Richard Stallman talks about GNU’s 25th anniversary, Google Chrome, sharing non-free software, preinstalled GNU/Linux on pc, NDA, OLPC XO
Q: Mr. Stallman, GNU project is 25 years-old. Our readers generally well know its history. You wrote: "The free world is the new continent in cyberspace". In 1983, did you imagine this continent would grow so much? What are the most important goals for Free software movement today?
RMS: In 1983 I did not try to envision what would happen beyond completing the GNU system. I thought carefully about the major hurdles for developing the system, but I did not try to anticipate what would happen after that, such as the obstacles that proprietary software companies would put in our path, or that we would start to influence the laws of some countries. I also never imagined that someone else would add the last piece and most people would give him credit for the whole thing.
Today GNU/Linux is a complete free operating system, but there are thousands of different "distributions" of GNU/Linux, and most of them are not free: they include or steer people towards non-free programs. As a result, most of the users of GNU/Linux have not entirely reached the free world. Most of them are not trying to reach the free world, and do not even know it exists: no one has ever suggested to them that there is an issue of freedom at stake. That's because most discussion of the GNU/Linux system doesn't talk about freedom. The corporations involved with GNU/Linux prefer to talk about practical advantages rather than ethics. Many of them use the term "open source", which was promoted as a way of avoiding the issues of users' freedom. (See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.)
Q: Some GNU/Linux and free software fans think that non authorized copies of proprietary software (that are widely used in our country, Italy) are a brake on free software spread. So, when police punish who uses non authorized copies, fans are happy. They think: "Ok, 'cracked' Microsoft Windows users will install free software now". Are these fans in right or not?
RMS: At the tactical level, their conclusion is logical: if it were more difficult to copy Windows, it would be more expensive to use, and the price would send some users towards GNU/Linux and other free systems.
If just increasing the usage of these systems were our ultimate goal,it would be rational to applaud the repression of sharing of non-free software.
But that kind of thinking is amoral. We must not applaud an act of repression, even if we think that it will backfire and drive people to rebel.
The basic idea of the free software movement is that stopping people from sharing and changing software is an injustice. When the police punish people for sharing, they commit an injustice. We must not call this a good thing!
If you can succeed in copying Windows, that does not mean it is effectively like free software. You still don't have the source code, so you cannot change it. You cannot eliminate its malicious features. (We know about surveillance, restriction of the user, and even back doors, and there might be more that we don't know about.)
We must not applaud repression, but we can talk about it. When police punish people for sharing, we should tell the public, "Watch out - if you use forbidden copies of Windows, Microsoft's bullies may catch you and attack you. Escape from Windows, escape from MacOS, escape from non-free software, and join us in the Free World!"
Q: Some days ago, Google released a web browser called Google Chrome. Its source code is free software [here the license] but the binaries are under a restrictive license. Electronic Frontier Foundation talked about privacy dangers using Chrome. What's your opinion?
RMS: The license for those binaries is unacceptable for several reasons.
For instance, it says you give Google the right to change your software and requires you to accept whatever changes they decide to impose. It purports to forbid reverse engineering. It also uses the confusing and biased propaganda term "intellectual property". (See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for why this term should never be used.)
You should not agree to those terms.
Google is following the footsteps of Firefox. Firefox has done this since it first appeared: the source code is free, but the binaries released by the Mozilla Foundation carry an unacceptable EULA.
Q: Will GNU project release a fully free browser based on chromium.org source code? (like IceCat is based on Mozilla Firefox code). If not, do you think that a fully free version of Chrome should be a good thing?
RMS: I hope someone will distribute free binaries made from the Chrome sources. People have done that for Firefox for years. It doesn't need to be the GNU Project.
The reason we developed GNU IceCat from Firefox is more specific. The free Firefox variants released by others, with names such as IceWeasel and BurningDog, already avoid the EULA for Firefox binaries. But Firefox has another problem: it offers non-free plug-ins for installation. Our principles say we must not offer or recommend non-free software. We developed IceCat to offer only the free plug-ins and not mention non-free ones.
I do not know whether Chrome has this kind of problem.
