Brave GNU world

WHEN I wrote about free software guru Richard Stallman last week, I didn’t realize I would have the opportunity to hear him speak just a few days later. Fortuitously, I got that chance when I attended the RightsCon Southeast Asia Summit at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria Hotel, where Stallman was a guest speaker.

The summit, which drew 600 participants from over 50 countries, focused on protecting human rights online and fighting for an open Internet, which seemed to be a good fit for Stallman, who remains an activist at the age of 62.

His talk, entitled “Brave GNU World,” was a play on the free operating system that became the centerpiece of his free (as in freedom, not as in zero-cost) software movement.

Stallman began his talk with the four essential freedoms that computer users ought to have: the freedom to run a program; the freedom to study and change it in source code form; the freedom to redistribute exact copies of it; and the freedom to distribute modified versions of the program.

Some highlights from Stallman’s talk last week:

On the dangers of proprietary software and devices:

Proprietary software is very often malware. It has malicious functionalities such as spying on the user. This is a real malicious functionality that i-Things have, that enables stores to track a person around the store.

The Amazon Swindle sees which book and which page is being read and tells Amazon.

Blu-ray discs are designed to stop people from copying and sharing. That’s a malicious functionality known as DRM, digital restrictions management, also called digital handcuffs. Now watch out. People on the enemies’ side call DRM digital rights management. If you use that term, you’re taking the enemy’s side. In general you should never use a device that was designed to take your freedom away unless you have to hand the necessary tools to break the handcuffs.

Even worse, there are back doors that allow nasty things to be done by remote command. The Amazon Swindle has a back door for deleting books. We found out about this when Amazon remotely deleted thousands of copies of 1984 by George Orwell in an Orwellian act.

Then there are devices that are jails for their users, which restrict the installation of applications. Apple pioneered this... but Microsoft followed the same path.

There’s an even worse back door in Windows which allows Microsoft to forcibly impose software changes. This is known as a universal back door. There are universal back doors also in the Amazon Swindle, and in nearly all portable phones.

Don’t just say Linux

The appropriate name for it is GNU+Linux. Please call it that. You’ll find that most people call the whole thing Linux, which is giving us none of the credit, attributing our work to (Linus) Torvalds, which is not nice to us. But there’s more at stake... You see, Torvalds doesn’t agree with the free software movement. He doesn’t believe that you deserve freedom in your computing. He doesn’t believe you deserve to have control over the programs you use. He says he’s happy to use proprietary software as long as it’s convenient and reliable. He has the right to promote his views, but he is not entitled to use our work as his platform to oppose our views, which motivated the work.

Steer clear of Ubuntu

Unfortunately, nowadays if you find a version of GNU+Linux, it may not be free...The worst one perhaps is Ubuntu. Ubuntu is one of the rare examples of free software that spies on the user. And in addition, it has many non-free programs. So let’s push back on Ubuntu and make Ubuntu clean up its act. I urge people in free software events, above all, don’t recommend or install Ubuntu. You shouldn’t ever recommend or install a distro that is not totally free.

Open source is not the same as free software

Say free software. If you say free software, you are spreading the idea that this is about freedom. If you say open source, you’re helping to bury the idea of freedom. I get messages from people every week who say they appreciate what i’ve done for open source, which means they have no idea what it is that I stand for. I’ve seen articles that called me the father of open source. So I wrote a letter to the editor and said if I’m the father of open source, it was conceived through artificial insemination using stolen sperm without my knowledge or consent.

Teaching free software in schools

It’s crucial for schools to teach free software. Unfortunately most schools teach proprietary software and lately I’ve been hearing students find that they fail their classes unless they run proprietary software. We need to organize and make those schools change. It should be illegal to teach proprietary software in school because that’s implanting dependence in society. It’s counter to the social mission of schools. Teaching proprietary software in schools is like giving the kids cigarettes. It’s trying to get them hooked and that’s why many proprietary software companies offer discount versions and gratis versions of their non-free software to schools. They want the schools to help make the students addicted. And the teachers will use twisted excuses like these are the programs you’ll find others using. It’s like saying everyone else smokes so you should too. Chin Wong


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