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GNU is Not Unix Software

Stallman Unsure Whether Firefox Is Truly Free 905

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the more-left-than-left dept.
Slatterz writes "Among the theories Stallman bandies about in this Q&A are: Facebook may not share private data with the CIA, Firefox isn't really 'free software,' and his dreams of a day where nobody is involved in developing or promoting proprietary software. Agree or disagree?"
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Stallman Unsure Whether Firefox Is Truly Free

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  • by junglee_iitk (651040) * on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:37AM (#25785499)

    Firefox is a strange case, since initially the sources were free software but the binaries released by the Mozilla Foundation were not free. They were non-free for two reasons: they included one non-free module, Talkback, for which sources were not available (even to the Mozilla Foundation); and because they carried a restrictive EULA [end-user licence agreement].

    I think these two problems have both been corrected, so maybe the distributed Firefox binaries are free software today.

    He is sure Firefox was not free.

    He is knows the problems have been corrected.

    He is not sure right now because he uses lynx.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      I say leave Stallman alone and never give him any more attention. Give him credit for what he did. But now he is just trying to micromanage the process as best he can to try to meet his software Utopia. Universal Acceptance of Free and Open all the way software is impossible. There will be people who want to keep credit for their work, people who want to make money off of their work, and they do not want to make money supporting their software.

      • by pirhana (577758) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:19AM (#25786105)
        > There will be people who want to keep credit for their work, people who want to make money off of their work, and they do not want to make money supporting their software.

        Each and everyone of the above is possible with Free software too.
      • by plague3106 (71849) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:31AM (#25786267)

        Ya, that's pretty much why I can't stand him. He talks about freedom, but wants to dictate how I, as a developer, can market or sell the product of my effort. He thinks only those that match his mindset are worthy of creating software. He can go fuck himself.

        • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:40AM (#25786381) Homepage Journal

          You want to dictate how I, as a computer user, can use my computer. You think uses of software you wrote are things you can control. You can... :P

          Point is, either we decide original developers of software get to define policy or we frown on letting anyone define policy and let people do what they want with it. Many in the opensource community favour some form of the latter

        • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms.infamous@net> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:41AM (#25786409) Homepage

          He talks about freedom, but wants to dictate how I, as a developer, can market or sell the product of my effort.

          You talk about freedom, but want to dictate how I, as a user, can use, share, and modify software.

          The fact that something is the product of your effort doesn't grant you sovereignty over that thing's use. The luthier doesn't get to determine what songs I play on the guitar he made.

        • by Dan Ost (415913) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:46AM (#25786487)

          He does no such thing. You are free to develop, market, and sell your own code however you like.

          It's only if you want to use someone else's that you need to play by their rules.

        • by entgod (998805) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:49AM (#25786537)
          He doesn't dictate how you can market or sell your software. What he dictates is the rights you should pass on to the users of your program, the rights to pass it on to others and make it better.

          Of course, these rights do make old fashioned selling of programs a little harder but he doesn't explicitly say you can't do that. Cedega is open source and you can even download the latest source from cvs but still transmeta is able to sell it.
      • by DrLang21 (900992) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:19AM (#25786967)
        The idea of universally moving to a business model of supporting software encourages developers to build a need for support into their software, rather than developing software that is so usable that support is not necessary. I do not want to pay for support. If your software is not intuitive enough and does not have a good enough help file, and the online forums are garbage, then your software is crap and I don't want it. Only the most highly specialized software applications should be expected to need constant support.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rxmd (205533)

      He is not sure right now because he uses lynx.

      Also, he seems not to browse the Web at all in the traditional sense, as he pointed out last December on the openbsd-misc mailing list [lwn.net]:

      "For personal reasons, I do not browse the web from my computer. (I also have not net connection much of the time.) To look at page I send mail to a demon which runs wget and mails the page back to me. It is very efficient use of my time, but it is slow in real time."

      He also seems to delegate a lot of web research to others, as evident from a number of posts in the same

  • by chrb (1083577) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:39AM (#25785529)

    He in fact says:

    Firefox is a strange case, since initially the sources were free software but the binaries released by the Mozilla Foundation were not free. They were non-free for two reasons: they included one non-free module, Talkback, for which sources were not available (even to the Mozilla Foundation); and because they carried a restrictive EULA [end-user licence agreement].

