02 June, 2011


I was feeling opinionated on legal stuff recently. Don't worry, it doesn't happen often and I wrote it off in a column on Harmony. Read it here on linuxuser.co.uk and feel free to comment below. After all, I love flame wars. But I have something else I'd like to get of my chest, about pragmatism vs idealism.
Black and White

Pragmatism and idealism

Now before I start, I'm not very much interested in legal stuff. On the other hand, I use the term 'Free Software' as opposed to 'Open Source' for a reason. I do care about the Freedom part in what we do. While it's not a huge issue for relatively rich people who live in relatively free countries (like the vast majority of European citizens for example), it bites when you live in Egypt or Iran. Take the GPLv2 vs the GPLv3. The GPLv2 ensures 'code' stays free. If you have a device with modified GPLv2 code on it, you have to share the code. But you don't have to allow your customers to replace the code on your device. That is unfortunate for iPhone users in the USA because it means they pay more for some things than they would have had otherwise. But for BlackBerry users in Iran, who can't set up their own Blackberry server to keep the prying eyes of their government out of their phone communication, it is a life-or-death situation!

Hence I completely, fully understand those who are pragmatic: if you look at yourself and most of your friends, there is no huge issue. And you don't have to be an activist. I'm not an activist, at least, most of the time. But when I see what happened in Egypt and then hear Mark Pesce talk about how he's working on a way to eliminate any central control over our communication (make the internet truly free and independent) I'm happy and proud to be part of the Free Software movement.

Sometimes the lines between pragmatism, extremism and full-fledged nutty-ism are vague - sure. The company which hired me has had its share of criticism - some fair, lots of it in the 'nutty' category. Such things often hurt more than they help. This complicates things - we want companies to work with us, but only following our rules. Mark recently was interviewed about those things, and he criticized this attitude strongly. And to some degree, I agree with him. But I also see the point of extremism here: you don't advance your cause if you water it down to nothing.

So it has to be about balance. And this, I guess, is a personal thing. Some people pride themselves on not working on Free Software for any company. Well, I did that for about 10 years and I feel I can make a lot more difference with the time and resources I now have. But at the same time, yes, my paycheck also means I have other obligations now. For me and what I do it is a net gain, for others maybe not.

Well, I don't have any answers here, just more questions. Sorry about that. I guess it's the nature of the thing!

Black and white

Feel free to discuss or attack and defend, my blog is open. I do ask people to be polite and show at least SOME cerebral activity, the brain-stem like responses I sometimes get really don't add to the discussion. Oh, and realize please that the world is not black and white. Unfortunate, I know, but it's reality and ignoring it doesn't make it go away.