09.01.20

Gemini version available ♊︎

Studying the History of Free (Libre) Software and the Early Attempts to Co-opt it in the Mid/Late 1990s

Posted in Debian, Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, OSI at 10:09 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Earlier today: Key Parts of the Latest Talk From Bruce Perens, Who Seemingly Wants to Go Back to Freedom (Because ‘Open’ Became Increasingly Meaningless and Users Are Harmed)

Bruce Perens
The Debian project owes a lot to Bruce Perens, who lost many nights for this project’s sake and sometimes received unwarranted scorn; Photo source: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Summary: Techrights has undertaken the task of long-term examination of the history of Free software, in particular the point at which corporations were taking control of the whole thing (under the banner of “Open Source”)

THE past few days have been hectic because I spent nearly 10 hours reading loads of ‘private’ (now published) E-mails from 1996 and 1997, i.e. one year before “Open Source”. All the E-mails are from males (all that I have seen), but that’s not the point. Many of these E-mails are from and to Bruce Perens, who co-founded OSI. Reading along with yours truly are a bunch of other curious people (it is publicly accessible to all), who want to shape a better understanding/grasp of what motivated the whole “Open Source” thing; the word “open” was already flowing a lot in 1997, either in relation to the development model or hardware (“Open Hardware”). So the term “Open Source” didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, no matter who the term was attributed to (the famous lady who repurposed an existing and already-widely-used term from the intelligence community and Perens who offered a formal definition). No doubt the media was already promoting “Linux” (no credit to GNU) before 1998 and the FSF (or Richard Stallman directly) wasn’t happy with improper attribution. Stallman correctly foresaw the harm of this misattribution. It even led to some flamewars at times; the mailing list’s exclusive if not exclusionary membership complains about these (not just about flamewars in the public mailing lists; Debian-private had its own flamewars too, at times not polite ones, either).

“No doubt the media was already promoting “Linux” (no credit to GNU) before 1998 and the FSF (or Richard Stallman directly) wasn’t happy with improper attribution.”We’re going to try to limit the focus on pertinent E-mails, as those messages were generally considered private at the time (23 or 24 years ago, sometimes over 24 years ago!). We’re particularly interested in how “Open Source” came to be what it is today (mostly openwashing; even Perens himself complains about it). “Remember to avoid gossipy details and focus on the substance,” an associate said this week. We believe we’ve managed to avoid publishing or at least mostly avoided highlighting personal stories and disputes. There’s some personal stuff there like people going on holiday, but lots of discussion of value like E-mails from Stallman, Ian Murdock, Patrick Volkerdering, Bdale Garbee and so on.

“In terms of productivity, reading the E-mails is very time-consumption an activity but it is time well spent.”I’m nearly halfway through these E-mails, which I’m not reading in their entirety (the subject lines/threading help cull or reduce the number which need reading). At the end, hopefully, the reading will inspire some writing about the history of the whole thing. The evidence is there, even if we don’t cite it directly. Red Hat is mentioned quite a lot; back then people still argued about packaging standards, the licence of various packages including Qt, security aspects (yes, Debian had some security incidents) and expulsion of some developers. A lot of the issues back there were similar to the ones we have today.

In terms of productivity, reading the E-mails is very time-consumption an activity but it is time well spent. It slowed done publication a bit (we published 301 posts in August, 302 in July, and 317 in June, compared to 231 in May and 154 in April), but it’s going to be worth it. A lot of evidence in those E-mails helps establish pertinent facts. Remember that those were secret (only in some E-mails inboxes — if they still have them at all) until this past weekend.

“Like we said before, we don’t pick topics at random and we don’t explore things at some arbitrary order.”When we started the EPO (European Patent Office) leaks in 2014 we gradually amassed a huge number of leaks and reports which prove relevant to this day. This morning I still received some messages from sources in Croatia. It’s not over. August was quiet as many people were on holiday, but with António Campinos at the helm it’ll only be a matter of time before Battistelli era scandals are back. We have not yet tackled the issue of software patents in Europe; in fact, documents we recently saw show IBM (Red Hat’s steward) still lobbying for such patents, even in Europe (under the guise of “Hey Hi” of course). It’s likely that a lot of our focus will shift back to the EPO very soon. IBM was the subject of 23 posts last month and 28 in July, even 26 in June. In May? Only 2. And 5 in April, which was a good baseline for the rest (preceding months).

Like we said before, we don’t pick topics at random and we don’t explore things at some arbitrary order. We identify topics of both importance and real relevance, then dissect them until near exhaustion. Then we move to the next. We typically deal with several topics in parallel. We periodically decide on priorities. At the end of 2018, for instance, we decided to relegate news about software patents in the US to Daily Links, seeing that the problem was mostly going away inside the courtroom (the USPTO kept granting such patents, but they almost always perished in courts at all levels).

