Can we please stop fighting FUD with FUD?

Can we please stop fighting FUD with FUD?


It has long been the case that proprietary software companies regularly engage in FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactics against their opponents. This particularly seems to apply to Microsoft's statements about free software in general and GNU/Linux in particular. Recently I've noticed a surge in the amount of FUD going the other way--from the FOSS community towards Microsoft and other proprietary software companies. Why do we feel it is necessary to fight FUD with FUD

The genesis of FUD

According to Wikipedia FUD has been used in various contexts since the 1920s but became more used as a terminology in the 1980s and 1990s. It is most frequently associated with Microsoft. Of course, they are not the only proponents of FUD but they do seem to employ it a fair bit.

I am not a fan of Microsoft or their monopolistic marketing tactics

FUD from the FOSS community is, again, not new but in recent years it has become a more widespread tactic--particularly where Microsoft is the target. Just so I don't give the wrong idea: I am not a fan of Microsoft or their monopolistic marketing tactics. I just don't think the FOSS community should be so ready to use those same tactics as a defence. So what are the examples of FOSS FUD then? I don't want to make this into a rant against any individual so I won't give explicit examples but below are the kinds of arguments you might find in FOSS FUD.

FOSS FUD

  • "Using FOSS will save you thousands!"
  • "Microsoft's products suck"
  • "If you are not using 100% free software--don't bother"

That list in not exhaustive but why would I consider this FUD? To be honest--it's not the statements themselves as the way they are presented. What bothers me is when the "facts" are twisted or poorly researched. All it does is make us look at best foolish and at worst dishonest. When you compare the retail cost of the most expensive proprietary product ranges it is a comparison most people won't recognise. In the proprietary world bulk-discounts, student editions, special offers abound. Rarely do people pay the full retail price. In any case I've said before that cost is not the best argument to use--particularly as others have mentioned you may not always be the cheapest. Using cost may get people's attention but it won't last if your 'facts' are biased--even with the best of intentions.

If you're to going run down Microsoft products then you need to be specific. What products suck, why and how do they suck? I see a lot of this type of thing that simply shows the proponent has rarely used the product in question. Aside from that, is this really a good argument to make? Are we really going to be so arrogant as to imply that free software doesn't suck at all? By running down the opposition aren't we implying there are no issues with "our" software? Arguing your case by running down the opposition is the stuff of politicians and is pure FUD. Argue your case on the merits of free software not the faults of the proprietary alternatives. There are situations when it is useful to highlight the differences there's a very real danger of it sounding bitter and jealous.

With regards the purist argument: I agree that the world would be better if everyone used entirely free software--something I try to do myself. That said, if you come in too quick and aggressive with this point you can drive people away just as they are starting to take an interest. We need to encourage people to take small steps into our brave new world. Let's allow people to open their eyes at their own pace.

Swapping shoes

Before we make any plug for free software, we would do well to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. What may sound obvious to us could sound bitter, pedantic or jealous to them. It's difficult to do this though and we'll always come to that point where mis-information needs correcting. This is when we need to consider how they may interpret what we say or write.

If we want to promote free software--and it's associated ideals--to new users then we should promote it on its merits, without twisting facts and by giving them a chance to get it wrong occasionally. Most Windows users I know moan about it. They tell me it's 'bad' without me having to tell them. My job therefore becomes simpler: to tell them how they will benefit from free software.

FUD is FUD is FUD

Fighting FUD with FUD will nearly always leave the listener/reader confused and less enthusiastic about your side. I--for one--would like to see more blogs and comments on why free software is good rather than why Microsoft is bad. So let's start here. Your task is complete the sentence "Free software is good because..." in less than 50 words.

Category: 

Comments

Terry Hancock's picture

I agree with a lot of your sentiment.

The irony I find is that most of the most strident arguments against Microsoft are made by people who are still using MS products, and therefore feel personally enslaved by them. Or, they have only recently switched and are so enthusiastic they want to force everyone else to -- like recently converted non-smokers.

Those of us who never smoked are generally less concerned about the fact that some people do. I mean, hey, it's their life and their lungs. As long as they keep their smoke to themselves, I'm happy.

Personally, I try to lead by example. I found strong personal reasons for preferring free software over proprietary, and not all of them are the "PC" reasons. For example, I find not having to pay licensing fees a BIG plus for free software -- it may not be "about" the zero-cost, but the zero-cost is nevertheless a real benefit.

And yes, of course I'm aware that I'm paying out more labor to save that money -- it's the same decision I make when I repair my own house or car. But I routinely do make that decision, because it makes economic sense for me to do so. I'm a major do-it-yourselfer in a lot of areas of my life, so why not on the computer?

I'm also aware that much of my practical attraction to GNU/Linux has more to do with it being a Unix-like system with proper multi-user design, security, built-in networking and other features that are basically bolt-on afterthoughts with Windows. I used to use Unix systems in college back in the 1980s, so this stuff was somewhat familiar to me when I switched. My reaction was "Wow, this is like the big expensive computers the university owned, but running on my PC. Kewl!" I got a particular kick out of the colliding galaxies screensaver, since I can still remember when running that simulation was considered serious astronomical research (because it was that hard to do back then -- now it's a toy).

And on the flipside, much of my present disgust with Windows has to do with my lack of experience with it. I "upgraded" from Windows 3.1 to Debian "Slink". So I just don't use Windows anymore, and I don't know how to do anything with it. Nor do I want to know. I just don't need it.

I enjoy the freedom that free software gives me, but I also believe that other people should be free to use proprietary software if they think it's a worthwhile deal (and let's not kid ourselves, there are times when that's a very practical decision).

Basically, I don't care if much of the world wants to use Windows, as long as they leave me alone. But if they want me to service their PCs, or want to dump stuff on me that requires proprietary drivers or codecs to use, I find that a genuine personal irritation.

That's why I think the real battles should be over open standards. So long as the standards are open, free software can compete on its own merits against proprietary software, and I have enough faith in the process to believe it can win without having to resort to underhanded tactics.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Agree about the recent converts but--sadly--I've also seen the kind of behaviour I describe from those who apparently have been using free software for a while. I find this particularly sad.

I find not having to pay licensing fees a BIG plus for free software — it may not be “about” the zero-cost, but the zero-cost is nevertheless a real benefit.

Me too but for slightly different reasons. I manage the licencing for an organisation with 125 members spread over the whole of the UK. Making sure that we are licenced for every piece of software we use can take up a considerable amount of time. Free software --er--frees me from that burden because I know it matters little how many copies I have or how it is being used. This is one of the many reasons why we are likely to move to OpenOffice.org later this year. Zero cost is a side effect really as--being a charity--we don't pay that much for our licences anyway.

That’s why I think the real battles should be over open standards. So long as the standards are open, free software can compete on its own merits against proprietary software, and I have enough faith in the process to believe it can win without having to resort to underhanded tactics.

Again, me too. Telling someone how their choice of software will affect access to their own data in years to come is a powerful argument and the proprietary companies know it. Look at the hoo-har following Massachusetts' ODF announcement.

bogdanbiv's picture
Submitted by bogdanbiv on

"Recently switched users" are very enthusiastic and they are the most likely people to change the freedom software community to welcome more new users. Well established "Linux users" know their way around software problems and are less likely to hit any usability problem. And usually when they find something that does not work for them they also have the knowledge and the power (as in community respect) to change things the way they want it to work. So new users know what can be should be improved in free software. Longer the time they spent using Linux, they have less
and less information about where novices come from.

At the same time experienced users know how to promote Linux and what should be promoted to new users en masse. But experienced users have big jobs do not have the time to commit to marketing. They need to convey this information quickly to new users and these in turn will take the Linux message to novices. We should know that experienced users have a problem in making themselves understood by novices.

So all this is about the knowledge divide, a communication gap between gurus and novices. Either side has information the other needs, can't we establish a channel to break through the RTFM attitude of developers and the "I want bug #4348 fixed!" attitude of novices?

