Freedom and Greed

Jason Edwards jtanium at
Tue Jan 22 12:18:50 MST 2008


Let me take a swing at it, I have a slightly different point of view
on this topic.

For me, closed-source software is morally wrong because it's built on
top of other people's ideas.  The better closed source products, like
OS X and Pixelmator ( acknowledge
their use of other people's ideas (BSD and ImageMagick, respectively).
 But the point is, modern software is just a collection of ideas put
together in a new way.  When a programmer runs into a problem, what do
they do?  The vast majority go find how other people have solved the
problem.  We know this to be true because this exists:  And I defy you to find a modern
piece of software that doesn't use at least one of the Gang-of-Four
patterns (

As a programmer, while I haven't spent time examining the internals of
the Linux kernel, I have spent time inside Ruby on Rails, the Spring
Framework, much of the Apache software written in Java (Jakarta,
Tomcat, etc.), and many, many others.  And I have learned a tremendous
amount from seeing how others have done things.  It has made me a much
better programmer, and all the software I have written has benefited
from it.  The sad thing is, I don't do a good enough job of
attributing the ideas expressed in my code.  I try to put comments
here and there, but it's just not good enough.

What I'm trying to get at is, software isn't about the things you
click on on the screen, it's about the knowledge contained in the
source code.  And when someone goes and sells a product they claim to
be their own creation, when it largely isn't, it bothers me a lot.  I
mean, if they hadn't been able to "stand on the shoulders of giants"
would they have been able to build that piece of software?

You don't have to agree with it, but hopefully you can understand why
many Free Software advocates feel the way they do.


On Jan 22, 2008 10:47 AM, Levi Pearson <levi at> wrote:
> Stuart Jansen <sjansen at> writes:
> > Whoa, careful there, not all of us do.
> No, I guess I should have qualified that with 'many' or something, but
> I assumed that it was implicit.  Do I need to bloat everything I write
> with safety words like 'I think', 'some of', etc. so that I don't get
> misinterpreted?
> > There's a big difference between "I wish everyone would release their
> > code before discontinuing a product" and "Everyone should be forced to
> > release their code to make me happy".
> Well, yes.  I'm arguing agaisnt the attitude that there's a moral
> imperative to release source code, and that to not do so is rude,
> evil, unkind, or otherwise a socially unacceptable act.  I'm not
> arguing against the sentiment that it would be nice if everyone
> released source code, because it *would* be nice.  It would also be
> nice (for me, at least) if everyone gave me a $20 bill.  That doesn't
> mean they're rude if they don't.
> > Yes, there is a strong under current of greedy entitlement that some
> > Free Software advocates get sucked into. But there's just as much greed
> > and wrongful sense of entitlement in the proprietary world. One could
> > even argue that the unreasonable position of the first is a direct
> > result of the unreasonable position of the second. But that's simply all
> > the more reason to listen and think things through carefully.
> I've never claimed that all commercial software vendors are saints, or
> that there aren't some downright rude, anti-social, and evil vendors.
> I've simply been saying that the act of not releasing source code does
> not make them so.  People arguing with me seem to be misinterpreting
> what I'm saying at every turn so they can find something to disagree
> with besides the point I'm making!
> > Von might have said it is selfish to hoard code in the hope of
> > re-releasing products like movies, but he didn't say anything about
> > forcing a change.
> See, this is a perspective issue.  You're using words like 'hoard' to
> make the act of not releasing source code into a greedy, selfish, bad
> thing.  I hate to break it to you, but in more favorable light, this
> is called 'self-interest' and it is the foundation of capitalism.
> Given the strong libertarian sentiment on this list, I find it hard to
> see how self-interest in some situations is so good, and in others so
> bad.  The only explanation I can find is that (many) Free Software
> folks (seem to) feel entitled to the source code of (most) software.
> The Free Software Foundation isn't planning to literally force any
> issue, they're simply spreading the idea that closed-source software
> is morally wrong.  It's just *not* morally wrong, which is the point
> I've been trying to make this whole time.
>                 --Levi
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