“Bruce spoke a lot to Stallman (and the FSF) back in the 1990s, typically siding with Stallman rather than conspiring against him (unlike many others who egged him on).”When it comes to Debian, of particular interest to us at the moment is the ‘cancel culture’ (relatively new term, not a new problem), which in turn extends to CoC, censorship, suppression of enquiry about funding sources (with strings attached). This helps us better understand the roots of the Open Source folks, especially when studying Debian-Private E-mails from 1-2 years before OSI. Remember that the project leader of Debian at the time was the same person who co-founded OSI.

As a final note of polite courtesy, Bruce Perens seems like a really awesome person who received a lot of grief if not abuse when he led Debian. At the time, Ian Murdock (by his own admission) was preoccupied with the university, so he at least temporarily left the project in the hands of a technical, hard-working, well-intentioned, good-spirited person. Seeing the latest initiative from Bruce (he keeps calling/referring himself by the first name, as a third person), we’re very interested. Remember that a year after establishing OSI he left in protest and he did so again earlier this year. It seems like he’s conflicted ‘within himself’, seeing that the things he created with good intentions/goodwill (at the time) have turned into a weapon against human rights, civil liberties, software freedom and basic human dignity. He makes no apologies for it, but at times he seems regretful that everything became a zero-cost labour mill for monopolies (he says that Free software developers became “supplicants”). He’s eager to change that. Last year we said that Bruce would be a decent candidate to succeed Stallman (after his virtual ‘expulsion’ by shaming), but seeing the remark Bruce made shortly thereafter about this ‘expulsion’ we had to re-evaluate. Bruce spoke a lot to Stallman (and the FSF) back in the 1990s, typically siding with Stallman rather than conspiring against him (unlike many others who egged him on). He later recalled that he had learned ESR (Raymond) was hoping to cause a sort of Stallman ‘expulsion’ as soon as OSI was established. Not fair, perhaps something he can never truly make up for. Kudos for at least trying — better late than never!

Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

Decor ᶃ Gemini Space

Below is a Web proxy. We recommend getting a Gemini client/browser.

Black/white/grey bullet button This post is also available in Gemini over at this address (requires a Gemini client/browser to open).

Decor ✐ Cross-references

Black/white/grey bullet button Pages that cross-reference this one, if any exist, are listed below or will be listed below over time.

Decor ▢ Respond and Discuss

Black/white/grey bullet button If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

DecorWhat Else is New


  1. IRC Proceedings: Thursday, December 02, 2021

    IRC logs for Thursday, December 02, 2021



  2. Links 3/12/2021: Nitrux 1.7.1 and Xen 4.16 Released

    Links for the day



  3. Links 2/12/2021: OpenSUSE Leap 15.4 Alpha, Qt Creator 6

    Links for the day



  4. The EPO's “Gender Awareness Report”

    There’s a new document with remarks by the EPO’s staff representatives and it concerns opportunities for women at the EPO — a longstanding issue



  5. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, December 01, 2021

    IRC logs for Wednesday, December 01, 2021



  6. EPO Staff Committee Compares the Tactics of António Campinos to Benoît Battistelli's

    The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO talks about EPO President António Campinos, arguing that “he seems to subscribe to the Manichean view, introduced by Mr Battistelli…”



  7. Prof. Thomas Jaeger in GRUR: Unified Patent Court (UPC) “Incompatible With EU Law“

    The truth remains unquestionable and the law remains unchanged; Team UPC is living in another universe, unable to accept that what it is scheming will inevitably face high-level legal challenges (shall that become necessary) and it will lose because the facts are all still the same



  8. Links 1/12/2021: LibrePlanet CFS Extended to December 15th and DB Comparer for PostgreSQL Reaches 5.0

    Links for the day



  9. EPO Cannot and Will Not Self-Regulate

    The term financialisation helps describe some of the activities of the EPO in recent years; see Wikipedia on financialisation below



  10. [Meme] Germany's Licence to Break the Law

    Remember that the young Campinos asked dad for his immunity after he had gotten drunk and crashed the car; maybe the EPO should stop giving diplomatic immunity to people, seeing what criminals (e.g. Benoît Battistelli) this attracts; the German government is destroying its image (and the EU’s) by fostering such corruption, wrongly believing that it’s worth it because of Eurozone domination for patents/litigation



  11. EPO Dislikes Science and Scientists

    The EPO's management has become like a corrupt political party with blind faith in money and monopolies (or monopoly money); it has lost sight of its original goals and at this moment it serves to exacerbate an awful pandemic, as the video above explains



  12. Links 1/12/2021: LibreOffice 7.3 Beta, Krita 5.0, Julia 1.7

    Links for the day



  13. Links 1/12/2021: NixOS 21.11 Released

    Links for the day



  14. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

    IRC logs for Tuesday, November 30, 2021



  15. Links 1/12/2021: Tux Paint 0.9.27 and WordPress 5.9 Beta

    Links for the day



  16. [Meme] EPO Administrative Council Believing EPO-Bribed 'Media' (IAM Still Shilling and Lying for Cash)

