My Little Blog

October 9, 2011

Forking the FSF – RMS and Steve Jobs

Filed under: Uncategorized — kmi @ 11:26

If you’ve read the blogosphere around GNU (Planet GNOME etc.) you’ve probably heard that some people are really upset about a comment by Richard M. Stallman about Steve Jobs’ death. RMS wrote “Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died” and continued with a requoted phrase said about a corrupt mayor: “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.”

I’m not sure forking the FSF would solve any problems. Despite what RMS sometimes says, the FSF is broken in its foundations. From the very focused goal to build a completely free operating system called GNU the FSF transformed to ‘everything that vaguely adheres to our standards can call itself a GNU project and we’ll throw an occasional political manifesto on top of it all’.

The FSF doesn’t need a fork. Newer organizations already took over FSF’s former responsibilities: ‘Software Freedom Law Center’ does the majority of legal work. Linux provides the kernel and KDE and GNOME (officially still a GNU project but de facto without relation) provide the userspace tools.

As for RMS himself: I don’t think his political ideals are wrong or go too far. As even Apple itself once said: “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.
We shouldn’t compromise our ideals of Free Software or – in broader terms – free knowledge for everybody but IMO we don’t RMS any longer because we have more than just him now. People like SFLC’s Eben Moglen reflect more about what they are about to say.
IMO arguments for free software/knowledge weigh more when there is no crazy talk mixed in. It’s a plain fact that while Apple is hardly perfect from our perspective, Steve Jobs made Apple way more open than Apple under John Sculley, Michael Spindler, and Gil Amelio. Everything was proprietary. After Apple bought NeXT and effectively NeXT took over Apple’s operations, suddenly we had an Apple that contributes to GCC, releases its new NeXTStep-derived operating system’s core (Darwin) under a LGPL-like license, creates WebKit, maintains CUPS, and is the main driver of LLVM.

So to get back to the first paragraph: I’m glad we had Steve Jobs. Not only did his decisions result in improvements of FOSS itself, he helped to break the dominance of Windows and let people accept that there are alternatives that not only work as well as Windows but even surpass it.

14 Comments

  1. “created Webkit”.
    I’m sure you’ll find that all the opensource technologies that Apple used, under Steve Jobs, were used so that they did not need to create their own solution. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing — but they were not opensource pioneers or creators.
    Webkit was the worst example. They forked KHTML and prevented people from committing to their new project. Everyone who worked on that project will still have a bitter taste in their mouth.
    The source was open (it’d likely be closed if they had a choice) but not the contribution.

    Comment by xs — October 9, 2011 @ 12:28

    • “The source was open (it’d likely be closed if they had a choice) but not the contribution.”

      So? Still an improvement to the situation on Mac OS <9 where only fully proprietary browsers (Internet Explorer, Netscape) were available.

      Open source but not open for contributions is a concept we KDE people know too well from Qt under Trolltech. Being OK with that back then and now bitching about it is bigotry.
      Today’s WebKit is open for contributions and even more so than Qt. Nokia requires Qt contributions to sign a CLA to allow Nokia to make proprietary Qt versions.

      Comment by Markus — October 10, 2011 @ 00:08

      • Interesting view. My view would be that Qt is at least equally open if not even more cause I can contribute patches which are merged in (open governance). But if a CLA is a problem for you then maybe you have a valid point to see it different.

        One note re why CLA; to make a commercial product you wouldn’t need one. Let people contribute patches under BSD/MIT/… and be fine. A CLA seems to be mostly about limiting the damage done by the broken US patent-system. Fixing it would be better but I can see why lawyers take all options including workarounds.

        Comment by dipesh — October 11, 2011 @ 05:05

  2. Nice selective quoting there, although I appreciate the link to the full remark. I’m not sure how RMS’s remarks on his personal site are meant to represent the FSF, however.

    As someone has already debunked the “[Apple] creates WebKit” remark, it should be pointed out that one of the first things Apple did after the NeXT acquisition was to close down the production of licensed Mac clones: a move in the opposite direction to that of openness. I’m sure refutations can be made of some of your other points, too.

