[Marxism] What's in a name? Linux vs. Stallman's GNU/Linux

Clay Claiborne clayclai at gmail.com
Wed Jan 1 21:37:02 MST 2014

On 01/01/2014 05:58 PM, Tristan Sloughter wrote:
> Most programming jobs do not include contributing to free software. It
> is instead a privilege available to those of us who are both lucky
> enough to have some of our work being released as free software and
> having the time/resources outside of work to contribute.
But many do, take IBM for example:


> September 17, 2013 4:15 PM
> Christina Farr <http://venturebeat.com/author/christinafarr/>
> IBM <http://ibm.com> just announced it will make a $1 billion
> investment to promote the development of Linux, a leading operating
> system for cloud and big data deployments in data centers.
> According to a media release, IBM
> <http://venturebeat.com/2013/09/17/ibm-to-invest-1b-in-linux-open-source-technologies/#>
> also intends launch a new Power Development cloud, and fund a number
> of open source technology initiatives.
> IBM introduced its first Linux-only Power Systems in May of 2012,
> which now represents over 2,500 open source applications globally. The
> company intends to support this growing ecosystem, and attract more
> third party developers to the platform.
> IBM currently operates Power Systems centers in locations like
> Montpellier, France, where developers learn onsite how to deploy
> applications using open source technologies.
> IBM made the official announcement at LinuxCon in New Orleans. The
> news comes over a decade since IBM announced it would back Linux, then
> in the early-stages of development.
> Onstage, IBM has stressed that it doesn't intend to convert all of its
> existing customers to Linux. Instead, this investment is targeted at
> bringing new innovation to its cloud computing and analytics customers.
> Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation
> <http://www.linuxfoundation.org/>, said in a statement, "The last time
> IBM committed $1 billion to Linux, it helped start a flurry of
> innovation that has never slowed. We look forward to seeing how the
> Power platform can bring about further innovation on Linux, and how
> companies and developers can work together to get the most out of this
> open architecture."
$1 billion buys a lot of developer time, and while it is focused on
things IBM needs done, and IBM is choosing OSS because they can leverage
the work product of others, their choice to do these OSS means that the
technology they are paying to be developed falls into the public domain
where everybody can benefit from it without paying IBM a dime, and isn't
that the way we want software to be developed and shared under socialism?

Here some more on IBM's OSS policy:


      Pragmatism Not Ideology: IBM's Love Affair with Open Source Software

>       Author(s)
> Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz
>       Source
> Working Paper, 2008
>       Summary
> This paper examines the historical evidence as to why a large
> commercial firm supported open source software.
>       Policy Relevance
> Policymakers should be careful not to idealize open source; firms like
> IBM become involved in open source for familiar economic reasons.
>       Main Points
>   * Open source software lets users change the code to suit their own
>     needs; open source code under the General Public License (GPL)
>     must be distributed free.
>   * IBM is the world's second largest seller of commercial software,
>     so some are puzzled as to why it supports "free" software. 
>   * The business history of IBM shows it adapts to change for
>     practical reasons.
>   * During the half a century that IBM has made software, it has
>     delivered many combinations of free software combined with
>     commercial software, or code that users can access combined with
>     proprietary code. 
>   * Should open source grow markedly, it could eat into IBM's
>     revenues, but IBM would have time to adapt.
But IBM makes most of its money through hardware and service, so free
software helps it sell those.

About 8 years ago IBM made a dramatic change in their software
development policy. The company whose logo I always thought should be
next to "proprietary" in the dictionary, announced that it was going to
make all of its hardware, from the biggest to the smallest, run on
Linux, and that while they certain weren't going to abandon non-free
software, they were making developing free software their default and
managers would have to put forward what IBM thought was good reasons for
making a project non-free. IBM isn't the only major computer company to
make big contributions to OSS. Intel began this trend because they had
developed a 64-bit processor and MS didn't have a viable 64-bit OS but
Linux was close, so Intel invested a lot into helping the Linux
community develop a free 64-bit OS. Other companies that made major
investments in OSS included Sun, Oracle and SGI.

If you are involved in this industry, you probably already know that
these companies, and big as they are, saw themselves as oppressed.  And,
as hardware companies, they were oppressed by the tyranny of the big dog
- Microsoft. So as soon as Linux emerged as a viable alternative, they
started pilling on.

