Bits of Freedom
Bits of Freedom

Tinkerer and thinker on everything free and open. Exploring possibilities and engaging with new opportunities to instigate change.

Jonas Öberg
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Jonas is a dad, husband, tinkerer, thinker and traveler. He's passionate about the future and bringing people together, from all fields of free and open.

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Bits of Freedom

Code availability, or code contributions

Jonas ÖbergJonas Öberg

As many, I've been reading with some interest the discussion on the ksummit-discuss mailing list. A discussion which has included quite a lot of the active free software community and been summarized very well by LWN. Something I noted, which is also covered by the LWN article, is the difference between Linus Torvalds (Linux) and Matthew Garrett (FSF) in terms of their understanding of the goal of the GPL.

In this, I find myself siding much closer to Linus than with Matthew, but for a very practical reason. The gist of the argument is that Linus feels that one of the core points of the GPL is to enable a continuous flow of contributions back to the project1. Matthew (and I would presume the FSF) feels this is not what the users of the Linux kernel wants. He believes the users of the Linux kernel cares "about being able to fix their shitty broken piece of hardware when the vendor won't ship updates."2.

I'm a user of the Linux kernel, and I don't want to fix my shitty broken pieces of hardware. I want the vendor of my hardware to work closely with the Linux developer community to get fixes into the main stream kernel, so that I don't have to fix my shitty broken piece of hardware.

There are undoubtedly users for whom having access to source code is important because it enables them to do something they would otherwise not have been able to do. But I would posit that to the wider community, it's more important to get contributions, bugfixes, improvements, back into the software they are actually using, which in 99% of the cases (if not more!) will be the software the upstream vendors ships.

It's almost as if Matthew is talking about benefits for the 1% whereas Linus is aiming for the benefit of the 99%. Mind you, the two are not mutually exclusive, at least not completely. If you force (through legal action or otherwise) a company to release source code under the GPLv2, someone else can take that source code, shape it up, and contribute it upstream. The other way around also work: a company can be a part of the community and contribute source code directly to upstream so that downstream users can enjoy it.

I don't know about you, but I don't feel that force is ever a solution to anything. So I would emphasize community building over enforcement, every day of the week.

Jonas Öberg
Author

Jonas Öberg

Jonas is a dad, husband, tinkerer, thinker and traveler. He's passionate about the future and bringing people together, from all fields of free and open.