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February 2, 2012

Free Software Is Just Fine

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — jamboarder @ 11:40 am
So I see there is yet one more person babbling on about how Google is killing free software.  This is tiresome.
I fully support vigilance in our FOSS efforts. However, it strikes me as odd that so many take such a narrow view.  FOSS is supported in many ways:
  • Open source – Make the source openly available.
  • Open standards – Use or create common available specifications.
  • Open development – Accept development contributions (source, review, test) from outside contributors.
  • Data ownership – Allow users to maintain ownership of their data by being able to move their data between their choice of solutions or remove their data entirely.
It is NOT all or nothing and we do ourselves a disservice to pretend it is.  There was a time when we just begged for companies to use open standards. Now, with few exceptions, I can open any one of those Google web-based apps (and most sites on the web) in any standards compliant open source browser, including rekonq, firefox and chromium.  For all your data in those apps, you can take your data out and go somewhere else. Google Docs uses the Open Document Format, Google Chat uses XMPP and Youtube uses WebM. Google Summer of Code exists.  And then there are the myths surrounding personalized search. Personalized search can be useful to me, so I use it.  But there are many times when it is not useful and the many on-point concerns raised about the “content bubble” articulate those times well.  Personalized search can be disabled with a button right there on the results page *and* can be turned off permanently. Personalized ads can be disabled permanently.  I could keep going but I think I already sound enough like a Google salesperson and I’m not trying to convince anyone to use Google’s solutions in lieu of others that better suit your needs.

As a hobby hacker I am excited that Android is open source.  Yes, Android is open source, not open development. No one claimed otherwise and it hardly means it’s all for naught. Open development for Android would be great, but the *fact* is that there are potential downsides including incompatible devices using unreleased code and fragmenting the ecosystem even more. It might not be a big deal for me personally, but I can certainly see how it could be big deal for others (including Android app developers).  Pretending there are no downsides isn’t being honest.  No Honeycomb was not open sourced for good reasons AND Google was rightfully taken to task for it.  Yes, both can be true.  Ice Cream Sandwich is open source.  I’m excited by the precedent that the success of Android set for device manufacturers to look more seriously at open source. I love that I have a hackable device in my hands with so much capability.  I love that we’ll be able to purchase a Spark with Plasma Active. I love the precedent that the Spark sets for future devices with a Free software stack.

We cannot be so myopic to pretend that unless we have everything, nothing matters.  I love that the KDE community lives up to every one of those bullet points above in both words and deeds. Yes, no one gets a free pass and we must be uncompromisingly vigilant in pointing out to Google and others the specific areas they fall short.   It  is both this vigilance and the recognition we provide when companies do the right thing, that has gotten us to where we are today.  However, these Tourette’s-like outbursts declaring the end of the world is nigh, are actually counterproductive.  Why? Because when we use the exact same words to describe far worse offenders, it drains those words of any meaning and it deprives the rest of the community of the rhetorical tools we need to fight for the goals of this movement.


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