It's Free as in Freedom, Stupid

Friday, July 11 2003 @ 01:38 AM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

It's Free as in Freedom, Stupid

I've written before about Microsoft's Linux-like UNIX plans. Other businesses have come up with plenty of ideas about how to use Linux to draw customers and/or programmers to give them a free leg up. Sun has the same dream. They have the idea that they can use Linux, and I do mean "use" in every sense, to generate a demand for UNIX platforms. What I see developing is a push to get Linux apps to run on UNIX, so as to kill off Linux as a separate system, and push non-free UNIX with some free apps riding on top, like fleas on a dog's ear, instead.

In an article titled "Sun: Linux Users Don't Actually Want Linux", Robert Youngjohns, executive VP for global sales operations for Sun, speaking at the Bear Stearns 14th Annual Technology Conference on June 11, said:

"'The enthusiasm isn't about Linux, it's about access to Intel and the ability to run Unix on what seems to be a cheaper platform.' Sun is looking to provide Solaris on Intel to fill enterprises' demand for Intel Unix. When Sun announced its UltraSPARC architecture in 1995, it believed that enterprises would have moved entirely to 64-bit computing by 2003. That proved not to be the case; enterprises still have strong demand for 32-bit computing. Sun is looking to fill that demand with Solaris running on its own Intel servers, Youngjohns said. Many enterprise IT managers say they would not have adopted Linux if those Solaris on Intel products had been available 12-18 months ago, Youngjohns said."

Get the picture? To which, Ars Technica replied:

"For some users, this is undoubtedly true, but a number of people are devotedly committed to the open source model, something both Youngjohns and Sun itself seems to forget from time to time.

They didn't forget. They never got it in the first place. I have just reviewed a number of articles about Sun's role in the SCO mess, and I invite you to follow the bouncing ball, without further comment from me, except to say two things to look for: first, that if you review what the analysts said at the time about Sun's ditching its own Linux distribution in March of this year, saying it would just use existing distributions, it will confirm how totally analysts don't get it. They all took it as meaning what Sun said it was about: cost savings and less hassle. In reality, as we now know, this decision came one month after Sun had signed the license deal with SCO, and they must have realized that Linux was going to be sued, possibly into oblivion. Most particularly, SCO has mentioned RedHat as a target, and Sun's version of Linux was basically RedHat, so their decision was just to shift the risk off of themselves. Analysts seem never to factor in one important detail: you can't take what businesses say at face value. They lie. I don't know what happened to American business, but that's the way it is now. And second, note the story from 2001 about Sun investing in Caldera.

So, having said that, take a little walk in the sun here and here and here and here and here and here and you won't need me to connect the dots.

Here's what Sun doesn't get. A lot of people care deeply about the volunteers who wrote GNU/Linux and honor their work. They won't take kindly to any company that tries to abuse them. For myself, I have reached a decision that I will never recommend a Sun product to anyone ever again. I've worked at law firms where I did have responsibily to recommend such things, though not to implement, and Sun just fell off my list. I'll avoid Sun products personally too, to the best of my ability. I have SunOffice in my Linux distribution, which I paid for, but I'll never use it now and I'll ask my distribution provider not to bundle it in the future. I don't want it. It's hard to avoid Java, but I'll do whatever I can. Opera is one browser that lets you elect a Java-free version. I will take them up on their offer.

What Sun imagines is that people like Linux because it's free, making the very common mistake of thinking that means free as in beer. Because they care primarily about money, they think we are all like that. They think that now that RedHat charges what they do, that they can offer Linux running on UNIX and tack on licenses and royalties and really cash in on Linux by turning customers to their UNIX servers by letting Linux apps run on Solaris, and if it's easy and works well, who'll notice the difference?

The answer is: we're all going to notice. It's free as in speech, as in libre, as in freedom, not free as in beer. That's Linux' real draw, not cost. People happily pay plenty for GNU/Linux distributions, especially in the enterprise. Why? It isn't just customer support. It's knowing that you can trust who wrote it not to stab you in the back. If you can't trust the company, you can't trust their code. Pure and simple.

And do you trust SCO now? How about Sun? Microsoft? Business customers are people too. And people are sick and tired of snoopware and viruses and backdoors and all the other things you can't fix or even understand in proprietary software. Linux frees you from those worries. You can learn whatever you want, fix whatever breaks or change whatever you want to make it do something just a bit different, or hire someone to do it for you.

People are sick of license terms that treat them like criminals, where even when you try hard to obey, you never feel free of that worry...am I allowed to do this? They love GNU/Linux because you can share with your friends and family freely, install it on as many computers as you own at home and at work. Sick of saving proof of purchase certificates under pain of a visit from the IP police and fines when they can't find that piece of paper from 1998. Sick of typing in numbers to prove they bought the software, and having software call home to validate their right to use what they bought, and companies that shove one-sided EULAs down their throats, claiming the right to monitor their hard drive for compliance. Sick of businesses that care about money for themselves first and customers a distant second. GNU/Linux opened people's eyes. It offers an escape from all of that. So they're going to notice. And they're going to care.

But here's, to me, the best thing about GNU/Linux. It's so pleasant to be in control of your own environment. You can design any kind of look you enjoy, pick from a seemingly endless variety of applications, and do whatever you want without fear. It's a feeling you can never have with any other OS.



If you've been thinking of trying it out, but you aren't sure where to start, here's my suggestion: spend $5 and get a copy of a Knoppix CD. It doesn't write to your hard drive. It's just runs off of the CD, so you can play around all you like with no fear of harm. When you are done, nothing is changed about your original environment, unless you made it happen, and you have to take certain affirmative steps for that to occur that you won't know how to do at first anyway. If you design a look you want to keep, just save it on a floppy and you can boot up with the CD plus floppy to keep your favorite things the way you like them. Or don't bother. You can order it from any of the places listed here. Try it. You'll like it. I see they'll even have it on DVD soon. It also makes a great rescue CD for when your MS OS goes belly up. And you know it does that.

And then you will understand why nothing big business tries can kill the appetite for Linux. It offers something proprietary companies can't, something they don't understand: freedom ... and that includes freedom from them.

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