GNU & Stalinism

Sta·lin·ism [stah-luh-niz-uhm]


the principles of communism associated with Joseph Stalin, characterized especially by the extreme suppression of dissident political or ideological views, the concentration of power in one person, and an aggressive international policy.

If you have heard of open source software, then you have most likely heard of the GNU Project. The GNU project's stated mission is to "preserve, protect and promote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software, and to defend the rights of Free Software users". To accomplish this, they have taken upon the task to create and maintain free software. The difference between "free" and "open source" is, according Richard Marx Stallman, that "free" software is written for the ideological benefits rather than the supposed technical benefits open source has. This idea has been dubbed the Free Software movement and is thus more of a political campaign than it is a software project. Heck, the Free Software Foundation even admits it!

At this point, the alarms should start chiming. People who write software based on ideologies or "ethics" are almost certainly mentally ill. It is OK (to a certain degree) to make software freely available for its technical benefits, but if you do it for ideological reasons, you should seek a doctor immediately. With that having been said, this article will be focusing on the political/ethical aspects of the Free Software movement, which makes sense since you can't compare political movements with software projects.

Hiding the Truth

Similar to how North Korea oppresses any criticism directed towards their leadership, the GNU project, in stark contrast to the open source initiative, does not accept criticism, nor competition. If a software package is proprietary, it is evil and must be destroyed... or, in this case, hidden from the public. And there will be no compromises either, even if they, ironically, would be beneficial for the Free Software movement in the long run.

"This is bullshit," you might think. Sadly, it is not. The Free Software movement hopes to create a society in which the concept of proprietary software is non-existent. In fact, they recently attempted this with the One Laptop Per Child project, which they hoped could be used to shield an entire population from proprietary software. Thankfully, it has failed multiple times.

The Adobe flash plug-in is non-free software, and people should not install it, or suggest installing it, or even tell people it exists. That Firefox offers to install it is a very bad thing.

Richard Stallman on Flash Player

Why the Truth is Dangerous to Free Software

In North Korea, the truth about the outside world must be either hidden or twisted in order to keep the citizens from raising up against the regime. In the Free Software world, the truth must be hidden in order to keep computer users from using good software.

If free software really is superior from a technical viewpoint, as the various movements and initiatives out there might imply, then why do GNU and the FSF feel the need to hide it from e.g. poor children? Because it simply is not superior. Have a go for yourself: download GIMP and Photoshop, then figure out which is the best graphics editor in terms of capabilities. Oh, and let your mother try surfing the web without proprietary plugins, then explain to her why she can't log in to her online banking account. She is going to think of you as a wacko.

In both cases, chances are that your goals will not be accomplished without the use of proprietary software. Yes, not all proprietary software is good, but using it shouldn't bother you unless you obsess over trivial "ethical" issues. If you worry about technical issues, you could just run it in a virtual machine. The only real-world issue with proprietary software is that it's better than free software, and is therefore a distraction to the Free Software movement. Which brings me to my next point...

Free Software Only Benefits the Nerds

The GNU project has four "essential freedoms" which must apply to a software package before it can be considered "free":

  1. [The freedom] to run the program.
  2. ... to study and change the program in source code form.
  3. ... to redistribute exact copies.
  4. ... to distribute modified versions.

Why does the GNU Project think that the average computer user needs to or should care about these issues (perhaps except for issue "0")? When my high school handed out laptops to freshmen, they all had OpenOffice preinstalled. Despite OpenOffice being open source, not even I, a former mentally ill Linux nerd, have ever wanted to change its source code or redistribute it. And while I can't really speak for others, I'm sure that this applies to every other student in my school too.

So if the nerds aren't even taking advantage of the supposed benefits with free software, just what is the point?

Extremists in the Software World

The answer to the question above can be found on the GNU Project's own website, in an article about what motivates people to write free software:

Hatred for Microsoft.

It is a mistake to focus our criticism narrowly on Microsoft. Indeed, Microsoft is evil, since it makes non-free software. Even worse, it implements Digital Restrictions Management in that software. But many other companies do one or both of these.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that many people utterly despise Microsoft, and some contribute to free software based on that feeling.

Yes, it is indeed a mistake to focus on Microsoft's so-called wrongdoings. However, because the GNU website doesn't distance itself from hatred in general, they imply that hatred is completely acceptable in the Free Software Movement. Hatred is a core value in political extremism.

The hatred amongst Free Software evangelists is so common that even Linus Torvalds had to go out and distance himself from the movement:

There are "extremists" in the free software world, but that's one major reason why I don't call what I do "free software" any more. I don't want to be associated with the people for whom it's about exclusion and hatred.

Linus Torvalds

So there you have it. The Free Software movement is run entirely by extremist nerds and is driven by hatred... of software makers.

And the freetards wonder why no one takes them seriously?