Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Fri, 20 Feb 2009

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Stallman vs Torvalds (Oh! No! Not again!)

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The recent issue of Frontline has an interview of Stallman. It is indeed a nice thing to see that nationally circulated news magazines in India are talking about Mukta Software.

However, it is disappointing to see the FSF take one more pot-shot at Linus Torvalds.

Torvalds said he rejects GNU GPL Version 3 because he approves of tivoization, because he does not agree that users deserve the freedom to change their own copies of software.

By choosing the GPL for his own code Linus Torvalds gave users the freedom to change their own copies of Linux. This certainly seems at odds with what is quoted.

There are many different points of view about how the cause of mukta software and its users can be strengthened. I think we can agree that it is certainly not strengthened by shooting each other in the foot.

The GPLv3 bolsters-up one aspect of this cause: use the legal system to make if difficult (if not impossible) to take free software and put it in proprietary bottles.

Linus Torvalds and all his "show me the code" buddies are addressing another aspect; to ensure that there are enough people accomplished in the task of reading, improving and writing high quality free software.

The West has traditionally had more success with the law. When free programs was written in the 70's and 80's by people who did not care to preserve its freedom with a free license, this code was gobbled up and re-gurgitated as proprietary software. Once free licenses became commonplace in the 90's, the West has had a resurgence of high quality public code and coders. Unfortunately, some of the latter tend to look down on "mere users".

Over here, in India, we have little faith in the legal system. (For reasons, see this report and a more recent one). We know that freedom is hard fought even when the law is technically on your side. At the same time, the brahminical approach of knowledge being safe-guarded by the self-proclaimed elite was what rang the death knell for Indian knowledge systems in the past. So it is important that the breed of skeptical people in India who tinker with their computers and software (and everything else) grows.

We have far too many cattle who will follow any flute-playing good-looking young person who is willing to fight their demons for them.


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