esr v rms – promoting good technology versus fighting evil technology

Eric S Ramymond and Richard Stallman are still at war, trying to do things their way and claiming their way is the right way to do things in IT:

RMS made an early decision to frame his advocacy as a moral crusade rather than a pragmatic argument about engineering practices and outcomes. While he made consequentialist arguments against closed source (and still does) his rhetoric and his thinking became dominated by terms like “evil”, to the point where he repeatedly alienated potential allies both with his absolutism and his demand that anyone cooperating with him share it.

esr does not seem to see that it is quite possible to both promote good technology, FLOSS, while fighting bad technology, particularly Wintel. We need both approaches in IT. In education, particularly, students and teachers do understand sharing and why it is good and they understand monopoly and why it is evil. The morality of IT certainly matters there. It may well be that many potential allies of FLOSS may not understand good and evil. I suggest they read US DOJ v M$ to understand what evil does in IT, raise costs, stifle creativity, and create vulnerability. I suggest they read about emerging nations advancing rapidly in IT, not because of FLOSS but because there is no monopoly holding them back charging double and triple what software should cost just because monopolies can do that. Monopoly promotes evil in IT. It’s as clear as can be. Evil = harm, restrictions, lack of innovation, malware, slow IT, fragile IT, etc. IT is a matter of morality, not just getting the job done no matter how. Even business can relate to energy consumption, capital costs, forced upgrades, lock-in and poor performance as evil. esr should get over himself and work with RMS to get the job done of freeing IT from monopoly. RMS is not the enemy. Monopoly is and it’s evil.

see Why I think RMS is a fanatic, and why that matters..

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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22 Responses to esr v rms – promoting good technology versus fighting evil technology

  1. Clarence Moon wrote, “it would seem to me that there is next to no motivation for anyone to do a review of someone else’s output. “

    FLOSS is constantly reviewed by people looking to add/remove features. There are many heated debates about what is best to do with the code. Sometimes a consensus is reached, sometimes an edict, sometimes a compromise and sometimes a fork, but the same motivations that make people programmers make them FLOSS programmers.

  2. Clarence Moon says:

    The difference between closed-source software and FLOSS is that spaghetti-code can grow and ferment in closed-source software whereas it generally is conspicuous in FLOSS.

    You are seeing anecdotes and headlines, Mr. Pogson, and thinking they reflect a reality when they do not. Crappy code is uncovered by one’s peers in proprietary settings as well and often results in a failure to be employed beyond one’s probation period. There’s always someone to blow the whistle when some real money and continued employment is on the line.

    In the FLOSS world, to the contrary, it would seem to me that there is next to no motivation for anyone to do a review of someone else’s output. A soup Nazi like Torvalds doubtless scans over kernel submissions, wielding the blue pencil or such with vigor and glee, but most FLOSS projects are one-man shows and ragging on the leader of the pack is just a kill file entry away from being a fact.

    A large FLOSS project is pretty much an insider’s activity, particularly for the big projects like MySQL, Apache, PHP, or Linux itself. Also Open Office and similar. Reviews are surely internal to those groups.

  3. oldman wrote, “Whenever I hear you parroting RMS’s nonsense about needing to be able to inspect and modify the source code, I remember my experiences inspecting and modifying code and I have to chuckle.

    You haven’t a clue Robert Pogson.”

    The difference between closed-source software and FLOSS is that spaghetti-code can grow and ferment in closed-source software whereas it generally is conspicuous in FLOSS. That results in quite modular software so a matter than concerns an end-user may well involve only a few pages of code. Good software requires that modularity as an aid to design and testing. Without that modularity everything become cumbersome. I have worked with spaghetti-code and after analyzing it replaced it with 1/4 as much code that worked better and was easier to maintain. I do have a clue, oldman.

    One of the largest projects I worked on was the control system of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital’s cyclotron. From the internal documentation I learned that six people had contributed to the code over six years. Once I figured out what it did, and after clarifying objectives with my employer, I replaced it in six weeks using Modula-2 in a few thousand lines of code. The work was easy and the bugs were few and easy to find. The programme reduced training time for new employees from six months to one month because it was much easier to use and assumed less than the original application. The was commercial software distributed by a major corporation in the world of nuclear medicine infrastructure. It was far too complex and expensive to be maintained and used as it was. It was trivial to replace. Return on investment/break-even was probably just a few months because I was one salary compared to half a dozen trainees.

    see KFSH

  4. oldman says:

    “Major code bases are too complicated for the amateurs who might want to fool with it for fun.”

    And they have been for some time.

    I remember the time I spent porting a system called CMUSIC (http://www.crca.ucsd.edu/cmusic/cmusic.html) when it did not run on desktop computers. It took me nearly 6 months of arduous work (part time) to get to the point where I understood the application internals well enough to attempt the port. I was successful, and happy with the results and started composing.