Quote:
< What bothers me is when the “facts” are twisted or poorly researched. >
This shows poor communication between people who know the facts (the chill, Linux gurus) and novices.

The solution is a focused Linux marketing community, where novices learn ideas and code of conduct from "gurus". In our community the most important "learning vector" is an example. So by example we shall teach others. IMHO correcting FUD coming from FOSS promoters is easier in such a community, than directly on Slashdot.org. Think only about the noise level when Microsoft promoters come on Slashdot.org/non-Linux specific online forums rightously pointing flaws in our own marketing message, and then they start sending FUD themselves. To build a strong message to the public we should first a review it inside our community.
Look at how we develop software: leaving aside developers with commit-access to the versioning system, novices who correct bugs first submit them to the developers' mailing list where these patches are publicly reviewed and scrutinized. Same we should do with marketing: We should gather our mess together inside the community, correct obvious flaws and then sent the message to propagate further.

Don't get me wrong and belive I mean only "approved" experienced users should promote Linux, on the contrary, novices can work along side gurus so they can take up behaviour from seeing gurus at work. Of course anyone can write about anything, but promoting inside the community will be easier for them, and they will come themselves to ask for advice.

Such a community has already been started, find it at http://TheTuxProject.org , but given the size of GNU/Linux, this particular community is largely undersized and underpromoted when compared to marketing efforts of other free software projects:

  • Firefox ( http://www.spreadfirefox.com/ )
  • KDE (KDE marketing group http://dot.kde.org/1131467649/ )
  • Miro ( http://getmiro.org/ )
    • On a larger topic, maybe we like doing things informal and natural, but for a community to grow as large as we want Linux to be, we need a more standardized process of communication, even if it will be an ad-hoc and "de facto" standard.

land0's picture
Submitted by land0 on

<"Such a community has already been started, find it at http://TheTuxProject.org , but given the size of GNU/Linux, this particular community is largely undersized and under promoted when compared to marketing efforts of other free software projects"

Started is the key word here. We are still just building the foundation to accommodate the potential size of what we have set out to accomplish. There are many incredible ideas already on the site. A project of this nature takes quite a bit of time to cultivate. Not really prudent for those feeling an extreme sense of urgency. However it is perfect for those interested in helping build the ground level. No matter where you are at and how much time you have to spare you are more than welcome to get involved. http://thetuxproject.org

drascus321's picture
Submitted by drascus321 on

There may be some truth in what you are saying about tactics here. I don't however totally agree. It really is a matter of what side of the fence you stand on. I dislike the label FOSS in general because it assumes that there are equal values between the Free Software community and the Open source community. This is simply not true. This also covers what Terry Hancock said about recent converts.

Open source attitude: The open source community is about making the most technically superior software as possible. Most of the licenses are permissive and allow proprietary software to adapt their code and make it closed source. They would have no problem living side by side with proprietary software like Microsoft products. They wouldn't say such things are bad or a problem.

Free Software: The Free Software community is about freedom of software as an ethical ideal. There fore proprietary closed source is seen as unethical and totally undesirable. This community is much more apt to get out there spread the word and tell people that Microsoft is evil or "sucks". They don't need to cite which programs the answer is any proprietary software falls into the "sucks" category.

Why Microsoft? Why not someone else? Answer simply is Microsoft is the most hostile to our communities. Openly saying that they are trying to find some way to get rid of us.

about competition: There is this idea that the free software community competes with Microsoft. This is not true for the same reason that freedom doesn't compete with slavery one is unethical one is not. the only struggle is to preserve freedom so that people can escape to it.

The open source community Also does not compete because closed source can use open sources code. Open source is kind of like a manufacturer that will sell to anyone.

Conclusion: I don't think that its FUD necessarily. Microsoft definitely engages in FUD as they are trying to destroy us in anyway possible. Spreading the word of freedom is never a scare tactic. Some badly researched people who have no idea what they are talking about may be engaging in FUD. But i don't thing its as widespread as we may believe

Terry Hancock's picture

"The open source community Also does not compete because closed source can use open sources code. Open source is kind of like a manufacturer that will sell to anyone."

This is a serious misconception. "Open source" advocates are no more nor less friendly to non-copyleft software than the "free software" movement is. Software with non-copyleft licenses are still regarded as "free". Both groups strongly promote copyleft licenses as a superior alternative.

drascus321's picture
Submitted by drascus321 on

I see what you are saying yet they generally put no restrictions in their licenses that keep the code from becomming proprietary. This takes free code and allows it to be used to create more non-free software. So I still think in most cases even if they are not friendly with them they are still contributing to proprietary software. Both groups might promote copyleft licneses yet one (Open Source) does so from an angle of general superiority While the other (Free Software) Does so from an angle of Protecting the users Freedom. I am not saying that there is a hard schism between the two. Obviously the Free Software Community and Open Source Community work very tightly together. Some people contribute code to both. I am saying that on certain issues they stand for different things and sometimes those differences are not recognised.

Terry Hancock's picture

"I see what you are saying yet they generally put no restrictions in their licenses that keep the code from becoming proprietary."

Where are you getting this impression? I did read a recent interview with Eric Raymond in which he claims that copyleft is no longer necessary (bear in mind that his argument is that companies will "know better" than to take the code private, not that it's "okay" for them to do so -- FWIW I disagree, I believe "good fences make good neighbors" myself).

However, Raymond's opinions are not the opinions of the majority of "open source" advocates (indeed, he was the only one of his OSI colleagues to take this position on copyleft), so I really don't see where you're getting this impression.

By far, the majority of "open source" work is copyleft (73.4% of Red Hat measured by "source lines of code" with 56.2% being GPL alone, based on study data from a couple of years ago).

Considering that Michael Tiemann is "Vice President of Open Source Affairs at Red Hat Inc, as well as President of the Open Source Initiative" (Source: Wikipedia) and his company's distribution is overwhelmingly copyleft, I think that pretty much disproves your claim about open source advocates' preferences.

Certainly the OSI approves non-copyleft licenses, but so does the FSF. Note that to be "GPL compatible" (highly desireable), licenses have to 1) be the GPL, 2) expressly allow conversion to GPL, or 3) not impose a copyleft. Thus most of the "best practice" licenses on the FSF licenses page are also non-copyleft -- is this tacit preference for non-copyleft licenses on the part of the FSF?

If not, then I can't really see grounds for making the same claim about the OSI. (Don't confuse "most licenses" with "most licensed works", the GPL is the hands-down favorite license for both groups and accounts for most licensed works bearing either "free software" or "open source" labels).

Paul Gaskin's picture

I really wish people would stop the "open source" charade.

It's really not much more than a re-branding campaign intended to marginalize the GNU project and the FSF.

The "Open Source Initiative" is the equivalent of the "Democratic Leadership Council".

The effect of the "Democratic Leadership Council" has been to marginalize the base of the Democratic Party and to eviscerate the party of it's principles in order to make it more palatable for corporate interests.

The effect of the "Open Source Initiative" has been to diminish the influence, funding, and brand awareness of the earlier and more visionary GNU project and FSF.

Another frustrating re-branding campaign was to strip "GNU" out of a very popular GNU derivative - GNU/Linux.

This precisely mirrors the deliberate disenfranchisement of Dennis Kucinich, who despite bringing articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney to the floor of House of Representatives is treated as if he doesn't exist by the corporate-owned media.

I'm tired of the whole phenomenon, so I never say "Open Source" or "FOSS" and I've even quit the "Democratic" party.

Terry Hancock's picture

It's bad enough that the community throws FUD on proprietary companies, but community-on-community FUD is the worst.

To briefly correct the more blatant misrepresentations in the above post:

"GNU" was not "stripped" from "GNU/Linux". It was not originally called "GNU/Linux". Stallman complained about the name after the name "Linux" had already become established. People have been slow and/or reluctant to revise the terminology (and there are some serious holes in Stallman's arguments for the "GNU/Linux" label, anyway). So it is actually the FSF that is attempting a "re-branding" here.

