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<nettime> GNU bitterness
august on Sat, 18 Oct 2003 13:53:04 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> GNU bitterness



On Fri, 17 Oct 2003, Francis Hwang wrote:

> ... so even if you think he's [Stallman] too prone to get into
> internecine squabbles or that he should pipe down about calling it
> "GNU-Linux", he gets more geek points than you'll ever have. 


Stallman's bitterness is interesting to me.  His notions of 'freedom' have
introduced a shouting match in his advertising scheme that he is
apparently losing. I have to wince everytime I hear him say 'it's
GNU-Linux, not Linux'.  [1]

Often times I feel that free software works in the same way as does free
trade. That is, winner takes all and only the strong and loudest survive.

It's apparent that normal economics don't really work with software, much
less in the realm of free software. However, if a company was smart, they
would hijack a free software project, rename it something else and market
it as their own achievment [with or without releasing the source code]. 
They could keep the copyright in tact, but hide it in the code itself, or
maybe publish it in tiny font on the webpage somewhere. Most likely, a
decent sized for-profit company would have enough resources to out-code
and *out-shout* some individual hacker or small cohort of programmers. [2]

The free software world does have a dark side.  It's not all roses and
butterflies.  This kind of 'hijacking' of attention happens in a lot of
ways.  Here is one tiny and probably harmless example: Andrew Stevens'
brilliant mpeg2 encoder, which includes a lot of high-level mathematics
and is part of the mjpeg tools <http://mjpeg.sourceforge.net/>, was taken
almost 1-to-1 into another set of really brilliant software at
<http://heroinewarrior.com/libmpeg3.php3> written by Adam Williams.  At
first the encoder came with almost no mention of the original author. 
Now, the package has been changed into something else entirely. 

I think free software programmers are subjecting themselves to
exploitation.  But, it's not a financial exploitation that worries me. 
Not only are a number of resources wasted and feelings hurt in such a
scenerio noted above, but on a larger level, this could mean a heck of a
lot more. 

How the production of free software is fueled is a bit of a mystery still. 
There are numerous tactics, but personal advertising is one important
energy source.  It's no wonder to me that Ogg Vorbis comes with a BSD
style license <http://vorbis.com> & <http://xiph.org>.  They are after the
attention. Their work depends highly on it.  If they can get enough
companies to add Ogg support to their hardware players, they gain a much
larger audience for their effort, and most likely a number of open doors
to funding opportunities.  I think this is completely legitimate.  But,
what if someone changes the Ogg name or hides it under some other
advertising umbrella and robs them of their due attention?

Maybe I am over-reacting a bit, and this is realy just a fly in the
ointment or the ants at a picnic.  But, I do see a problem, and I don't
think it's the kind that will just sort itself out naturally. I doubt that
someone who's code or ideas had just been legally hijacked and advertised
as something else would be able to live with the simple flattery and a big
fat sack of nada as a reward for their hard work. 

This kind of 'freedom' is not really new, but becoming more and more
noticeable to me.  Spam and Trolls on mailing list are other examples that
I might note. 

I certainly don't mean to justify intelectual property rights, but just
want to set up some warning flags. 

free as in speech, but also free as in trade. 

-august.



notes
-----

1: For those who don't know, GNU is Stallman's organization that started a
legal idea of free software.  Linux is 'just' the kernel that is part of a
larger operating system.  There is a GNU kernel which would make for a
rather complete GNU unix clone, but most just uses the linux kernel.

2: a company could probably make a profit by linking a software mpeg2
encoder with hardware devices or by selling support.  


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