Q: Google appears to be a "double-face" company. It helps free software community and developers (Google code, donations, etc.) but doesn't approve GNU Affero GPL and uses end-user agreements that are problematic with privacy. What is your point of view on Google?
RMS: Google does things which are good, things which are neutral, and things which are bad.
I think it is most useful to judge these separate activities separately, in the case Google or any other company whose activities include good and bad.
Q: Some hardware manufacturers are moving to free-as-in-freedom hardware driver (i.e. Atheros has its "official" free driver for GNU/Linux now). Is this a victory of the free software movement?
RMS: This is an important step forward. I do not know to what extent the free software movement can claim responsibility for it.
Q: What do you think about "Position Statement on Linux Kernel Modules" signed by several Linux, the kernel, developers?
RMS: I don't know anything about that.
Q. And about Non Disclosure Agreements on hardware? A driver developer could sign a NDA on hardware specifics if it allows him to write a free software driver?
RMS: In that specific case, I think it is a justifiable minor evil, since releasing the free driver gives the public the information about that hardware that we really need. In effect, the minor evil is used to do good which mostly erases the consequences of the evil.
Q. Some pc manufacturers sold their computers with a GNU/Linux system preinstalled in the "mass market". Is this a good thing?
RMS: It is a step in the right direction, but these preinstalled GNU/Linux systems are not free. They contain proprietary programs. Some of these systems will not even start until the user agrees to an EULA for the non-free software. You should not agree to that EULA.
It is much less bad to get a machine with a preinstalled non-free GNU/Linux system than a machine with preinstalled non-free Windows or MacOS. But you should not actually use these non-free systems. Install an entirely free GNU/Linux system on the machine, and use it that way.
Q: I know you have a OLPC XO.
RMS: The XO was inconvenient in several ways, but I switched to it anyway because it has a free BIOS. At the time I made the decision, every other laptop had a proprietary BIOS, and I was willing to accept some
practical trouble to escape from that. But just as I was finishing the move to the XO, Negroponte was announcing that future versions of the XO would be designed to run Windows. As a result, I felt obliged to explain to everyone who saw the XO that I did not endorse the OLPC project.
The following month, I found out about a Chinese company, Lemote, which makes machines that have no non-free software (as far as we can tell) and which Windows does not support.
So now I am using a Lemote machine. It is a prototype and has some inconveniences, but I am not ashamed to promote it.
Q: Some of them, like Dell and Asus, invite users to "upgrade" to MS Windows XP...
RMS: Do they really say that? How sad. And the OLPC also will be easy to "upgrade" to Windows. I expect that Microsoft will make it easy for kids to obtain copies to put in their XOs.
Q: The last question. It is technical but also a bit philosophical. I tried to remove some GNU components from my GNU/Linux system. It was a very bad idea! In example, if I remove glibc (aka libc6), this is destructive than "rm -rf /".
RMS: That's a bit of an exaggeration: if you delete all the files on your machine, one of the files you delete will be glibc.
Q: Ok, but if I remove glibc by my package manager (APT), all the system will be removed, because all packages (except some non-software packages) are dependent by glibc, because it is the main library in GNU/* systems, like others libc are main libraries in other Unix-like systems. Because glibc is a main component of the system, and glibc is GNU software, then I think that "GNU/Linux" name is correct for technical reasons as well as historical reasons.
RMS: I agree with that statement, but I would not base the whole argument on glibc.
There are a lot of important GNU packages in GNU/Linux.
Q. In other words, is a GNU/Linux system a GNU system that runs on the top of Linux, the kernel?
RMS: That's what it basically is. Of course, nowadays there are thousands of other programs contributed by thousands of developers, and I don't want to fail to acknowledge the importance of their contributions.
Q. So, the question is: despite the evidence, why some people are not agree when you call "GNU/Linux" the whole system ?
RMS: It's not rational. People learn to call the system "Linux", and construct their picture of the system and its history from that. It is a mistaken picture, but people cling to it, and invent reasons to justify it. See http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html for a long list of the reasons people have invented, and responses.
(C) 2008 Guido Iodice – http://guiodic.wordpress.com
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