OPINION

What Open Source Can Learn From Steve Jobs, Part 2

What Open Source Can Learn From Steve Jobs, Part 1The Fall of the House of StallmanThe blind hatred of Free Software Foundation President Richard Stallman toward proprietary programs is such that he has given speeches in which he advocated for software piracy. Stallman wrote this the day after Steve Jobs died: “As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, ‘I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.'”

If you were to take that as something a bitter loser would say, you’d be right. Stallman doesn’t believe that programs should compete on either technical merit or on how much users like them. To the contrary, his speeches, which you can find on the FSF Europe website, contain material such as this:I’m all in favour of the principle that it’s good to reward people who do things that contribute to society and it’s good to punish people, one way or another, if they do things that harm society. This means that people who develop Free Software that’s useful deserve a reward, and people who develop proprietary software that’s attractive deserve a punishment. To Stallman, Jobs must have been a double helping of evil — both Apple software and hardware must seem almost sinfully proprietary and attractive to him. Since his “Boycott Apple” campaign failed, and he can’t convince people to change on technical merit or on the facts, what’s left? How about propaganda?

For those of us who had to read 1984 in school, the head of the Free Software Foundation sounds like he’s channeling the Ministry of Truth. If you remember the party slogan “Freedom is Slavery,” you might find this quote eerily similar: “It’s a mistake to equate freedom to ‘the freedom of choice.'”

Most people would say that having freedom of choice is fundamental to exercising freedom. Taking away a choice, especially by demonizing those who offer choices you don’t approve of, is usually associated with political or religious fanatics, not a meritocracy such as software.When your friend says ‘that’s a nice program, could I have a copy?’ At that moment, you will have to choose between two evils. One evil is: give your friend a copy and violate the licence of the program. The other evil is: deny your friend a copy and comply with the licence of the program.

Once you are in that situation, you should choose the lesser evil. The lesser evil is to give your friend a copy and violate the licence of the program.

Whereas the developer of the program has deliberately attacked the social solidarity of your community. Deliberately tried to separate you from everyone else in the World. So if you can’t help doing wrong in some direction or other, better to aim the wrong at somebody who deserves it, who has done something wrong, rather than at somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong. This is the same childish “stick it to da man!” rationalization that kids use to justify everything from pirating music and movies to carjacking and robbing convenience stores. It’s also an admission that you can’t compete on either technical merit or execution.

Recall how Jobs ended the demonization of Microsoft within Apple, got his people to focus on doing what Apple does best, and ended up with the most valuable company in the world? Contrast that with Stallman’s approach, which is held by far too many, and helps explain why “GNU/linux” is still a rounding error in the desktop market.

Negative campaigns turn people away. Nobody wants to hear about how “evil” their current software provider is. They want to hear what you can do better. Telling people they should pirate software not only makes Stallman look seedier than he already does — it reflects badly on open source in general.

Biting the Hand That Feeds Code Contributions

This demonizing of programmers who write proprietary software for a living is not only silly, but also counterproductive. Many of those same programmers contribute to open source projects as part of their jobs; others do the same on their own time. Calling them “evil” or encouraging people to steal from them is only going to drive them away.

Contrast this “steal from the evil programmer” attitude with how Steve Jobs treated his people. When he came back to Apple, Apple was beaten down, a loser. He pushed everyone hard to be the best they could, and in doing so, communicated the message “I’m pushing you hard because I know that together, we are going to be the best at what we do.”

It’s one reason Apple held onto its talent despite offers of two and three times the pay. When people know you believe in them, not only can you push them harder — they will push themselves harder. One long-term result has been that Apple survived long enough to contribute significant code back to the general software community, a practice that continues.

A further problem is how quickly the community jumps on any imagined slight. Google hasn’t yet released all of the source to the latest version of Android. It doesn’t matter that it’s not required to, and that it’s already released the parts that it is required to — people are still attacking Google. The fact that the third-party server at kernel.org — which normally hosts all the files — was compromised, and that everyone involved is being extra-cautious, falls on stone-deaf ears.

Going back a bit further, Novell was simultaneously lauded for spending tens of millions defending Linux against SCO, and demonized for making a “deal with the devil” with Microsoft that saw Linux desktops and servers get into thousands of businesses on Microsoft’s dime.

A Final Lesson …

There has been a long history of such attacks on anyone who “dares” to make a profit, even indirectly, with open source code that is licensed under the GPL. It’s no coincidence that alternatives to large chunks of GPL code are under active development. At some point, putting up with the random noise of the self-appointed GNUstapo just isn’t worth the hassle and the bad publicity.

Apple showed that switching to another base operating system can be done. It did it not once, but twice. Other companies might decide to take the same route rather than continue to deal with a community that doesn’t “get it” or have a genuine interest in cooperating to help meet people’s real needs.

