Bonum Certa Men Certa

Bug #1 is Not “Market Share”



Summary: Opinion on the risks of losing track of the goals which distinguish GNU/Linux from other platforms

IN SOME PEOPLE'S mind, money and umpteen victories as judged by numbers are the only thing that matters. This misses a bigger picture and forgets that GNU/Linux is not a business, it's peer production of robust software. To many people, the goal is to have a solid platform which is also free, in the "freedom" sense, outside the shackles of companies that commit crime like it's a bodily function. So the highest priority is not market share, that's just Ubuntu's #1 "bug" (and yes, it was intended to be a joke, but in reality Ubuntu takes risks by embracing Microsoft software).



Yesterday Groklaw published the following in News Picks, under the headline: “If you are curious about what is going wrong with Ubuntu, read this.” It says: “The article, titled "Giving up the GIMP is a sign of Ubuntu's mainstream maturity," paints replacing it with FSpot as a fine thing, and manages to do so without even mentioning mono (Wikipedia: "F-Spot is written in the C# programming language using Mono."). So for me, it's good bye to Ubuntu until they clean it out. It's a question of ethics, but it's also a question of prudence. If you know about patents, even if you think they are stupid, you are foolish at best to pretend they don't exist.

“If you know about patents, even if you think they are stupid, you are foolish at best to pretend they don't exist.”
      --Groklaw, yesterday
"And if you wondered why Ubuntu is going wrong, in my view, read the following decision-making process, and think about how easy it is to direct anything in a particular direction if all you need is numbers (think Slashdot moderation and Microsoft). A project leader has to decide certain issues, according to the vision, not leaving all decisions, particularly legal ones, to a vote by those who are not even lawyers...“

Not everyone agrees however. Serdar Yegulalp, a former Windows journalist, assumes that it's "market share" at all costs (projection of one's preference onto others), even if at the cost of turning GNU/Linux to just another proprietary system, in which case nothing (or very little) is achieved at all. His new article contains an exaggeration ("Live Free or Die" in the headline*) and criticises those to whom freedom is a top goal/priority:

Linux’s main merit, as a kernel and an ecosystem, is its open source nature. That means the software that runs on it has little choice but to be open source. This doesn’t mean closed-source software is unavailable on Linux—just that it’s got the deck stacked strongly against it.

Because of this, software companies who don’t primarily deal in open source have shunned Linux. It’s something of a chicken-and-egg argument to say who shunned whom first. And perhaps it’s academic: does it matter who took the first step away from the table?

[...]

A constant sentiment among some Linux advocates is that it’s best for Linux as a whole to reject closed-source drivers and software. To compromise on this issue means Linux runs the risk of falling into the hands of entities that can exert control over it.


This is correct. To reject proprietary software is not to be a Luddite but to not lose sight of the goals and adjust the goalposts constantly by compromising to the point of destructive assimilation. Yegulalp stopped writing for Information Week last month; to be fair, he does present both sides of the argument, but he makes it clear which side he is on. Previously, he was promoting Microsoft software and other means by which Microsoft can only harm GNU/Linux (he interviews and supports Microsoft MVP Novell's de Icaza for example)

In other news this week, here is some very accurate coverage from Richard Hillesley, who writes about Moonlight and captures the key issues (the idea that control, for example, is a greater issue than patents). From yesterday in The H:

Both Mono and Moonlight are based on technologies developed by Microsoft to compete with and to replace technologies developed elsewhere. Mono is an open source re-implementation of the .NET framework which was intended to displace Java. Moonlight is an open source re-implementation of Silverlight which is intended to replace Flash as the popular vehicle for online advertising and video.

[...]

The problem with Moonlight (and Mono) for most advocates of free software is quite simple. Silverlight/Moonlight is intended to replace existing Web technology with another set of proprietary codecs and protocols, and Moonlight, like Mono, is patent encumbered. Patents and copyrights can be applied to the underlying technologies and to the codecs which are used to translate bits and bytes into viewable media. Patents, "de facto standards", closed APIs and trade secrets embedded in codecs, protocols and file formats are an impediment to innovation, interoperability, and the ability to translate words, music or pictures into meaningful images.

[...]

These misgivings apply equally to Moonlight, exacerbated by de Icaza's hopes and dreams that Moonlight, like Mono, will become the universal framework for the development of desktop applications on Linux, Windows and MacOS.


It is interesting to see how the arguments in the press evolve. Mono and Moonlight receive more flak and lead to more backlash over time, despite and because of the fact that Microsoft is trying to make them more accessible and even promotes them in public. It's very telling, isn't it? Microsoft would not be promoting something that's beneficial to GNU/Linux and even groom the mastermind being these Trojan horses with an MVP award. ___ * This insinuates that Free software supporters want to kill those who do not comply as this seems like an historical reference that acts effectively to daemonise from the first moment. It's similar to the "You're killing FOSS!" line of argument.

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