For those of us who in some way or the other were influenced by the counter-culture, folks like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation are a nostalgic reminder of what the counter-culture stood for – freedom, choice, be yourself.
Stallman does not fit or try to fit into a squeaky corporate persona. By his very casual dressing, often bordering on the unkempt, and his insistence on software being free (as in freedom to access, modify, and redistribute source code, and not just free as in “free beer”), Stallman is the best example of the counter-culture in software development.
Which is all nice, and interesting. But problems begin when folks like Stallman and his followers take the moral high ground, and demonize everyone else, including the folks in the open-source camp. “If you don’t want to lose your freedom, you had better not follow (Linus Torvalds),” Stallman said in an interview published in Computerworld
Freedom in any society, including an open society is continuously fought for, and earned through compromises and adjustments with the freedom of other people, including those who would like to develop proprietary software. You may want to call the folks in the proprietary camp profiteers, misguided, but not by a long stretch unethical. This intolerance of other views has perhaps made Stallman and the FSF lose ground to more popular open-source.
You may disagree with the direction the open-source movement is taking. These days one hears from the open-source community less about freedom, and more about how open-source development is the most efficient, economical, and flexible model for software development, as it taps into the innovation of a large number of software developers. The justification for open-source is increasingly becoming one of economic efficiency than of freedom.
There are a lot of factors that have influenced this change – a key one being the adoption of open source by the corporate sector. If Eric S. Raymond said many years ago that “every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch”, today a lot of open-source software development is directed by a corporate agenda, a corporate itch. On the flip side, there are far more developers on company roles doing open-source development, which has increased the sheer volume of open source software available.
There are also a lot of companies that swear entirely by open source, while some others put into open source only some parts of their software, where they can benefit from the efficiencies of the model.
Different interests have taken a different view of open-source, and not a lot of them are purists in the Stallman mode. I admire Stallman’s concern about freedom, but in all spheres of society freedom comes through a “give-and-take”. I admire Stallman for standing his ground, but I can’t agree with him demonizing others for not standing on the ground he chooses. That borders on the fascist, and is anathema to any freedom.