Barbara Hudson's daughters and her dogs are a large part of who she is. As for computers, she's been writing code for longer than she really wants to admit. Now that she's returned to independent development, her current focus is on creating simpler and more secure code libraries. Her dream project? Creating the ultimate chess program. You can contact her at barbara.hudson@milsecure.org.

11 Comments

  • This article is so bad, its a challenge to figure out where to start.

    We get it, you dont like the FSF and their message.
    In the grand scheme of things, it doesnt really matter. Intellectual dishonesty will follow you in your whole career and life.

    This manure is world class though:

    Negative campaigns turn people away. Nobody wants to hear about how "evil" their current software provider is. They want to hear what you can do better.

    and

    Recall how Jobs ended the demonization of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) within Apple, got his people to focus on doing what Apple does best,

    Apple MADE their name on the jabs they threw at MS. And I must have missed the memo about ending it because Justin Long and the chubby guy who played the MS guy were cultural legends up until recently.
    Apple hasnt done any Mac ads that Ive noticed since then and instead is full force on Ipad, Iphone, etc. (nothing like a communist one-choice-is-all-you-need offering) but this means they are concentrating on those offerings rather than the laptops.

    To actually spout this:"Negative campaigns turn people away. Nobody wants to hear about how "evil" their current software provider is." and talk about Apple in the same breadth is spectacular.

    Or did you mean "Negative campaigns turn people away after a two decades of harping on MS being crap"?

    Do as I say,not as I do is the way to go right?

    Im trying to find a word worse than pathetic for this line of thought but I think it will do.

    • The quote I referred to is, as I mentioned in the original article, in plain view on the FSFE web site. A simple google would have found it.

      Just as it would have found the FSF FUD against linux licensing and android in September.

      And also Bruce Perens lies about his "new covenant license" being anything but new, dating back to 2008-2009.

      Zealotry is no replacement for proper research, which is why, after spending years defending him, I look at the harm RMS has done and say "we can do a LOT better than that."

      BTW – why not go to the home page of fsf.org and look at the four freedoms listed in the graphic – and notice how the GPL, in contrast to the bsd, mit, and apache licenses, violates all 4 of them?

      • You wrote: "As an example I’ll assume you have at least one child. Also imagine that your child was injured, and needed to go to a hospital immediately to avoid dying and your cell phone had no reception and you did not have your own car nearby, but a short distance away you noticed a car with it’s keys on the dash. Now would you steal the car or let your child die? Both are an evil, but clearly letting your child die would be the greater one. "

        This is your defense of Stallman saying it’s okay to pirate? That giving a pirated version of a program to someone is akin to using a car without permission to save a child’s life?

        In the latter case, you could make an argument of necessity, but not the former. Also, you’d be expected to give the car back, along with an explanation for taking it in the first place. You don’t get to keep the car forever, or give it to someone else.

        Stallman expecting others to respect the copyrights of the FSF while encouraging the violation of others’ copyrights is both self-serving and hypocritical.

        There is no moral justification for such hypocrisy, just as there’s no moral justification for keeping the car after you "borrow" it to drive a child to the hospital.

        You wrote: "To actually argue against what stallman says there, you would need to show how turning your back on a friend is the lesser evil or not an evil at all."

        Stallman’s example was giving a friend a pirated copy of a program. I don’t need to "buy" someone’s friendship by pirating for them.

        If someone will only consider me a friend if I steal for them, then it’s time for me to get some new friends.

        • The quotes were, as I pointed out in the original article, from the fsfe europe web site.

          You’ll also see others acknowledging them in their responses, where they attempt to justify Stallman’s claim that making a pirated copy of software for a friend is somehow "the lesser of two evils", the other one being to just say no to them.

          If a friend asks you to steal for them, are you really doing them a favor by saying yes?

          The next time you’re at the supermarket and you hear some child throwing a fit because they aren’t getting what they want NOW, you might want to think about how they (and everyone within earshot) might have benefited from hearing "No" more often.

          You might also want to consider the class of friends you have if their friendship is contingent on you stealing for them.

          • Here’s what I wrote (you even quoted it):

            "Recall how Jobs ended the demonization of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) within Apple"

            … notice those two words – "within Apple."

            As I pointed out, product design and engineering had become too obsessed with Microsoft. Jobs made a patent deal with Microsoft, got Microsoft to invest money in Apple as well as continuing to develop Microsoft products for the platform, and got his designers and engineers to concentrate on on Apples strengths, rather than trying to go head-to-head with Microsoft in their own back yard.

            The day that the advertising department runs Apple’s product, design, and engineering departments, you might have a point, but those days are long gone, along with John Sculley.

            As for your claim that "Intellectual dishonesty will follow you in your whole career and life", I’m not the one who is claiming that it’s okay to pirate other peoples stuff while hypocritically demanding that they respect my license. That’s Stallman’s schtick, as the quotes from the FSFE website make clear.