    I think these two problems have both been corrected, so maybe the distributed Firefox binaries are free software today.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:39AM (#25785531) Journal

    I'm sure we're going to get debates about pragmatism versus idealism. Isn't idealism just pragmatism with an eye to the future? Both want to get the best. The pragmatist wants the best of what is available now, the idealist is prepared to sacrifice now for the best that it can be in the future.

    • by Ren Hoak (1217024) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:47AM (#25785665)
      Ideally, they are the same. Pragmatically, there are differences.
      • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:13AM (#25786037) Homepage

        The -- ahem -- "idealist" says "these are my principles, I don't violate them".

        The "pragmatist" says "I just want this done by Friday and will violate my principles for the sake of that."

        At first glance, it looks like the second person values action and results more than principles. But that's actually not the case: She just has a different principle: expedience, "getting it done by Friday", and values this more than her other principles.

        Thought experiment: make it so that the thing won't be finished on Friday unless the pragmatist kills someone. You will discover a closeted (horror!) *idealist. In most cases, the thing won't be done on Friday.

        To sum up: this is a false dichotomy, and a tiresome one.

        • by N Monkey (313423)

          The -- ahem -- "idealist" says "these are my principles, I don't violate them".

          The "pragmatist" says "I just want this done by Friday and will violate my principles for the sake of that."

          Could not one say a pragmatist is one who has a set of "ideals" but realizes that list may contain mutually exclusive goals?

    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:13AM (#25786029) Homepage Journal

      Isn't idealism just pragmatism with an eye to the future?

      Pretty much, yes. RMS's point - with which I agree entirely - is that it's impractical to give control of your data to someone else. If you go with proprietary software, that's exactly what you're doing. The other party may very well treat you respectfully, and it may even be in their best business interest to do so, but that says nothing about whether they'll stay in business or whether the giant corporation buying them will be so customer-oriented.

      People talk about using proprietary solutions for their practicality. That might be true in the extreme short term, but in the long term that just doesn't make sense. Idealism is pragmatism. The two are inseparable.

  • by Shakrai (717556) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:41AM (#25785555) Journal

    some of what he is smoking....

    and his dreams of a day where nobody is involved in developing or promoting proprietary software

    I mean, I'm all about open source but nobody developing or promoting proprietary software? What about the business world and the wide variety of custom made software tailored to specific business segments? What about gaming?

    • by Culture20 (968837) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:52AM (#25785741)
      TuxRacer is good enough for everyone, even business executives.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lazy Jones (8403)

      What about gaming?

      Yeah, what about it? Wesnoth [wesnoth.org] rocks and many old game engines are "free" already (well, Open Source for now). Companies could keep the content proprietary if they like and charge for serving it from their servers, I suppose. Meanwhile you could play with your own homemade content... Sounds good to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What about the business world and the wide variety of custom made software tailored to specific business segments?

      Don't confuse "paid" with "proprietary". When I've done contract work for businesses, they've all expressed roughly the same sentiment: It really doesn't matter who has access to the source code, so long as the software works.

      In fact, the smarter niche companies will insist that they at least have access to the source code themselves, so that they can hire another contractor.

      What about gaming?

      What about it?

      The tricky part is cheating in a multiplayer game. An open source Counter-Strike or Halo client would mean no end to aim

  • Facebook and the CIA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chrb (1083577) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:44AM (#25785613)

    If the CIA needed access to the Facebook databases and were unable to get it (either through social, legal or technical measures), I would consider that to be a massive display of incompetence. If the world's most highly funded spying agency isn't capable of accessing Facebook accounts from a cooperative company, then it (the CIA) should be shut down, since it's clearly going to be of no use at all against more determined opponents.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tacroy (813477)
      Have you seen the new facebook UI? I can't find my own info!
    • by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:47AM (#25786519) Homepage

      Yeah. My favorite spy-story of all time has to be CryptoAG and the NSA. CryptoAG is a Swiss company that manufactures secure communication products, and has been doing so since World War II. Suspicious characters use their services. But it was compromised from the start by the US Government. The story goes that the head of the NSA back in the fifties visits CryptoAG and says something like, "The US Government spends MILLIONS on secure communication software every year. How would you like to earn some of that business? And in a completely unrelated topic, it would sure be nice if we had some way to listen in on what those Communists are yammering on about so we could prevent them from taking over the world, wouldn't it?"

      Yeah. CryptoAG products, trusted by dictators, business, and terrorists alike, was compromised for over three decades until the Iranian intelligence agency figured out someone was listening to their conversations and busted CryptoAG.

