The bummer about writing a wildly popular article is that it brings out the crazy-ass motherfuckers. Partly because they're attracted to memes like moths to a bug zapper, but partly because such articles reach a much wider audience than my usual readership, and I'd like to think that my usual readership is a cut above the rest of the population. Of course, most writers think this, and we can't all be right. I don't want to get all Garrison Keillor on your ass, but you can't all be saner than average. I'm just sayin'.
So yeah, Freedom 0 seems to have struck a chord. 10,000 hits in 48 hours, another 7000 throughout the week. Bloglines lists 184 separate referrers, though I don't know if that link is permanent or if those referrers fade over time like Technorati. Guess we'll find out.
Many people pointed to the article and said,
This is why I only use Free Software. Which is ironic, since I don't only use Free Software. It is well-known that I use Windows XP in my day job. (Actually that was a previous day job, but I still use Windows XP in the new one.) Also, I've used and advocated Macs for years, and I just bought a new 15-inch G4 Powerbook. (You there, wipe your chin.)
Some people think Mac OS X is a a good example of how open source ought to work: Apple takes what they want from the BSD kernel, builds proprietary applications on top of it, and submits infrastructure code and patches back to the community. Of course they're not doing it out of love; they're doing it because if they don't get their changes rolled back into the trunk, they've essentially forked the kernel and will end up forever maintaining a mass of code they don't understand. Happened to NeXT, not a pretty sight.
Certainly Apple + BSD is a success story, but like the guy on stage at an Amway convention, every success story hides a thousand failures. How many times has a company taken BSD-licensed code and never given anything back? How many times has a company taken open source code and built something with it that directly competes with the original developers? Of course such companies have an overwhelming advantage, since they can have all of my code, but I can't have any of theirs. Happened to me, not a pretty sight.
If you don't like what they did to you within the terms of your license, choose a different one next time. Thanks, I will. If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, then a GPL advocate is a BSD advocate who has had their code used against them. This is not to say that everything should be GPL-licensed. But don't come crying to me when you get mugged.
Back to the Freedom 0 article. One comment (I'm sorry, I've lost track of the referrer) said something to the effect of
If you're such a GPL freak, what were you doing running Movable Type in the first place? I have a story about that.
Last fall, when I was shopping around for root-access hosting, the choice of operating system was obviously wide open, and very important. I chose Debian GNU/Linux, for both philosophical and technical reasons (apt rocks). I settled on Bytemark Hosting, which I have been moderately happy with, except for their lack of an offsite status blog. Every hosting provider should have an offsite status blog.
Bytemark uses User-Mode Linux to offer multiple separate
virtual servers on a single physical server. I have root access on my virtual server, and I get my own IP address, and I rarely have to think about the fact that it's not a real server. It's cool and it works.
Upon receiving my server, which came pre-installed with a custom Debian image, I immediately did three things:
Movable Type was that good.
So anyway, even though my server is now on its way to being fully Free Software, I don't think my life will ever consist entirely of Free Software. All of my essential software is open source, but I still use plenty of software that isn't. Two operating systems, an old version of Photoshop, not to mention the entire iLife series (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD).
Some people will try to sell you on the concept that open data formats are what really matter, not open source. Obviously data export is a big deal, and someday soon I will write up my tale of woe about Movable Type's buggy export function and WordPress's buggy import function. And while I use iPhoto now, I still diligently export all my photos and store them as dated folders of JPEGs, ready to jump ship if iPhoto n+1 tries to pull something stupid to lock me in. (iTunes is coming close with all the music store tie-ins. Thanks but no thanks.)
The two concepts -- open source and open formats -- are related but separate, and both are important for different reasons. [Update: more thoughts about open formats]
Many people linked to my Freedom 0 article to say,
This is what I felt, but couldn't articulate. Which is nice, since the point of the article was to give people a vocabulary for talking about this thing, this licensing thing, this freedom thing. It's not something that most people think about, and when they think about it, they can't think too deeply, even if they're smart people, because they don't have an adequate vocabulary with which to talk about it. But licensing matters; it matters very much. It's not just a developer thing or a geek thing. So it's nice to hear that so many people had this thing on the tip of their tongue.
Not everyone agreed with me, of course. That's OK. Other reactions included:
I have no argument with any of these reactions. The point of my article was not to win the argument, but to frame it. Before I wrote that article, the dominant argument emerging from the fray was
if you don't want to pay whatever Six Apart is charging for their upgrade, then you're a fucking freeloader who doesn't deserve to use quality software. Don't hear a lot of that anymore, do you? Not from anyone who matters. Nothing like a good counterexample to shut up the armchair generals.
Think community is more important than licensing? Great! You're arguing against my points instead of that loudmouth down the hall, so I've already accomplished everything I set out to accomplish. Think Freedom 0 is just a specific example of a more general concept? Great! I'd love to discuss that, but I can't while some loudmouth is calling me a whining freeloader. Think Movable Type is still free enough? Great, use it! I don't care if everybody makes the same choices I make. But you're thinking about the world in my terms, and that's enough of a victory for today.