            Just like his claims on the front page of the fsf.org web site are misleading – the GPL doesn’t respect any one of the 4 "freedoms" listed there, whereas the bsd, mit, and apache licenses do.

            Do I respect the FSF and RMS? I used to defend them, but not any more. Too much hypocrisy, too much FUD, and WAY too much inappropriate behavior all showcase his singular lack of judgment and inability to learn from his mistakes.

          • "This is your defense of Stallman saying it’s okay to pirate? That giving a pirated version of a program to someone is akin to using a car without permission to save a child’s life?

            In the latter case, you could make an argument of necessity, but not the former. Also, you’d be expected to give the car back, along with an explanation for taking it in the first place. You don’t get to keep the car forever, or give it to someone else."

            It was a demonstration of a principle, not an exact analogy. (also when you copy software the author still retains all of their copies)

            Of course if copyright were valid my friend would have an obligation to secure an approved copy if and when he could afford it, but the reason he’s asking me is likely that he can’t, and that it will improve his life in some way to have it.

            Where is "piracy" (which is a misnomer) most widely practiced? In second world nations where people can afford computers, but just barely. Actually piracy (theft and murder on the high seas) is most commonly practiced on the eastern coastline of Somalia.

            Copyright infringement is not stealing or theft, it never was, and never will be because nothing tangible is taken. It’s an act of violating a government-assured monopoly upon certain acts in relation to certain artistic works. Please don’t use language that confuses the two things.

          • You wrote: "It was a demonstration of a principle, not an exact analogy. (also when you copy software the author still retains all of their copies)"

            Maybe you should come up with a better "demonstration"? It’s not up to me to overlook the huge holes in your arguments.

            By your logic you should have no problem with people squatting in your car or home, because, after all, you still retain full title and ownership. Ditto for free access to hotel and motel rooms, taxis, unsold airplane seats, etc.

            The real world doesn’t work that way. But you’re welcome to prove me wrong by squatting in someone’s car or home, or trying to fly without paying for a ticket, or going into a store and copying a bunch of movies onto your laptop or taking pics of every page in a book with your cell phone camera, or copying someone elses homework or thesis and presenting it as your own, or ripping off a co-workers work. After all, "they still retain all their copies."

            You wrote: "Of course if copyright were valid my friend would have an obligation to secure an approved copy if and when he could afford it, but the reason he’s asking me is likely that he can’t, and that it will improve his life in some way to have it."

            So if they’re really a friend, shouldn’t you just give them YOUR copy and do without? Or is it really about "I’ll help my friend as long as it doesn’t cost me anything or inconvenience me?"

            By your logic, I should be just as entitled to take GPL’d code and incorporate it into proprietary programs, since you claim that copyright isn’t valid, and after all, doing so might improve my life.

            Do you really want to go there?

            And yes, when you use something without paying for it, you have deprived the author of the fruits of their labor. If you don’t agree with the terms under which someone makes their work available, you’re free to write your own. You’re not free to rip it off, any more than you are free to rip off their identity, on the grounds that "they still have it".

          • " or copying someone elses homework or thesis and presenting it as your own, or ripping off a co-workers work. After all, "they still retain all their copies." "

            Plagiarism is something different than violating copyright. I can plagiarize without violating copyright, (ghost author for a phd thesis, or putting my name on A tale of two cities) and I can violate copyright without plagiarizing. (printing out your articles verbatim)

            "You’re not free to rip it off, any more than you are free to rip off their identity, on the grounds that "they still have it"."

            I AM actually free to copy identifying information of people that I meet. (Policeman and bankers do it everyday) What I’m not free to do is misrepresent the material fact of my own identity, to get people to give me what they would likely have not done had that material fact been known, especially with regard to credit. Weather the information is entirely false or that of someone else it is still fraud. Where such fraud is based on a real identity it is colloquially called identity theft, it is in fact identity fraud, as it’s essential characteristics to not entail theft.

            "By your logic you should have no problem with people squatting in your car or home, because, after all, you still retain full title and ownership."

            That’s neither theft nor copyright violation, it’s trespass which is another things as well.

            So now you’ve failed to address two points. And rather go off on irrelevant tangents.

            Copyright claims, valid or invalid, right or wrong have nothing to do with theft or stealing, because it does not involve the taking of a thing (physical object), and that using such terminology is both misleading and inappropriate.

            That was my argument. My argument was not the one you have framed it as "Every act in regard to a thing which the owner retains at the end of the day is right and proper."

            "So if they’re really a friend, shouldn’t you just give them YOUR copy and do without? "

            That’s also an option that should be considered, which may or may not be reasonable in the situation. Where it is reasonable it is an argument against Stallman’s assertion of the lesser evil. Where you also require the software for something fairly vital you show there is a tension between three options instead of just two.