    In fact, Apple needs Free Software. It’s extremely difficult to write everything needed for a modern computing environment from scratch, and the repeated failure of software projects in what you might call the old, proprietary Apple illustrate this very well. Apple isn’t the only company of that era who failed similarly, although unlike other companies it didn’t lead to the complete failure of the company, but recognising that even the supposedly valuable corporation that Apple now is cannot (or will not) devote its resources to writing a completely proprietary software stack is hardly the same as saying that the corporation embraces Free Software.

    Had Apple under Amelio, Spindler or Sculley been able to recognise the practical benefits of Free Software – largely against the grain of corporate thinking, especially in Sculley’s era – I’m sure they would have made use of it, too, and the company might have prospered. But that still wouldn’t mean that Amelio, Spindler or Sculley were special friends of Free Software. And in both that era and in the present era, Apple has still indulged in aggressive anticompetitive litigation against competitors: something that has a severely negative effect on Free Software adoption and participation.

    Comment by Paul Boddie — October 9, 2011 @ 13:43

    • “Nice selective quoting there”

      I explained why people are pissed at RMS and the selected quotes are the reason.

      “someone has already debunked”

      Nobody debunked anything.

      “it should be pointed out that one of the first things Apple did after the NeXT acquisition was to close down the production of licensed Mac clones”

      Completely irrelevant from a FOSS point of view. Those were still proprietary machines running 100% proprietary software.

      “Had Apple under Amelio, Spindler or Sculley been able to recognise the practical benefits of Free Software – largely against the grain of corporate thinking, especially in Sculley’s era – I’m sure they would have made use of it”

      But they didn’t.

      “that still wouldn’t mean that Amelio, Spindler or Sculley were special friends of Free Software.”

      If they had, they would be beneficial tools from a FOSS POV. Jobs didn’t need to be a “special friend” but he was useful getting one more FOSS contributor into the game and Apple contributes to WebKit, LLVM, etc. That’s a fact.

      Comment by Markus — October 10, 2011 @ 00:15

      • “I explained why people are pissed at RMS and the selected quotes are the reason.”

        I also find cutting people off mid-sentence to be a great way of misrepresenting them, too.

        “Nobody debunked anything.”

        Apple forked KHTML. Thus the “[Apple] creates WebKit” myth is debunked because WebKit wouldn’t exist without that earlier work. Oh, and you skipped over the bit about Apple almost going bankrupt in the 1990s because they were unable to deliver top-to-bottom all-proprietary solutions, so the need to start using Free Software was more or less imposed on them by their circumstances. That Steve Jobs also had to do the same thing at NeXT is also a indication of the economic necessity of starting a new enterprise with considerably less money than the one he left behind, not an indication of how random enterprises embrace Free Software and wish to sustain its ideals. The “Apple that contributes to GCC” was reluctant to do so but ultimately obliged to do so.

        But let’s get back to the main topic of your post. How is RMS’s personal opinion on his own personal site an indication that “the FSF is broken in its foundations”? Or is this just a convenient opportunity to throw mud at the FSF? (An organisation that actually does enforce the GPL when it is within its power to do so.)

        Comment by Paul Boddie — October 17, 2011 @ 23:20

        • “Apple forked KHTML. Thus the “[Apple] creates WebKit” myth is debunked because WebKit wouldn’t exist without that earlier work.”

          Irrelevant that WebKit is a fork. Apple created the project, just as Novell, Red Hat, etc. created The Document Foundation which maintains LibreOffice, and now Apple contributes most code to WebKit. WebKit as a project didn’t exist before Apple. Only KHTML did and that was never successful.

          Side note: I find the Apple hatred here amusing. I see Apple as a tool. I have just as much emotional connection to Apple as I have with a hammer. I see Apple as useful as long as they contribute to FOSS just as a hammer is useful as long as it gets nails in walls.