    IAM continues to do what brings money from EPO management and Team UPC, never mind if it is being disputed by the patent examiners themselves



  17. The EPO's Mythical “Gap” Has Been Found and It's Bonuses for People Who Use Pure Fiction to Steal From Patent Examiners

    The phony president who has the audacity to claim there's a budget gap is issuing millions of euros for his enablers to enjoy; weeks ahead of the next meeting of national delegates the Central Staff Committee (CSC) tells them: "Events show that the delegations’ concerns about functional allowances have materialised. The lack of transparency and inflation of the budget envelope gives rise to the suspicion that high management is pursuing a policy of self-service at the expense of EPO staff, which is difficult to reconcile with the Office’s claimed cost-saving policy, and to the detriment of the whole Organisation."



  18. Video: Making the Internet a Better Place for People, Not Megacorporations

    Following that earlier list of suggested improvements for a freedom-respecting Internet, here's a video and outline



  19. Links 30/11/2021: KDE Plasma 5.23.4, 4MLinux 38.0, Long GitHub Downtime, and Microsoft's CEO Selling Away Shares

    Links for the day



  20. A Concise Manifesto For Freedom-Respecting Internet

    An informal list of considerations to make when reshaping the Internet to better serve people, not a few corporations that are mostly military contractors subsidised by the American taxpayers



  21. Freenode.net Becomes a 'Reddit Clone' and Freenode IRC is Back to Old Configurations After Flushing Down Decades' Worth of User/Channel Data and Locking/Shutting Out Longtime Users

    Freenode is having another go; after “chits” and “jobs” (among many other ideas) have clearly failed, and following the change of daemon (resulting in massive loss of data and even security issues associated with impersonation) as well as pointless rebrand as “Joseon”, the domain Freenode.net becomes something completely different and the IRC network reopens to all



  22. Jack Dorsey's Decision is a Wake-up Call: Social Control Media is Just a Toxic Bubble

    The state of the World Wide Web (reliability, preservation, accessibility, compatibility etc.) was worsened a lot more than a decade ago; with social control media that’s nowadays just a pile of JavaScript programs we’re basically seeing the Web gradually turning into another Adobe Flash (but this time they tell us it’s a “standard”), exacerbating an already-oversized ‘bubble economy’ where companies operate at a loss while claiming to be worth hundreds of billions (USD) and generally serve imperialistic objectives by means of manipulation like surveillance, selective curation, and censorship



  23. IRC Proceedings: Monday, November 29, 2021

    IRC logs for Monday, November 29, 2021



  24. Links 29/11/2021: NuTyX 21.10.5 and CrossOver 21.1.0

    Links for the day



  25. This Apt Has Super Dumbass Powers. Linus Sebastian and Pop_OS!

    Guest post by Ryan, reprinted with permission



  26. [Meme] Trying to Appease Provocateurs and Borderline Trolls

    GNU/Linux isn’t just a clone of Microsoft Windows and it oughtn’t be a clone of Microsoft Windows, either; some people set themselves up for failure, maybe by intention



  27. Centralised Git Hosting Has a Business Model Which is Hostile Towards Developers' Interests (in Microsoft's Case, It's an Attack on Reciprocal Licensing and Persistent Manipulation)

    Spying, censoring, and abusing projects/developers/users are among the perks Microsoft found in GitHub; the E.E.E.-styled takeover is being misused for perception manipulation and even racism, so projects really need to take control of their hosting (outsourcing is risky and very expensive in the long run)



  28. Links 29/11/2021: FWUPD's 'Best Known Configuration' and Glimpse at OpenZFS 3.0

    Links for the day



  29. President Biden Wants to Put Microsofter in Charge of the Patent Office, Soon to Penalise Patent Applicants Who Don't Use Microsoft's Proprietary Formats

    The tradition of GAFAM or GIAFAM inside the USPTO carries on (e.g. Kappos and Lee; Kappos lobbies for Microsoft and IBM, whereas Lee now works for Amazon/Bezos after a career at Google); it's hard to believe anymore that the USPTO exists to serve innovators rather than aggressive monopolists, shielding their territory by patent threats (lawsuits or worse aggression) and cross-licensing that's akin to a cartel



  30. Microsoft GitHub Exposé — Part VIII — Mr. Graveley's Long Career Serving Microsoft's Agenda (Before Hiring by Microsoft to Work on GitHub's GPL Violations Machine)

    Balabhadra (Alex) Graveley was promoting .NET (or Mono) since his young days; his current job at Microsoft is consistent with past harms to GNU/Linux, basically pushing undesirable (except to Microsoft) things to GNU/Linux users; Tomboy used to be the main reason for distro ISOs to include Mono


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts