Another look at free software

I read this, “‘Software is meant to be free …” at Hackernoon and found it disappointingly lightweight. It talks of Stallman, thus the four freedoms and the GNU project and mentions Eric Raymond in passing as the man who coined the phrase Open Source rather than the author of the Cathedral & the Bazaar and Homesteading the Noosphere. He doesn’t mention Stallman’s attack on the concept/phrase of Open Source since he considered it a diminishing of the four freedoms. It’s weak on the evolution of copyleft; it doesn’t mention for instance, Laurence Lessig and the Creative Commons. Clary also fails to mention Torvalds, the man most associated with Linux, the prime example of Open Source Software, although the EU Commission discovered that the largest contributor to the open source code base was Sun Microsystems.

It is particularly weak in its view of how and why the proprietary software behemoths adopted Open Source. They did so primarily in areas where they were weak in market share and profitability and where their competitors were the inverse. IBM’s massive investment in Linux, much of it through its OEM agreement with Red Hat was designed to kill Sun MIcrosystem’s Solaris; it is arguable that they succeeded, although both I and Eric Raymond think it’s more complex than that, as provoked by him, I argue here.

Our understanding of the economics and sociology has moved on since then. Anne Barron in her 2013 paper, Free Software Production as Critical Social Practice which I should really re-read looks at both and earlier in the previous decade Simon Phipps articulated new sources of value and new contexts for open source software, both how free software created scarce markets, and that open source governance models equally created and constrained the value of its free product. I was lucky to be able to present his theories once or twice and I reported on one such presentation on this blog 10 years ago.

These papers and theories are somewhat aged certainly when one considers the speed of technology development but its possible that even older theories such as Marx’s Fragment on the Machine and more recent developments in conceiving of immaterial labour, and the enigma of software’s role in the means of production are all part of the questions that need to be answered to understand the economic role and governance of software.

It’s not that software wants to be free … it’s just looking like no matter what theories of price you adhere to, free is the right price.

ooOOOoo

See also Free, the right price for software and maybe Monopoly and prices, both by me on this blog, written in 2009 exploring the micro/meso-economic classical welfare theories as to why software should be free. …

Eternal vigilance

I have been pointed at China’s Social Credit Scoring plans via two routes. The first is this extract published at Wired from Rachel Botsman’s book, “Who can we trust”. This details the Chinese Governments plan to build a social credit scoring scheme, but the sources and incentives are horrendously comprehensive, including their leading match making agency. (It’s taken me some time to read this article, an I have bookmarked and annotated it in my diigo feed.) Worrying things about the Chinese scheme is that voluntary participation becomes mandatory; while rewards and incentives are at the forefront of everyone’s mind today, control and punishment is planned, in the Chinese case in the short term they are talking about foreign and domestic travel restrictions but as I note, the countries leading dating agency is one of the surveillance agencies. There is also talk of social investment loans (helicopter money) which become available on the basis of social scores.

The second route was an article on Medium by someone who got banned from AirBnB. He pointed at an article on Buzzfeed, “A Chinese-Style Digital Dystopia Isn’t As Far Away As We Think” where a series of regulatory decisions in the USA seem to be paving the way to something similar, a powerful illustration that the argument that surveillance is OK if it’s private sector is horrendously false.

One worrying aspect of the proposed Chinese system is that your reputation is as good as that of your friends and we have idiots trying to replicate it with peeple, and reading up on that has started me worrying about Linkedin and its competitors and we all know we should get off facebook.

The wired article came before machine learning and massive scale AI became a hot topic, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens to social credit scores when they let rip with the application of machine learning. The automated derivation of reputation scores also raises issues of safeguarding, libel and context. Safeguarding and libel laws require the machines to tell the truth, in fact safeguarding may require machines to hide the truth. Context requires a level of nuance that we are unsure if machines will ever have, but even if they get there, justice and judges must remain human and the code must be open; China’s & Facebook’s is not!. The GDPR gives data subjects rights, perhaps its time to revisit the seven principles.

