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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Gratis software being released as proprietary

From: Pen-Yuan Hsing
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Gratis software being released as proprietary
Date: Fri, 7 Aug 2015 22:52:32 +0200
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.11; rv:38.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/38.1.0

Thanks for your responses last week.

I have met with the scientists I mentioned, the good news is that they were 
intrigued by the potential of Freeing their software tool and "open sourcing" 
it. They would "like to consider this", and want to meet with me again 
(virtually) about this as soon as some time next week!

However, talking to them makes it apparent that they (and other scientists 
presenting other work at the conference) have close to zero conception of open 
source software, let alone Free Software ("Whaa? Our software is already free!! 
We don't charge anything, isn't it great?" even after I explained that it is 
about freedom). While I tried to emphasise the importance of the four freedoms, 
what really got them interested was (1) getting the community to help with 
development so they won't have to deal with a massive todo list of wishlisted 
features on their own, and (2) that as scientists the software should be open 
to peer review just like any other method.

The scientists in question were not software developers, so they actually 
outsourced some of the development to a professional. Unfortunately it was 
*super obvious* to me during their demo that the software is not only 
restricted to Windows, but it also uses Windows GUI APIs extensively. There are 
also lots of "super convenient" features such as integration with Microsoft 
Excel for processing tabular data, and using Google Earth to visualise 
geographical data... The audience was wowed by these "features" as I cringed as 
each one was presented. What frustrates me is that the features are indeed 
quite convenient purely from a technical/functionality perspective, but are 
such a bad perpetuation of non-Free software!

Perhaps what garnered the most praise from the audience was the deep 
integration with R. This software tool streamlines many routine but tedious 
processes by wrapping certain work done in R into its GUI (R needs to be 
installed alongside with this tool). To be honest it does make a huge 
difference and would save a TON of time for data processing (hours instead of 
weeks, I'm not kidding), while providing enough check boxes and sliders for 
customisation. But I'm sure you can also see the irony in integrating R, a 
prime example of Free Software, with a proprietary solution. Another big cringe.

Since this software is still new, and they want to discuss "open sourcing" it 
with me more, I'd really like to formulate a strategy for how best to move this 
project in the right direction. I did offer to help with organising the 
community around Freeing the software, though I don't really have experience in 
that (!) and would need your help with it, too.

Anyway, thanks again for your input thus far, from what I've gathered here's 
some points from what you've suggested:

* Free Software is important for science because it can be peer reviewed like 
any other method, and users can trust the methodology (i.e. software) you 

* Free Software development is not uncontrolled. They still get full 
attribution/credit and control the official release. Others just get to submit 
changes or fork their own versions.

* Free Software will be of higher quality.

* Even if they one day want to sell this software, keeping it Free will 
actually make it easier.

* Free Software will avoid unmaintained software from permanently dying.

* "freeware combines the worst elements of Free and proprietary business models"

* Sense of loyalty that comes from users of Free Software.

* "Have they never improved upon someone else's work? Have they ever, as 
scientists, adapted someone else's work for their own needs, that maybe were 
different from the original author/researcher's? Of course they have"

Before I go into the next meeting, when I hope to elaborate more on those 
points, I just wanted to see if you have any other tips. Has anyone here 
successfully helped convert a proprietary software project into a Free one? How 
do you go about this while respecting the hard work and good intentions of the 
developers? I know R is an obvious example of successful Free Software, but are 
there a couple other great examples that I can mention with great community 
involvement and "sense of loyalty" (ideally in the life sciences like the 
WinBUGS to OpenBUGS example)? What are some infamous examples of dead/graveyard 
technical proprietary software? Anything else interesting?

Finally, I believe there will be great value in creating an extensive FAQ about 
Free Software to answer and rebut some of the issues I mentioned before. I 
think a thorough, empirical evidence-based issue-by-issue debunking of Free 
Software myths would be wonderful. I promise I don't mean to detract from the 
topic of this list, but here are two great examples of what I am talking about 
for another important topic:

How can we develop something like this?

Thank you!!

P.S. I intentionally did not go into exactly what the science is since I don't 
think it is very relevant and would take a lot more space, but I can explain if 
you are curious.

