About my question for RMS, Portland State University, April 7, 2011

During a Q&A, I argued that there were more software-related freedoms than those promulgated by Richard Stallman.

MD writes:

 Was your point to RMS that software can put barriers between
 you and your data and general data-freedom issues in general?
 Please elaborate!

Close, but the main issue is that software is a very small part of a larger picture. Stallman's "four freedoms" are an incomplete set. If these freedoms do not recognize a central and much larger responsibility that software and its producers have, then optimizing for only the four freedoms can have enormous negative effects on freedom as a whole.

There are at least two more essential freedoms, without which software becomes an agent of tyranny:

Of course, some data and hardware is born, and dies, closed. Like the Quickbooks data that my accountant demands. Or the game boxes and smart phones I refuse to buy. But what about data, and hardware, that was accessable with FLOSS software 3 or 5 or 10 years ago, and is no longer, because the programmers don't maintain the tools that provide access? By producing the non-regression-tested software they so often produce, they may be adhering to freedoms (0) to (3) while damaging (4) and (5) for others. If might be better for freedom overall if they were prohibited from writing new code, until they developed more responsible habits. However, education is far better than restriction, and the LART stick has two ends.

We have maneuvered software between us and our data, and between us and our hardware. Of course the software should be free and transparent, and data and hardware also, but NOT JUST TO PROGRAMMERS focusing only on their own problems and concerns.

Between 1983, when Stallman formulated his list of freedoms, and 2011, things have changed. In 2011, software is interposed between everyone and their data, and between everyone and their software mediated hardware. Software not only animates the new toy we bought last week, but all the legacy hardware and legacy data created over the last 50 years. Most programmers refuse to deal with that, self-absorbed FLOSS programmers more than most. They buy the latest gizzies, and focus on those. They care about code repositories, and few other stores of information. Most of the rest of us do not have that luxury.

Of course programmers should be free to have the latest and greatest hardware. But either they should provide everybody with the latest and greatest hardware, or make sure their software also works (to the extent that it can) with the older stuff that the non-programmers have. Otherwise, why should those non-programmers provide the programmers with the food and shelter and electricity and transportation and all the other goods they want? Or repair their legacy cars, or legacy houses, or legacy bodies?

In 1904, Harvey Hubbell patented the two prong socket. 120V AC had already been standard in many regions for a decade. So I can buy a lamp made 100 years ago, plug it in, and turn it on. I can do the same for radios and kitchen tools and motors from many decades past. Such broad legacy support is not easy, but it is managed in all other disciplines, sometimes with great effort and much complexity. What makes software different, besides poor development tools and leaky modularization? The poor tools are a result of indifference, narrow thinking, and a throw-away culture on steroids.

As Stallman drank his Pepsi, I was imagining him taking a swig of Pepsi version 2.6.39, which required the cyanide compatability upgrade. Hell, all the soft drink workers had installed cyanide compatability three years ago, so if his bottle of Pepsi killed him, it was his own fault for not keeping up. Stallman lives in a sea of "conveniences". While he takes great umbrage at any deviation from purity in the software sandbox, he seems completely unaware of the damage his truncated freedoms and narrow view inflicts on the rest of the world.

Stallman can rant about the impurity of others, but he ignores the fact that those others are struggling to keep the world working, and him supplied with soda pop (and everything else). His computer is a sea of proprietary code, from the firmware in his mouse and video card and BIOS to the enormous amount of firmware and hidden tracks on his hard drive. He has no physical design data for the chips or mechanical parts. He is very selective about which freedoms he cares to defend, and they exclusively revolve around his own particular concerns.

If Stallman eschewed all the products that are the result of proprietary software, or legacy data and hardware, he would have nothing to program on. And nothing to eat, and no place to live, and no place to go. Only a monster would impose Stallman's restrictions on his whole life, which would bring it to a rapid and painful end. There is something monstrous about calling for those restrictions on the rest of us.

FLOSS is a bigger community now. Most of us are adults, or at least adult-sized. We are not only responsible for protecting our own freedoms, but the freedoms of others. Our position as trolls on the bridge does not entitle us to tell people where they can go.

OK, that was way too much elaboration :-(

RMS (last edited 2011-04-08 09:24:29 by KeithLofstrom)