Stallman: If you want freedom don't follow Linus Torvalds

The founder of the Free Software Foundation asks readers whether they will fight for freedom or be too lazy to resist.

What's more important to you, GNU's huge user base or its large developer base?

Stallman: I appreciate them both, but neither is what matters most. We didn't develop GNU just to make it a technical triumph, or just to have a success. Our goal was to win freedom, for ourselves and for you.

What's important about GNU is that it provides a way to use computers in freedom. But this achievement is precarious. There are hundreds of GNU/Linux distros, and nearly all include some non-free software.

In 1992, GNU/Linux made it possible for the first time to use a PC and keep your freedom. By 2000, ironically, every version of GNU/Linux included non-free software and thus invited users to surrender their freedom by installing some. Today, I am glad to say, the Ututo and gNewSense distributions are 100 percent free software.

After so many years, are you finally seeing the end of the tunnel, the time when free software will regain its original place, by dominating servers during the next decade?

Stallman: Server operators should have freedom, of course, but the computers that directly affect most users' freedom are the computers they type on. Those are the computers where the adoption of free software is most important. With proprietary operating systems increasingly designed to restrict and control the user, with digital "restrictions" management, their users are subjugated even more now than before. If you don't want chains on you hand and foot, your only escape is to switch to a free operating system.

People use terms like "free software" and "open source" as if they were the same thing. Is that right?

Stallman: In terms of ideas, free software and open source are as different as could be. Free software is a political movement; open source is a development model.

The free software movement is concerned with ethical and social values. Our goal is to win, for computer users, the freedom to cooperate and control your own computing. Therefore, you should have these four essential freedoms for each program you use:

0. To run the program as you wish. 1. To study the source code and change it so the program does what you wish. 2. To redistribute exact copies when you wish, either giving them away or selling them. 3. To distribute copies of your modified versions when you wish.

The term "open source" was promoted in 1998 by people that did not want to say "free" or "freedom." They associated their term with a philosophy that cites only values of practical convenience.

Supporters of open source (which I am not) promote a "development model" in which users participate in development, claiming that this typically makes software "better" -- and when they say "better", they mean that only in a technical sense. By using the term that way, implicitly, they say that only practical convenience matters -- not your freedom.

I don't say they are wrong, but they are missing the point. If you neglect the values of freedom and social solidarity, and appreciate only powerful reliable software, you are making a terrible mistake.

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Peter Moon

Computerworld
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