like this) Moreover, if one uses the older interface it seems like many users and tweets that link to Techrights.org are being omitted (made invisible), so censorship in the shadowban sense prevails and probably broadens so as to de-platform views/narratives/perspectives not supported by the corporate press (even if they’re well supported by hard facts and evidence).

07.08.20

Fraunhofer is Again Evergreening Software Patents to Maintain Its Codecs Cartel, Forcing Everyone to Pay to View/Stream Multimedia Files

Posted in Europe, Patents, RAND, Standard at 5:31 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Fraunhofer

Summary: The roller-coaster of software patents on multimedia isn’t stopping; we know the culprits who can be named for perpetuating this injustice

THE links below [1,2], which were included or will be included in Daily Links, show that little has changed for the better. Old multimedia formats are being phased out in favour of ones that have newer (not yet expired) software patents on them. This is a big problem for Free software. In the past, for instance, Mozilla paid millions of dollars to “license” some patents for Firefox. Even patents that 35 U.S.C. § 101 likely rendered obsolete and invalid (but the USPTO grants such patents anyway). They’re of course leveraged in bulk, in order for legal challenge of them all to be impractical. It’s an extortion racket; it is not only facilitated by the US but also the ‘European’ Patent Office (EPO), where a large majority of the patents aren’t even European. António Campinos and Benoît Battistelli defend those rackets and even occasionally meet the people behind those rackets.

Regarding Fraunhofer, there’s a lot worth condemning, e.g.:

Days ago Fraunhofer, a Microsoft ally, also published an anti-Linux ‘study’ which the media was quick to exploit for FUD.

“It’s already embraced by DRM giants like Google and Netflix (the same ones that pushed for DRM on the Web and EME in Web standards).”OIN, a proponent of software patents, had the audacity to publicly defend Fraunhofer. That said a lot about OIN and what it really stands for. So here we are in 2020 and the cartel goes on, even without the media studying the subject and blasting MPEG-LA the way it did a decade ago. Puff pieces like the ones below (pure fluff) are a symptom of the death of journalism. They make it sound like Fraunhofer has just given us a gift when in fact we already know that Fraunhofer did intentionally counter-productive things (making codecs less efficient, performance- and storage/compression-wise) just so that they can stockpile more patents. This cartel ought to be rejected, not embraced. It’s already embraced by DRM giants like Google and Netflix [2] (the same ones that pushed for DRM on the Web and EME in Web standards). It reinforces monopolies.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Fraunhofer’s new H.266 codec promises to cut the cost of streaming 4K video in half

    The codec’s full name is H.266/Versatile Video Coding, as Fraunhofer says it’s designed to be a successor to the industry-standard H.264/Advanced Video Coding (AVC) and H.265/High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) formats that combined make up about 90 percent of global digital video transmission and compression on the market today. While HEVC was first released in 2013, the codec has proved controversial due to aggressive patent disputes from its various stakeholders. That’s why AVC, the predecessor to HEVC, still remains the more dominant standard, despite first releasing back in 2003.

    But Fraunhofer says VVC could be a path forward for the industry, as almost every major hardware and software company is currently tied up in a messy patent royalty system that dictates how much various stakeholders must pay to use different compression and transmission standards for devices, websites, and apps. With VVC, Fraunhofer says you can get something far better than AVC and HEVC without any of the licensing headaches.

  2. Fraunhofer HHI H.266/Versatile Video Coding (VVC) Halves the Data Requirements of H.265

    There’s a lot of hype around AV1 royalty-free video codec since it has backing from large companies, better characteristics than H.265 or VP9, and is already used by YouTube and Netflix.

05.25.20

Features Considered Harmful

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Standard at 1:46 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article by figosdev

Stop

Summary: “But the benefits of Free software, free candy and new features are all meaningless, if the user isn’t in control.”

I‘m a fan of BASIC. In fact, my favourite modern language, now 5 years old, was originally named after Basic. While Dijkstra is famous for hating on the language, it was his editor (Wirth, I believe) who incited decades of clickbait titles by working the infamous line attributed to Dijkstra into the top of his article.

I do not hate Dijkstra in return. In fact, his stance on Basic was reasonable enough, so long as we are talking about the actual arguments he made — which applied more to the original line-numbered versions of Basic than today’s versions, which look like Pascal by comparison. Basic was good enough as a first language for Linus Torvalds. Dijkstra actually had a number of great ideas that Basic once lacked. And in more ways than one, it doesn’t bother me that software evolves.

Whether it was his intention to save Basic or get people to use a better language instead, Basic itself isn’t harmful. Some of its features may lead to worse programming, but I think Torvalds (as a coder) proves that using it doesn’t necessarily prevent you from gaining good programming skills. Some languages indeed will teach better discipline, but if you’re determined to be lazy, you’ll probably find (or create) tools that suit your preferences.

I am not against features, per se. I’m also against prohibition and the drug war. But the great harm done by heroin cannot be dismissed — it kills people, and although there is no law that says you must try heroin, getting away from it isn’t always as simple as “just don’t use it”. Fortunately, while I did find Basic somewhat addictive in practice, I have not tried heroin. Though I’ve certainly lived in places where it was a problem. In fact, it’s a problem that tends to increase when the alternatives are fought harder against.

GitHub could arguably be the heroin of the Free software world. We know the harm it does, we’ve been warned about it for years, there’s absolutely no mandate to use it at all — yet people keep finding themselves addicted to it. GitHub isn’t known so much for killing people, but it poses a great threat to projects that use it. What GitHub actually kills, is software freedom.

I’ve written a lot about GitHub lately, but in this article it is just one example of a larger problem. Like with Basic, it is not “GitHub” itself, but some of its features that we should worry about. And the warnings against it have come from Torvalds and Stallman alike.

The complaints from Torvalds against GitHub are closer to Dijkstra’s complaints about Basic — GitHub encourages bad practices in Git management, and breaks existing features. It trains you to be a worse Git user. I think this is a minor problem next to the others. But just as Dijkstra is a pioneer of structured programming, Torvalds is the original author of Git. That makes the critique much more notable.

The fact that GitHub breaks Git the way that it does, fits in with a larger complaint of my own — even if Torvalds decides (or is paid to) change his mind about it. It was developed by Chris Wanstrath, but it was developed along lines that are not entirely different from Microsoft’s EEE tactics — which today I will offer a new acronym and description for:

1. Steal
2. Add Bloat
3. Original Trashed

It’s difficult conceptually to “steal” Free software, because it (sort of, effectively) belongs to everyone. It’s not always Public Domain — copyleft is meant to prevent that. The only way you can “steal” free software is by taking it from everyone and restricting it again. That’s like “stealing” the ocean or the sky, and putting it somewhere that people can’t get to it. But this is what non-free software does. (You could also simply go against the license terms, but I doubt Stallman would go for the word “stealing” or “theft” as a first choice to describe non-compliance).

I came up with this SABOTage acronym when I was going to sleep, and originally it was Steal, Add Bloat, Attack — I guess spelling isn’t a strong point when I’m tired. But this is what people do even in the Free software world today; they take away compatibility (as GitHub did with some Git features Torvalds thinks should work properly), they add stuff that is easier for a large corporation to host (Gitlab too, is terribly bloated I’m afraid — but it can be self-hosted at least) and they attack the original — by dragging everyone into GitHub (as it’s “better”).

I really do understand the appeal of GitHub — I’m a former user as well. While the complaints of Torvalds are relevant to this discussion, the complaints by Richard Stallman are more important to me. In 2015, he said to GNUstep developers:

“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.”

This led to a shallow debate on the merits of GitHub vs. alternatives, and Stallman argued that GitHub negatively affects the license choices people make. One person replied that he was having an unrealistic expectation of GitHub, but this was the thing — we can make it about the design of GitHub, or we can look at the effects. In effect, GitHub successfully gets people away from making good choices.

It also includes non-free Javascript, which many people are willing to forgive or overlook sometimes. But this discussion was about code hosting for the GNU Project itself! If any project should not rely on GitHub and non-free Javascript, it’s the GNU project.

“But it still works if you turn Javascript off” they said… again, this is one situation where many of us are willing to overlook non-free Javascript: if the website still works when you disable it. This is still wildly inappropriate for the GNU Project to endorse, because they’re still encouraging users to run it.

Other than the fact that running and promoting only Free software (yes, I’m familiar with Stallman’s latest article on the topic) is one of the goals of the GNU Project, I think there are worse things about GitHub. And I think that GNU projects that continue to use it unapologetically, such as GNU Radio and GNUstep, are proving that their developers DON’T care about your freedom, and do not represent (nor achieve) the goals of the GNU Project.

And the fact that Microsoft has spent decades trying to co-opt and control Free software? Who honestly cares about that?

But I am aware that such Microsoft-neutral or Pro-Microsoft developers are not necessarily agreed with by every developer on these projects. In the instance of GNUstep, we are talking about the leader of the project who doesn’t care about your freedom.

I did say that GitHub was just an example; it’s a very big example, though not the only one. Microsoft is taking over Python as well. And the way it’s taking over Python does have the aim (and the success) in dragging it into the GitHub trap, because GitHub is perfect for that sort of thing — but the tactics being used would hurt Python with or without GitHub as well. It conquers projects the same way as empires conquer nations — by planting flags in whatever they want to own:

This Techrights article is from 2010, and though they have done this farther back than that, and continue to do the same, Microsoft is still planting flags all over the place. It wants to run your conferences. It wants to host your code. It wants you to agree to its terms. It wants you to adjust your development to its heavily contrived, self-serving “standards” from OOXML all the way back to Rich Text Format.

Again and again, Microsoft “Steals” or “Steers” the development process itself so it can gain control (pronounced: “ownership”) of the software. It is a gradual process, where Microsoft has more and more influence until they dominate the project and with it, the user. This is similar to the process where cults (or drug addiction) take over people’s lives, and similar to the process where narcissists interfere in the lives of others — by staking a claim and gradually dominating the person or project.

Then they Add Bloat — more features. GitHub is friendly to use, you don’t have to care about how Git works to use it (this is true of many GitHub clones as well, as even I do not really care how Git works very much. It took a long time for someone to even drag me towards GitHub for code hosting, until they were acquired and I stopped using it) and due to its GLOBAL size, nobody can or ought to reproduce its network effects.

I understand the draw of network effects. That’s why larger federated instances of code hosts are going to be more popular than smaller instances. We really need a mix — smaller instances to be easy to host and autonomous, larger instances to draw people away from even more gigantic code silos. We can’t get away from network effects (just like the War on Drugs will never work) but we can make them easier and less troublesome (or safer) to deal with.

Finally, the Original is trashed, and the SABOTage is complete. This has happened with Python against Python 2, despite protests from seasoned and professional developers, it was deliberately attempted with Systemd against not just sysvinit but ALL alternatives — Free software acts like proprietary software when it treats the existence of alternatives as a problem to be solved. I personally never trust a project with developers as arrogant as that.

I should thank Roy for inspiring this article, today he made what I consider a minor error in sharing this:

“Kushal Das: A few new generation command line tools” #cli #freesw #gnu #linux

“New generation” indeed. (Original Trashed). Let’s look at what these “new generation” command line tools are like:

“…ripgrep was the first Rust tool I started using daily as a replacement for grep”

Great! a GitHub-based tool written in Rust, which is also GitHub-based. Not unlike this illustrative effort to recreated GNU coreutils in Rust: https://github.com/uutils/coreutils

“Cross-platform Rust rewrite of the GNU coreutils” — and what’s the license?

“uutils/coreutils is licensed under the MIT License”

“A short and simple permissive license with conditions only requiring preservation of copyright and license notices. Licensed works, modifications, and larger works may be distributed under different terms and without source code.”

“And without source code.” Steal, Add Bloat, Original Trashed.

