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[gNewSense-users] Re: Freedom and webapps

From: Yavor Doganov
Subject: [gNewSense-users] Re: Freedom and webapps
Date: Mon, 05 Feb 2007 01:29:08 +0200
User-agent: Wanderlust/2.15.5 (Almost Unreal) SEMI/1.14.6 (Maruoka) FLIM/1.14.8 (Shij┼Ź) APEL/10.6 Emacs/22.0.93 (i486-pc-linux-gnu) MULE/5.0 (SAKAKI)

Peter Rock wrote:
> > Likewise, but remember: The goal of the Free Software movement is
> > to liberate everyone.
> We can only point to the door. We cannot make people walk through
> it.

Certainly, but by applying certain principles in our behaviour we can
raise awareness of these issues.  Saying "I won't join your project
because it is hosted on a site that doesn't respect users' freedom" or
"I won't send you a message because I don't use non-free IM protocols"
may sound funny, but if we all raise and do this, we will prevail.

> I understand that corporate entities are a major issue. However, in
> the context of free software, the only question is "what is the
> status of the software's copyright and patent portfolio". So long as
> these come up clean, it matters not if the software is engineered
> and distributed by a corporation or not.

It doesn't matter if it is developed by a company, I hope that more
and more companies will develop free software.  A corporate entity is
not an issue, it becomes and issue when the company becomes large and
powerful as Disney.  Greediness dictates their behaviour.  

> > I think that if I vote for something through a webapp, or if I
> > place a bet for horse races, or if I order a remittance to my
> > bank, or if I buy a mips machine from the US through eBay, or
> > merely any operation I can think of, I have the moral right to
> > know how that system works.
> Of course. So make sure the webapp you are told to use is free
> software. Or the voting machine or banking machine...etc. 

It is not, in most cases.  When I protest, I'm told that this is a
"service" and it doesn't affect my freedom.  I don't think that's the
case, so I refuse to use it.

> Every machine that you own or are told to use as a citizen should
> run only free software.

It is wrong, I think, to judge based on the ownership of the machine.
That way of thinking will lead us to conclusions that we cannot
accept.  It is a dangerous path.  

I have machines (not all of them are my property) that are not i386
and I give shell accounts to people, so that they can fix their
software if it FTBFS on these architectures, or debug it if it builds
but does not run (or crashes).  That said, I'm providing a service.  I
can't install a proprietary editor and other non-free tools and invite
them to use my service.  I can't turn my back and tell them that -- it
would mean that I betray them.

How about machines at schools?  They are not property of the students,
they're provided as a service by the school administration to
facilitate the education process.  It would be a grave mistake to say
that only the school (e.g. the "user" in our context) loses its

The same goes for public libraries and for companies as well.  I don't
think that it's right the employer to force the employee to use
non-free software.  I refused to accept such usage several years ago
and I'm still not fired.

Following this logic we can say, and it won't be wrong in that sense,
that Microsoft is providing a service to the people to use a computer
for office work, education, entertainmeent, etc. -- that their OS is
merely a service.

All software should be free, in all fields, all deployments, all
cases.  Proprietary software is immoral and should not exist in any
form; we have to continue our battle until it is extinct and
completely denied by the society.  It is freedom or death, there is no
middle way.

> > There is not even one reason for anybody to hide the source code
> > of any software,
> I disagree. I don't see any reason for anybody to publicly
> distribute software and hide its source code, but I think people
> should have the right to make software and keep their source code
> secret.

Of course they ought to have that right.  But if you write some code
and use it yourself, nobody is affected but you.  Technically
speaking, that software is free software for its only user.  But if
you let me use the program, or let me use the service that this
program facilitates (as you seem to call it, for me it's nearly the
same thing), I expect to have the same freedoms that you have.

> Richard Stallman kept the source code for Emacs secret for quite some
> time. And I have no problem with that. If he had distributed it under
> copyirhgt and kept the source code secret, then yes - that is
> domination and control.

I think you are confusing the development methodology with freeness.
The fact that there was no public CVS repository until recently does
not mean that the code was secret.  Users always had the corresponding
source code of the version they were running.  RMS distributed Emacs'
source on tape in the 80's for a fee, and that's completely
legitimate.  You can write your own free program and only distribute
it against a fee.

> > Well, if you see Google as the only "user" of their software,
> > e.g. if you don't consider yourself as a "user", then I guess
> > there is no moral dillema for you.
> I don't use their software. I use their services [...]

But there are programs running behind these services and you are using
those programs.  The instructions are not being executed by your own
CPU, in the general case, but it doesn't make any difference.  Why it
has to be different?  You are the user, you are ordering an action,
you want to perform some activity.  It is your natural right to know
how the machines (regardless of the fact whose property they are) obey
your orders, and you should have the freedom to run your own
"service", if you feel so, rework/adapt it for your needs or submit
your improvements upstream.

> The dilemma I'm currently having is watching Google make decisions
> that are abusive to human rights (i.e. censorship).

This is another unrelated (but important) issue.  It reminds me of
Wikipedia, because they refused to do the same thing.  This is not a
strict rule that is always valid, but it is more or less true: you can
judge about the moral status of a company or organization by the way
they treat their users (or users of their services, to align with your
line of thinking).  Mediawiki is free software and the people that
developed it obviously thought that it was important to make it such.

> But, even if their search-engine software was free software, it
> ultimately runs on their server so they have control over it. So,
> free or not is not related to censorship in this case.

Yes, with a few exceptions.  Eventually people might find a way to
override it and eventually there would be another, alternative free
service based on their search engine.  And last but not least, I
think that if Google were releasing all their stuff as free software,
they wouldn't make such a decision.

> The case with Skype is different. [...]
> > ICQ/AIM/MSN, secret protocols, web applications that are not
> > released as free software -- these are things that I'll avoid at
> > any cost, as I feel there's no fundamental difference between them
> > and, say, GNU Emacs.
> I don't understand what you mean here.

You don't understand because these are different issues for you.  For
me there is no difference if I use the "official" ICQ client, a free
client that "supports" (I put that in quotes because the developers of
the protocol deny you that knowledge by deliberately hiding the
specification) the protocol (like Gaim) or an ICQ Jabber transport on
the server.  All these are not an option for me, because that's a
proprietary network and unacceptable in any case.  Using such a
service, nevermind how, only makes AOL more powerful and adds pressure
to the other people that might want to communicate with me.

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