Rethinking Free Software
Once I freed my mind from the clutch of a particular imposing presence on how to think about free software, I have been questioning some of the choices I have made in the past. This is a list.
Not all items in this list has got to do with the particular imposing presence. In fact, most of it is about the prevalent ethics of hacker culture. And I suppose a lot of what is happening in the recent days is a protest about that hacker culture too.
Asking people to keep discussions in public groups / discouraging private messages
To be fair, this I’ve been rethinking since about an year. I used to ignore and/or be annoyed by people who barely know me reach out to me in private message after seeing my message in a public group. This is a relic of the 20th century attitude in which hackers considered their time as precious and more important than other people’s time. It is inherently an elitist attitude.
There are several reasons why people do not feel comfortable talking in public groups. Some people feel they might be asking something too trivial for the group. Some people are simply scared. Some people feel more comfortable talking to an individual they believe is helpful.
The kind and better thing to do is to be helpful towards people in private chats as well.
In fact, in real life if someone asked me a question in private I would never ask that person to go ask the same in a microphone.
GNU/Linux vs Linux
Linux family of operating systems is the more commonly used word and that’s the reason why the Wikipedia article is named so. The only reason to use GNU/Linux is to stress on the contribution of GNU to the development of the Linux family of operating systems. But why should we stress GNU’s role? Sure GNU led to the success of Linux family of operating systems. But it is a political choice whether or not to highlight GNU’s role in this success whenever we are talking about this alternative family of operating systems. Sometimes, when the political climate changes, it makes no sense to continue working for that political goal.
Free software vs FOSS vs Libre software
I used to be worried about using “FOSS” and try to use “free software” wherever possible. But “free software” is a very confusing term because free means two things in English. “Free and Open Source Software” is an explanatory term that people can guess the meaning of without having to ask follow up questions. Would that lead to people automatically thinking that “free” means “gratis”? Maybe. I am not sure that just using “free software” is very helpful either. Libre software is probably a good alternative. I have not made up my mind here. But I’m definitely reconsidering insistence on other people using free software. Especially FOSS United. And that brings me to my next point.
FOSS United and “pure” free software
I used to be slightly annoyed that FOSS United has more people who support open source than free software. I used to think that the free software group and the open source group cannot work together and it makes the free software ideology less pure. But now I am rethinking that. I am rethinking the need for such great aversion towards open source. Am I being corrupted? Maybe. But when idols break, sometimes crazy things happen. Anyhow, I have seen FOSS United accomplish more for free software movement recently than “pure” free software communities.
What is this purity anyhow? It is often a matter of privilege. There is nothing pure about using only free software because you can afford to live such a lifestyle. There are plenty of people who cannot afford that (not just in a fiscal way, but in many other ways). And such insistence on purity makes it inaccessible to many people too.
Freedom 0 is the freedom to run software. If you don’t have that freedom, all the other freedoms do not matter. And there are many people who don’t have that freedom. Sometimes all the software they can run is proprietary software. They also deserve to know about and benefit from free software and other good technologies.
Top-posting vs bottom-posting
People who bottom post sometimes quote in very confusing ways. There is no inherent advantage in doing bottom-posting. (I was never insistent on bottom posting anyhow)
Questioning people’s choices (or ignorance) about such tiny details like top-posting and bottom-posting
There are people who discuss about whether mailing list software should mangle “reply-to” email header and such mundane topics of no real life relevance except for a group of “elite” hackers. I shouldn’t waste time in such meaningless discussions any more.
So is the question of vim vs emacs vs whatever modern editors. Use whatever you prefer. Another meaningless debate that arises directly from hackers wanting to show their superiority over others.
Making moral judgements about people
I used to do this all the time. To the point that I was having difficulty working with anyone. Maybe I’ll stop doing this. Nobody’s perfect and everybody’s got some problem or the other. I will care less about ideological purity going forward and make lesser moral judgements about people. I think.
Licenses other than the FSF approved ones
I remember looking at Peer Production License while preparing my blog post about values of organizations and wishing that it was free software license. This is similar to the licenses that Mongo, Elastic, etc switched to. Earlier I used to care a lot about whether FSF approved a license or not.
If elastic has a license that doesn’t violate my four freedoms, then it is free software for me. Maybe it isn’t free software for Amazon. But it is, for me.
And ultimately elasticsearch is something I will probably not be using after 5 years. So I don’t have to worry about the eventualities that aren’t going to happen in the next 5 years.
Maybe I will start using some of these products with their newer licenses as well.
I used to worry more about philosophy than about software in the past many months. I think that’s a stupid thing to do. I should focus on writing free software. I can preach philosophy when I write useful software that make people want to listen to me.
About these thoughts
These thoughts aren’t well thought out thoughts. These are just forming in my mind. But these are definitely thoughts I’m having. I might sometimes feel like I was right about some of these things. I might never go back. I don’t know.
But it sure feels like I’m thinking more freely now.
I’m now feeling the same way I feel when I stopped caring about Mozilla. Maybe it is for the good.