TagSoftware

Should Libré Software be Gratis?

I was inspired to write about this question because Kezz Bracey on Mastodon asked me a rather pointed question:

Do you feel that all libre software should be gratis?

Kezz Bracey – 2020-05-07

My short answer to this question is “yes”. I feel that libré software should be gratis, at least so far as practical. My main point of contention is that there does not seem to be a difference between selectively licensing your software to paid customers, and charging for access to libré software. Can you even truly claim your software is “open source” if no one but paid customers can access it? Are they allowed to distribute it freely? Make modifications and sell or redistribute their modifications to it in turn? These are all things that free software permits you to do.

The Long Answer to Libré/Gratis

Free software doesn’t always mean you just give it away. You can charge for running services on it, you can even charge for hosting the storage and services that it runs on. You can charge for support or maintenance. I’ve even seen models on platforms like iOS, where it’s a pain to build binaries for (developer fee, need a Mac, etc), so the source code to the program is free, but the compiled program is charged for to cover those fees.

There are also situations where you can have open source, but charge for things like art assets or server resources and additional features. You can charge for licensed components, like ActiveSync. Business models that include open source are different than the traditional model because you’re giving away the special sauce. This puts a business owner in a tricky situation, because you need to be more creative on how you raise revenue. Red Hat, however, proves that it can be done, and on scale.

I don’t begrudge people making money. It is an essential thing. Many free software developers simply work day jobs, contributing their time and energy during their off-hours. A lucky few work on it full time, paid to develop the tools that we use every day. It’s not easy to live that dream, certainly, but it does seem possible.

I’m hardly one to tell people how to operate. My opinions on the matter are just that, my own opinions. Much like there are lots of different licenses in the world, there are different approaches to this question. This is just mine.

Thank you.

ClassicPress

ClassicPress is a fork of the WordPress platform from version 4.9. Nominally designed to be a line in the sand regarding the new block editor known as “Gutenberg“. Clearly, some are not happy with the direction of WordPress, but how fervent they are remains to be seen.

I have been a long time WordPress user and administrator. I’ve seen it from it’s nascent betas, up to current. The block editor is the largest, most seismic change in the platform, and it’s way overdue. The old process of using the plain text box, or goodness forbid: TinyMCE.

ClassicPress, such as it is, wants to retain that editing framework while backporting security fixes and keeping as much plugin compatibility as possible. This is a noble endeavor, even if I disagree with the project, as it’s not easy to make this kind of sea change. That is, of course, if the project actually had any life to it.

Since it’s inception, they released a change.org petition that, after two years, has not managed to break 2000 signatures. Additionally, despite the low scores of the Gutenberg experimental branch plugin on WP.org, the team has stuck with it, building it into a much more powerful editor. Going so far as to begin looking at expanding it into full-site building functionality.

ClassicPress is Forking Disappointing

The reality is that Gutenberg, and blocks as a whole, are here to stay. Like it or leave it. Unless some technical hurdle is so insurmountable that the block editor is unable to be continued, it’s a settled argument.

When you fork a project like WordPress, you need to hit the ground running. Especially if you brand yourself “business focused”. You need to be backporting security fixes. You need to be moving forward. Right now, it seems the project is trying to just throw something together. It’s been three months since any substantive update.

Change is Hard

I get it. Change is hard. Especially one as large and disruptive as Gutenberg. However, instead of working through those changes, understanding things and getting used to the new normal. These people are just plugging their ears and screaming so they can try and ignore the future.

Nostalgia

Just recently, I subscribed to the digital edition of 2600. It’s a magazine that bills itself as the “Hacker Quarterly”. I used to read this magazine a lot as a kid, for two primary reasons:

  1. It is cheap. The news stand price was around $4-5, well within affordability for a kid.
  2. I was obsessed with “hacker” culture in the 90’s:

Everything about it was fun. From the howto’s on phreaking boxes, to the crafty little shell scripts that I needed to access a telnet-based shell account to play around with. It was this culture (or counter-culture) that really left it’s mark on how I would grow up. It’s how I got into programming, it was how I got into doing some of the more illicit things as a kid and still resonates with me as a law-abiding citizen who still looks at the world through that lens.

2600 Nostalgia

From the featured image (sorry, Kindle doesn’t do screen shots…), the author digs up some fresh nostalgia about my early online history with AOL, proggiez (warning, eye searing colors), warez and all sorts of other crazy memories. It seems like this was a formative time in not only my life, but his too. Those days felt like the wild west. You didn’t need any permission to do anything. Nothing had rights management on it except easily cracked commercial software. I learned a lot.

Re-reading this magazine feels like talking with old friends. Excitement around new and cool tricks. Important and lofty pronouncements (or, in the case of corporate culture, denouncement) that make you feel proud to be someone fighting for the freedom of information. It’s a wild nostalgia trip.

I can’t wait to read more!

UnFantastical

So, Fantastical, a heretofore “fantastic” calendar dropped a big new update for version 3.0. To celebrate, they decided to make it have a subscription component for stuff that was already in the app, and stuff that doesn’t need any external tooling or servers.

It’s really telling when a company that is awarded by consumers and the platform owners, has a product so good/popular that they only thing they can do is ruin it.

I was once a proud user of the app. I enjoyed it so much that I bought their contact management app, CardHop. Now, I’m back to the stock iOS apps for contacts, calendars and reminders because they got greedy (or didn’t have a strategy). Either way, good riddance. I have no place in my heart for yet another subscription.

The Rental Economy

It’s coming! Microsoft has finally started transitioning people into a purely rental system. Coming soon, you’ll be able to subscribe to Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) and run a full-scale Windows machine in the cloud. This has been a rather overt goal since Windows 8, with it’s insistence on having your Microsoft.com account tied to your local login account.

The technical component of this seems neat. You can run this Windows box in Azure and connect to it using just about any tech you’d like. Phone, Linux, Mac, whatever. That means you can get your desktop anywhere you have Internet. This is not unlike Google’s upcoming Stadia, which takes the same idea to gaming. Seems like data centers are the new hotness. Study up, kids.

That all being said. I hate it.

I mean, I’m not opposed to “Cloud Computing”. There are real benefits to being able to access vast arrays of computing or storage resources for cheap. I, myself, have used these kinds of resources for my own needs. It’s great to be able to spin up a machine or two to get something done quickly. Many companies rely on this very resource as part of their core business. I even utilize it for backups, caching and image processing.

Cloud Computing allows for the normalization of the idea that you no longer own your system, and therefore your data. You can now rent your operating system, storage, emai/groupware, office programs, invoicing, website, user directory, etc. Soon, I wouldn’t bee surprised if Microsoft started pushing into Google’s Chromebook territory by offering lightweight systems that just connect to their Azure Virtual Desktop. This is especially dangerous, because they already have a majority of mind share in the consumer desktop market.

These sorts of services are dangerous. You can be cut off at any time, for any number of reasons. Stuff as benign as “bank failed to authorize payment” all the way up to the very serious, Executive Order preventing you from accessing services. Once you’re out that’s it. You don’t have any recourse. All your data is gone. You don’t own any part of the chain, after all. You’re just renting.

This has been a long time coming. Microsoft tested the waters with Office 365, to great success. People balked, at first, at renting Office, but now if you’re not using Office 365 or one of it’s competitors, you’re basically wasting money on licensing, and IT operations time. Now we’re getting virtual desktops. VMWare tried this with some limited success in Horizon, but I think Microsoft is going to sell this well enough that we see companies start to move to it to save money and hassle. Time will tell, though.

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