The FSF is not diminished, but from all reports is growing. It is probably much larger today than it would've been, thanks to the enormous growth in mainstream users that was enabled by the OSI's efforts. Many more people today know and use free software because of the success of "open source".

The FSF, with its narrowly focused mission and platform, never would've attracted the broad mainstream audience that the OSI targeted.

The corporate interests that you are so afraid of have proved to be valuable allies in such areas as patent reform and patent pools -- efforts essential to the future success of free software. Corporations can be a hazard, but also a benefit.

The message? Don't dump on your allies. You don't realize how much you need them. Just because people don't agree 100%, doesn't mean they can't make a lot of headway on the 80% they do agree on.

Paul Gaskin's picture

"You can't win without us because you're too radical for mainstream". Well, just as is the case with the Democrats, we lose most of the time, and even when we win, we don't win because they act like Republicans once they're in office.

I'm not at all convinced the bargain is worthwhile, to be misrepresented to the masses, marginalized, ritually criticized. Apparently it's an article of faith among the "open source" leadership that they are the only ones with their heads on straight.

Terry, who is the leader of the "open source" movement? Linus Torvalds? Eric Raymond? Bruce Perens?

What are the principles of this movement? More efficient software? Shut up and code? Don't talk about freedom?

There is no way to avoid this argument, and any pleas for a friendlier discourse which preclude our ability to talk about real issues amount to hollow, self-serving platitudes.

Paul Gaskin's picture

Terry, it was not originally called GNU/Linux, it was originally called GNU (GNU's Not Unix).

After that, Linus Torvalds created a kernel which he named Linux and licensed under the GNU GPL, compiled with the GNU C compiler, and which works with GNU libc.

After a lot of people began to refer to the whole system as "Linux", RMS suggested it wasn't appropriate to drop the name "GNU" from what had originated as "GNU", and that at least, GNU deserved equal mention in the name.

This isn't a legal issue, it's a request for people not to forget the GNU origins of GNU/Linux.

Also, you said "Don't dump on your allies". Do you recall the dump that Linus Torvald and Eric Raymond took on the FSF after the launch of GPLv3? And what are you doing in your previous comment?

The bottom line is, the "open source" brand was developed as a brand which was explicitly critical of "free software" from it's inception. There is no way to end this argument while there are fundamental disagreements in principle and a deliberate and incessant assault on the leadership of free software by the proponents of "open source" software.

http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html

http://www.gnu.org/gnu/linux-and-gnu.html

http://www.gnu.org/gnu/why-gnu-linux.html

Ryan Cartwright's picture

I dislike the label FOSS in general because it assumes that there are equal values between the Free Software community and the Open source community. This is simply not true. This also covers what Terry Hancock said about recent converts.

I usually prefer to use the term free software community to describe the range of free and open software users. In this instance I am sad to say that the kind of statements I see are not always from new converts and the free software community (if such a divide really exists) is by no means innocent. I deliberately included open source this time so that the long-term activists and the enthusiastic newbies did not think I was only talking about the "other lot".

Why Microsoft? Why not someone else?

Thanks but I didn't ask :o)

There is this idea that the free software community competes with Microsoft.

I would insert "has to" before the word competes but yes--this is an idea that goes around. I personally feel that the free software community does have to compete with the proprietary companies (not just Microsoft but they are the biggest) but it's more about winning hearts and minds than revenue and it is in this field that my concern lies. To take your analogy, freedom does compete with slavery and it's entirely on ethical grounds. If it was not a competition, Wilberforce would have seen the abolition of slavery in his own lifetime.

Some badly researched people who have no idea what they are talking about may be engaging in FUD. But I don't thing its as widespread as we may believe

As the number of free software users increases so it seems does the amount of times I see the kind of thing you mention and that really was my point. Not that it is prevalent but that it seems to be on the increases and it doesn't help.

cheers

Ryan

Anthony Taylor's picture

It's kind of hard for the FOSS community to spread FUD. After all, the first letter stands for "fear," and it's difficult to fear the FOSS community. The most we can do is spread uncertainty, and perhaps try to encourage doubt.

Let us call it by its proper name: whining.

I see this as a by-product of a much larger syndrome, one that pervades society. It seems that otherwise-rational people will spread disinformation for a political or personal goal. They may do this intentionally, by simply creating "facts" as they need them; they may present their opinions as fact; or, they may simply repeat dubious "facts" presented by others.

I'm certainly guilty. I get all het up about Microsoft because they've set us back at least ten years. (See? It's easy to do.) I take this personally, as I grew up in the time of Microsoft-- one of my first games was Microsoft Flight Simulator on the Apple ][.

The desire to pour bile out onto Microsoft is easy to understand.

But I came to the same conclusion you present here. It's a senseless activity, that gains nothing. All it does is get me all worked up, and them I'm not good for anything for several minutes. All it does is heighten my blood pressure. All it does is destroy my rationalism. All it does is hurt my credibility.

All it does is turn me into a whiner.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

It's kind of hard for the FOSS community to spread FUD. After all, the first letter stands for "fear," and it's difficult to fear the FOSS community. The most we can do is spread uncertainty, and perhaps try to encourage doubt.

I'm not so sure. Firstly the fear in FUD is not fear about me but about the product I am spreading FUD about. Proprietary software companies do not want us to fear them, they want us to fear free software, they want us to fear that the GPL will force us to give away all our "intellectual property", they want us to fear that none of our software will work with GNU/Linux.

So in that context the FOSS community can and does find it quite easy to spread FUD. Consider how often we read that people should not use IE because it is "full of security holes and bugs". What is the purpose of that statement if not to induce fear in the end-user that their current browser leaves them open to attack. It may well be true but the purpose of using it is to induce fear, uncertainty and doubt. It's FUD and it is especially so when it is done in a way that implies the problem is much much worse than it is. IE may be a security risk but some seem to imply that just having it on your system will mean you are cracked in seconds. Too often those spreading such information have not gained that knowledge for themselves but read it somewhere else.

The desire to pour bile out onto Microsoft is easy to understand.

Exactly--and I am not innocent on this.

But I came to the same conclusion you present here. It's a senseless activity, that gains nothing. All it does is get me all worked up, and them I'm not good for anything for several minutes. All it does is heighten my blood pressure. All it does is destroy my rationalism. All it does is hurt my credibility.

Agreed and that is my point. Fighting the opposition's FUD with disinformation of our own is unhelpful. We would be better to simply state our case in the clearest and most positive way possible.

Personally I think one of the best weapons we have had in recent years is the Live CD. Giving a wavering user a copy of GNU/Linux which will not harm their PC in anyway but enables them to see if the FUD is true is a great boon.

cheers Ryan

Terry Hancock's picture

I think that, by definition, "FUD" has to be untrue or at least unsupported.

I agree with the point about the "fear" being "of the product" and that we absolutely do see a lot of attempts to spread "fear" about proprietary products, much of which is either unsupported or poorly supported.

Still it is a little hard to get steamed about people using FUD against Microsoft when Microsoft is such an adept user of FUD itself. It's hard to get over the "poetic justice" aspect, though I must agree that I don't like to encourage an "eye for an eye" approach to morality.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

This may be semantics but while a level of deception is generally involved in FUD, I'm not sure that FUD has to be untrue. Unsupported, yes and the FOSS FUD I am talking about is usually that.

Take the "get the facts" campaign. Are any of those case studies telling an untruth? Did those people not really compare GNU/Linux and Windows and determine that Windows had a lower TCO? Surely by publishing such a thing, Microsoft would have facts to back up its claims. But what those case studies omit is often as important isn't it? We are not told which distribution they compared with, what deals they were given by Microsoft. In short we are probably not given all the facts.

What I am saying is that the free software and open source communities do engage in a similar activity and it seems to be on the increase--by my unscientific observation. Yet we somehow feel this is not FUD--even though we generally agree it is as unhelpful to the discussion as the proprietary FUD.

