Morality and Pragmatism in Free Software and Open Source

Text from Dave Yeats (Auburn University, USA)

Presented by Robin Smidsrød

Student, Vestfold University College


 Summarizing the views of
 Dave Yeats writings in the book 
 The Handbook of Research on Open Source Software:
 Technological, Economic, and Social Perspectives
 (Chapter 3).

Philosphy differences

 * Free Software Foundation
 * Richard M. Stallman (RMS)
 * Moral obligation

 * Open Source movement
 * Eric S. Raymond (ESR)
 * Better software

Why this analysis?

 * Understand implications of differences
 * Make informed decisions
   * Software use
   * Software development efforts

Technical reasons

 * Search for an alternative
   to Microsoft Windows
 * Governments encourage:
   * Open standards
   * Decentralized software development
   * Improved security
   * Reduced software costs
 * Looks to Linux

Political reasons

 * China:
   * Examine security flaws
 * Brazil:
   * Leftist activism
 * Others:
   * Socialistic agenda

Philosophy fork

 * Open Source movement
   * Roots in free software
 * Essential differences

Essential differences

 * Free software
   * Moral or ethical approach
 * Open Source
   * Pragmatic views
 * Both value sharing of source code
   * Different reasons

Understanding differences

 * FOSS advocates should use more
   precise terminology
 * Assumption terminology is interchangeable
   * It is usually not

Historical background

 * Open source movement
 * Grew out of 1970s academic settings
   * Working on corporate sponsored projects
   * Software freely shared
   * Open, collaborative enviroment

End of collaborative methods

 * 1980s
 * Corporate sponsors copyright the code
 * Claimed valuable intellectual property
 * Signs of shift in economy
   * From commodity-based
   * To knowledge-based
 * Threatened end of collaboration
   * Stagnation of innovation

RMS creates the GPL

 * Concerns:
   * Unix would lose support for new software
   * Access to source code cut off
 * GNU Public License
 * Maintain ability to collaborate
   * Without restriction
 * GNU Initiative
   * Ensure software was freely available


 * Freedom
   * Distribute
   * Use
   * Modify
 * Restriction
   * Derivatives must also comply 
 * Result: Improved code continues to be free

GPL adoption

 * Older academics
 * Computer enthusiasts
 * Continued collaboration in the open

The Linux kernel

 * Linus Torvalds (1991)
 * Ideas from Unix
 * Arguably most important GPL software
 * Success of the GPL
 * Shift towards widely cooperative efforts
   in software development
 * Debunked myth of centralized approach
 * Stable and powerful
 * Yet complex and rapid development schedule

Netscape opens up

 * 1998
 * Source code for their browser
   * Codename: Mozilla
 * ESR/Bruce Perens suggests term:
   * Open Source
 * Avoid confusion of term: free
 * RMS defends:
   * Free as in freedom/liberty
   * Not as "without monetary cost"

Open Source Initiative

 * Open Source Initiative (OSI) founded:
   * Eric S. Raymond
   * Bruce Perens
 * Differentiate itself from FSF

Other voices

 * Linus Torvalds (Linux originator)
 * Robert Young (RedHat founder)
 * RMS and ESR
   * Most influential
   * Most widely cited

Philosophy similarities

 * ESR and RMS
   * Agree at some level
 * Benefit of free distribution
 * See it in completely different ways

The RMS vs ESR debate

 * Widely reported
 * RMS disagrees
   * ESR's pragmatic reasons
   * Promoting term "Open Source"
 * Heated exchange in articles:
   * ESR: Shut up and Show Them the Code
   * RMS: Why "Free Software" is better than "Open Source"
 * Defending their own positions
 * Popular to type-cast ESR and RMS as adversaries

Shift in terminology

 * First it was to avoid confusion
 * Signaled a shift in strategy for
   open source advocates

Analyzing differences

 * Free software
   * Identifies with the user
   * More utopian
   * Communal, socialist approach
 * Open Source
   * Identifies with the owners/creators
   * Individual liberty emphasis
   * Individualistic approach

Scholars choosing side

 * Lawrence Lessig
   * Important intellectual property law scholar
 * Quotes only RMS
 * Understanding the reason behind such choices
   * Impact outside software industry

"Free Software" vs "Open Source"

 * Describe same category of software
 * Say different things
   * About the software
   * About values
 * Investigate philosophical differences