  • by Scholasticus (567646) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:51AM (#25785707) Journal
    If Stallman says he isn't sure whether or not Firefox is free software, I'll just play it safe and surf the web with HURD.
  • Yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:52AM (#25785739)

    Agree or disagree?

    Yes.

  • Who cares.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by johnlcallaway (165670) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:54AM (#25785763)
    Maybe people should stop drooling over every little thing the experts claim and make their own decisions using their own thoughts. Read what someone says, then make a decision about whether it is an opinion piece or they have some facts that are useful.

    I realize his opinion was an 'I'm not sure' opinion rather than what the OP stated, but still. I use Firefox, it's free, and it does what I want. The other conditions he puts on it are irrelevant to me. If it stops being free (as in beer, not freedom) or doesn't do what I want, I'll go elsewhere.
  • That is easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by DVega (211997) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:57AM (#25785793)
    It is not. The Firefox logo is not free [mozilla.org]. Thus, any software that includes that logo is non-free also, and Debian developers know it very well [debian.org]
    • Re:That is easy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrXym (126579) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:11AM (#25786001)
      The logo isn't source code, it's just a picture. A picture which happens to be a trademark. Mozilla's beef is with Debian or anybody else messing around with code or the settings and still trying to palm it off as Mozilla Firefox. People are still free to branch the code and call it anything they like, which is just what Debian has done. I really don't see what the issue is here. There are lots of registered trademarks in the open source movement - Linux, Ubuntu, Debian, FSF, Firefox, Java, Apache, Red Hat, Novell, Sun etc. etc. etc.
      • Not so easy (Score:3, Informative)

        by Khopesh (112447)

        You're referring to an issue that was solved earlier by altering the User-Agent string to reflect that it was a Debian fork, and you didn't mention that the main reason for this was back-porting later Firefox security fixes to older Firefox versions. The issue at hand is that the Firefox logo has a branding license (see grandparent post) which is incompatible with Free Software licenses and thus it cannot be wholly released as Free Software. (If I recall correctly, the branding license is more clearly inc

      • Re:That is easy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DVega (211997) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:59AM (#25787559)
        You can protect all your trademarks by using the trademark law. You dont need to use the copyright law for that.

        Mozilla.org decided to use both. That means that you can not create any image derived from the Firefox logo. So for example all these iconsets and wallpapers are illegal [blogspot.com]

        Linus, and Debian have trademarks on their names and logos, but the artwork is free-software so, derived works are allowed [lwn.net].

  • Of course it's free (Score:4, Informative)

    by DrXym (126579) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:00AM (#25785823)
    All of the code is open source and tri-licenced. Do with it what you want.
  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:04AM (#25785879)

    Okay, many people have accused him of this, but reading his response how he came about to his free software ideals really doesn't strike me that he quite understands why software costs money. Kind of like how warez kiddies I knew in highschool didn't quite understand why those pirated copies of Photoshop weren't free to begin with. Coding on a PDP-10 in the 80's is great ... but now we're at an age where thousands upon thousands of software developers have to make a living *somehow.* Calling commercially closed source developed software a social problem is extreme. I couldn't imagine an age of software development where I could buy something, freely replicate it and expect the application developer to make money on it in other ways than dragging their heels on supporting it. How does he expect software developers to make a living?!

    • by DrYak (748999) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:44AM (#25786455) Homepage

      How does he expect software developers to make a living?!

      Simply by getting paid to write code.
      As they've always been.

      What Stallman wants to change is that as much as possible of this code, once written, should get distributed :
      1. with its source.
      2. with authorisation to play around with said source

      As an example, a huge amount of the contributions to the Linux kernel (which is GPLv2) are done by professional developers paid by IBM, Novell, RedHat, etc.

      RMS' dreams are to extend this model to as much companies as possible.
      Of course then there's the problem that not all companies are going to hire developers to write GPL code, simply because the some companies count on making money by selling said software.
      (Unlike, for example, companies whose main income is done by selling hardware, services. Or academia who are state-sponsored. etc.)

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday November 17, 2008 @12:34PM (#25788163) Journal

      I couldn't imagine an age of software development where I could buy something, freely replicate it and expect the application developer to make money on it in other ways than dragging their heels on supporting it.

      That age is today. Tell me again who's not living in reality.

