digital literacy for everyone


more freedom for fans of open source

[lit] (based on a thread i started at ubuntu forums) one of the most peculiar things that ever happened in the history of software is the dichotomy between user and developer. this was meant (from a marketing perspective if nothing else) to make things easier for the user. it is easier to have everything done for you, unless you want to do something that isnt already done. so i can appreciate that not everyone wants to d-i-y, but its good to have the option. whenever the software being created is floss software, that option exists. whenever the user is free, the option of developing that software further exists. this option is useful to users even if they dont want to d-i-y because they are free to hire, or encourage or barter with other people to do the work for them. they are not just free to do this with the maintainers of the software, but anybody capable of maintaining the software. so even if one group is entirely uninterested in improving or changing something, someone else still can-- this option benefits everyone interested, whether they have the necessary skills or not. the original movement dedicated to providing these options to the user is known as "free software." the second movement around providing these options is called "open source." free software is going to provide you with the "purest" freedom, in the "4 freedoms" sense. open source will provide you with a mix of free and non-free software. some of the mythology around open source is that it is "the same thing" as free software. there is a great deal of overlap, but they are different approaches in terms of philosophy, in terms of process and in terms of licensing. who you trust to be working for your goals instead of against them differs, depending on which of these things you belong to. when i first used ubuntu, and stopped using windows more than a decade ago, i found that the politics or philosophy or goals of open source were easier to understand and easier to get on board with. open source felt less "demanding" than free software. i am certain this is a substantial part of its appeal. either way, i still wanted freedom. i wanted software that gave me the rights that free software works to guarantee. i am well aware (as is the fsf) that this goal is a moving target, because even as one category of application moves closer to being covered entirely by free solutions, other categories come into existence. new solutions are also required for new hardware, etc. free software tries to start at one end, and never add anything unless it is free. this ensures maximum "freedom" (per their definition of freedom) and limits "choices" and "solutions." open source starts at the other end, and encourages free software development from a "pragmatic" standpoint-- as a design methodology, rather than an ideology. but it maintains that it is basically the same thing as free software-- only "better." my problem with open source is that while it promises similarity to free software, it doesnt get me where i want to go. i do not personally want non-free software. i can count on the free software movement to tell me when software is non-free, and they provide a route towards that goal, whether it is a route i want to take or not. open source suggests that it is a different route to that goal, but (after years of gaining experience) i came up wanting. for a while, i switched from ubuntu to ubuntu-based trisquel. a clincher was that the version of trisquel i was using supported a new device i had that wasnt supported (yet) in ubuntu. this was probably just down to a kernel version. by definition, open source promotes a broader array of solutions than free software does. but i was discouraged from choosing libre options by open source proponents on many occasions. if i was going to be purely "pragmatic" about what to use, based on the qualities of the software i was looking for, open source was not the one-size-fits-all approach i hoped it would be. i can relate to at least some of the problems that open source proponents have with the fsf. i think some of the problems people have with free software are actually strawman or ad hom, others are honest misunderstandings, though for me the solution could be described as a hybrid of stronger free-software-based goals and a more limited open source methodology. in essence, it is a route to complete software freedom based on starting with open source and moving with more deliberate purpose towards software freedom. whether they are obvious about it or not, free software makes more accommodations for non-purity for the user (less for the developer) than people realise. whether open source truly promotes it or not, you can actually participate in "open source" without developing or promoting non-free software. but lets acknowledge that for some, freedom is a priority. for others, freedom is a nice idea but they dont feel ready. open source gladly appeals to those, offering something "mostly free." how to get from "mostly free" to "more free" to "free" is a goal that im still interested in working towards. who will be interested in such a goal-- not everyone, i know that. but to make the idea at least technically accessible, here is one way to make that work: 1. start with freedom as a priority 2. fully acknowledge the limited skills of the average user 3. try to offer as much optional freedom (to everyone, not just experts) as possible 4. never fault someone for trying to become more free 5. have tools and websites devoted to these ideas these five goals are not well covered by either the fsf or osi (particularly #4 and #5, which i think are important) and so i offer this third option to the world. this is a third option because the first two promise something to everyone. i believe not everyone given those two routes to software freedom are fully satisfied. open source doesnt offer me enough freedom, maybe in theory but not in practice-- and free software doesnt offer me enough choice. to give you a better idea of my own goals: 1. improving computer education (particularly with free software) 2. greater negative liberty: [url][url] 3. greater (voluntary) promotion of libre options 4. tools that give each user more power over their choices (more power than either free software or open source tools really offer now) 5. promoting these options and goals i doubt this will appeal to the greatest number of people. open source has the money and the sponsors and the fame. free software has the "moral high ground." but if both of those leave you feeling unfulfilled-- let me know. i want to help people transition towards a fully free system, i also want to offer such a system for if and when theyre ready. where i differ with the fsf is that i do want to encourage to people to "choose freedom" but im willing to give them a lot more leeway to make up their minds and choose it themselves-- im willing to start with choice as the starting point, which is also where open source starts. one of my goals is to salvage hardware. not all hardware-- some salvage just isnt worth the time or money, regardless of whether you are in it for environmental, economic or personal reasons. i hate for good hardware to go to waste. but i also dont really trust non-free stuff running in kernel space. so i know some people are going to do that, and i dont think censoring that is the answer but its worth politely discouraging as a bad idea-- then people are going to decide for themselves. i want it to be a well-informed decision when they decide. heres what someone dedicated to freedom would do if they want the most people getting away from mostly-non-free platforms: 1. "we have a system that provides non-free support for more hardware than a fully-free system." 2. "we also make it easier than ever to remove all non-free software from your machine." open source focuses on point 1 and free software focuses exclusively on point 2. i definitely lean on point 2. but since i know that lots of people are going to care more about point 1-- thats the group that free software isnt going after. theyre really just waiting for people to convert, rather than explore options. so a third way is a way to go after the pragmatic too, and offer everyone "fully-free" but in a way that says: "alright-- we know youre going to use a non-free driver here or there. we are going to say why we think thats a bad idea. then we will turn you loose to do whatever youre going to do. and if your interest in moving past that increases, we will offer tools to assist you in the goal of becoming more free." rather than promoting fully-free systems that are coaxed into fully-free status through the painstaking efforts of fully-free distro teams, this is about tools that put that power into the hands of the user, rather than the distro maintainer. its not either[lit]/[lit]or then. its "you choose freedom at your own level of interest." this means that it makes it trivial to replace or remove non-free parts. this increases both the freedom and the choice that the user has. while the fsf specialises in fully-free, this gives you the option of becoming fully-free on the installment plan. this is an old promise that open source makes, though i think it would be interesting to make good on it. more freedom, and more choice for everybody. and i think if that grew, more people would choose to increase their freedom. again, i feel this was an original promise that open source made. osi co-founder bruce perens certainly thought so. but whether the idea makes good on that-- or just makes things better than ever, i have no preference which.

figosdev, dec 2018

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