I found your piece on selling free software to be pretty logical on paper. However, has it ever worked in the wild? Can you name companies or revenues that currently operate on this idea (and I'm not talking about services or support of the software)? I simply can't come up with a widely used monetized piece of software licensed under the GNU GPL whereby the original software was sold at a single price and shipped with the source code -- free for the original purchaser to distribute by the license's clauses. Can you list any revenue generation from that? I must admit I'm not exactly enamored with paying for free software (as in your definition of free) before it's written yet I cannot think of any other way this would fairly compensate the developer.
RMS: I have to exert all my self control to respond civilly after seeing the word "monetize". Implicit in that word is the idea that you want to turn everything into money. The only point in writing a program is to turn it into money. Feh!
I don't object to making money in an ethical way. I don't object to raising money ethically to work on free software. But when you talk in terms of "monetizing", your thoughts have become twisted in a direction that will lead you to be a parasite.
Simply selling copies of free software was an effective way to raise money when I wrote that article, and remained so through the early 90s. As you've noted, that isn't usually the case.
But we have effective ethical ways of funding free software development. For instance, selling support to commercial users, selling exceptions, developing solutions for clients' internal use, and crowdfunding. Simply asking satisfied users for donations works for some developers.
How do you feel about web applications?
I know you don't like Software as a Service. However, there are some web applications that really only work as a web application. Slashdot is an example of this. Do you feel that creators of web applications should be obliged to make their source code available? Also, if I am employed as web application developer, am I a bad person?
RMS: That's not quite correct. What I reject is somewhat different: Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS). This means a service that does a job that you could do by running a program in your own computer.
The two concepts overlap only partly. I don't think I disapprove of _all_ the things you'd call "Software as a Service", because not all of them are SaaSS.
I don't like to use the term "web application" because it is designed to ignore a distinction I consider crucial, between the software in the server and the software in the client. Even if they are designed to work together, they raise totally different ethical issues.
To avoid confusing them, I insist on talking separately about "services" and "client programs". Of course, I reject a non-free client program like any other non-free program.
As for the server software that implements a service, that doesn't directly affect me as a user of the service. I don't even need to know whether it's done with software or by humans. For your sake, though, if you use software in your server, I hope it is free-libre so that it respects your freedom and you have control over your own server.
As always, I don't want to talk about "web applications". We must keep web services and client programs separate.
I don't think web services are wrong _in general_, but they raise various ethical issues. For instance, you shouldn't collect any data about your users, or remember what they do on the site, unless the essence of the service consists of remembering this data. A secondary "social" (I'd rather call it "antisocial") functionality does not justify imposing surveillance on users who want only the principal functionality.
Do not try to excuse adding a brick to the wall of massive surveillance.
Re: On the matter of smartphones
by Anonymous Coward
How do we take smart phones out of the control of corporations and back into user's control? There's GNU/Linux for computers which gives the users freedoms, but there's no equivalent for smart phones yet. I see this as a serious problem because people are largely abandoning computers and laptops to move toward smart phones and tablets. So my question is: How to make a smartphone that truly has the user's interest at heart? (Not trying to sell them apps, spy and track on them, restrict them to a walled garden, etc.)
RMS: There are phones on which you can run Replicant, the free version of Android. Some peripherals don't work, but you can do calls and texts.
Portable phones have another problem: the radio modem processor which talks with the phone network always runs proprietary software, written for a secret processor. Nowadays it checks signatures, so that software is tivoized; Even if we had free replacement software, the processor would refuse to run it.
Even worse, that proprietary program has a universal back door, so it can be altered by commands sent by radio. In most phone models, the modem processor can take control of the main processor and replace its software. Thus, even if you have installed Replicant, the phone company and others have the power to remotely overwrite it with something nasty.
The usual "something nasty" is software that listens all the time and transmits all the speech it hears.
By designing the phone carefully, it is possible to prevent the modem processor from sabotaging the main processor or from accessing the microphone. Unfortunately, we know of no such phone model that can use its peripherals without non-free drivers.