RMS: Free Software

 * Four freedoms

 0. Run program
    * For any purpose
 1. Study and adapt
    * For your needs
 2. Redistribute
    * Help your neighbor
 3. Improve and release your improvements
    * Benefit the community

RMS: Free Software

 * Concerned about freedom for users
 * Not so much the program itself

RMS: Free Software

 * The GNU Manifesto
 * The Golden Rule
 * "If I like a program I must share
    it with other people who like it"
 * Honorable thing to do
 * To get along with only free software
   * Decides to build the GNU toolset
 * Sharing:
   * Fundamental
   * Only ethical alternative

RMS: Free Software

 * Friendship to other programmers
 * Commercialization of system software
   * Enable them to make money
   * Conflict with other programmers
   * No longer comrades
 * Must choose between friendship and the law
 * Implies the law is in error
   * Issue of software availability

RMS: Free Software

 * Restricting software use
   * is against nature itself
 * Software distribution
   * As natural as breathing
 * Equate software with air itself
   * Like regulating breathing
   * Police state
   * Draconian enforcement

RMS: Free Software

 * Utopian society
 * Harshly criticizes proprietary software
   * Deliberate destruction
   * Failure to be a good citizen

RMS: Free Software

 * Values:
 * Free software
   * Friendship
   * Freedom
   * Good citizenship
   * Community spirit
 * Proprietary software
   * Restriction
   * Destruction
   * Commercialization
   * Materialism

RMS: Free Software

 * Binary world
 * Only good: Free software
 * Only evil: Proprietary software

 * Developing in capitalist proprietary environment
   * Choosing to be less moral

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Two pragmatic claims:
   * Promotion of the individual
   * Conscription of others
 * Practical aspects of OSS
 * Leads to technical superiority

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Importance of lead developers
 * Necessity of using others
 * Superior technological artifact

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Promotes egocentric view
 * Emphasizes the role of the individual
 * His own self-congratulation
 * Incentives to volunteer
 * Promote individuals over the group
 * Himself as gifted individual
 * Unusual to sing their own praise

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Traits of good leaders
   * Points to his own abilites
   * Energetic extrovert
   * Similar to standup comedians
 * Cites his own superior skills
   * Wise decisions
   * Lesser programmers would miss

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Generalizing about OSS project
 * 19 tenets of software development
 * Rule 1: "Scratching a personal itch"
 * Motivation:
   * Personal interest
   * Not from need in the community
 * Rule 18: "To solve an interesting problem,
   start by finding a problem that is
   interesting to you"
 * Curiosity of the individual developer
   * Justifies using the open source model

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Only involve yourself in interesting projects
 * Natural conclusion
   * Hierarchial system that
     promotes these individuals
 * Role of core developer
 * Horde of beta-testers
   * Serve needs of the leader
 * Leaders have great power over their community

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Not every developer is a good leader
 * Superior technical abilities
 * People skills
   * Provide incentive to other developers
     to enlist their help
   * Keep them stimulated and rewarded
   * Give positive praise and feedback

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Rewards:
   * Ego satisfaction
   * Reputation among other hackers
   * No monetary incentive (=money)
   * Rather selfish desire for glory
 * Project leader
   * Connect selfishness to difficult ends
 * Reinforces leadership domination
 * De-emphasizes benefit to community

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Paradigm of encouraging egoistic behavior
 * Truthful about how much you owe others
 * Outsiders will treat you as you did every bit yourself
 * Just being modest about your genius

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Give credit to contributors in
   your own community
 * Underlying motive:
 * Glory and recognition in the
   greater open source community

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Dominating force in his suggestions:
 * Users must be recruited to create
   successful open source projects
 * Rule: "Treat your users as your most
   valuable resource and they will
   be your most valuable resource"
 * Rule: "The next best thing to having good
   ideas is recognizing good ideas
   from your users"
 * Implied: Users work for the project leader
 * Use them like a natural resource

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Projects co-developed
 * Leader owns technology
 * When leader loses interest, hand it over
 * Competent successor
 * Projects can be inherited
 * Community follows project inheritance

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Cultivating your user base
 * Grow co-developers
 * Work for the lead developer
 * Rule 6: "Treating your users as co-developers
           is your least-hassle route to rapid code
           improvement and effective debugging"
 * Users aren't really co-developers
 * But treat them as such
 * Ensures they will work for the project

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Core developers can do everything themselves
 * Enlisting help
 * Less difficult way to reach your goal
 * True benefit:
 * Large body of volunteers to fix/detect problems