Still it is a little hard to get steamed about people using FUD against Microsoft when Microsoft is such an adept user of FUD itself. It's hard to get over the "poetic justice" aspect, though I must agree that I don't like to encourage an "eye for an eye" approach to morality.

I am the same and that is what led me to write this post. I wrestled with it before submitting it because I was concerned that I would be doing the same thing against those I wanted to address. Yes it is hard to get steamed up about anti-Microsoft FUD but a) I am not steamed up about it--just find it irritating and b) it still doesn't make it helpful to the discussion.

Paul Gaskin's picture

Microsoft has been very bad over the years to competitors and the free software community. Still, we ought to be accurate when we respond to their propaganda.

"FUD" is a somewhat indistinct term. I think the essence of "FUD" means deliberate misrepresentation of a competitor's technology to cause "fear, uncertainty and doubt".

It has to be deliberate misrepresentation because if the misrepresentation is not deliberate, it's not dishonest. Also, if the warnings are true, it's not fair to call it "FUD".

There are legitimate warnings which can be made against Microsoft products which will inspire "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" in anyone who is paying attention, but that is not "FUD".

The bottom line is that people should be as accurate as possible and never be willfully deceptive.

shawnhcorey's picture

All Microsoft's products suck because every 3 years a new version comes out with new file formats; forcing you to buy the new edition. The quality of the software is fairly consistent but it is only one of many factors that contribute to the quantity of the suckiness.

Marco Fioretti's picture

"With regards the purist argument... if you come in too quick and aggressive with this point you can drive people away just as they are starting to take an interest"

Very well said. For the record, this is more or less the same point I made in the Seven Things we're tired of hearing from software hackers and in the Free Software Manifesto for all of us. I'd like to hear your opinion about those pages.

Keep up the good work,

Marco
--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Terry Hancock's picture

Those were very interesting articles.

Where there is a possibility of paying people (testers) to help move bugs from descriptions by non-developer users to a form that is directly usable by developers, that would probably be a good idea (especially for software which is principally used by users without development skills).

Also, it's important to remember that even if users do have developer skills, they may not have the right skills to work on a particular package. I'm pretty good in Python, but Perl scares me, and C is just way too much trouble to plow through.

And I too have run into the cart-before-the-horse problem of complaining about the lack of documentation only to receive a "well why don't you write some" reply -- which is ludicrous, because only someone with a deep understanding of the software can write documentation for it. Too many programmers seem to regard documentation as some sort of afterthought that can be tacked on by unaffiliated users, rather than a fundamental part of the programming process. Even if I do want to write end-user documentation, I need something to work from! And typically, that must be written by developers.

It is unfortunately true, though, that a lot of free software development doesn't have any budget to speak of. So, unless you are willing to move to a paid-support model (which most end users don't seem to be willing to do, in my experience), that's awfully hard to provide.

So, the attitude of programmers is somewhat unavoidable -- you are criticizing them for something they are providing to you for free, or "looking a gift horse in the mouth". I can certainly appreciate the cost of this to the community, but it's largely a cost of poor capitalization of free software projects, rather than some sort of stinginess or lack of human understanding.

The developer community is still an overwhelmingly amateur-dominated environment, so you have all the problems of any volunteer organization. People are willing to do the "fun" part, but not the "work" part -- but as long as they are doing that on a volunteer basis, it's kind of hard to fault them for it.

bogdanbiv's picture
Submitted by bogdanbiv on

No need for a budget: free software needs better organization, and more focused roles. We are still using the same methods of promoting Free software as RMS used to get more contributors for the GNU Project, 25 years ago.

1) Think of having "senior end-users" writing documentation and brushing bug reports to reproduce bugs. Bugs confirmed by such an experienced user could be more readable by developers, and developers will put more trust in reports coming from him than those coming from novice end-users. "Senior end user" are end users with experience both in using your software and products with similar objectives, for example trained MS office experts crossing to OpenOffice.

2) End users can also make non-software development: there is less free art than free software, although in the proprietary world proportions are the other way back.
Incite users to submit copyleft art (of course, first explain copyleft: http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/). That is something they can understand and care about.
Incite Office productivity workers to share their templates in a project like Oxygen Office Proffesional http://sourceforge.net/projects/ooop/ .

3) End users complain there is little compatibility between MS Office macros and Open Office macros.
Well, submit documents with macros and templates so that free software projects like Open Office have something to test against. If end users would submit 1000 macros, developers could select 25 of them to automatically test the progress of compatibility in nightly builds. This of course does not guarantee that any progress is made towards compatibility.

4) I really try my best to promote end-user specific contributions to the freedom software party:
please visit Workspace for Colaborative Development in Different Domains http://thetuxproject.com/node/263

There I talk about contributions of office writers, psychologists, accountants to our online community.
From the comments my essay has received there:

There are many resources that can be shared in ways that make their contributions matter. I understand that we can submit bugs and it is vitally important. However we can provide a safe layer of contribution for those new to FOSS that focuses on smaller more palateble pieces that do not require a steep learning curve and a lot of time commitment.
--Quote from a comment made by land0, http://thetuxproject.com/node/263#comment-775

5) Also I should note: your article title states "Please stop...", so the title of the article is a negative sentence from the start (negative as in denial of a positive sentence). Please, next time, try to use something more like "Start saying only true facts" or "Start promoting end user contributions" as I find positive sentences more effective than the negative ones.

Marco Fioretti's picture

Those were very interesting articles

Thanks! Please let me know, if you ever get the chance, the reactions to the Digifreedom home page of some absolute computer newbie!

With respect to your comments: before I answer directly to some points, I'll note that the initial theme (of Ryan's article, at least) is not so much "how FOSS advocates react to newbie questions" as much as "how and why FOSS advocates shoot themselves in the foot when trying to get people use FOSS or at leat support it politically".

Since you liked the first links I'll dare add, as contributions and food thought on this point, this report of a phone conference I had with a LUG (I'm always available to repeat the experience) and my suggestions on "how to turn into Free Software SUPPORTERS (not necessarily users) people who couldn't care less". Feedback is always welcome, of course!

On to your comments, now:

Where the is a possibility of paying people (testers) to help move bugs from descriptions by non developer users to a form that is directly usable by developers, that would probably be a good idea (especially for software which is principally used by users without development skills).

OpenOffice would be the perfect fit for this. The fact that SUN doesn't do it is a shame, really.

even if users do have developer skills, they may not have the right skills to work on a particular package.

It's not even a matter of skills, it's a mater of time and priorities. If all computer users of today had to contribute in some way to all the software they (need to) use, nothing would ever get done.

I always have in mind this picture of Linus, Mother Teresa or simply some unknown guy who spends all his free time volunteering in the streets to save kids from drug or abuses, or the environment, whatever... saying on a mailing list "I noticed this program doesn't work or is not documented decently, please fix it" and being told (or looked at and consequently ignored, it doesn't matter) "this is a community, you parasite: please fix it yourself!"

If FOSS is to be used widely, its advocates must simply bury for good this "idea" that it's a community where almost everybody must, can or likes to contribute. It can only be the opposite, there is no escape from that.

unless you are willing to move to a paid-support model (which most end users don’t seem to be willing to do, in my experience), that’s awfully hard to provide.

True. But I'm not objecting to that, or saying that end users shouldn't realize it. I only object to hackers and geeks saying or believing that certain answers and concepts still make sense today, assuming they ever did sometime in the past. Ditto for this:

attitude of programmers is somewhat unavoidable — you are criticizing them for something they are providing to you for free

I don't criticize programmers doing something for free and I don't even necessarily ask them to do anything more or differently: freedom is freedom.

I just ask them to stop answering in certain ways to justify their impossibility or unwillingness to do more. I suggest them to stop believe that their work is still something that, in today's world creates (or can, or should ever create) any kind of community among all its users.

Sure, no doubt that software free as in freedom is wonderful, it's absolutely necessary for a better world and all that. I DO believe it.

