Stallman's quote in real context
Posted Oct 6, 2006 14:27 UTC (Fri) by cventers
In reply to: 4 points
Parent article: Similar in spirit?
I hesitate to reply to you here because you still haven't addressed any
of my points elsewhere. To the best of my knowledge, I've addressed each
of your points, and I'm hoping you'll do me the same favor.
It's interesting that you quote Stallman here, and so has Jonathan. I
regret that upon reading the interview Jonathan /did/ thankfully link as
the source of the quote, it seems that too much context may have been
removed to discuss Stallman's position with absolute fidelity. I would
thus encourage you to click the Wayback link and read at least the last
question on the page (the one in which the quote you address is
To quote Stallman further:
> But I don't think that's where the social and political issues arise.
> Those arise where the computers are visible to the user as computers.
> We can load software into them. We have thus the possibility of sharing
> and changing software. And then it becomes a significant question
> whether we are allowed to do so or whether we are blocked from doing
The Tivo is a good deal different from a microwave oven because its
software is not burned into ROM. In fact, in many ways, it is a personal
computer - it has a hard drive, USB port, some models have an ethernet
controller... and so it should be no shock or surprise that the many
hackers who have managed to defeat Tivo's fortunately broken attempt at
violating Freedom #1 have organized into the same hacker communities that
make free software possible:
is one of countless sites on the subject that Google presents when
I don't think a microwave oven would be likely to ever fall into this
category. For one thing, its software will probably be in ROM for a while
further; for another, it doesn't have much need for a computer aside from
presenting a very trivial user interface. Additionally, there isn't much
interesting work you can make a microwave do aside from cooking food, and
there doesn't seem to be much opportunity to improve that behavior
through software anyway.
But it's not just Tivo we should be worried about. Think about another
example where this issue of the difference between embedded systems and
computers is quickly getting blurred:
This project is a GPL-licensed firmware replacement for MP3 players from
a number of manufacturers. It has substantially more features, and to
some, the more important property of _freedom_ (which includes the
ability to play free codecs) than the manufacturer-provided firmware on
various devices. It even has the amazing property of being portable to a
number of different devices in an area of the market where product
similarity is incidental rather than a system like PCs where
compatibility is essential and thusly documented and practiced.
I hope I'm not the first free software developer to ask this question,
but what of Rockbox? I can't seem to find any substantial references to
GPLv3 in the context of what the Rockbox developers think, but given that
they are deliberately targeted at embedded devices only, I have a
sneaking suspicion that the GPLv3 is about to become absolutely essential
for the continued freedom of their project.
How long before the manufacturers of MP3 players realize they can take
Rockbox, port it, sprinkle on their _music_ DRM layer and then stamp on
their _software_ DRM layer to prevent anyone but them from changing the
license? They can then proceed to stamp out millions of these bastardized
players using the hard work of the Rockbox developers that were fighting
to make _FREEDOM_ and they can stamp that property of the market out
right out in short order.
I know you're not a Rockbox developer. Neither am I. But since you argue
very strongly that the FSF needs to stop what it is doing with the
license that you have a choice of _not using_, I think you ought to tell
us what you think these Rockbox guys should do about their little
Despite Stallman's great crystal ball, it seems the world still changes
in surprising new ways that are often good for society. Free software is
definitely a driving force in that movement. But given the fidelity of
what Mr. Stallman's crystal ball has shown us in the past, we'd be
complete fools to shatter it while busy arguing about how many bones we
saw through the grim reaper's robe.
And I further hope that you won't drop the other thread of discussion we
have going. I did spend a great deal of time thinking about what you had
to say, and I tried to do my best in fairly addressing your argument.
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