ESR: Open Source Software

 * Rule 7: "Release early. Release often.
            And listen to your customers."
 * Value: Effective way to test for bugs
 * Not sensitive to users' needs
 * Maximize debugging effort
   * At cost of unstable software
   * Get more corrections
 * Less-than-usable software can be released
 * Focuses on users value to the software
   * Not the other way around

Morality and pragmatism

 * Emphasis:
 * RMS: Moral behavior and obligation
 * ESR: Technological superiority of
        decentralized development process

Morality and pragmatism

 * RMS: Free software
   * More superior and more ethical
     than proprietary software
 * ESR main concern:
   * Technical implications rather than moral
 * ESR:
   * No mention of proprietary software
     as less ethical
   * Still critical of proprietary software

Different value systems

 * OSS users
   * Pay careful attention
   * Community participation
 * Different viewpoints
   * Add odds with each other

Choice of OSS projects to use

 * Seeking out like-minded projects
 * More moral focus
   * Follow RMS approach
 * Focus on technological superiority
   * Follow ESR approach
   * At cost of equality among users

Response to choice

 * User aware of their choice
 * Choosing affiliations
 * Signal to others
 * Adopts worldview of choice

Blending philosophies

 * Many projects blend practices
 * Can cause internal conflict
 * Difference in "why" and "how"
 * Neither philosphy perfect for everyone
 * No final word


 * More accurate term
 * "Free/Libre Open Source Software"
 * Keeps parts of both movements

Pop culture

 * Term "Open Source" more popular
 * More business friendly licensing
 * Almost exclusively chosen
   * Influence in broader culture
 * Non-technical uses
   * Used for yoga and t-shirt designs
   * Cultural phenomenon

Open Source: Missing the mark

 * About harnessing individuals
 * Open Source government
   * Not about moral imperative to share
   * Not very different from healthy democracy
 * Too late to correct trend
   * More complicated value system
 * Members of the open source community
   can help others understand the difference

Other creative fields

 * Very few have concept of source code
 * Cannot replicate essential meaning
 * Idea about protecting the right to share
   * Creative licensing
 * More precise language
   * Creative Commons

Open Source and Free Software

 * Many lump them together
   * No consideration for differences
 * ESR/RMS insists:
   * Fundamental differences
   * Disagree in principle
   * Agree in practice
 * Only developers themselves can attest
   for their reasons to participate


 * Think they operate in similar way
 * Little insight on labeling
 * Same licensing structures
 * Essential difference
   * Not technological
   * Philosophical
 * Useful to be more precise in terminology
 * Choose your allegiance:
   * Freedom
   * Pragmatism

Other opinions

 * Regarding personalities:
 * "RMS is a jerk because he's passionate
    and clueless about how to get what he
    wants (sometimes), ESR is a jerk because
    he's an egotistical jackass" (
 * "I can't think of a topic I'd be
    less interested in than 'ESR vs RMS'" (
   * Seems to indicate some people really
     don't care one way or the other about
     the people behind the philosophies, just the
     philosophies themselves

Other opinions

 * "Revolution OS mostly portrayed the
    open source point of view" (
 * "RMS would liken free software to
    free speech, it's necessary for a
    fair, just, and free society" (
 * "RMS doesn't know how to be an effective activist.
    Which isn't to say that he hasn't done lots of stuff.
    He's gotten a lot accomplished." (
 * "RMS has done a lot that I am wildly grateful for.
    I would rather shake his hand than punch his face.
    But I wouldn't take a job working for him." (

Other opinions

 * "As one person put it,
   'Open source is a development methodology;
   free software is a social movement.'" (Wikipedia)
 * "DRM is a really hard issue.
   I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
   I have a hard time believing that DRM, per se, is evil.
   I think DRM has been used as tool for evil by
   corporations that represent themselves as
   promoting culture while, in fact, destroying it." (

My own point of view

 * Analogy from childhood:
 * Your mother says that you should share
   your candy with your brother
 * You share your candy with your brother
 * The question is what is your reason for doing it.
 * RMS: You do it because it's a good thing and you
        want to be good to your brother
        (altruism / moral obligation)
 * ESR: You do it because (in the future) when your brother
        has some candy he will share with you (individual benefit).

My own point of view

 * "I am very glad that there is a guy
    like RMS around, but I don't think I'd
    be able to be that kind of person myself"
   * With regards to the DRM issue
   * Popular media is too interesting to ignore
 * Sometimes behavior of the messenger can
   distort the message
   * People tend to focus on people