How do you see Microsoft affecting the future of free software?
One harm they do to us is they call our work "open source." The effect of that is subtle, but it encourages people to think in terms of practical expediency, and it doesn't activate that part of their mind where they think about freedom and right and wrong and mistreating people or treating them right...They're putting the battle in the terrain where they think they can win on the question of just who is going to provide you with better software and support in the next few years.
Microsoft is just one of many proprietary software companies, and those proprietary software companies are all more or less disrespecting the freedom of their own users. Microsoft is not really worse than a lot of the others. They're all bad.
Who, for instance? How do you define free software, and why does it matter?
Adobe (Systems), Sun (Microsystems) and thousands of others whose names I would rather not mention. IBM develops proprietary software, Caldera (International, which is now known as SCO Group) develops proprietary software, I believe. In that sense, Microsoft is not doing something particularly worse; they've just done more of it. Microsoft has managed to deny more users these freedoms than anybody else has, but that's not because the others haven't tried. The free-software movement is not motivated by trying to fight any particular company. We're concerned with solving a social problem: nonfree software.
Free software means you the user have certain freedoms. They include the freedom to run the software for any purpose, the freedom to study what the program does, the freedom to change the program to suit your needs or commission someone to do that for you, the freedom to redistribute the software to others, and the freedom to publish and redistribute an improved version so others can get the benefit of your contributions.
People who cook are accustomed to all of these freedoms. And if you try to imagine a world where you didn't have those freedoms--a world where you can't see what the ingredients are and where you can't change the recipe--you either cook it exactly as it says or you don't eat that dish. And if you make a copy for your friends, they call you a pirate and threaten to put you in prison. That world, which is a fantasy for recipes, is a reality for proprietary software. And that world is what we in the free-software movement are saying no to.
What role will the free-software movement play in counteracting that world?
Our mission is to completely reject proprietary software and to make it easy for everyone else to reject it too. Our mission is to solve the social problem of proprietary software.
When you're talking about solving a social problem, what does that mean?
Nonfree software is a social problem. It is a scheme where certain people are making it attractive for other people to give up their freedom. Free software can also help in solving other social problems. One of them is the digital divide, the fact that a large faction of humanity can't afford to have access to any of this computer technology.
Outside of the U.S., several countries are adopting free software. How much will Microsoft need to step in to try and convince other governments not to move in that direction? Or, because of all the antitrust scrutiny, is that no longer an option?
You know as much as I do about what Microsoft will do. But I can point out a disturbing implication in the words "need to step in." Those words assume that Microsoft holds legitimate dominion over the world of computing, and that it will crush any challenge. The only question your words admit is how much work they will have to do to
crush it. Is that what you really think? Do you want to take defeat for granted?
What will be required for collaboratively developed software to overthrow Microsoft's hammerlock in desktop applications?
My cause is not "collaboratively developed software." Some free software is developed collaboratively, and some is not, but that is secondary. The important thing is that users have freedom to cooperate. That is what free software means.
Do you think the free-software movement will need the discipline of an arbiter or central authority to vouchsafe for the quality of the code or to improve planning?
We have already done a good job without it, so clearly this is not needed.
Which is more likely to happen: Free software conquers Microsoft, or Microsoft embraces free software.
I don't know what Microsoft might do in the many situations that might develop. What I can say is that Microsoft has enough cash on hand to pay 5,000 programmers to write free software for about a century. There is clearly no need for the proprietary software model.
How will you solve the social problem of proprietary software?
At the beginning, what we did is write free software, pure and simple and that's all. Since using proprietary software means you've given up your freedom, to keep your freedom you just don't use proprietary software. It's that simple.
It used to be that the problem was just the lack of free software, so we wrote free software. But now we face these attempts to pass laws that prohibit our work.
What are some of those laws?
The "Consume But Don't Try Programming Act" (Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act). That's a (proposed) law that would require every device that can copy anything to have special circuitry to control what you can copy. This would mean you're not even allowed to make something that isn't under control.
And the (Federal Communications Commission) is also considering a proposal to prohibit free software from receiving digital TV. They usually refer to this as the "broadcast flag." The overall rule would be that it's prohibited to make digital TV tuners unless they are "tamper-proof." What do they really mean? That you the customer can't change it. And that would be the first law as far as I know that specifically prohibits free software for a particular, useful job.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been interpreted as prohibiting free software to play a DVD. But it didn't specifically say free software was prohibited...The broadcast flag rule that's proposed would go further.
We also face other problems. For instance, there's important and very popular hardware for which we don't have any good free-software support. Take Nvidia--it makes graphics hardware. The specs haven't been published. They won't tell you how to write a program to use their hardware. So they'll sell it to you, but they won't tell you how to use it. The result is we can't write free software to control that hardware as well as the nonfree software does.
There are also campaigns like Palladium and "treacherous computing" (Microsoft's Trusted Computing initiative), which are designed to make sure that all of our computers are not under our control, but are under the control of a few corporations. (Editor's note: Palladium is a technology Microsoft is creating as part of its Trusted Computing initiative.)
What are you doing to defend free software?
Mostly what we're doing is talking to people about it and trying to get people concerned so they'll organize, but we are also developing a free-software activism system, a system that's designed to help people send letters to their legislators and so on. Those things exist, of course, but they're not free software so we can't use them. We're developing a free-software package for that, so that various communities can use it to fight against the "Consume But Don't Try Programming Act," "treacherous computing" and Palladium.
What about your relationship with the open-source movement? How important is it for the two parts of the community to work with each other to combat proprietary software, which you call the enemy?
It is the enemy. We do work together. And of course, some people in the open-source movement are easier to work with than others.
What is the difference between the two movements?
The open-source movement differs from the free-software movement in that they never say we're entitled to these freedoms--the freedom to study and change and redistribute. They never say it's particularly wrong for software to be proprietary; they say they don't particularly like it. They would rather that software is not proprietary, but they will never say that it's wrong. Whereas we in the free-software movement say our freedom is at stake here; don't you dare try to get us to use proprietary software. I don't want it in my life.
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