Let's just remember that, for almost all (present or potential) FOSS users of today, any software will always be just a necessary evil or at best a really, really, really tiny part of their vision of the world, and that they very likely have much more urgent things to do the world a better place with their skills than programming, filing bug reports or writing software manuals.

That's why I tend to think that most of the time the problem is actually lack of human understanding, rather than poor capitalization or anything at that level. The longer you keep believing and preaching the "user = developer" mantra at the base of the GNU Manifesto, the four software freedoms and so on, the more you're hurting FOSS, because you scare potential political supporters, if not users, away. Which is exactly the point from Ryan which I approved in my first comment.

Marco

(PS: within the week, I will post on Digifreedom some more material on this issue and add the link to this comment. Stay tuned).

--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Ryan Cartwright's picture

I'd like to hear your opinion about those pages.

These are good. I particularly liked the parts about contributing back. I think that there's a good number of experienced users who recognise the value of non-programmatical contributions but there are certainly others who do not.

I also agree that using free software licences must always be a choice of the developer--otherwise it's not freedom. There's always an interesting journey to observe when developers of proprietary products start to wake up to the advantages of free software but it must always be their choice. Anything else is in danger of breeding contempt of the sort seen towards proprietary monopolists by many on the free software "community". :o)

Nice to see there are others prepared to speak up in the face of what seems an increasing tide though.
Good work--keep it up.

Cheers
Ryan

bogdanbiv's picture
Submitted by bogdanbiv on

In a hope I can raise awareness on this matter, I am trying to promote it to other Linux marketing groups:
http://thetuxproject.com/node/283 . I also mention Marco's work.

Hey, Marco, you are a free software promoter after my own heart. I'll start explaining your work to The Tux Project community, at http://thetuxproject.com/. This is a community dedicated to promoting Free Software to end-users.
Maybe you can come along to comment on what people are saying on the site on other topics.

UPDATE:
Rereading my post here I noticed a certain degree of impoliteness in my message inviting Marco to the Tux Project site. Everyone is welcome. I especially like the site because it forms a community dedicated towards promoting free software. Expert promoters meet novices and learn from each other.
The Tux Project should not be considered a competition to other Free software sites, but especially a place where one learns how to behave and promote Linux on sites with more visibility (like Free Software Magazine, FS Daily).

land0's picture
Submitted by land0 on

...of people it seems are coming from a similar direction. Which is very exciting because the move appears to more towards finding real world solutions for real people. These solutions being based on Free software. What some of us are referring to as Freedomware.

"Freedomware is a term that is being used to communicate and market Free and Open Source Software to people new to the ideas and realities behind it. It resonates well with those who are not software developers and who are using computers in their everyday life. More than likely these people will never touch a line of code. Which means that the current paradigm of marketing behind FOSS is lost on them."

I have been able to successfully move over quite a few people to a Freedomware based OS. While they and I are willing to do what it takes to experience 100% "digital freedom." It is just not possible or even realistic to push 100% Freedomware. Whether it is a result of their personality or that one application that they literally cannot do business or live without. I do suggest Freedomware solutions where it makes sense and perhaps that is the key.

Anyway good stuff in the article and comments both.

plmday's picture
Submitted by plmday on

OK, I'd like to make a `FUD' for FOSS to fight with the FUD of M$ Windows.
F -- Fun
U -- Unclosure
D -- Decision(-making)

That's enough, I think. Thanks.

--
DAY's dAi Yi

thebeez's picture
Submitted by thebeez on

Hi, it took me a while to be able to post a comment here, but since this is an Open Source publication I thought it was worth the effort.

I wrote an article on the "why" of Open Source FUD a long while ago:

http://thebeezspeaks.blogspot.com/2007/07/ethics-of-open-source-fud.html

You're bound to follow ethics that are admirable, but in this stage of the war quite useless IMHO. I would have agreed with you if those we're fighting would abide by the same rules, but as might be very well known, they don't. It's like fighting with one hand on your back. Do you think the Allies would have won WWII or the cold war if they would have had the very same ethics? Instead they bombed Dresden and many other German cities which took the lives of millions of German civilians, a war crime by any measure. Note they left the concentration camps and their transport lines unharmed.

The other side bribes editors, journalists and other media, uses munchkins to conterminate sites with harmful comments, sometimes posing as "religious zealots", rigs benchmarks and tests, need I say more? I think by comparison FOSS FUD is still pretty harmless.

Your article is flawed as well. It has been proven that FOSS software contains less bugs than closed source - although I must admit that bugfree software can "suck" (as you so scientifically define it) in other ways as well. And don't be so naive: most FOSS people have worked with MS software extensively, for their work or otherwise. They know why it "sucks".

Hans Bezemer

Ryan Cartwright's picture

You're bound to follow ethics that are admirable, but in this stage of the war quite useless IMHO.

Are we really at war here? I don't see people dying and I don't hear of people being displaced or separated from families etc.

Okay so "war" is being used as a metaphor here (I hope) but I still disagree this is about an ongoing "war" with anyone. The fact that free software has enemies does not mean we have to fight them in the same way. Microsoft et al fight when they feel threatened but in this case they are not threatened by a company or a retail price--they can handle those. They are threatened by an ideal--freedom. This rips into the heart of their controlling business model and they are worried so they fight, in the only way they know. After all "business is war".

And here is the issue: free software is not a business, yes some of its proponents are in business but as a whole there is no traditional business ethic behind free software. Microsoft et al are very very good at their game--they have built their empires around it. Taking them on at that game is like David taking on Goliath at hand to hand combat. We need to play our game--the one they can't compete with. Refute their statements, yes but actively attacking them seems like a waste of resources. If you ask me we are spending far too much energy trying to fight Microsoft when what we should be doing is trying to help users discover the truth.

A quote popularly used by the free software community against (usually Microsoft) FUD is from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

Ironically he used it in defence of non-violent activism. He chose not to fight the British on their own term--and he won.

Your article is flawed as well. It has been proven that FOSS software contains less bugs than closed source

Are you really saying that if I took any established proprietary application and picked a sourceforge project in beta that there would less bugs, crashes and issues in the former? No, you're not are you and that is my point. Generic statements like that do not help. You provide no source for your "proof", you give no links to case studies of people using free software successfully, you give no support. So why should someone new to free software believe you? What happens when--on the basis of your argument--they try free software and find bugs which make it less-than-usable for them? Your statement will then look like a twisted half-truth at best and you will have lost the interest of someone who could have contributed a great deal had they been better prepared.

As for being naive, I am talking about how these arguments appear to non-free software users who are showing an interest. They do indeed know how bad proprietary software can be and their experience may have left them a little cynical. We need a different argument--or at least present out one in a better way--if we are going to convince them.

Oh and "suck" was not my definition, I was quoting it not using it. ;o)

cheers
Ryan

Terry Hancock's picture

The war metaphor is precisely the problem.

This isn't a 'war', nor, if we use the metaphor of 'war' is it likely to be any more effective than, say, the 'war on drugs' (surely drugs are a medical or social problem?) or the 'war on terror' (yeah, like war is going to make people less afraid).

A more accurate metaphor is that we are a social movement or a reform movement. Or even a "missionary endeavor". As such, our strategy needs to be different.

Let Microsoft make the mistake of misclassifying the process as a 'war', and thus alienating the very people they rely on to retain their position. We don't need such self-destructive tactics.

We're supposed to be the ones standing for common sense, clarity, honesty, directness, and fairness. We hurt our cause everytime we compromise on those points.

And remember, every dirty trick we use, that seems justified when Microsoft is the 'Goliath' and we are the 'David', will turn on us the moment our positions are reversed -- which WILL happen, and not as far into the future as you think. The 'young and strong warrior beating down the old man past his prime', is not the image you want.

Insist on fair play and a level playing field. Don't try to get an unfair advantage, because we have plenty of fair advantages to use. Fight for things that are genuinely of use to all software users: open standards, no more software patents, copyright laws that make sense in a world with ubiquitous networking.

