[free-software-melb] Spinellis "Choosing and Using Open Source Components"

Adrian Colomitchi acolomitchi at gmail.com
Mon May 9 01:20:06 UTC 2011

On Sat, May 7, 2011 at 2:44 PM, Ben Sturmfels <ben at stumbles.id.au> wrote:

> On 02/05/11 15:34, rdbrown at pacific.net.au wrote:
>> Diomidis D. Spinellis's latest IEEE Software column "Choosing and Using
>> Open Source Components" is up at his blog
>> http://www.spinellis.gr/blog/20110501
>> and may interest.
> Thanks for pointing this out Rodney. Hope we see you at the upcoming
> discussion group!

My apologies for the question: haven't had enough time 'til now to attend
any of the meetings. Can you please update me with date/time/location for
the next meeting?

> It's a well written article, but does seem to be a little freedom-agnostic.
> I also worry about Spinellis' slightly twisted interpretation of the GPL:
>  Others (licenses), like the GNU licenses, play well with other
>  software licensed as open source but make life difficult for
>  proprietary offerings. This is especially true if you want to
>  distribute your work to others as a shrink-wrapped package, such as
>  Microsoft Office, or as an embedded software product, like a set-top
>  box. In such cases the only GNU-licensed components you can easily
>  use are unmodified dynamically linked libraries licensed under the
>  so-called GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). You get
>  considerable more leeway with GNU-licensed software if you don’t
>  distribute a product but instead offer a service (like Google) or
>  simply use your system privately within your organization.
> The GNU GPL says that you can't incorporate GPL licensed code into
> proprietary programs.

Slight correction here: yes, you can/may, as long as you don't distribute
the result of incorporation in any kind. And I'd argue that this is *not*
outside the spirit of the free software.

I'd argue that running/providing a GPL-ed software *as a service* and asking
money in return is still in the spirit of free software and, to some extent,
beneficial for the free software that is used (exposure) and/or for the
"consumers" of such a service. Examples: heaps of hosting providers offering
LAMP (on quite low prices) - are they operating outside the spirit of free
software? Are they even "hurting" the spirit of free software?

Are there any problems with non-free additions *specific* to the
exploitation environ? E.g. for a hosting service provider, some specific
additions to capture the usage and, based on the captured data, to interface
with their specific billing systems. Must these additions be published as
well? No matter the re-usability considerations or risks for the

My point is: where do you draw the line of what is inside or outside of the
spirit of free software for a non-free/closed-source part added to a GPL-ed
software, offered as a service and never distributed?

Finally, I'm more worried about the following in the blog:
<quote>Although it’s tempting, try to avoid modifying the open source code
to fit your needs; you don’t want to end up maintaining another large
component on your own.</quote>
Now, this *IS* outside the spirit of free software (at least the way I see
it). I can see the angle Spinellis is coming, but I do have huge issues with
the form he expressed it.
It is one thing to say: "If you develop your own customizations, you face
the risk of broken compatibility with future releases of the free software"
and a different thing to say: "Stay out of customizations! Believe me, you
don't want to spend anything in making the software better *even for you*
much less for anyone else".
The first is a fair warning. The second is bordering FUD of the same sort as
Microsoft's "get the facts right" campaign.

> Cheers,
> Ben
> Adrian
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