  • by victim (30647) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:06AM (#25785911)

    I have no personal evidence that he is currently free, thus he falls into the same category for me as Firefox does for him.

    More disturbing (from TFA)...

    I received an EeePC as a gift, but I could not run it because my conscience will not let me agree to the EULA. Finally, I asked someone to install a free GNU/Linux distro so the machine could be used.

    I wonder which of these is true:

    • It's ok to get some other sap to commit unconscionable behavior on your behalf?
    • He is not able to install Linux? (Possibly because he keeps looking in the library under 'G'.)
    • Installing Linux is not worth his time, but he has a sap with less worthy time to do these things?
    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:03AM (#25786761) Homepage Journal

      It's ok to get some other sap to commit unconscionable behavior on your behalf?

      He had the "sap" delete the offending software and replace it with something he wanted to use.

      He is not able to install Linux? (Possibly because he keeps looking in the library under 'G'.) Installing Linux is not worth his time, but he has a sap with less worthy time to do these things?

      I promise you RMS is capable of installing Linux. I imagine the conversation went something like this: "This thing doesn't have a CD-ROM. I have three speeches in the next two days - could you figure out how to get Linux onto it while I'm packing?"

  • by argent (18001) <peter@NOsPam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:28AM (#25786219) Homepage Journal

    The licence criteria of open source are almost the same as those of free software, because they were derived indirectly from ours.

    Richard, you're rewriting history. The licenses of open source software are more often derived from sources like the BSD and MIT licnses, which are at least as old as the GPL.

  • by cj1127 (1077329) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:30AM (#25786251)
    Sit a potential user down and get them to look at GNU. Shitty logo, meaningless name, and stereotyped militant following. Now get them to look at anything to do with Microsoft. Clear cut image, a household name before it was a household name, and a stereotyped idiot following. People seeing this would rather commission a team of programmers to create them an app that already exists in Open Source form that they never knew existed, because apart from the odd exception of people like Red Hat, Ubuntu et al, nobody in the open source community is willing to regard people used to closed-source software as anything else than the unwashed masses waiting for enlightenment. The people that make the decisions don't give a shit whether a new OS/software package/etc has a particular philosophy associated with it, as is evident from a lot of companies being "liberal" with site licences they actually paid for. What does matter is the snobbish attitude shown off by people like Stallman towards people who have a need for software, be it open or closed source, and the stereotypes they generate that have harmed the open source community.
  • by argent (18001) <peter@NOsPam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:32AM (#25786279) Homepage Journal

    In the 1990s, there was a philosophical split in the free software community between those of us who wanted freedom and those who only appreciated the practical by-products of free software.

    In the 1980s there was a philosophical split in the free software community between those of us who wanted to write and share good code, and those who wanted to make a political movement out of it. The split was created by the GNU Manifesto, long before one group of people in the 1990s decided to pull together in response to the Free Software Foundation's politicization of the community.

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:57AM (#25786667)

    There is one thing about RMS that constantly amazes me. He is always on the right side of things. It usually takes several years before people start to understand what he is saying, but eventually everyone comes around.

    The biggest misunderstanding that people have about Stallman's positions is the assumed fundamental disconnect between "capitalism" and "free software." He's not a communist, but he values his freedom above profit. If anything, that is historically a very "American" position.

    He has no problem with making money, but he has a problem relinquishing his ownership rights and control over his property (his computer) to some other entity (proprietary software).

    It is a reasonable and rational position, especially since Microsoft, Apple, and so many other companies are in bed with MPIAA, RIAA, etc. Web sites collect so much data about us. Are we really free? Is our own computer really our own property?

    In many ways, and this my sound radical, the right to create proprietary software is similar to the right to own slaves. Look at proprietary software in voting machines! Is there a better example of the destruction of human rights and democracy by proprietary software?

    I understand the desire to sell your product and keep the source code a secret, but no other aspect of human technology works that way. Every electronic component is documented. Every part in a car is documented. Every building is built with approved materials and is inspected. Every switch, nail, screw, and device is documented and open to public inspection. Why is not software? Why do we allow large corporations to sell us software that does not necessarily operate in our best interests? Do you think DRM is in any way beneficial to you a stake holder? Do you think it is right that YOUR DVD player will *not* let you skip a commercial?

    The freedom to restrict another's freedom is not freedom, it is tyranny. There may be financial gain in such actions, but is freedom something that we fight for only to sell to the highest bidder?

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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