Cooperation and freedom for all

Doghouse – Freedom Zero

Article from Issue 223/2019

The GPL's "freedom zero" can be applied to more than just open-source software.

Recently, a discussion came up on one of the mailing lists for a GNU/Linux distribution, on which I feel it is necessary to comment. Because this discussion has a place in world politics today, I am bringing my input to this column.

I started working for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1983. At that time, I had traveled only domestically in the USA, never internationally.

Then DEC realized that I was fairly good at explaining complex technical issues in terms that both technical employees and managers could understand.

About 1986, I went to Tel Aviv to talk about DEC's Unix products for a DEC Users' Society (DECUS) meeting. DEC had an office on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the back door of the office opened up onto the beach.

Before I went there, many friends asked if I was afraid of the bombings that were going on at that time. I told them that I was not. If other people could live there, I could too.

I had several good friends working at the DEC office in Tel Aviv, and one day at lunch we went out the back door to sit in the sun and watch the beach volleyball game that was being played there.

I asked one of my friends (a citizen of Israel) what the conflict was between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He wrinkled his nose and pointed at the volleyball game.

"See that guy? He is a Jew. The next one? He is an Arab – now two more Jews and three more Arabs. They are all getting along, because they all want the same thing. A good life for themselves, a better life for their children, and to be left alone by the government."

At the center of the conflict are real people on both sides who need real places to live, real abilities to live and travel back and forth without harassment, and real water and land rights.

As I continued to travel the world I found that almost all people only want a good life for themselves, a better life for their children, and to be left alone by the government.

Twenty-five years ago, I became involved with the Linux Kernel Project. When I started with the project, it was mostly a "techie" project and had little commercial value. However, I could see that sooner or later it would have commercial value, and people could start making money with a GNU/Linux distribution.

Initially, there were developers that said they did not want people making money with software that they developed "for free." Others said that they did not want banks using their software, because they did not like banks. Other people said they did not want the military using their software, because they did not like the military, or governments using their software, because they did not like the government. And so it went.

If you applied all their wishes, you would find that none of the software could be used by everyone.

If you did not allow others to make money, then they would fight the spread of free software. If you allow them to make money, they would help to spread it.

Finally, someone pointed to the GNU Public License (GPL) and "freedom zero": The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.

Now, I pull the two points together, because a large free software development group has chosen to have their main conference in Haifa, Israel. Some of the developers argue that it should not be held there because of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

I think that the conference should be held there for several reasons:

  1. 1 People who live in Israel are involved with many things, and are not defined solely by the ongoing conflicts.
  2. 2 Developers of this group live in Israel just as they do in many other countries around the world.
  3. 3The committee for choosing the host country evaluated all of the submissions fairly and chose Israel.
  4. 4 Having a conference there creates an avenue for putting forth the hand of understanding.

Some of the developers say that if the conference is held there, they will not go. It is certainly their right.

On the other hand, I hope that the developers that do go, from all over the world, act as shining beacons for what free software really stands for, cooperation and freedom for everyone.

The Author

Jon "maddog" Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux InternationalÆ.

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