Tag: rant (subscribe)

This will probably be one of those controversial posts, but I really cannot just be silent about a behaviour that I am constantly seeing around me.

Since my childhood, I am fascinated by the power of the words. I always liked reading a lot, and despite not knowing the grammar rules (either in pt_BR or en_US, the former being my native language, the latter being the only idiom I can consider myself fluent in), I am deeply interested in what words (and their infinite meanings) can do to us. (If you can read in portuguese, and if you also like to study or admire in this subject, I strongly recommend a romance by José Saramago called "O Homem Duplicado"). So now, what I am seeing everywhere is that people are being as careless as ever with words, their meanings, and specially their implications.

The problem I am seeing, and it is a serious problem in my opinion, is the constant use of the term "free software" when "open source" should be used. This is obviously not a recent problem, and I really cannot recall when was the first time I noticed this happening. But maybe because I am much more involved with (real) free software movements now, I have the strong impression that this "confusion" is starting to grow out of control. So here I am, trying to convince some people to be a little more coherent.

When you create a group to talk about free software, or when you join a group whose goal is to promote free software ideas, you should really do that. First of all, you should understand what free software is about. It is not about open source, for starters. It is also a political movement, not only a technical one.

I was part of a group in my former university which had "Free Software" in its name. For a long time, I believed the group really was about free software, even after receiving e-mails with heavy negative critics about my opinions when I defended something related to the free software ideology (e.g., when I suggested that we should not have a Facebook page, which had been created for the group by one of its members). Well, when I really could not hide the truth from myself anymore, I packed my things and left the group (this was actually the start of a new free software group that I founded with other friends in Brazil).

I also like a lot to go to events. And not only because of the presentations, but mostly because I really like to talk to people. Brazilians are fortunately very warm and talkative, so events here are really a fertile soil for my social skills :-). However, even when the event has "free software" in its name and description, it is very hard to find someone who really understands the philosophy behind the term. And I'm not just talking about the attendees: the event staff is also usually ignorant (and prefer to remain like this)! I feel really depressed when I start to defend the (real) free software, and people start looking at me and saying "You're radical.". It's like going in a "Debugger Conference" and feel ridicularized when you start talking about GDB! I cannot understand this...

But the worst part of all this is that newcomers are learning that "free software" is "Linux", or something which is not free software. This is definitely not a good thing, because people should be aware that the world is not just about software development: there are serious issues, including privacy and freedom menaces by Facebook/Google/Apple/etc, which we should fight against. Free software is about that as well. Awareness should be raised, actions should be taken, and people should refuse those impositions.

So, to finish what I want to say, if you do not consider yourself a free software activist, please consider becoming one. And if, after giving it a thought, you decided that you really do not want to be a free software activist, then do not use the name "free software" in your event/group/whatever, unless you really intend to talk about it and not open source.. In other words, if you don't want to help, please don't spread confusion.

In the last days, there was some fuzz about Mark Shuttleworth's post about some news in Ubuntu. Well, to be more precise, the post was about some secrets regarding the development of some applications. In my opinion, it summarizes some of what this distribution has become, and I would like to talk a little bit about it here.

My goal is not say bad things about Ubuntu (though I won't promise that, because the post is intended as a critic), nor about Mr. Shuttleworth, whom I don't know personally and have nothing against. My purpose is to discuss what we can learn from this surprising movement (at least for me) from a distribution (and a company, of course), and what mistakes they are doing by keeping some things for their own until they decide to unveil, as Mark said in his post.

Canonical and Ubuntu are both drifting away from the free software (or even from the open source) movement, and they are doing this by adopting some ugly tactics like the one mentioned above. Free software is a win-win game only if you respect its first rule: freedom. This word has infinite meanings, but for FLOSS there are 4 basic rules (or freedoms) that should be obeyed:

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

I won't be polemical and say that Ubuntu is not obeying some of these rules (though I could...). But it should be obvious that, by developing something in secrecy, you are not respecting one's freedom to decide which way they think the software should behave (or not behave). In a true free software community everyone can have a voice (though sometimes people refuse to hear it, but that's another problem which I'll probably talk about in another post); everyone can help making a decision, or can try to influence some bad design choice (in his/her opinion). To summarize, they can participate.

As much as I don't like the way Ubuntu hardly gives something back to the communities (if you compare to what they take from them), at least their development model (or at least what I know from it) so far was open. Every company has its sensible topics that need to be discussed internally. Even Red Hat, the company I work for (and now maybe you think this post is totally biased...), does. But you should keep it to the really minimum, and really discuss things in the open whenever you can. And you should never do software development like the not-so-old-but-still-obscure days: locked in your room, without external contact and feedback, trying to guess what your users want, and still holding the freedom flag sometimes. Sorry, but this is non-sense.