Skip to main content
Welcome guest. | Register | Login | Post

modified page: How to Misunderstand Free Software [now up]

34 replies [Last post]
ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13

EDIT: page now up, see below.

--

I suggest we modify the page "Freedom in Computing Explained" on GetGNULinux.org, as well as part of the "Linux" page.

The problem:
We "explain GNU/Linux" fine, but many users don't understand the economical system of free software. As such they discredit the whole thing.
I got hold of an email (a forward, not direct feedback) from a visitor that said:

GGL visitor wrote:

For Linux the cost appears to be more your time and patience. A lot of things are free or minimal cost and yes you can often get the source code. But what if you are not a programmer and don't care to be fixing someone else's code? Eventually someone has to be paid for the software work, when/how does this happen? I guess I'm a firm believer that there is really no "free lunch".

So. GGL is not clear enough about this. Luzi pointed this out also. My proposal is:

  • Improve the end of the "Linux" page
    My reply to this visitor was

    olivier wrote:

    [cut out important part about freedom in software] Specifically, free software businesses (like Canonical or Red Hat) provide support for their software: assistance, training, on-demand bug fixes. This is mostly it for their income - it doesn't amount to very large sums.
    The good news then comes on the expenses. Development of free software is extremely decentralized.
    1. Some hardware companies contribute programmer time towards free software projects, because they want their products to work instantly on GNU/Linux boxes.
    2. More importantly, companies contribute to projects, because when they "give away" their exclusive rights on software, if they manage well, they benefit from the contribution (fixes, additional features, bug reports, marketing) of the community.
    3. And finally and most importantly, it turns out programming is something many people enjoy doing, if they feel the result is worthwhile. If you fix something on the Linux kernel, within 1 month around 15 million computers around the world benefit from it. Or you participate in improving Drupal, and provide thousands of web developers a clear and powerful website content management system (that powers, so I hear, some NASA websites) they can install in minutes. There are countless extremely good pieces of software used in all areas of computing.
    This all sounds a bit naïve, but then again despite what Microsoft wants us to believe, free software people aren't hippies. In the end, free software businesses can deliver you with a stable, full-featured operating system including an incredible array of applications, with staff of around 70 - 150, and a small budget. Individual end-users often get the software at zero cost. Companies as users are happy to pay for more support. And the software benefits from the input of a variety of paid and voluntary contributors. It all makes more sense if we think of software as "useful maths" or "human knowledge", rather than "tangible property" (although you still have more rights over tangible objects than over proprietary software).[...]

    So maybe we could express this kind of ideas in the bullet list at the bottom of the page. (this has to be phrased better than my quickly-written email!)

  • Turn the "Freedom Explained" page into an authoritative article
    I was thinking of the title "How to Misunderstand Free Software" because it is catchy and more to the point (the fact is most people misunderstand it[including myself not long ago]).
    The contents would roughly be as follows:
    1. The software industry will crumble down if programmers aren't paid
      And the answer would basically be:
      * Distiction between free as in beer and free as in speech
      * How can people get money over a product anyone can copy? Code is a language, like "useful maths". Providing good code (stable, secure, performing software) requires expertise. Many people esp. companies are ready to pay for that. Work is extremely decentralized and some of it is voluntary. There may also be secondary ways to generate income.
    2. Innovation is stiffled in free software
      Quickly kill this myth with a few good examples... Firefox, Joomla & Drupal, Wordpress... and of course GNU/Linux. Maybe extend examples to open standards and languages: XHTML, PHP, etc.
    3. Software should just work. Who cares about source code?
      Just rephrasing of the "No source code" page, and extend slightly onto the ideas of the "Stand for a free society" page.
    4. Free/Open Source software leaves no room for private innovation and competitive advantage.
      Basically answering Ballmer's FUD about having to "open source" all of your knowledge, what redistributing means.
    5. Innovators can't protect themselves with patents in Free software
      Clearly separate patents from copyright. Explain that any large piece of software violates many patents in several countries. Explain that in software, patents don't protect anything.
    6. Free Software can't be secure
      Plug back some of the car analogy content, with reminders of GNU/Linux and BSD security
    7. Some additional misconceptions
      could be answered in an expandable box... The points above are the main ones I could think of, we should keep the page relatively short.

I thought the new article, if it is well-phrased and succint, could additionally attract some attention through digg and the likes.

Does this proposal sound reasonable? Unless you have major objections, I'll start working on it now and will come back with a self-standing draft.
Olivier.

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
I like it!