    Until the next set updates became available…

    Then I had my first experience with what I came to know as “fit gap analysis” as I had to assess how to adapt the “new improved code” to what I had ported. Again I got it working…

    Until the next set of improvements came out.

    Fortunately for me by that time the roland MPU-401 MIDI interface had become available along with a program called Personal composer. As primitive as it was it gave me the ability to just compose and get feedback in real time.

    And that arduous programming and maintenance task that was CMUSIC on DOS went on the shelf.

    Whenever I hear you parroting RMS’s nonsense about needing to be able to inspect and modify the source code, I remember my experiences inspecting and modifying code and I have to chuckle.

    You haven’t a clue Robert Pogson.

    You haven’t a clue.

  5. Clarence Moon says:

    Anyone can search for stuff in source code

    Searching is one thing, finding is quite another. You would not be able to find the area where the word count function is implemented, I would bet. Get the code and make it count backward from 1000 or some such starting point just to prove you can do it.

    Major code bases are too complicated for the amateurs who might want to fool with it for fun.

  6. Viktor wrote, “You’re needed to mount the next moral crusade.”

    If they want advice on migrating to GNU/Linux they are welcome.

  7. Viktor says:

    Pogson, the Vatican has called. Pope Benedict wants you back. You’re needed to mount the next moral crusade.

  8. Clarence Moon uttered garbage:“There is never any reason to do that unless you are in the process of creating your own work and you have admitted on several occasions that such a task is beyond your interests and practice.”

    There are dozens of reasons to look at source code. Even non-programmers can benefit from examining source code to find who wrote what, or the comments about some error message. Anyone can search for stuff in source code.

  9. Mats Hagglund says:

    When talking about Linux and FLOSS i’ve always very interesting and amazing thing people very soon start to talk about. Sooner or later they will mention to you that “yes, but …there isn’t so called free lunch”.

    However if we thought about history of mankind we’ll soon notice that most of the best things are always done communal, voluntary and just “for fun” of “for curiosity”. That’s nothing against so called free markets.

    Denying the idea of “free lunch” is actually against human nature. In real life people do voluntary work, people give and get without any pay. More than talking about evilness or greediness we should just talk about clichés, formal behavior – and dumbness.

  10. Clarence Moon says:

    I rarely examine the source-code directly

    I think you are just boasting, Mr. Pogson, substituting “rarely” for “never”. There is never any reason to do that unless you are in the process of creating your own work and you have admitted on several occasions that such a task is beyond your interests and practice. You, for example, described how any PHP modification was left to some relative rather than yourself due to the complexity of the task.

    Unless there is some trade secret methodology imbedded in a work, there is no reason to not disclose source code and Microsoft does so frequently. My own company receives fully documented source and checked builds of new versions of Windows to facilitate compatibility testing of our products. Microsoft does not care that anyone knows how their interfaces are implemented, they know that their products are not going to be sucessfully replaced by some ersatz brand.

    You must believe that Linux is every bit as capable as Windows for most if not all client system users, given some reasonable attention for creating applications that match the ones available for Windows, so why is it that it has no traction on the desk top? If you understood the real answer to that, you would not be thinking that source release is any sort of issue.

  11. Ray says:

    I’d probably say that most people are pragmatic, and would prefer to see the virtures of open source, rather to see the bad in closed-source software, because they’re in the software business, and they want their software to be adopted. However, if they use negetive marketing, it’ll send a bad message to software in general. Most marketers know that.

  12. Phenom says:

    I insist on
    •looking under the hood when buying a motor-vehicle,
    •walking around inside and outside a house before I buy it,
    •smelling flowers before I buy them, and
    •I do test fruit for firmness before buying it.

    Eh, you mistake the superficial look at the features (looking under the hood, walking around inside, …) with an indepth structural analysis, which a study of a source code is.

    When you buy a house, you don’t examine the composition of the concrete, with which the foundations have been laid. When you buy a car, you don’t study the specific alloys with which the cylinders have been foundered.

    Since one can’t simply examine millions of lines of code, what sane people do is to study and test the features of the software. For that you have demos, trials, and money-back guarantees.

  13. Ivan wrote, “Do you really expect anyone to believe that you are reading the billions of lines of code installed on your computer before using any program?”

    Yes. Software is read many ways and FLOSS can be read more ways than closed-source software. FLOSS source-code is often read:

    • to better understand error and other messages,
    • as documentation about just about everything about the software: licensing, authourship, versions, revisions, etc. and
    • for debugging/modification/evaluation of the code.

    The ordinary user can do some of those things and the sophisticated user can use all of them. Only a few can do that with closed-source, usually the employees of the provider and a few of the largest/most important users.

    All of the software on my PCs gets read for checksumming, copying, and set-up but I rarely examine the source-code directly, perhaps only a few times per year.

