Category: Philosophy

Accepting Google

Jeff Atwood (Coding Horror) correctly points out that when we refer to search engines, we are really only referring to one – google. With its easy to use, efficient and most importantly effective search functionality, there really is no reason to use another search engine.

Jeff raises a couple of valid points. With no viable competition, where is the incentive for them to improve the functionality.  It’s pleasant to see that google still invests time and money into improving features including the ability to personalise your search results. However, the question of how long they will keep doing this is worth asking…

The more interesting point that Jeff raises is:

“I’m a little surprised all the people who were so up in arms about the Microsoft “monopoly” ten years ago aren’t out in the streets today lighting torches and sharpening their pitchforks to go after Google.”

My view on this is straightforward. Yes, google is a monopoly on the search market. There is no viable competition. Yes, it possibly uses this position in the market to push itself out more and more to the masses.

However, the reason microsoft got into the bad books (at least for me) is that while it provided (or provides) fantastic software – it doesn’t treat its customers fairly. Budling Internet Explorer with windows is fine IF it also bundled Netscape/Firefox which was/is a strong competitor and the only reason people did not use them was lack of experience / knowledge of the option.

The reason google is successful is because it is the only viable choice. There is no other option. If Internet Explorer had no competitor. Then, its fine to include that exclude the others.

Then there is the unfairness in how Microsoft priced the products in relation to the number of issues / bugs that were in the product. Not to mention the feeling that, as customers, you were paying for the privilege of beta testing software.

As a software engineer, I am well aware of the issue around bugs. They are present, and always will be. That’s the nature of software. The issue is not just the number of bugs that are present in software shipped but also the amount of time it takes to resolve them.

It’s not the monopolisation of the market that “got them”. It was their attitude. The monopolisation of the market was the tool used to get them. Kinda like Al Capone being arrested for Tax evasion instead of all the other crimes he commited since that was the only way to get him.

Proprietary FSF

I have always a big fan and proponent of the FSF and having recently been interested in researching for a project came across a document covering Why you shouldn’t use the Lesser GPL for your next library

What the document basically suggests is to limit what proprietary software developers can do by licensing libraries as GPL instead of LGPL.

This is no longer free(as in speech, not beer) software. Why?

Freedom means the ability to use something without restriction. If I cannot use a library in a proprietary product, that is removing an important freedom.

This attitude is likely to alienate the “commercial” or proprietary developers further from FSF/GNU.

In fact, doing this is just not fair and not in line with how I view is the concept behind the FSF. The point is to write software / libraries and share that with the world so others may build upon what you have done. Stand on the shoulders of giants in a way…

It makes perfect sense for software to be GPL since you don’t want somebody to pick up a GPL software, build something on top, and sell it without source.

However, if libraries are released under the GPL instead of LGPL, it means that I can not link against that library to write a non-GPL compatible application.

The GNU Website states

“Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve”

Additionally, the Quick Guide to GPLv3 states that

Nobody should be restricted by the software they use. There are four freedoms that every user should have:

  • the freedom to use the software for any purpose,
  • the freedom to change the software to suit your needs,
  • the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, and
  • the freedom to share the changes you make.

This has always been my impressing of the purpose of GPL. Now, how does this work with Libraries? A little differently… :-(

From my perspective, if I have the freedom to use the [library] for any purpose, that means that I can write an application that uses that library without having to worry about licensing issue.

However, this is not the case. There is a clause that states that the software cannot be used in a larger software project that has a license incompatible with the GPL. This includes linking the library into another software application.

Therefore, I do not have the freedom to use the software for any purpose.

Freedom cannot be uni-directional. If GNU/FSF are trying to muscle out developers of proprietary software, all they are doing is alienating themselves further…

I run a technology firm that uses a heck of a lot of open source software. In fact, I am posting this from an ubuntu desktop running firefox from a VServer. I am probably using a dozen open source applications to do this simple straightforward act.

There is in fact, not a simple closed source application at any point through this.

The main problem that I see with this is that it makes Open Source so much more zealot(ous) and FSF, GNU and OSS becomes fundamentalists. The attitude is not one of freedom and inclusion but of exclusivity and marginalisation.

The worst part is the price that is asked of developers who want to use an Open Source library. The price is the acceptance and propogation of an idea (Freedom or else).

Compared to the cost of conversion to another idealogy (Free Software Idealogy), the cost of a few hundred, thousand, or even millions of dollars / pounds for a piece of software seems dirt cheap.

I understand that each developer has the freedom to choose which license to use for their products/libraries. My question is how can an organisation that claims to be a proponent of freedom encourage the removal of freedoms?

I would like to ask how this shift is any different from religious fanatics who tell you that their god is the one true god and there is nothing else.

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