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Free Software Paves The Way For Open Source

At the end of September, Matt Asay wrote a provocative post: Free software is dead. Long live open source. He argued that, while “free software advocates provided the early backbone,” that “ideological” approach has given way to the more realistic “pragmatism” of open source and that “we’re all the better for it.”

A month later, he wrote a post arguing that open clouds are more important than open phones. Astoundingly, he points to Bradley Kuhn’s post on the lack of a truly free mobile operating system as evidence that software freedom types are focused on the wrong things. Except… as Bradley points out in the comments:

Matt, I find it troubling that you would fail to mention that I’ve historically written and spoken *much* more about software freedom in the “Cloud” than I have about freedom in mobile space. In fact, I and my colleagues at autonomo.us were well along looking at the issue of “Freedom 2.0” long before we started dealing with the freedom issues in the mobile phone space.

Indeed, for my part, my blog post you quote is exactly the first time I’ve talked publicly about software freedom on mobile phone platforms. Meanwhile, if you had done any research, you’d have found me speaking and writing about freedom in the Cloud going back to at least November 2007 (and even further if you consider the work I did with Henry Poole and Eben Moglen on the AGPLv1 in early 2002).

Matt Asay, caught up in open source pragmatism, is way behind the free software crowd. How can you mention an “open cloud” without talking about autonomo.us? And projects like Identi.ca/StatusNet and Libre.fm? This is the future of free networked services. Once again, free software advocates are leading the way. In five or ten years, I suppose open source folks like Matt Asay will arrive just in time declare the free software pioneers irrelevant again.

“Open source” in the “cloud” is about more than just infrastructure. Yes, software freedom is about more than source code, but source code is the foundation of software freedom. If you control the software, things like data portability and federated services come much more naturally. The open source movement won’t understand that until the free software movement makes it manifestly obvious — but don’t expect a thank you.

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