  14. Ivan says:

    Do you really expect anyone to believe that you are reading the billions of lines of code installed on your computer before using any program?

  15. oldman wrote, “DO you think that you have a right to put your hand in their pocket, because that is what you are doing when you insist that YOU must see their source code!”

    I insist on

    • looking under the hood when buying a motor-vehicle,
    • walking around inside and outside a house before I buy it,
    • smelling flowers before I buy them, and
    • I do test fruit for firmness before buying it.

    Why should I not be able to buy software the same way? I don’t take anything from anyone when I examine source-code.

  16. oldman says:

    “Closed source software is a tool of con-men/frauds. What are they hiding? What lies are they telling? Why should anyone trust someone who hides his code?”

    The creators of closed source software are exercising their freedom to protect what they have created. Why do you think you have a right to specify the disposition of another persons property. Robert Pogson? DO you think that you have a right to put your hand in their pocket, because that is what you are doing when you insist that YOU must see their source code!

    The Creators of closed source software are exercising their right to dispose of their intellectual property as they see fit. If they wish to license it at a cost that the market will bear, that is their right in a free society. to set the terms of the transaction. You may negotiate for terms is you can, but in the end your only right is the right to refuse the terms and do without the software.

    All else is bushwah.

  17. jon wrote, “closed source is not evil. There’s no morality attached to source code, contrary to RMS.”

    Morality is in the minds of people not software, correct, but the people who insist software be closed have an agenda other than making the world a better place and that necessarily skirts evil thoughts. Guys like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer love closed source because it allows their monopoly to exist and they do evil with it: spreading malware, re-re-rebooting IT, forcing upgrades, rendering archived data obsolete, making exclusive deals, charging far more than the replacement cost of software etc. The world does not owe evil people a living as much as they may want that.

    Suppose a handsome young man approaches a beautiful young lady and tries to charm her. He won’t tell her anything about himself: where he works, what he does away from work, where he lives, etc. She thinks he’s hiding stuff and runs away, wisely. Closed source software is a tool of con-men/frauds. What are they hiding? What lies are they telling? Why should anyone trust someone who hides his code?

  18. jon wrote, “ESR is saying that such talk is very off putting”.

    That is true that ESR says that but the assertion is not generally true. RMS gathers huge crowds when he speaks to students. Are they put off? No. Nothing RMS says about FLOSS is offensive in the least to decent human beings. Lots of business types get the concept although they find it strange/unusual but are not put off by it. FLOSS is quite efficient for business: lower costs of acquisition and operation. If RMS cut his hair, wore a hawaiian shirt and was younger and lighter, he might put off fewer people but I don’t know any real people who are offended by what RMS says. I have had students read the GPL and the EULA and they get it. A few simple exercises with GNU/Linux that everyone in the class succeeds at and they have no hesitation using FLOSS at all. This “off putting” stuff is imaginary. If ESR really wanted to bridge the divide, he could express RMS’ message in terms/means that ESR thinks less off-putting and help out. Instead he attacks the messenger.

    I disagree with RMS’s contention that FLOSS in the cloud doesn’t remain FREE somehow but we agree to disagree. I love any IT that works and FLOSS works on a thin, fat or remote client. I disagree with ESR’s contention that RMS is off-putting. M$ is evil and I know it. FLOSS is a huge benefit to mankind while closed-source software is often enslaving people. I know evil when I see it.

  19. oldman wrote, “a forklift upgrade”, as if moving to GNU/Linux required a lot of labour.

    I can move a lab to GNU/Linux in an hour or two if the machines boot PXE. I don’t have to move anything, just install GNU/Linux on the machine that is to be a terminal server and the others boot from it. Not having to upgrade the hardware to install GNU/Linux is one of its greatest features.

  20. oldman says:

    “Even business can relate to energy consumption, capital costs, forced upgrades, lock-in and poor performance as evil”

    Nope. They see them as problems to be solved, and in many cases doing a forklift upgrade to a completely different desktop OS and applications is not going to be the answer.

  21. Ivan says:

    Ahh, so calling someone a big sissy nanny pants for not trying certain software is a bad thing…

    Who knew?

    What about childishly substituting a dollar sign for the S in MS? Is that socially acceptable?

  22. jon says:

    I didn’t read the piece as suggesting ear thinks rms is the enemy. Rather, ESR called RMS a fanatic who has allowed his original goals to be superceded by an insistence on purity of method. ESR is saying that such talk is very off putting, that you obviously decrease your chances of persuading someone to change their mind when you begin the conversation by labeling them as Evil and Immoral. Insults are not, I think, the best of ways to influence people.

    I don’t see IT and software development has having a moral component that’s differs greatly in size or kind from any other endeavour. Open source is a more productive environment, but closed source is not evil. There’s no morality attached to source code, contrary to RMS.

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