But there are still more little goodies from GitCrap that inspired this article:

“…exa is the replacement for ls.”

Oh good, I was hoping to replace a standard GNU tool with something from Microsoft GitHub. Wonderful.

“…bat is the one stop replacement for cat and less.”

It’s difficult for me to get excited about these “next generation” tools, when I spent several years working to GET AWAY from Microsoft, and they want me to get all my software from GitHub. If I wanted to get all my software from Microsoft and the rest of GIAFAM, I’d just use Windows.

And speaking of, the coup continues this week, with the new COO at Microzilla: Adam Seligman — “formerly of Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft.”

GREAT! That’s also how they gradually took over Nokia, Apache Software Foundation and became the boss of Linus. [Editor's note: Even the COO of GitHub now bosses Linus]

Of course I don’t really blame Roy for sharing that link — there are several ways he ends up with stuff like that, and just as often it comes with a warning or complaint that it needs to #deletegithub. And if this article helps, the link surely inspired it. Much worse than the link itself is the mess that it leads to.

Here’s something else to consider — the way that websites subtly (and sometimes innocently) add to the problem with handy Share icons (which I’m not entirely against). A colleague informs me that one of the things that draws people to GitHub is the way that other websites make it easier to integrate with it. I can’t fault his logic, he’s right. But here’s the reality of that. Such tie-in features will always be implemented for the largest option first, and typically the largest option only.

They’re not going to bother reinforcing smaller choices usually, they’re going to reinforce the largest one. So this practice itself — while technically and theoretically neutral (as it could offer several options for code repos) actually encourages monopoly in practice most of the time. I’m not really against the practice — I’m against its outcome. Which means we should be sceptical or think critically about the practice as well.

There’s a meme about creepy vans with “FREE CANDY” painted on the side, which I took one of the photos from and edited it so that it said “FEATURES” instead. This is more or less how I feel about new features in general, given my experience with their abuse in development, marketing and the takeover of formerly good software projects.

People then accuse me of being against features, of course. As with the Dijkstra article, the real problem isn’t Basic itself. The problem isn’t features per se (though they do play a very key role in this problem) and I’m not really against features — or candy, for that matter.

I’m against these things being used as bait, to entrap people in an unpleasant situation that makes escape difficult. You know, “lock-in”. Don’t get in the van — don’t even go NEAR the van.

Candy is nice, and some features are nice too. But we would all be better off if we could get the candy safely, and delete the creepy horrible van that comes with it. That’s true whether the creepy van is GitHub, or surveillance by GIAFAM, or a Leviathan “init” system, or just breaking decades of perfectly good Python code, to try to force people to develop differently because Google or Microsoft (who both have had heavy influence over newer Python development) want to try to force you to — all while using “free” software.

If all that makes free software “free” is the license — (yes, it’s the primary and key part, it’s a necessary ingredient) then putting “free” software on GitHub shouldn’t be a problem, right? Not if you’re running LibreJS, at least.

In practice, “Free in license only” ignores the fact that if software is effectively free, the user is also effectively free. If free software development gets dragged into doing the bidding of non-free software companies and starts creating lock-in for the user, even if it’s external or peripheral, then they simply found an effective way around the true goal of the license. They did it with Tivoisation, so we know that it’s possible. They’ve done this in a number of ways, and they’re doing it now.

If people are trying to make the user less free, and they’re effectively making the user less free, maybe the license isn’t an effective monolithic solution. The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. They never said “The cost of freedom is slapping a free license on things”, as far as I know. (Of course it helps). This really isn’t a straw man, so much as a rebuttal to the extremely glib take on software freedom in general that permeates development communities these days.

But the benefits of Free software, free candy and new features are all meaningless, if the user isn’t in control.

Don’t get in the van.

“The freedom to NOT run the software, to be free to avoid vendor lock-in through appropriate modularization/encapsulation and minimized dependencies; meaning any free software can be replaced with a user’s preferred alternatives (freedom 4).” – Peter Boughton

Long live rms, and happy hacking.

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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