There is another problem that we can never fix, because it is inherent in the way the cellular network works. The phone sends signals all the time it is turned on (except in airplane mode), and the phone network uses those signals to determine where the phone is located. That system records where the phone has been.
In other words, every portable phone is a tracking device.
I know of a possible fix for that: build a one-way pager into the phone. Then you can keep the phone in "airplane mode" (no tracking) nearly all the time, and tell people that they should page you when they have something to say to you. When you are paged, you can decide when it is safe to connect to the phone radio network and reveal your location -- presumably when you are in a place that is not sensitive.
The future of private and free tech?
by Anonymous Coward
My biggest concern in this day and age is the dumbing down and commercialization of computing. What used to be open, interoperable programs has now turned into ad based, proprietary apps. We've gone from having something like Pidgin being able to run all instant messaging clients ad free to now having to download a separate app for every messenger, for example (no one uses the older ones anymore, or they've been shut down). Also, free standards like email have been falling out of favor due to corporate pushes to lock down users into walled gardens like Facebook. Of course there's always the option of not using these proprietary apps, but it really hinders your social life. Also, programs (now called "apps") are designed to milk the users for money, rather than to benefit the users, as you know is the case with things like " defective by design" DRM.
Is there any way computing can truly become free and user centric again, or do you think it's truly a lost cause? If so, how can we do it without losing connection with the rest of the world who will not give up their FB/WhatsApp/Kik (and don't answer their phone or emails anymore)?
RMS: Please don't associate me with advocacy of something "open". I have never used that term.
I disagree with “open source”, of course. However, before that term was coined in 1998, the term "open software" was used to mean something else. It meant that users could choose from various components that could interoperate. I think that's the term this question refers to.
Unix was referred to as "open software", in that sense. However, although Unix was "open", it was not free software or even close to it. Being "open" meant that the user had (in theory) a choice between various proprietary programs -- but that's not freedom, that's only having the chance to choose your master. Being "open" was insufficient because what we need is "free". That's why I needed to write a free operating system, the GNU operating system, to replace Unix.
That's why "GNU" stands for "GNU's Not Unix".
The first step in opposing these evil tendencies is to refuse, firmly and persistently, to yield to them. No matter what anyone else does, I will never be a used of Facebook. I will never use those messenger cr...apps because they are non-free software; not to mention that I won't use the non-free platforms they run on.
If that means there are some people I can't talk with, I will live with that. I might want to talk with them, but not badly enough to surrender my freedom to do it.
Your question presents the issue as an all-or-nothing binary choice, total victory or total defeat. But that's not how it is.
It's a shame that they use those, but we don't need them to _stop_ using those things just in order for us to talk with them. It's enough for them to resume using email and phone calls.
You could send these people a card, once in a while, saying "I'd still like to be friends with you, if you'd like to talk by email or a phone call. I won't be used by Facebook or run WhatsApp. I can't talk with you that way, but that's nothing personal. I'd like to see you some day."
Then either they get back to you or they don't.
On the matter of privacy
In your opinion, how can a government strike a fair balance between privacy and snooping powers? Given that the government needs to be able to spy on potentially dangerous people and groups and such desires have grown legs, wings and multiple heads over the years...
RMS: Over the past 20 years, digital technology has been used to implement a tremendous increase in surveillance. Most citizens of the US live under far more surveillance than the citizens of the Soviet Union knew.
As a result, the balance between privacy and investigation is totally skewed. It's not just a little off, it is wildly wrong, so much that it threatens democracy. Democracy depends on whistleblowers to tell the public what the government is doing, so if surveillance is enough for the government to find and imprison whistleblowers, democracy is directly threatened.
We need to redesign digital systems so that they do not accumulate dossiers about people other than court-designated suspects. Read here for more arguments, plus suggestions about how to do this.
We should also praise Edward Snowden vigorously on every pertinent occasion. The US political class -- which mostly tolerates or promotes oppressive surveillance -- condemns him and continues to demonize him. It's up to us to oppose that.
This is why I lead "three cheers for Edward Snowden" when I talk about surveillance in my speeches.