Present honest, balanced, well-researched evidence for the benefits of free software. Take honest criticism and make use of it. Don't 'circle the wagons' and ignore information that can make free software even better. And above all, don't be afraid to take the lead instead of constantly defining yourself by your opposition (that's a strategy that only gets you to 2nd place!).

And just be patient.

mrcopilot's picture
Submitted by mrcopilot on

I take your challenge sir.
http://mrcopilot.blogspot.com/2008/02/free-software-is-good-mkay.html

Ryan Cartwright's picture

These quotes are from your blog (I prefer to continue the discussion here):

Free Software is good because it offers you choices unavailable with proprietary software. It also eliminates vendor lock-in, patch dependence, forced upgrades, and per user license policing. - 28 words

hmm - that still seems to be saying "free software is good because it's not as bad as proprietary software" but at least it focuses on free software and not proprietary. :o)

You also wrote..

Anyone who writes for Free Software Magazine already knows these points, but he felt it necessary to ask for them to be written, rather than write them again.

You're correct in that I knew these points--I'd hope some of the articles I've contributed to FSM would have made that clear. I laid down the challenge because I want to see more positive pieces about free software as opposed to negative pieces about proprietary--again I thought this piece would have indicated that.

I had a teacher who would often give us an additional task to be completed by next class (in addition to regular homework). If you completed it your work was not marked. He said the point was to get us thinking and to go through the process of thinking about it. Usually there was no single correct answer and, no, I didn't complete all of them but I learned a lot from the ones I did. I saw this challenge in a similar light.

BTW one of my versions was

Free software is good because it gives you the freedom to use your
computer in any way you want, helps you learn more about it and enables
you to take part.

I was going to use the one with the bit about cute penguins but I changed my mind. ;o)

I'm going to join Ryan Cartwright and ask that we all stop the FUD.

Thank you--I think.

I mean really, hasn't Microsoft been through enough?

I don't know and I don't really care :o) . I care that those we are trying to convince are given all the facts, in an honest way with the freedom to make their own mind up.

cheers
Ryan

mrcopilot's picture
Submitted by mrcopilot on

(I prefer to continue the discussion here):
You did ask for blog posts.

Free Software is good because it offers you choices unavailable with proprietary software. It also eliminates vendor lock-in, patch dependence, forced upgrades, and per user license policing. - 28 words

hmm - that still seems to be saying “free software is good because it’s not as bad as proprietary software” but at least it focuses on free software and not proprietary. :o)

It mentions proprietary, but only for comparison. It is an important distinction that Free software differs from proprietary in these ways.

I laid down the challenge because I want to see more positive pieces about free software as opposed to negative pieces about proprietary—again I thought this piece would have indicated that.

It did indicate that. But by asking us to ignore proprietary software's failings eliminates several positives of Free Software. We might as well just print the GPL all over the blogosphere. Without comparison it is the best argument. All of our points are embodied in it.(How can blogosphere not be in the spell check dict? :-)

Thank you—I think.
You're Welcome. Upon rereading, my post does sound a lot snarkier than I might have intended, my apologies.

I care that those we are trying to convince are given all the facts, in an honest way with the freedom to make their own mind up.

Agreed. Some commenters on my post think we want to force the world to use Free Software exclusively. While that may be a good thing it is far from my personal goal, nor I think of the overall movement. Even Richard wants only that people CHOOSE free software albeit in absolute terms.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

(I prefer to continue the discussion here):

You did ask for blog posts.

Sorry that came out wrong, it was not meant as a criticism--I was just explaining why I had posted my reply here and not on your blog.

hmm - that still seems to be saying “free software is good because it’s not as bad as proprietary software” but at least it focuses on free software and not proprietary. :o)

It mentions proprietary, but only for comparison. It is an important distinction that Free software differs from proprietary in these ways.

Yes comparison is good--we just have to be careful that in comparing we don't paint free software as just "better than the other guy" because if/when the other guy disappears our argument is left as "better than...?". For me the attraction of free software is the philosophy and it means that proprietary software is not even in the same scope. Moving to free software can be an enabling, empowering and sometimes over-whelming experience but the end result--for me anyway--is that you never want to give that freedom back once you have reclaimed it. If anybody ever feels that giving back that freedom is worth it, then I fear we have failed in that instance.

Thank you—I think.

You're Welcome. Upon rereading, my post does sound a lot snarkier than I might have intended, my apologies.

Apology accepted.

thanks
Ryan

plmday's picture
Submitted by plmday on

OK, after one day of my previous comment ``how about making a `FUD' for FOSS'', I got a better one for FOSS.

F -- Freedom (This does specify what's the meaning of `Free' in ``Free Software'', and If one does want to know what `Freedom' he can win, I'd like to show him the FSD by FSF.)
U -- Unclosure (This term is coined to emphasize the concept of `Open'. If one does want to know what's inside, I'd like to show him the OSD by OSI.)
D -- Decision (This talks about choice. You are the decision-maker for a choice)

So WHY NOT fight `FUD' with `FUD'?

--
DAY's dAi Yi

bogdanbiv's picture
Submitted by bogdanbiv on

@thebeez: Your post is pretty long and makes parallelism with a lot of non-software concepts: Soviet Union, Mutual Assured Destruction, the Doors band, your (not) spouses. While you writings maybe true, they are hard to follow and require some hard mind focus on your post. This is something hard to read for a free software supporter who reads it late at night, like myself. This is also why I haven't read it thoroughly.
Quote: "I challenge everyone to read my recent blogs and find any misrepresented facts."

Given the fact that I haven't read your present post, I find it hard to believe I should invest more time in reading the rest of your blog posts. Please note that I am not trying to paint you as a bad guy, as we're all friends here, I am merely stating a problem. Perhaps this is also true about my own blog posts: http://bogdanlinux.blogspot.com/

@day9981: Yes, maybe FUD has a lot of meanings, but in this specific article it refers to lies and incomplete truth. Incomplete truth is bad because makes our messages weak to attacks from Microsoft 'employees' and FOSS-haters.

@mrcopilot:
You are good at finding holes, but the general idea is that "Moving to Linux is not always free-as-in-free-beer" (see my post at http://www.thetuxproject.com/node/283#comment-834 ). Quote from the post:
"Transitioning from Microsoft Access to SQL Server - two Microsoft database products - may cost lots of money and I do not mean license fees. One needs to hire data transfer specialists to transform the tables from one format to another. Think only of transforming database procedures! These are small programs which run database side and stay between your database client and database tables. They do not run seamless even between two versions of a same product. Transforming them from a format to another is a pain! Never mind transferring to MySQL or another free-as-in-freedom database product!"
In the rest of the post I speak of the cost to transform MSOffice macros to work with OpenOffice.org
and retraining Microsoft Office Specialists as efficient OpenOffice.org users.
I end my comment explaining why organizations seem to prefer short term savings (postponing the move to Linux) over long term loss (MS Windows & Office licensing costs).

@ALL:
People are always tempted to bring more proofs in their favor when in an argument, even when that proofs are only partially true. Using a proof that is true in 65-75% of the cases (and not saying explicitly so) leaves room for debate over the validity + relevance of your proof. That is what our detractors want: moving the topic of the discussion on "a dead track".
Maybe you find reasons to overturn all of my examples given above, that does not change the fact that using a weak, questionable proof weakens your algorithm / rationale (yes this also applies to my post, too!). I would not recommend using even proofs that you are certain are true, but it is hard to show their validity online in an unquestionable way. So if you have any sign of doubt that your proofs need checking with an expert, please do so, please ask in a dedicated forum about it. By doing this you make your case hard to overturn/crack due to some silly wording.
Spare nothing at preparing your set of proofs. If you are out of proofs in an argument, take a break (I promise Microsoft backers won't go anywhere), and ask a Linux guru about your issue. Also submit the argument to someone else (forum members, friends, friendly non free software supporters) stating the arguments of the adversary and your own, and ask if your conclusion clearly stands out from your case and set of proofs. Correct grammar and writing mistakes (be clueful http://wiki.cluenet.org/index.php/Clueful_Chatting ). Make your post hard to attack. Be good at it, better than myself! Make free software supporters proud of your post! It is not about making this or that the year of the Linux desktop, it's about the year when marketing it got better.

