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Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 6, 2010 7:19 UTC (Fri) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582)
In reply to: Balancing accessibility and software freedom by coriordan
Parent article: Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Good for Stallman. Meanwhile, a lot of people who need accessibility software don't have friends like Guy Steele, or the ability (quoting Bruce above) to hire interns to "essentially use as transcription software".

The one word RMS uses more frequently than any other, in connection with "free software", is "ethical". Telling a blind user that he should not, in a free-market commercial transaction, purchase a binary-only program that will help him work and communicate with others, does not strike me as in the least ethical.


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Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 6, 2010 14:18 UTC (Fri) by coriordan (guest, #7544) [Link]

RMS didn't say that. He only said that GNU shouldn't endorse or assist the use of nonfree software, even for blind users.

He might say what you suggest, or he might have better thought out position, such as acknowledging that society's lack of provisions for people with disabilities is also a social problem, or the way copyright law blocks blind users from helping themselves is a social problem, and using nonfree software might be bad but it could be the lesser of two bad things. I don't know.

And if he said that GNU should endorse nonfree screenreader software, would the moaners be silent?

When GNU was doing nothing, no one complained. When they start a push to help blind users, they get moaned at for not endorsing nonfree software (as if that should suprise anyone!). Some people just like complaining about other people's work.

Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 9, 2010 9:44 UTC (Mon) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

>RMS didn't say that. He only said that GNU shouldn't endorse or assist the use of nonfree software, even for blind users.

This is my interpretation too.

I think many people forget that the FSF and the GNU project are just organizations with a purpose: the advance of Free Software. They are not the only projects and organizations out there, and sure Richard Stallman does not speak for everybody, nor does he pretend to.

I often see comments that seem to imply that we should expect some kind of "moral" guidance from the FSF. That's just silly. The FSF has a set of principles to guide *themselves*. You can share them completely, in part, or not at all, but one should not "outsource" it's own moral behavior. In particular, the fact that the FSF doesn't endorse the use of a proprietary tool doesn't mean that people can't use them if that's what they think it's best for them.

Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 9, 2010 10:35 UTC (Mon) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

Really, this is not a matter of opinion. Stallman wants to ban proprietary software, and he would if he could. This is laid out in The GNU Manifesto: "Low-paying organizations do poorly in competition with high-paying ones, but they do not have to do badly if the high-paying ones are banned." And similar language elsewhere. In fact, in the very same thread under discussion here, he says "Proprietary software is digital colonization, unjust and evil. Our goal is therefore to eliminate proprietary software."

If it is silly to expect moral guidance from the FSF (and I agree it is), it is silly for RMS to rant about ethics as he does in most of his writings (good example here). RMS declaring proprietary software evil doesn't make it so, but try telling him that.

So, when you say,

>the fact that the FSF doesn't endorse the use of a proprietary tool doesn't mean that people can't use them if that's what they think it's best for them

it doesn't mean that to you and me: but RMS does consider it unethical (and indeed, being a willing accessory to evil.)

Actually, the entire GNU movement, it seems to me now (though it may not have been obvious 30 years ago), was based on a misdiagnosis. RMS's original problem was being unable to change the control program for a printer: but the problem was not the closed-source program, but the opaque interface. If the printer standards had been open and documented, RMS could have written his own driver program.

Likewise, if makers of nonstandard devices the world over suddenly decided to open-source their opaque and unintelligible drivers, we would not be much better off. If they opened their device documentation and specifications, we would be better off.

OpenBSD understands that open standards in hardware are the most important thing for users. RMS, despite his original motivation that illustrates this point, still doesn't seem to get it.

(And if proprietary text-speech programs were "banned", or if blind computer users are dissuaded from them because they are "unjust" and "evil", it is hard to say who would be better off. Certainly not the blind users! Even if it is an evil, allowing such a tool to plug into an otherwise free platform surely is a lesser evil than forcing such users to all-proprietary solutions? No, not to RMS. Not only is such software "evil" but there are no shades: it is all irredeemably evil regardless of quantity or context.)

Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 10, 2010 17:41 UTC (Tue) by coriordan (guest, #7544) [Link]

You're inventing stuff again. For example:

And if proprietary text-speech programs were "banned" [...]

You're extrapolating what you think RMS would call for, and you've gotten it wrong. RMS has said that if a law could be passed tomorrow to ban proprietary software, he would be against it. His reasoning is based on the idea that laws that don't express the will of the people are unjustified, and because there are freedom of expression considerations. First public opinion has to be changed, and then society could consider a law banning proprietary software, or banning just the sale of proprietary software.

You've also a factual mistake here:

the problem was not the closed-source program, but the opaque interface. If the printer standards had been open and documented, RMS could have written his own driver program.

Nope, it wasn't about drivers or APIs or documentation. They previously had a printer that ran free software, and they added a feature to the printer to send out a message when it was jammed. Then they got a new printer and wanted to add this feature to the printer, but couldn't because they didn't have the source code.

Balancing accessibility and software freedom

Posted Aug 11, 2010 7:04 UTC (Wed) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

The word "banned" was not mine: it was taken from the GNU manifesto and I quoted it in adequate context, I believe. A literal-minded person could argue that RMS is not himself calling for a ban, only saying it would be nice if the ban occurred. And he wrote, as of a couple of weeks ago, "Our goal is therefore to eliminate proprietary software." Of course proprietary software can theoretically be eliminated via free-market competition, but surely not even RMS believes that that is a practical possibility.

Can you supply a link to RMS's stance as you describe it? It sounds inconsistent with his reiterated "good versus evil" view. Slavery was evil: if public opinion supported slavery, would RMS have been opposed to banning it? I think not.

I stand corrected about the printer, but that makes it even more irrelevant. It is usually impossible to change the software (firmware) on a device like a printer. The realistic situation today would be that the printer can communicate a paper jam, and the proprietary Windows driver can read the communication, but the interface is not documented properly and therefore that functionality is missing on a Linux system.


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