I like it!

libervisco's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-05-04
I've no objection. Sounds

I've no objection. Sounds good.

a thing's picture
Offline
Joined: 2005-12-20
#4
adriadcapo wrote:

4. Free/Open Source software leaves no room for private innovation and competitive advantage.

Competitive advantage comes from the ability to do, not from what has been done. "Intellectual property"-based buisnes is the latter and laziness (the bad kind).

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
I'm working on it and will

I'm working on it and will submit a draft very soon.

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
Right, here it is. One

Right, here it is.

I'll comment later on changes to let you have a clear "first read". One simple remark: the big yellow box "read more" at the end should have collapsed titles (JavaScript trick), I don't know how to do that, if anyone can help that'd be great.

Please criticize. Put on your "total newbie" hat, what are your first impressions?
Also, are there inaccuracies? Can you make the article shorter and simpler?
Thanks for any input.

a thing's picture
Offline
Joined: 2005-12-20
GGPL

s/General Public License/GNU General Public License/

Copyright isn't at the heart of free software. Copyleft is a hack on copyright.

"Math" in English isn't plural.

Get rid of the "So" at the beginning of the last paragraph of the first section.

Don't even mention open source. It can just lead to more confusion.

More to come when I've time...

Offline
Joined: 2005-12-18
Looks good, aside for a few details

In part 1. I think that the sentence "Once you assimilate software to useful maths, an elaborate language, not tangible property, there is no reason to restrict others' use of it." is very unclear (but english is not my native language, so it might be just me). I find this "once you assimilate software to useful maths" phrase confusing (who is assimilating software to maths and what does it mean?). Maybe "Once you view software as useful maths, an elaborate ..." would be better.

In part 2. building on ideas of others instead of reinventing them should be mentioned. With free software there is no need to reinvent things, which makes it much easier and faster to build on the work of others. Therefore, innovation happens more, and faster.

In part 4. there is small typo (his/here should be his/her).

In "Further reading on the web":
- Under "The GNU project", I think it would be better to say "This is where free software all started" instead of "This is where GNU/Linux all started".
- Under "The OpenDocument Fellowship" there is a typo, you meant "OpenDocument Format" instead of "OpenDocument Freedom".

Besides these few problems, I like the text, it is clear and concise.

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
a thing wrote: Copyright
a thing wrote:

Copyright isn't at the heart of free software. Copyleft is a hack on copyright.

How should I rephrase that? What I meant to do is reassure people who believe that using free software means overthrowing or ignoring copyright entirely.

a thing wrote:

Don't even mention open source. It can just lead to more confusion.

I can't do that... At my university in France, despite there being a very straight word for free ("libre") in French, most people (students and teachers) only have heard about "open source". We can't just pretend the term does not exist, I want all these people to find GetGNULinux.org!
I put a footnote that points to Stallman's new text on the subject. Do you think it's acceptable?

a thing wrote:

s/General Public License/GNU General Public License/

"Math" in English isn't plural.

Get rid of the "So" at the beginning of the last paragraph of the first section.

corrected, thanks.

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
re: stojic comments
stojic wrote:

In part 1. I think that the sentence "Once you assimilate software to useful maths, an elaborate language, not tangible property, there is no reason to restrict others' use of it." is very unclear [...] Maybe "Once you view software as useful maths, an elaborate ..." would be better.

Indeed, very unclear. The problem is that after 10+ re-reads it's hard to notice. I rephrased according to your suggestion, don't hesitate to criticize further.

stojic wrote:

In part 2. building on ideas of others instead of reinventing them should be mentioned. With free software there is no need to reinvent things, which makes it much easier and faster to build on the work of others. Therefore, innovation happens more, and faster.

Very good point! I hope it's better now...

stojic wrote:

In part 4. there is small typo (his/here should be his/her).
In "Further reading on the web":
- Under "The GNU project", I think it would be better to say "This is where free software all started" instead of "This is where GNU/Linux all started".
- Under "The OpenDocument Fellowship" there is a typo, you meant "OpenDocument Format" instead of "OpenDocument Freedom".

I rephrased all of this.

Thanks a lot stojic!

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
Quote:Non-proprietary
Quote:

Non-proprietary software stands out in many areas: consider, to name a few, the Firefox (web browser) or Inkscape (vector drawing) applications, the Apache (web server) or OpenBSD (OS) systems, the HTML (web pages) or ODF (office documents) formats, the Drupal (Content Management System) or Wordpress (blog) web applications.

Out of all the mentioned software, I'm afraid my nontechnician friends and relatives will only recognize Firefox, HTML and perhaps Wordpress.

