Adventures in Free Software

I learned a lot this month. As with most lessons I learn in life, I came to this knowledge the hard way -- I screwed something up, and people let me know about it.

I learned a lot this month. As with most lessons I learn in life, I came to this knowledge the hard way — I screwed something up, and people let me know about it.

It all started with last month’s GNOME and KDE articles. In the process of editing the articles for publication I changed a few things. As it turns out, I changed a few things I shouldn’t have and the authors sent me e-mail letting me know about the errors I had made.

The first error I made was in the GNOME piece. I inadvertently used the term “Open Source” to describe the GNOME project. Miguel de Icaza, one of the authors of that article, was very displeased with me for having done that. He wrote:

“My objection to the term Open Source is very simple: People pushing Open Source and companies releasing code under Open Source licenses are only interested in [having] hackers on the Internet help them to improve, extend and maintain their products: They are not looking at contributing to the existing community [ . . . ]

Open Source has given us the gifts of the APSL, the NPL, the IBM licenses, and the Qt license. All of them are Open Source licenses that have slight incompatibilities which stop developers from being able to reuse code from one project to another and to mix code from various licenses.

This is why we have to educate people about why Free Software is important. And that is why I did not use the term Open Source myself.”

Basically, I made the mistake of not understanding the difference between Open Source and Free Software, and hence accidentally used the terms interchangeably.

I have since become very aware of the philosophical differences that exists between the two movements, and I highly recommend that you read our interview with Richard Stallman in this issue for a clear elaboration on those differences.

Anyway, I didn’t stop there. I also managed to offend the authors of the KDE article. Here is some of what Cristian Tibirna (one of the authors of the KDE article) had to say:

“First, the title is unacceptable. The KDE team works hard in order to avoid the kind of associations of the K letter like the one in that title. Then, my name is misspelled (twice).”

[Well...now I feel really dumb.]

“Then there are at least four factual errors (relative to Harmony, Qt, X, and Linux kernel) which don’t do honour to the authors and, even worse, can really screw up the relationships of the KDE project with some of its allies.”

We inserted some background on the Qt licensing issue, and we also spoke about the “Harmony” project, which is an attempt to create a GPLed Qt clone. Unfortunately, we accidentally made it sound like the Harmony project is a part of the KDE project, which it is not. They are two separate entities. Also, talking about the Qt licensing issue in an article about KDE makes it sound like Qt is provided by the KDE project, which it is not.

The most important thing I got out of all of this was that the issue of freedom in software can easily be overlooked. I think it is time to do what Bruce Perens has suggested: we need to talk more about freedom when we talk about Open Source. Not freedom in the sense of “free beer”, but freedom as in “freedom of speech”.


Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

Editor & Publisher

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