Of course this didn't turn out the way it did without a great deal of
struggle. IBM, for its part tried in many ways to privatize and subvert
Linux and only after that failed, did they start to come around and play
by OSS rules. I know because I was personally involved in this struggle
with IBM. I wrote about one such battle in Dr. Dobbs Journal when I was
covering the 2005 Linux World for DDJ:
> As I said on Monday, the Open Office people discovered just before the
> Conference that Sun would not be funding the Open Office LinuxWorld
> booth. From the point of view of the Open Source movement, Open Office
> clearly should have had its own booth at the Expo--and a big one at
> that. Why? Because office application suites are one of two
> application categories that the overwhelming number of end users run
> on their computers, and Open Office is the leading Open Source office
> suite.
> The other application category is, of course, Internet suites. To
> date, the Open Source community's best answer to Microsoft's Internet
> Explorer has been Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird. While both Open
> Source suites came out of and are rooted in Linux, both have been
> successfully ported to Windows. As such, they represent the best
> chance for Open Source software to make serious inroads into the
> majority of desktops. On Tuesday I mentioned the Los Angeles City
> Council's initiative to start using Open Office in some city
> departments. There are many such initiatives, and more on the horizon.
> It doesn't take a computer scientist to figure out that the best way
> to move the masses to a completely Open Source platform is to
> transition them first to a few key Open Source applications on their
> existing platform. The bottom line is that not having a booth hurts
> OpenOffice.org in particular, and the whole Open Source movement in
> general.
> A representative of Sun's StarOffice Channels Marketing group
> speculated on reasons why Sun decided not to have any partners in it's
> pavilion this year. He didn't know why that decision had been made or
> why OpenOffice.org had to come to the show to find that out.
> According to Gary Edwards of OpenOffice.org, the problem goes back
> four years to when Sun MicroSystems bought Star Office and licensed
> the code for Open Office under the Lesser General Public License
> (LGPL), rather than the General Public License (GPL). A Sun
> spokesperson also said Sun thought this to be a strategic error and
> that Sun was reconsidering the licensing of Open Office.
> The difference between the GPL and the LGPL is that the LGPL lets
> vendors link proprietary code to Open Source libraries without making
> their code GPL. Apparently this is what IBM has done with its
> WorkPlace office suite. Granted, WorkPlace does some truly innovative
> stuff for network collaboration, but anyone familiar with Open Office
> will recognize OpenOffice 1.1--but without credit to Sun or
> OpenOffice.org. One shortcoming of the IBM approach is that while IBM
> claims its system is compliant with the OpenDocuments standard, it
> really isn't, at least according to Gary Edwards. Specifically it
> doesn't contain xforms, as OpenOffice 2.0 does and which the European
> Union demands. This could be a problem for IBM and vendors following
> its lead. While many people would like to think that Sun bought Star
> Office simply to irritate Microsoft, the real reason has more to do
> with its core business. Sun bought it for Solaris customers. It seems
> that now that IBM has used that code to create a competing product
> without making significant contributions to the Open Office project,
> Sun's interest in Open Office has waned.
> I tried to get IBM's side of the story, starting with the WorkPlace
> demo person on the Expo floor. I was quickly hustled up to the
> third-floor IBM office to a communications manager who gave me the
> number of the IBM Media Relations manager in Armonk. When he wasn't
> available, I was turned over to his boss who wouldn't answer of my
> questions, but suggested two other IBMers to try. Alas, one of them
> was on vacation and the other in an all-day meeting. My conclusion is
> that IBM's position towards OpenOffice.org is no credit, no code, no
> funding, and no comment. Maybe that's why the LGPL says "we suggest
> you first think carefully about whether this license or the ordinary
> General Public License is the better strategy to use in any particular
> case."
Note that RMS's ultra-left position would not have allowed any of this
to happen. He would "on principle" oppose any free software being made
to run on Windows on any other non-free OS, even while his GNU OS was
not [still not] ready to run them. He would oppose IBM or any other
company mixing OSS with non-free software. If they weren't ready to go
over completely to free software, he didn't want them involved. They
would taint the purity of his ideal of free software so unlike the vast
majority of people in the free software community, he didn't care how
many people were actually using free software or what impact it was
having on the IT industry. His model was to provide them with no serious
competition in the marketplace. His model involved spending 30 years in
the lab without producing a free software kernel that people could
actually use.

> Relying on someones contributions to free and open source software is
> a problem with diversifying hires in Silicon Valley. 
This is just so wrong. Linux is the first major OS not developed in the
US. It was developed by a worldwide community of developers that was far
more diverse than the white men who developed Windows. Also, to take a
personal example, the educational secessions and installfests that Linux
Users, Los Angeles, and most other LUGs, were very diverse and allowed
many women and non-whites to learn computer skills, skills that could
lead to employment, that they otherwise didn't have access to. Also, on
that score I have found that OSS companies are notably better the IT
industry as a whole. I'm sure you already know that the 5th most
powerful exec at Google in a Black man, David C. Drummond, and I'm not
sure what race no. 3, Sergey Brin and no. 3, Nikesh Arora are but they
don't look white to me, and 3 of the 10 board members are women. This
pattern is repeated among the lower ranks as well.

At this point, I feel like you are just out to trash the open source
software movement and are throwing everything on the wall to see what
sticks, but you still haven't spoken to my main argument that this
movement represented a world-historic class struggle between private
intellectual property and social intellectual property.

For nearly two decades I've been knee deep into this struggle but I feel
it was generally ignored by the Left that went on running Windows and
seemed oblivious to this fight. Where were you when the struggles
between "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" or "free software" and "open source
software" were in play?

Where were you, and most of the Left, when it came to defending this
beautiful tool that had been created by free social labor from

Now, a decade latter, you want to re-open debates that were settled long
ago, and uphold RMS's ultra-left idealism as the right solution that
lost, when the truth is that position open source software plays in our
modern world represents a major victory of the working class and the
people over capitalism in a period that has seen relatively few. And
whether you admit it on not, this movement has had a lot to do with
spawning WikiLeaks and Anonymous. It is a movement that kept the
Internet up when oppressive governments tried bring it down, gave
activist the tools to communicate and protect those communications and
provided freedom fighters, and everyone else on the planet, access to
the type of satellite intel that use to be the private reserve of a
handful of governments.

Tim O'Reilly and Eric Raymond have contributed a lot more to this
victory than just about anybody on the Left, along with a lot of other
people you may think disgusting reactionaries, and it has not been done
without sharp struggle and it has not been done without significant but
necessary concessions to capitalism and non-free software, but it has
been done by Linux and not "GNU/Linux" or even the GNU OS still waiting
for a kernel after 30 years.

Without these victories, the software world would still be under the
total domination of Microsoft and the Internet would be very different
from what it is now.

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