Motto: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Kay , inventor of the Smalltalk

rajivvyas's picture
Submitted by rajivvyas on

Free software supporters should not practice FUD; we should stick to
the truth. However, this article's list FUD includes one item that is
not FUD or anything like it. This is the practice of refusing
to use or install non-free software.

Any non-free program tramples your freedom. If you wish to preserve
your freedom as a computer user, you needs must reject all non-free
software and use only free software. This is not FUD, it's simple
logic.

Since non-free software tramples other users' freedom too, if you
think this is wrong, you shouldn't lead other people to install or use
non-free software either. This is not FUD, just ethical firmness.

Rajiv Vyas on behalf of Richard Stallman

Ryan Cartwright's picture

FTA:

if you come in too quick and aggressive with this point you can drive people away just as they are starting to take an interest. We need to encourage people to take small steps into our brave new world. Let’s allow people to open their eyes at their own pace.

I stand by this but I admit it is the one which stretches the definition the most. If it is presented in an educational and not accusative manner then ethical firmness can help. If it is presented in a way which comes across as argumentative and pedantic then it will help little. FTR I am not one who feels that the freedom of software should be compromised. I would rather people made the choice to use only free software and I strive to help them make theat choice. I would rather that choice was available to them across the board. Sadly it is not and I do not feel it's helpful to tell them to effectively give up using a free OS because they would need to download a binary driver for their MP3 player. I would rather help them use their MP3 player but educate them as to why binary-only is a bad thing and help them to lobby the manufacturers to change their ways.

Rajiv Vyas on behalf of Richard Stallman

Just out of interest, do you really have RMS' permission to write on his behalf?

rajivvyas's picture
Submitted by rajivvyas on

Ryan: You could write to RMS directly if you wish. Below is the response:

I stand by this but I admit it is the one which stretches the definition the
most. If it is presented in an educational and not accusative manner then
ethical firmness can help. If it is presented in a way which comes across as argumentative and pedantic then it will help little.

I agree with you here, but this is a different question. Practical
details are relevant in doing a good job of promoting ethical
firmness, but standing by principles is not FUD.

Sadly it is not and I do not feel it's helpful to tell them to effectively give up using a free OS because they would need to download a
binary driver for their MP3 player.

Telling people to "effectively give up" using GNU/Linux is certainly
not a suggestion that came from me. What I urge people to do is to
accept the limitations of existing free software, and/or change them
by writing or supporting development of further free software.

When the problem comes from hardware, often a little new hardware can
solve it. The Hardware pages on fsf.org can help you determine what
to get. It is very important to put pressure on the manufacturers
that don't publish their specs. If our community takes the easy way
out, by installing non-free drivers, we let them off the hook and let
the problem persist.

Richard Stallman

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Ryan: You could write to RMS directly if you wish. Below is the response:

Thanks. I didn't mean to cause offence. I was just asking as - in my limited research - I could find no link between the two of you and it is quite possible for someone to write a attribute a statement like that without the other person knowing.

I agree with you here, but this is a different question.

But one which is the main focus of my piece. I was never saying that such arguments should not be made, I was always saying they should not be made poorly.

Practical details are relevant in doing a good job of promoting ethical firmness, but standing by principles is not FUD.

In and of itself? No it's not, but my focus with this piece was more to do with the presentation of this and other arguments, rather than the arguments themselves. For example the argument about financial savings may well be valid in some cases but if it is poorly presented and un-supported, it is not a lot better than the FUD put out by opponents of free software.

It is very important to put pressure on the manufacturers that don't publish their specs. If our community takes the easy way out, by installing non-free drivers, we let them off the hook and let the problem persist.

I agree - if the first and only thing we do is install the binary driver. This is why I said I would encourage and assist the user to lobby their manufacturer as well. What I also didn't say was that--when consulted by a new free software user-- I try to assist them in buying equipment that doesn't require binary-only drivers: HP printers for example.

cheers
Ryan

Marco Fioretti's picture

Any non-free program tramples your freedom...This is not FUD, just ethical firmness

This kind of "ethical firmness", no matter if and how much it is right in principle, is really disconnected from today's world and may be (it often is!) counterproductive.

I respectfully suggest that you read the "Freedom? Whose Freedom?" paragraph of the Free Software Manifesto for the rest of us.

Marco
--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Terry Hancock's picture

Yes. He's the author of the "Free software manifesto for the rest of us". He posted that information earlier in the thread.

Paul Gaskin's picture

Since Marco solicited feedback about those pages, I'll be happy to share mine.

It sounds as if Marco is relatively new to the internet culture and he's annoyed after a few encounters with obnoxious people on IRC. I can't blame him if that is the case.

It seems he's also read some of Eric Raymond's tripe and he's harboring the misconception that Eric Raymond is representative of hackers and free software. If I thought Eric Raymond were representative of hacker-culture, I'd be pretty tired of hearing what hackers have to say as well.

I disagree with the parts about access to software source-code not being important for most people. Free Software is good for all computer users, not just programmers.

In the big picture, the internet is only beginning to offset the power of the media oligarchy which is based in broadcast technology.

Microsoft is a huge problem to those who seek more balance in media because Microsoft is a global proprietary software monopoly which is allied to the corporate-owned broadcast media through the MSNBC join venture.

If don't make our own software media infrastructure, we'll be at the mercy of some global corporation.

It's also a matter of preserving our free speech against software patents. It's not hard to imagine a world in which corporate totalitarianism has smothered our freedom of expression with software patents, invasion of privacy, and censorship.

Technology is dangerous to us if we don't master it. It affects all computer users, not just programmers.

That is why Richard Stallman's book is called "Free Software, Free Society". [http://www.gnu.org/doc/book13.html]

To put it in terms an Italian might relate better to - software freedom is not just about information technology. Free software can help keep fascist pigs like Silvio Berlusconi off our backs. Free software can also give media resources to dissident voices like Beppe Grillo.

Marco Fioretti's picture

It sounds as if Marco is relatively new to the internet culture and he's annoyed after a few encounters with obnoxious people on IRC.

Marco uses Linux since 1995, participates to FOSS mailing lists since 1996, has been subscribed to about 30 of them (including the support lists of OOo, Fedora, Opensuse, Ubuntu, Debian for a while...) for years, is a Contributing Editor of Linux Journal (article list) and writes regularly for Linux.com (article list), Linux Format UK (article list) and a few other magazines.

Marco also co-founded the RULE project in 2002, Eleutheros in 2006, is a member of the OpenDocument Fellowship (ODF) and several of his articles (cfr the ODF page) deal just with the relationship between FOSS and the rest of the world.

So, as a quick internet search would have shown, Marco didn't land here from the Moon yesterday morning, or write the Family Guide to Digital Freedom and what he said in this thread out of a few casual encounters: he did it out of 12 years of daily observation and participation in the community and initiatives to extend it as had never done before.

I disagree with the parts about access to software source-code not being important for most people. Free Software is good for all computer users, not just programmers.

Do you think I'd have written a book like the Guide or use a signature like the one below if I didn't think the same? This said, my point is exactly that too many FOSS users proclaim dogmas like this from the pulpit then go back very satisfied in their ivory towers without bothering at all to lower themselves to speak with non-programmers, with arguments, tones and language that they can understand.

If what you say is true, why aren't all programmers claiming for more FOSS, after 20 years of FSF propaganda? Is it all fault of Microsoft advertising (that would be very convenient, wouldn't it?) or is it also due to the fact that too few, if any, in the FOSS community so far bothered to seriously interact with non programmers?

That is why Richard Stallman's book is called "Free Software, Free Society".