            "By your logic, I should be just as entitled to take GPL’d code and incorporate it into proprietary programs, since you claim that copyright isn’t valid, and after all, doing so might improve my life. "

            For the scope of this argument I haven’t made that claim (because Stallman does advocate a shorter, more limited copyright, but nonetheless advocates copyright.)

            However it is the one thing you couldn’t reasonably do without regard to weather copyright is valid or not. With valid copyright, it would mean that in respect to the same object you are both affirming and denying copyright claims.

            If copyright were invalid the GPL would have no more legal effect than the two-clause BSD which is little more than a disclaimer of warranty. But the same would be true of any EULA, and it would take a lot less time to reverse the program because most of the codebase would already be known, and there would be no reason to go through the extra trouble of making the reverse a clean room one.

  • … is coming from you. It oozes from your words. To anyone who has followed Richard Stallman’s remarks for several years (Me? For over a decade.) it is obvious you are taking his statements out of context. You don’t even have the courage to cite your sources, let alone place them in proper context. I challenge you to support your claims, especially your claim that he advocates "software piracy" as you call it. Show us verifiable sources and the context for his remarks. Until you do, I will consider you a blathering idiot.

  • "Stallman doesn’t believe that programs should compete on either technical merit or on how much users like them."

    That’s a false judgement which does not follow from the facts. The FSF high priority project list shows that they consider features important.

    He considers freedom and community to be more important.

    And Barbara, why didn’t you cite the specific speech you pulled your quote from? Are you afraid of people actually going to go look at the context, which I’m willing to bet revolves around boycotts rather than any sort of legal controls.

    "If you remember the party slogan ‘Freedom is Slavery,’ you might find this quote eerily similar: ‘It’s a mistake to equate freedom to ‘the freedom of choice.”"

    So the choice to murder someone is part of freedom? Yes it is indeed a mistake to equate freedom to the freedom of choice , because freedom is just as much a social condition as an individual one.

    So now on to the fact upon which Stallman basis his judgment. When you support a proprietary solution not only do you have your freedom limited with that product, you are creating a society that is more dependent on authority and hierarchy which is a society that is all the less social for it. When you support free software you are creating a society that is more dependent on cooperation and negotiation and is all the more social for it.

    "This is the same childish "stick it to da man!" rationalization that kids use to justify everything from pirating music and movies to carjacking and robbing convenience stores. It’s also an admission that you can’t compete on either technical merit or execution."

    A red herring. The lesser evil is a well entrenched and widely supported moral theory. As an example I’ll assume you have at least one child. Also imagine that your child was injured, and needed to go to a hospital immediately to avoid dying and your cell phone had no reception and you did not have your own car nearby, but a short distance away you noticed a car with it’s keys on the dash. Now would you steal the car or let your child die? Both are an evil, but clearly letting your child die would be the greater one.

    To actually argue against what stallman says there, you would need to show how turning your back on a friend is the lesser evil or not an evil at all.

    Stallman is out of your league Barbara when it comes to moral philosophy, to put it mildly, and it shows.

    There are plausible and rational counter-arguments to Stallmans, but you really didn’t hit on any of them in this half of the article.

    Might a positive pitch be more effective than a negative one? Perhaps, but I don’t see why there isn’t room for both . Stallman, despite your criticism is fairly successful at what he does, and sometimes there is a need for the guy who speaks plainly and clearly. Eric Raymond is more of the pitch guy for the positive aspects and is also fairly successful, though much less controversial.

    " One long-term result has been that Apple survived long enough to contribute significant code back to the general software community, a practice that continues."

    But they did so because they couldn’t compete with the community effort or it made no sense for them to do so. Contributing back got them the features that they wanted to see without the expense of starting from scratch, and decreased the cost of maintaining those features in a separate fork. There is no evidence that they did so because they were a friend of freedom, and such actions no defense against Stallman’s criticism.

    "Apple showed that switching to another base operating system can be done. It did it not once, but twice. Other companies might decide to take the same route rather than continue to deal with a community that doesn’t "get it" or have a genuine interest in cooperating to help meet people’s real needs."

    Sure but Stallman is just one man in the community. While he is the most vocal, it is far more common for people emphasize the practical perspective rather the the moral one. Part of the original plan for the android project was to have a clean room implementation of the kernel, but issues with cost and time prevented it. It would take well over a billion dollars to make a clean room version of the kernel. (Several hundred million if you just limited it to a few specific hardware platforms)

  • The views expressed by Richard Stallman have always been considered, not blind. And I haven’t ever heard him /encouraging/ what you refer to as stealing of software. Freedom is something that should be prized, so also should sharing in a community of users. You have freedom too, even if you don’t want it. There’s no need to be bitter towards the open attitude.

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