Planet Gnome and Proprietary Software

Thanks to Lefty for tweeting about the discussion of whether Proprietary Software should be talked about on Planet Gnome. Lefty’s article is here, the thread about the issue is here, and a poll initiated by Lefty is here.

There’s several points that I think need consideration:

1) Do we want censorship?
2) Is this censorship (there’s nothing blocking these people from posting about proprietary software elsewhere).
3) Does talking about Proprietary Software advance a Free Software project?
4) How do you define Free Software?

Note that I didn’t mention ‘Open Source’, while I believe that the term is an oxymoron, you may think differently, in which case replace Free Software above with Open Source Software. Some of you may find that this doesn’t change your answers, others may find differently.

Oh, and the links in Lefty’s original article were bad – I’ve tweeted him, and they may be fixed by now.

Join the conversation


  1. I think there is a difference between free software and Open Source Software. I prefer using the term Open Source Software because it makes clear the authors intent.

    Also it avoids the confusion of Free as in speech as opposed to free as in beer. I use some free software that is proprietary, such as Flash.

    You might ask why I use that when I won't use Moonlight. The answer is that Adobe makes it plain what the terms of use are. Moonlight tries to make it seem you are free to use the product, but there is that hidden uncertainty lurking in the bushes. What happens after the five year patent promise not to sue expires? It is only valid if you download from Novell, and so on. Of course you can only use Flash if you download it from Adobe. But Adobe makes the effort to support their product on Linux.

    To get back to topic, should one talk about proprietary software on Planet Gnome, or talk about it favorably?

    If one sees something that is good in a piece of proprietary software, one should be free to discuss whatever it is. I think it is an issue of free speech. Free speech is what got the Open Source movement started.

    Sun and IBM sell proprietary products. They have converted some of these to open source. To preclude discussion of a product because it is not open source, would, I think reduce the possibility of future conversions. For example one could hope that Adobe would Open Source Flash. I suspect that saying something good about Flash on Planet Gnome would upset some people. However I respect the hard work of all those who work on the Gnome project, and if they don't want me talking about Flash there, I won't.

  2. Links are fixed now: some spooky interaction between the site and the Chrome beta, I think.

    1) The results (so far) of the poll can be viewed here. Clearly, there's little support for throttling what people can contribute on the Planet. The sole exception is for out-and-out advertising of proprietary software, which is almost universally disliked.

    2) The charter of Planet GNOME is simple, clear and at the bottom of every single page: "Planet GNOME is a window into the world, work and lives of GNOME hackers and contributors." There's nothing there about "insofar as they don't favorably mention proprietary software or otherwise fail to provide support for the free software movement." Further, the following disclaimer appears, again at the bottom of every page: "Planet GNOME automatically reposts blog entries from the GNOME community. Entries on this page are owned by their authors. We do not edit, endorse or vouch for the contents of individual posts." So, yes, this would represent a form of "prior restraint" on contributors to the Planet at the hands of the FSF.

    3) Immaterial. The charter of the Planet is not about "advancing free software projects", it's about the people involved in GNOME.

    4) I don't even bother. If nothing has made clear so far that "free" is a misnomer, this incident has: apparently, we're all "free" to agree with the FSF. Open source software is software which is available under a legitimate open source license, one which satisfies the open source definition. It's up to the FSF to define what "free software" is, and it's fairly immaterial to me what they come up with.

    Mr. Stallman's effort is unnecessary (since no one has been able to provide an example of "promotion" of proprietary software, and even Mr. Stallman admits that he has no idea whether it's ever actually happened). It's literally uncalled-for, since no one (with the exception of Mr. Stallman) is asking for it.

  3. Lefty,

    I posted notes about this on Groklaw, FSDaily, Slashdot, and a couple of other places as well, so you'd get the widest possible range answering the poll. I would expect the numbers to climb radically over the day or so.

    Thanks for the link to the answers, it makes interesting reading. Is it possible to capture trend changes over time on Survey Monkey, i.e. can it give snapshots at different points in time?

    As to the charter of Planet Gnome, the question is, should it be changed, and if so, to what? Or should Planet Gnome change its name, disassociating itself from the GNU Object Model Environment.

    Like him or hate him, Richard Stallman is consistent. Even when its personally inconvenient, like his refusal to use Wireless because of non-free components, he's consistent. And I think he's raised an important point – should non-free software be discussed on a site called GNU Object Model Environment Planet?

  4. The other thing I've noticed is that most of the spam comes early Monday morning. Does this by any chance correlate with your normal blogging pattern? If so, it may well be coincidence.

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