I suggest to change this approach into something like "You already enjoy free software despite you didn't know it; if you love that small piece of free software, you'll fall in love with a bigger free system such as Linux".

Quote:

How can you trust your car, if no-one is allowed to make sure that it's reliable, that it does not leak, that it's not harmful to the society and environment?

I think "that it's not harmful to the society and environment" should be replaced by something else:

  • It isn't a mystery whether privative software upsets any society.
  • IMO, privative software is not directly related to the environment.

What do you think about replacing this phrase by: that you don't know what your machine is really doing underneath (in addition to do what you want it to do, it might perfectly share any data of yours with the vendor or even the vendor may make your computer do something you wouldn't allow, for example).

Quote:

whether proprietary of free

I think "be it proprietary or free" or "either proprietary or free" sounds better. AFAIK, "whether" is used when something is true or false (for instance, whether you use free software [or not]).

Quote:

The GNU project

This is where GNU/Linux all started.

It should be replaced by "This is where the Free Software movement started", imo.

On the other hand, instead of using "free ('open source') software" throughout the article, it might only be used at the beginning and later alternate both terms.

Cheers.

a thing's picture
Offline
Joined: 2005-12-20
open source

How about add another section entitled "Free software and open source are the same."?

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
re: Gustavo's comments
Gustavo wrote:
ariadacapo wrote:

Non-proprietary software stands out in many areas: [...]

Out of all the mentioned software, I'm afraid my nontechnician friends and relatives will only recognize Firefox, HTML and perhaps Wordpress.

I suggest to change this approach into something like "You already enjoy free software despite you didn't know it; if you love that small piece of free software, you'll fall in love with a bigger free system such as Linux".

I agree that most sofware I mention here won't be recognised; but the point of the page is not to turn someone to GNU/Linux: it is to specifically kill myths about free software.
I really started to write it when I saw the free software idea pop in into the presidential election campaign here in France. One candidate (no name, let's not talk about politics) brought the idea forward on his website but it frightened some people who commented. It is understandable that some people feel more secure with one expensive powerful product than with stuff at no cost you can find all over the net (that's how they see free software). That's also where I read the words "patented software" (where one actually meant "proprietary software").
So here I want to kill the "obvious" thought that comes to most people when you mention "freedom to copy": "what about innovation?". If people are open-minded, they'll do a bit of reading and find out free software can be innovative.

To make people "fall in love with Linux" I am going to raise the "Linux can do" website idea from its ashes, soon.

Gustavo wrote:

I think "that it's not harmful to the society and environment" should be replaced by something else:

  • It isn't a mystery whether privative software upsets any society.
  • IMO, privative software is not directly related to the environment.

What do you think about replacing this phrase by: that you don't know what your machine is really doing underneath (in addition to do what you want it to do, it might perfectly share any data of yours with the vendor or even the vendor may make your computer do something you wouldn't allow, for example).

Software isn't related to the environment, I agree. However, I swear it is a huge mystery why Windows would upset our society, to most users. This is so hard to explain!

What I was trying to do here is find an analogy. My assumption is that most people would reckon that the fact their car boot can be opened makes is safer, even if they haven't got a clue about mechanics.
Generally my experience is that if we stick to "code" examples, then people frown and don't listen. My mum doesn't care how her computer works, and if asked "how do you know your computer is not sending your data over?", she'd answer "I just don't know and I don't have time to worry about that". The argument "with free software, other people somewhere on the internet make sure your computer doesn't send your data over" would just not work.
So we need an analogy. The analogy of the car isn't quite perfect; the question is, can we rephrase it better, or find another? I'm very open to that.

Gustavo wrote:
ariadacapo wrote:

whether proprietary of free

I think "be it proprietary or free" or "either proprietary or free" sounds better. AFAIK, "whether" is used when something is true or false (for instance, whether you use free software [or not]).

Native speakers please come forward! I'm clueless! :puzzled:

Gustavo wrote:
ariadacapo wrote:

The GNU project

This is where GNU/Linux all started.

It should be replaced by "This is where the Free Software movement started", imo.

On the other hand, instead of using "free ('open source') software" throughout the article, it might only be used at the beginning and later alternate both terms.

Cheers.

I think this is now corrected

I hope my arguments are not too confused and that they make sense... what do you think?
Thanks a lot for the discussion.
Olivier.

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
a thing wrote: How about
a thing wrote:

How about add another section entitled "Free software and open source are the same."?

