Free Software Misunderstood

This post is in response to two things that I’ve observed recently:

1. A Misinformed Critique of the Debian Project

2. The largely unfair dismissal of free software/open source/hackers on the grounds of purported zealotry.

Debian, Critiqued

The above linked article, presents a number of critiques, leveled at the Debian project. While these complaints with user experience are valid, I was left with a serious, as we say on the Internet “WTF” moment. Read the article if you haven’t already before you get to my response, if you’re so inclined.

Also I’d like to challenge the Editors of that website to exercise a little more digression in what they publish in the future.

My response:

1. Stable releases of Debian are for the most part not intended to be run as desktop operating systems. The software in Debian Lenny is, at this moment nearly two years old. That’s fine (and even desirable) for a server, but most users want things that are a little more up to date than that. This is why we have distributions like Ubuntu, which manages to walk a much better line between stable (and benefits from the efforts of Debian) and current.

2. It’s possible to install Debian packages that aren’t contained in the repository, or provided in older versions of the operating system. Download the package with wget and then use dpkg -i    [package-file].deb. There may be GUI tools that support this. While we might like to have Linux systems for “new comers” to the platform that don’t require using the command line, Debian stable isn’t one of these operating systems.

3. Installing fonts on most systems is usually as simple as putting the files in /usr/share/fonts or $HOME/.fonts and and running fc-cache -f. The complainer focuses a great deal on the absence of a familiar font management program (which appears to be a command line tool that exists in Ubuntu 9.04 which is a “newer” system than Lenny).

I still don’t see how “contempt” is the right word, to describe the fact that a massive project that is the result of a loose organization of hundreds of people, failed the address a few specific needs of a user using the system in a non-standard/non-recommended pattern qualifies as “contempt for users.”

As it stands it sort of feels like the author is attempting to stir up controversy by attacking a historical weak spot, and stretching the bounds of reasonable criticism in the process. I think editors of any publication should be above this sort of thing. thumbs down.

Dismissal of Free Software on the Grounds of Zealotry

We see this a lot, and I’m kind of sick of it.

I’ve seen a lot of people–who actually agree with almost every tenant of the most “ideologically pure” free software advocates–dismiss version 3 of the GPL, or RMS, or the FSF for being “too radical,” or obsessive, or “communist,” which is both intensely interesting and intensely troubling. It’s often in the form of “I wouldn’t say that like RMS,” or some such.

For starters, I think its interesting to note the prevalence with which “communist” is used as a dismissal of the “Free Software” movement, particularly because while there is a very vague “anti-corporations” and “anti-trust” vein in the free software world, in point of fact the biggest “big picture political” ideology around is a very ad hoc libertarianism. The “communist” jab is, probably more at the sort of heavy-handed ideological positionally of the “copy left” movement. Furthermore, I think it’s probably clear that Free software as we know it today wouldn’t be possible without commercial interests, input and, energies, and resources.

And yet. Free software/open-source, gets red baited. Interesting. And disappointing.


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tychoish is a blog about software, science fiction, community, music, knitting, and economies with particular attention to their past and future histories. Produced in Brooklyn by tycho garen.