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Linked on Reddit

September 28, 2010
By Jordi in personal

Oh, dear me.

A few years ago, I wrote a strongly-worded opinion piece on just why I believe so strongly on free software. Today it was linked on Reddit. While I do want free software everywhere, and I would like to completely abolish the notion of proprietary software, I see that as a distant dream. My immediate goal, my highest priority is to have free software for mathematics, because I think that hiding source and restricting distribution are the antithesis of mathematical work. Others have other priorities, but for me, free software in mathematics is highest.

In this vein, I wrote this some time ago. It’s a piece many people have read, and it always seems many have an opinion about. Many love it, but also many strongly disagree with it. They cite objections that say that the ends justifies that means, that having a good software package for doing mathematics trumps any need to have its source, that it’s ok to hide source if you’re making money, and that without the money that restricting distribution provides, you wouldn’t have quality software at all.

Needless to say, I believe all of these objections to be false if stated absolutely, as there are plenty of counterexamples to each, of varying degree. Nevertheless, I don’t have the energy to individually present them again, nor to address my detractors in the Reddit comments. I’m both sad and happy when I read those comments, and I wonder which direction the discussion overall will take. As for that beacon in the free software movement, Richard Stallman, whatever you might think of him, you have to admire him for his boundless stamina to be able to tirelessly participate in these discussions, and for being so self-consistent both in words and actions about what software freedom should be.

For the moment, I do not feel like arguing about this anymore. I feel like actions. Talk is cheap. I’ll show you the source. Perhaps we will never amount to anything, perhaps Octave will forever lag behind Matlab in one way or another, perhaps Sage will forever be a patchwork of individual programs of varying quality. Or perhaps not. Regardless, I don’t care. We must proceed. I must proceed. We must do, we must keep faith, because it’s obvious that even if the goal is unattainable, it’s the right goal. I would hardly be a hacker-errant of the rueful countenance if I didn’t think so.

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