Technology

What I find wrong with the Stephen Fry’s video?

Before I proceed let me state my position on this topic: I am not against Open-Source Software, at the same time I I believe like all other literary (creative) & engineering works software too needs to be based on a sound viable commercial model.

I came across this video of Stephen Fry celebrating 25 years of GNU and introducing “Free” Software. Being an award-winning broadcasting professional Mr.Fry has done a great job of delivering a simple yet powerful message on what he believes on. But his introduction to “Free” Software and especially his plumbing analogy to be incorrect and can misguide the general public. (Please see the video below before continuing)

Freedom Fry - "Happy birthday to GNU" Why?. He says just like you can change the plumbing in your house any way you want, “free” software allows you to change your computer the way you want it. Operating System vendors like Microsoft prevent you from doing this. Nothing can be far from the truth.

All software vendors including Microsoft, Adobe or Apple have never placed any restrictions on how you can use your computers or on what applications you can write on top of them. The licensing comes when you want to change the core of their work (operating systems or software is written by them) and then redistribute that resulting work. Going back to the plumbing analogy (which is a bad pick by Mr.Fry) this is like you want to cast your own steel pipes in a furnace and for doing it you want the pipe vendors to share their blueprints and chemical composition “Free”. Of course, there is nothing wrong in you wanting to do your own steel pipes if you want to, similarly, no one prevents you (Microsoft/Adobe/Apple) from writing your own operating systems.

My whole point is it relevant for the masses, is it necessary?. I feel there are more pressing problems that can be attempted in the applications space, in the industry domains where the scarce human creative energies can be used on. Not on writing yet another Operating System, yet another UNIX/LINUX, yet another MS Office clone and so on – which is precisely what GNU has done.  To see this clearly you don’t need to look far – just look at the number of Linux Distros that are out there.

In terms of software licensing if it is all about “Freedom” as GNU claims it to be, then my pick is always BSD style licensing over GNU. The difference being that GNU is of viral nature, meaning any resulting work needs to be GNU licensed, whereas BSD licensing doesn’t put any such restrictions – you can do pretty much whatever you want.

2 Comments

  • I do find your points logical Kalpesh. This topic is a polarizing one. My primary purpose of the post was to object to the misinformation from the GNU video.

    My company makes "Media Portal" solution-VPF which powers top media sites in India. Yes, there are several other CMS solutions in the market and we believe ours is the best amongst them. Just other commercial products our growth is based on number of customers we have on our platform. A positive cycle with more customers the more popular our platform and so on.

    The problem I see with the plethora of Linux Distros is that most cases it is counter productivee, with so many distros users get fragmented. As a result most of the distros have too less users to justify sustaining the interest of the project, which results in the distro dieing after some time.

  • I am not an advocate of GNU. But I find a bias in your writing.

    you said:All software vendors including Microsoft, Adobe or Apple have never placed any restrictions on how you can use your computers or on what applications you can write on top of them

    I agree. If there are restrictions, what use is the OS or software?
    But you will agree that MS has a concept of bundling software together so customers are not left with much choice. e.g. sharepoint will come with built in version control and the DB behind the scene could be sql serer

    you said:"free" software allows you to change your computer the way you want it. Operating System vendors like Microsoft prevent you from doing this. Nothing can be far from truth.

    Not everyone is a kernel developer. But lets assume that you are and you find some limitation with the software, you don’t have to wait for anyone to fix it (you have the source code) and you need not wait to get the next version and pay for upgrade. Also, there are people who like to write code and do it for free in their spare time.

    you said:Not on writing yet another Operating System, yet another UNIX/LINUX, yet another MS Office clone and so on – which is precisely what GNU has done.

    I don’t know what products your company develops.
    Is there a need for it? Were there products already in that space?

    An example could be – why apple should make iPhone when there already is Nokia, LG, Sony etc?

    I work on microsoft technologies but I like to be critical of things.

    Ofcourse, there are good products from microsoft.
    But we all know that MS is a commercial entity and it has its interests in the market.

    The number of linux distros gives you a choice as to which one you want as against limited by what a vendor provides (e.g windows vista)

    Thats what I have to say & I hope you find me logical in my thoughts.