Thanks for the link to Stallman's book, I'd have never imagined he could write something so interesting. I'll just repeat what I wrote to Stallman himself and several other people who still believe that the GNU Manifesto is enough: sure, five years ago I wrote that "the
book is necessary reading and not only for programmers... it is crucial that everyone thinks about these problems today"
: but it is even more true that if I left that book, back-cover up, on the nightstand of 95% of the people I know personally, I'd find it in the same position, covered with dust, one month later. Because they would never understand, by reading that cover, how the content could ever have any relevance in their lives.

Please don't take this post as a personal attack or flame, it isn't. I'm just a bit tired to be told (not here, in general) that I didn't do my homework and that I don't know the very same things I've already commented at length in public, illustrating their limits with plenty of detail, after years of interactions not with Raymond but with hundreds of ordinary FOSS activists.

Read the links at "What people say" on digifreedom.net (especially the one from B. Byfield) or Help everybody love Free standards and Free Software!, my comments in "Why FOSS isn't on activists agendas" (Linux.com), this thread on the Ubuntu list and the many similar others you can find with a bit of searching if you need more evidence.

Marco

--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Paul Gaskin's picture

I re-read "Seven Things we're tired of hearing from software hackers" [http://digifreedom.net/node/56]

I also re-read "A Free Software Manifesto For All Of Us" [http://digifreedom.net/node/57]

I still find them disagreeable.

I found this article more interesting:
"FOSS community, disabled users must learn to communicate" [http://www.linux.com/articles/52819]

I agree with some of your criticisms of the Free Software movement with regards to accessibility for the disabled.

Although the disabled are a small proportion of our society, I believe they would make a disproportionately large contribution if they were better served by free software.

I disagree with the idea that people with disabilities need to learn to express themselves better.

People with disabilities can and do write, make speeches, participate in campaigns, and scream at the top of their lungs to get better access to society and almost universally they are not well served by the majority of people who are not disabled.

The main problem is that people with disabilities are generally ignored. The problem mainly belongs to us rather than people with disabilities.

Your work on behalf of the blind guy is admirable and that gives more weight to your criticism of any software.

Sorry if you feel I've underestimated you, but that is probably because it's not easy for me to imagine someone who has been involved in free software for so long seeming to misunderstand the FSF and RMS as much as you seem to.

My hope is to see the FSF stronger and more widely understood in the free and "open source" software communities. I am generally a critic of those whom I think are not giving fair treatment to the FSF and RMS.

Marco Fioretti's picture

I re-read "Seven Things we're tired of hearing from software hackers". I also re-read "A Free Software Manifesto For All Of Us". I still find them disagreeable.

OK. Why?

I found this article more interesting:
"FOSS community, disabled users must learn to communicate" [but] I disagree with the idea that people with disabilities need to learn to express themselves better
.

where did I say this?

Sorry if you feel I've underestimated you, but that is probably because it's not easy for me to imagine someone who has been involved in free software for so long seeming to misunderstand the FSF and RMS as much as you seem to.

I don't misunderstand them and I approve their ideals: I just fear that their perspective, their ways of advocating those ideals and generally their connection with non programmers are much more distant from the real world than they were in the 1980's. Maybe that's how things really stand, not just some misunderstanding of mine.

My hope is to see the FSF stronger and more widely understood in the free and "open source" software communities.

My hope is to see the ideals from which RMS started the FSF finally stronger and more widely understood where it really matters, that is in the whole REAL world, not just inside software communities of whatever kind (1). And my fear is that the advocates of those ideals who still only see programming and programmers may turn out to be, if they already aren't, a significant obstacle in getting to that point.

Marco

(1) Sticking to programmers is the wrong way to go today: their votes are much less than those of non-programmers. Oh, and I don't remember if I already said this, but I consider the attempt of the FSF to reach out to social activists (cfr "Why FOSS isn't on activist agendas" by B. Byfield at linux.com) an acknowledgment that their traditional strategy to become "more widely understood in the...software communities" has finally hit some wall or, as I usually say, some built-in limit. Time will tell if they are equipped to change this situation with their own tools alone.

--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Paul Gaskin's picture

>>I still find them disagreeable.

>OK. Why?

Well, for a start, it's the attitude which is evident in reading the titles alone:

"Seven Things we're tired of hearing from software hackers" - This title obviously has attitude. When I read the things, I didn't slap my forehead and say "yeah, I'm tired of hearing that too!".

"A Free Software Manifesto For All Of Us" - Once again, the title sets the tone. This implies that the GNU Manifesto wasn't written for all of us in the first place. I disagree with the idea that the scope of the first project wasn't originally intended for all of us.

>>I disagree with the idea that people with disabilities need to learn to express themselves better.

>where did I say this?

It's implied by the title of your article - "FOSS community, disabled users must learn to communicate". I made the point that the "FOSS community" should be more responsive to the needs of those with disabilities and contradicted the idea that people with disabilities need to learn to communicate better.

> Maybe that's how things really stand, not just some misunderstanding of mine.

I disagree. The FSF has room to improve their public relations, but I don't like the excessively critical tone of many "open source" supporters.

Marco Fioretti's picture

(sorry for the late answer, work was terrible lately)

>>I still find them disagreeable.
>OK. Why?
Well, for a start, it's the attitude which is evident in reading the titles alone: "Seven Things we're tired of hearing from software hackers" - This title obviously has attitude.

Oh, OK, now I understand your point. Well, I do believe that Free as in Freedom digital standards and software (in this order) are essential for a better society and I am genuinely concerned that the standard RMS-like attitude and language (again, not the ideals!) are starting to work against that goal, or at least to be really uneffective.

So yes, at this level, you're absolutely right, I plead guilty. Those pieces have attitude, and they are meant to be so: I had to do something to wake up people who I see too often all too happy to sit in a corner preaching to each other. If such communication strategies were effective and sufficient in the real world, I'd have had no reason to start the whole Digifreedom project. When this thread started, I had also said "within the week, I will post on Digifreedom some more material on this issue and add the link to this comment". Well, even if late, here it is.

With respect to this:

>>I disagree with the idea that people with disabilities need to learn to express themselves better.

>where did I say this?

It's implied by the title of your article - "FOSS community, disabled users must learn to communicate".

You took half the title of a whole, 1000+ words article which explains that the only communication discussed is the direct one between those two specific groups of people, you transformed it into a "people with disabilities need to learn to express themselves better" blanket statement ignoring all the context... and I should bother about something you made up in your head?

If this is all the deep thinking that makes you disagree when I say "maybe that's how things really stand, not just some misunderstanding of mine" and dislike "the excessively critical tone of many "open source" supporters", I really suggest that we just stop for the moment: there is absolutely no point to start a personal flame war between the two of us, not here anyway.

If, and only if, you feel like it, please go in the streets, schools, malls, theaters, try to see which method is more effective to gain more support for FLOSS today and then come back to let us know how it goes.

Ciao,
Marco

--
Your own civil rights and the quality of your life heavily
depend on how software is used *around* you:
http://digifreedom.net

Paul Gaskin's picture

I disagree with most people on most issues. I don't think you and I have to worry about a flame war because we disagree. I feel no resentment towards you at all, but I definitely disagree.

Richard Stallman is serious about freedom. His attitude is right on point as far as I'm concerned. When says "freedom", he's talking about real freedom, not something imaginary. He says it with conviction, because he'll settle for nothing less than real, tangible freedom.

I don't think you're fully attentive to the people who obsessively try to take away our freedom. These people are control-freaks. They want to spy on all our communication, control how we use our computers, get most of our money and make us into gears in their fascist social machine.

Richard Stallman has been fighting like the devil against these people in the most effective way he can for decades.

Respect is due.

Author information

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Biography

Ryan Cartwright heads up Equitas IT Solutions who offer fair, quality and free software based solutions to the voluntary and community (non-profit) and SME sectors in the UK. He is a long-term free software user, developer and advocate. You can find him on Twitter and Identi.ca.