I thought a lot about this this week-end, and I don't want to write this in the article (unless everyone thinks it's necessary, so please everyone express your opinions!). The point of the article is to kill large myths about free software. Whether you call the thing "free software" or "open source software" is a matter of choice, not misunderstanding. It's about where you stop, the fact that the source's available for re-use, or the fact it gives freedom to users.
The community is spending enough effort arguing over this and I don't want to pour oil on the fire. GGL is only talking about "free software", "open source" is sometimes mentioned with quotes. The article now points to the FSF's new article on "free" vs. "open source". This should be enough for an open-minded person to make his/her decision. I'd like to avoid turning the "open source" supporters against us and see the whole thing turn to flaming.

Does this sound reasonable? Again, if most people here agree there should be such a part, let's write it. Otherwise I'd rather stay on the current position.
thanks
Olivier.

libervisco's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-05-04
That sounds reasonable.

That sounds reasonable. Really you don't want to get "Open Source vs. Free Software" debates going on around these forums. Eye

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
I agree with you,

I agree with you, Olivier.

Regarding the English phrase, these web pages might help if no English native appears...
http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=220898
http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=262495

Salut!

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
I think we should include a

I think we should include a FAQ entry for it...

You refer to this kind of software as "Free Software" or "Open Source Software"... Are they synonyms?
Technically, no. Free Software usually refers to four kind of freedom, while Open Source only refers to the availability of the source code to anyone; however, there is no consensus on the use of these terms. It's worth noting that they have nothing to do with price.

guyjohnston's picture
Offline
Joined: 2007-03-05
I've got a few different

I've got a few different points to make on this topic. Firstly, I think it would be better if the term "open source" was only mentioned once at the beginning, with the footnote as it is, but then not mentioned any more on the page. Also, under the heading 'Software Should Just Work (who cares about source code?)', it reads "It does not matter whether you know about mechanics". Mechanics generally means the physics of how objects move around, rather than how a car works. I think that should be replaced with "It does not matter whether you know how a car works".

Under the heading 'Free software doesn't respect authors' copyrighted and patented software' it also reads "Copyright is the natural right of the author over his/her creation". That's wrong. Copyright is an artificial privilege given to authors and publishers for a limited time to benefit the public, rather than a natural right. Richard Stallman's article about this (in terms of US law at least) at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/misinterpreting-copyright.html is very good.

a thing is also wrong that ""Math" in English isn't plural." It isn't plural in some English speaking countries (I know it isn't in the US), but it is in some others. That includes the UK (including England :-)), where I am, where the word is "maths". But either is fine as long as it's correct somewhere.

Thanks,

Guy

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
updated version is online

updated version is online with JavaScript-collapsed questions at the end (no change to text).

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
It's alright (even with

It's alright (even with javascript disabled)!

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
Hi Guy! guyjohnston

Hi Guy!

guyjohnston wrote:

Firstly, I think it would be better if the term "open source" was only mentioned once at the beginning, with the footnote as it is, but then not mentioned any more on the page.

But what's wrong with mentioning that term? It almost seems it's taboo.
Let's face it. Most people – I mean the vast majority of them – think of free software as open source. I just want to make sure they know we are talking about the same thing. If we pretend "open source" doesn't exist then readers are easily led to believe we're referring to something else - not the "concept behind fedora", not what Ballmer calls communism, not "what powers firefox", etc.
We simply have to make sure we set readers on the right track. I think with quotes and footnotes we do that well.

guyjohnston wrote:

Also, under the heading 'Software Should Just Work (who cares about source code?)', it reads "It does not matter whether you know about mechanics". Mechanics generally means the physics of how objects move around, rather than how a car works. I think that should be replaced with "It does not matter whether you know how a car works".

You're right. I rephrased it.
I'd like to express that better but I can't find the right phrasing.

guyjohnston wrote:

it also reads "Copyright is the natural right of the author over his/her creation". That's wrong. Copyright is an artificial privilege given to authors and publishers for a limited time to benefit the public, rather than a natural right.

Thanks for pointing this out - I know much better than what I wrote. I was too much concentrated on patents when I wrote the text.
I rephrased with:

article wrote:

Copyright a right granted to the author over his/her creation (for example, the text of a book, or the source code of a program).

(the point being not to discuss copyright here, just to point out that free software doesn't violate it, and that it's very different from patents).

As for "math/maths", I'll leave it this way, but at some point we are going to have to harmonise (harmonize? ;-)) spelling in the site, I think I messed it up entirely. Thanks for pointing it out.

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
re: FAQ entry
Gustavo wrote:

I think we should include a FAQ entry for it...

Exactly what I was thinking... I added it to the list

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
page updated again

page updated again (modified url).
The remaining points are:

  • "whether/either/or" issue: what's the right wording?
  • Is the issue with copyright solved?
  • Any better wording for the car example?