The next big thing
What do you see as the next big issue coming up with software licensing that isn't addressed with the existing GPL and AGPL licenses?
RMS: I don't know of any. GPL version 3 seems to be what we need; there is no flaw or problem that would require another license.
People have suggested making a "Lesser Affero GPL", and I agree it might be a good thing -- it would take the form of an exception added to the Affero GPL -- but the first step is to figure out what it ought to _do_. What uses should it permit that the existing Affero GPL does not?
I am interested in getting suggestions about this from developers that have real software they might want to release under such a license.
Microsoft's Contributions to Free Software
It seems like Microsoft is starting to contribute more to free products. What's your take on them joining the community, given their rather different approach in historical times?
RMS: Microsoft's most important software continues to be proprietary, and malware too. In fact, Windows 10 is even nastier malware than Windows 8 was.
This is an enormous wrong, and we can't excuse Microsoft for this just because it develops some free programs also.
What are your views on console gaming?
It's long been possible to run entirely free software on a PC, but the world of game consoles has been a proprietary hellscape for many years. In recent years there's been an attempt to open it up in some very modest ways, mainly through the proliferation of Android "microconsoles" and other Android-based set top boxes. Do you find these new developments to be a step in the right direction and are you worried as I am that they're not catching on very well?
RMS: Alas, I know nothing about them. Since you say "open it up", and "open" is not the same thing as "free", I can't tell from your question whether those projects do, or can, lead to a community based on free games.
What I can say is that I wouldn't run a non-free game any more than I'd run a non-free operating system or a non-free compiler or a non-free messaging program.
Teaching about Free Software in CS courses
I teach CS at a university, often including introductory courses. Regarding free software, what message(s) is/are the most vital to communicate to people who are writing computer programs for the first time?
RMS: Here's the message I would give:
If you become skilled at programming, you will come to notice how non-free programs, denying you the source code, restrict and oppress you. But non-free software is prevalent only because the users tolerate it. As recognition of its injustice spreads, we will be able to put an end to it.
I have chosen free software for this class because I value my freedom and I refuse to give it up. Also because I don't want to be responsible for leading you to surrender your freedom.
Please read this for more about this issue.
Then I'd prepare to spend the next class session discussing that reading.
The Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) has not been embraced with nearly as much love as the GPL and numerous issues have been raised:
- Non compatibility with GPL (both ways).
- Non-freeness (as deemed by Debian) of invariant sections.
- Cumbersomeness of having to print the full license when distributing physical printouts.
Wikipedia for example does not accept contributions licensed under the GFDL only. What do you see as a way forward in addressing the issues raised regarding the GFDL?
RMS: That is a fact.
- Two different copyleft licenses, each with different requirements, can't help being incompatible. Thus, CC-SA is incompatible with the GNU GPL also. The only way to avoid that is if one presents the other as an option, as some other free licenses permit relicensing under the GPL.
- You'll have to talk with the Debian people about that. I am not responsible for their views.
- The GNU GPL has the same requirement: every copy of the work must
_come with_ a copy of the license. I adopted that criterion so that
works won't get separated from their license.
Under today's insane copyright law, a copyright can last for more than a century. We can expect Disney to try to buy a 20-year increase soon, as it did in 1998. If you live 40 more years, works that you write today will still be copyrighted in 2125, unless we have defeated the copyright industry by then.
We have convenient ways for a work to refer to a license, and I expect they will still work 5 years from now, but we can't count on them to function in a hundred years. In 10 or 20 years, the World Wide Web could be wiped out by the cr...apps that most mobile operating systems promote. Or, considering a much smaller change, the US government might confiscate the domain gnu.org for posting forbidden dissident material such as this.
Keeping a copy of the license with the work is the only way we can make sure people several decades from now will see what how are allowed to use it.
I was disappointed when Wikipedia decided to change to CC-SA as its
primary license, but given that it has done so, I can't criticize this
I know of one way [of addressing the issues raised regarding the GFDL]: release your documentation under the GFDL.