          “But let’s get back to the main topic of your post. How is RMS’s personal opinion on his own personal site an indication that “the FSF is broken in its foundations”? Or is this just a convenient opportunity to throw mud at the FSF? (An organisation that actually does enforce the GPL when it is within its power to do so.)”

          You should learn to read. My post was actually a reply to https://larrythefreesoftwareguy.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/time-to-fork-the-fsf/ . And as a reply to that I wrote why “forking the FSF” is not worth it IMO.
          Oh, and btw: GPL enforcement is mainly done by gplviolations.org and SFLC.

          Comment by Markus — October 17, 2011 @ 23:58

  3. In historical terms Steve Jobs was a bad person.
    He was so much wealthy and yet he did not donate its wealth for the cancer cure or for another good cause although he knew that he was going to die!
    The manufacturing that made his products was crammed with under paid overworking employees that often committed suicide…
    His answer to the android was to unleash patent trolling.
    So Richard was right.
    Open source movement will gain from his death and I cannot stand the hypocrisy of so many persons to be ice cold indifferent when numerous of Steve Job’s workers died but feel compassion for a super rich person that did…

    Comment by Worker — October 9, 2011 @ 13:44

  4. The Darwin license is NOT Free Software, it contains usage restriction clauses banning you from replacing the OS X kernel with it to circumvent their anticompetitive forced bundling of hardware and software. Neither a Free Software license nor an Open Source license may discriminate against fields of endeavor, this goes against Freedom Zero, the most fundamental one, which is the right to use the software for any purpose.

    Comment by Kevin Kofler — October 9, 2011 @ 15:14

    • “The Darwin license is NOT Free Software”

      Excuse me but that’s simply a lie. Eg. the kernel XNU is licensed under APSL and that’s a LGPL-like license recognized by the FSF as Free.
      You can obtain the full source code here: http://opensource.apple.com/release/mac-os-x-1071/
      The FSF’s stance to the license is here: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/apsl.html

      Other components are under (L)GPL, Apache, BSD, … licenses.

      Full Mac OS X is not free, Darwin is. Mac OS Classic was completely proprietary software.

      Comment by Markus — October 10, 2011 @ 00:26

  5. iTunes, iPhone, AppStore, iPad, you call that “way to more openness”?

    Though you might want to question the relevance of the FSF (they do campaigns etc., but of course do not (primarily) develop software), RMS was completely right with his statement and there was nothing bad about it.

    Comment by The User — October 9, 2011 @ 22:34

    • “iTunes, iPhone, AppStore, iPad, you call that “way to more openness”?”

      Yes, compared to pre-Jobs Apple which was 100% proprietary. Compared to that even 10% openness is a giant increase.
      iPhone/iPad use WebKit, LLVM, etc. – all projects whose source is freely available.
      No single line of Newton OS was FOSS.

      “RMS was completely right with his statement”
      If that was the case, RMS would personally remove any single line of Apple code in GNU software, starting from relatively simple things like the Unicode support of Bash 3.0 to bigger improvements like pretty most PowerPC code in GCC.
      But maybe he’s in denial and refuses to believe that there is even Apple code in GNU software.

      Oh, X.Org Server 1.9 is managed by Apple.

      Comment by Markus — October 10, 2011 @ 00:43

  6. Markus, I second that. I was myself surprised at the amount and number of FOSS contributions from Apple. Sure, KHTML was the root source, but from KHTML to Webkit is a rather significant jump.

    Comment by Roopesh Chander (@roopeshchander) — October 10, 2011 @ 10:55

  7. There is a fork —> http://www.opensource.org/.

    I think it is only a personal opinion from RMS. Although, you can see it from Opensource point of view (technical benefits are the most important) and you can say “Jobs did awesome things that improve our computer experience”, it’s ok and for you RMS opinion it’s wrong. But you can see it from Free Software point of view too (Comunity and users of software freedom is the most important), and then RMS is right. We have to remember RMS is always thinking from this point of view.

    I like to see his opinion from the FS point of view.

    Greetings

    Comment by Rafa — October 10, 2011 @ 11:34


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