On 2015-07-31 07:03, Mike Gerwitz wrote:
> On Wed, Jul 29, 2015 at 22:27:28 +0100, Pen-Yuan Hsing wrote:
>> I have yet to meet these scientists in person (but will this weekend),
>> but some common "reasons" I've heard for not releasing gratis software
>> as Free (as in Freedom) is that they (1) "want to make sure all users
>> get our most up to date and definitive version"; (2) "want to make
>> sure the software is well maintained/taken care of"; (3) "afraid of
>> their hard work being 'stolen' or misappropriated"; and (4) "sounds
>> like too much extra work when our resources are already streched so
>> thin".
> Scientific communities tend to consider software source code in a manner
> similar to methods: in order to reproduce findings, methods must be
> provided, and if code is involved, it should also be made
> available.  (Ideally; it's an ongoing effort.)  That invalidates
> #3.  How is it different than publishing any other methods?
> But those arguments demonstrate the most important point: that they are
> exerting control over their users.  #1 states that they do not think
> that their users are capable of following development of the software
> (which is an odd thing to say to a scientific community).  It also
> states that they think they know what is best for their users.  Can you
> draw an analogy to any proprietary software that they may use?  Windows
> 10 has been in the news: they think that it is best to provide their
> users with the most up-to-date software, so much so that certain
> versions offer no ability to opt out.[0]
> If they allow redistribution of their software gratis, #1 can still be
> circumvented anyway by obtaining software from your peers (a good
> thing).
> #2 is a fallacy.  Who is to say that someone else can't make their
> software even better?  Have they never improved upon someone else's
> work?  Have they ever, as scientists, adapted someone else's work for
> their own needs, that maybe were different from the original
> author/researcher's?  Of course they have.  And how would allowing
> others to study and modify the code affect maintenance?  That is an
> internal affair (project management).
> #4 is a copout.  In that case---and this is a good idea
> regardless---there are plenty of resources that you can provide them
> with to help them to understand the importance of software
> freedom.[1][2]
> This is sometimes an alien and uncomfortable concept to others.  When
> suggesting that software be liberated, I usually offer to help.  That
> help might not be in the form of code: it helps to have a guide into
> unfamiliar territory.
> [0]:
> [1]: 
> [2]:
>> For (4) above, this is especially true for non-profit organisations
>> since their resources truly are very limited, and they are afraid of
>> more burden (I know Free Software is actually liberating, I'm just
>> saying that's what some people are afraid of). For (3), obviously a
>> Free Software license makes sure that the original developer is fully
>> attributed. Even then, I wonder what would be some good responses to
>> (1) through (4)? Also, I don't think "Freedom is paramount, nothing
>> else matters" is a sufficient catch all response.
>> Another possible problem is that these scientists might have actually
>> hired an outside developer to write this software, and maybe in the
>> hiring contract the developer made the software proprietary? Is this
>> something that might have happened? If so, would these conservation
>> scientists be able to change this?
>> The above (1) to (4) are some responses from them that I can
>> anticipate, but what are some other common "concerns" about switching
>> to Free Software that I can prepare for? Speaking of which, I wonder
>> if it'll be nice to make a list of such frequently asked questions
>> about Free Software for makers of both gratis and for-sale software?
>> Perhaps it can go on the Libreplanet of FSF websites somewhere? (sorry
>> it it exists, I confess I haven't been to those sites in a while) If
>> the list doesn't exist, how can we work together to compile it?
>> Regardless of your personal opinion on wildlife conservation, I think
>> it is safe to say that these people are very well meaning and
>> sincerely want to do good in this world. They are not greedy/evil
>> corporations who want to control our lives! The problem is many people
>> just don't have the digital literacy (I promise I don't mean this in a
>> condescending way!) to appreciate the issues around software freedom
>> and why they should care... :( So what is a nice and respectful way to
>> bring up this problem, and achieve tangible, positive change? This
>> will be my first time discussing Free Software with someone actively
>> involved in software development (though I've talked to many general
>> "end users" about it before), so I'd really appreciate any suggestions
>> you have. And sorry about the long message!

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