Of course in the UK, we have our very own examples of machines and data sharing getting it wrong. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary has suspended the intra-government and some of the other immigration data sharing as a result of the backlash on the Windrush scandal. (I wonder if this I an excuse to look again at the DPA Immigration Exemption clauses.) Much of what is happening in China and the USA is also happening in the UK, it’s just that the surveillance agents are the US owned datenkraken and the British State have legalised the hacking of their data streams.

What’s happening in China is terrible, but our governments are following suit! The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. …

Digital inclusions & democracy

Digital inclusions & democracy

25% of the UK population don’t have broadband, this is higher amongst the poor and the old; it generally costs more than the BBC Licence. Also not all internet users are Facebook users. Facebook (& other social media providers) cannot act as a guarantor of identity in government and political business, partly because they’re proprietary, closed source systems and thus users, citizens and judges do not know what the code does. Digital inclusion is still one of the key political issues to be addressed in the internet age, governments and political parties need to step very carefully when they use social media platforms as a means of understanding people’s views; this is before we consider the anti-democratic nature of survey’s and referenda, you can only answer the questions asked, usually in a binary or scalar fashion. It’s not good enough …..oh yeah & open source. …

Commoditisation killed Sun Microsystems

Commoditisation killed Sun Microsystems

Eric Raymond,  wrote a short article on his blog, “Commoditization, not open source, killed Sun Microsystems”, which I commented on. This blog article says a little bit more than I felt I had room for on someone else’s blog, and I probably abused his hospitality there. I have thought long and hard about this, because I worked there and thought it i.e. the company was worth saving. Here’s what I said on Eric’s blog, and a bit more.  I start by saying that the first thing about Sun’s failure is that it all depends on where you want to start; Sun’s failure was baked in long before the 2000 fall from profit.  …

Not so open, a Bioware take on open source

This article represents some thoughts on how copy-left and permissive licences create value. It uses the story of Bioware and it’s use of the D&D™ and Forgotten Realms™ games & mythos as an example. There are two recent news items that make this current: that the community repository for Neverwinter Nights has just shut, and that Wizards of the Coast have just released Dungeons & Dragons V5 rules as a free to use .pdf, a small but significant step to a freemium business model. The story shows how an initially traditional author-publisher business model, leveraged a pre-made community, grew it and latterly enabled it. The point of this story is the way in which community and value grew, becoming significant author contributors and the way in which Bioware responded and learnt although some might say not as quickly or as generously as they might.  …

Voting by Mobile Phone

firefoxphone

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian today bemoans the low turn out and the perceived ‘rotten borough’ nature of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. Among her arguments she suggests voting should be made easier by allowing people to use their mobile phones.

I have commented; because identifying oneself to government, counting elections and guaranteeing the secrecy of the ballot are the last things we should hand over to proprietary, closed software. Digital activists have come to the conclusion that even counting election results by scanned paper ballots is undesirable and where it is done in this country, a sample based manual verification is undertaken. I presented the argument that the regulator’s code must be open to the @labourdigital Top of the Manifestos event. …

Policy for Labour on the Digital Economy

Policy for Labour on the Digital Economy

The Labour Party’s proposed policy programme only mentions the digital economy once, and this is to promise more speed, everywhere it can go. There are two internal pressure group style swarms/groups/initiatives looking to do better.  The first is launched by the front bench incubated if not commissioned by the impressive Chi Onawaruh MP, currently shadow spokesperson for the Cabinet Office. This has it’s home at this site, Chi publicised the initiative at in an article at Labour List called How can we make Digital Government work better for everyone?. A great deal of thought has been undertaken in launching this initiative. The second initiative is @LabourDigital,  …

Can Free Software save the public money?

Bern City Council have adopted an Open Source software procurement policy.

This reported by long time Open Source campaigner, Simon Phipps in his Computer World blog. It seems, as in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, that this decision had a champion, in this case, a Councillor called Matthias Stürmer. Phipps story details the bureaucratic politics around the trigger decision which was the Microsoft licence renewal agreements. The size of the agreement required Council approval and the Council had been moving towards preferring Open Source IT. The Council review requirement led Microsoft to reduce the cost to a value below the review threshold and the renewal was approved without the Council approval. The Council was, it seems, unamused and took action to ensure that the policy preferences of the elected council were to be obeyed in future. Phipps reports, …