Also, I updated the "What is Linux" page at the bottom (bullet list), I think it's now clearer, do you have remarks?

I hope to complete this change by this week-end.

guyjohnston's picture
Offline
Joined: 2007-03-05
Open source

Hi, thanks for making those changes. My point about the use of the term "open source" wasn't so much about avoiding using the word, it's that I think it seems a bit clumsy to keep repeating the same "(or "open source")" reference. I think it would be better to have a dedicated section about 'open source' near the beginning of the page, explaining what it means, and how it relates to free software (that it more or less means the same thing, but it conveys different ideas).

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
I have released the page on

I have released the page on GGL (see announcement on planet). Comments are still welcome ;-)

This could possibly hit digg in my opinion, is anyone good at posting stories there?

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
Dugg - let's get this to

Dugg - let's get this to the digg homepage!

Gustavo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-09-11
Dugg!

Dugg!

libervisco's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-05-04
Dugg. Or is it too late?

Dugg. Or is it too late? :\

guyjohnston's picture
Offline
Joined: 2007-03-05
A dedicated section about "open source"?

Hi, I think it might be better to have a dedicated section on that page about the term "open source" and the open source movement, probably near the beginning, explaining what it means and how it relates to free software (that it more or less means the same thing, but it conveys different ideas), rather than using the repeated "free (or "open source") software" reference. I think this would be helpful for visitors to the site who've vaguely heard of "open source software", but they don't really know what it means and how it relates to free software. I think it's good to link to the "Why “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software" article, as it gives a good explanation of why the term "open source" isn't as good when you care about software freedom. It does have some explanation of what the open source movement is and how it relates to the free software movement, but I think it's more tailored to people who already know about that, at least to some extent.

guyjohnston's picture
Offline
Joined: 2007-03-05
Some problems

I've noticed some more problems with this page. Firstly, in the "The software industry can't keep going if programmers don't get paid" section, it reads "Once you view software as useful math, an elaborate language, not tangible property, there is no reason to restrict others' use of it." The distinction we're making here between software and most property isn't that one is is tangible and one is intangible, it's that one is rival and one is non-rival, as people can use and copy software without restricting anyone else's use of it, or somehow causing their copies to be destroyed. There's plenty of intangible rival things, such as shares in a company and money. You wouldn't say "there is no reason to restrict others' use of it" about them. There are even some tangible things which are non-rival, such as air. Therefore, this should be reworded, so the right point is being made.

I've also noticed that OpenBSD is cited as a piece of free software which is technically good and innovative. I assume this is something to do with using it for network servers, not as a general-purpose operating system for desktops. I think there should be some explanation given about this, otherwise it's confusing, because this whole site is about GNU/Linux, but according to this page, there's one free operating system which is really great, and it's not it.

I also think it might be a good idea to include Bittorrent as an example of innovative free software, because from my understanding, it's quite innovative, and the official client is free software (as well as the techniques it uses not being patented).

ariadacapo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2006-07-13
Hi, sorry for replying

Hi, sorry for replying late.

- About the mention of "Open source"

guyjohnston wrote:

[...] it might be better to have a dedicated section on that page about the term "open source" and the open source movement, probably near the beginning, explaining what it means and how it relates to free software (that it more or less means the same thing, but it conveys different ideas), [...] I think this would be helpful for visitors to the site who've vaguely heard of "open source software", but they don't really know what it means and how it relates to free software.

Could we make the entry in the "Linux FAQ" be better/more obvious instead? I'm reluctant to add a section about "Open Source" in that page because
1. Using the term "open source" is not a misconception, it's a choice
2. It definitely is secondary behind fighting misconceptions like "free software is for anarchists"
3. The article is very long already (too long?)

guyjohnston wrote:

[...] it reads "Once you view software as useful math, an elaborate language, not tangible property, there is no reason to restrict others' use of it." The distinction we're making here between software and most property isn't that one is is tangible and one is intangible, it's that one is rival and one is non-rival [...]. Therefore, this should be reworded, so the right point is being made.

I'm quite open to reword this, but not if it takes ten lines instead... I perfectly understand your point (after some re-reading ;-) ); however "maths" is the closest analogy I could find to software. We need something that rings a bell for most people. A product of human intelligence that is non-rival is hard to find.

Quote:

I've also noticed that OpenBSD is cited as a piece of free software which is technically good and innovative. [..]. I think there should be some explanation given about this, otherwise it's confusing [...]

Sure, but again, let's keep it extremely short! I was just trying to show how