Linux-2.6.36-libre: turning Linux's Free Bait into Free Software

Cyberspace, November 8, 2010---Linux hasn't got any Freer between the Linux-2.6.33-libre announcement, back in March, and the present announcement, that marks the release of Linux-2.6.36-libre. Linux now contains more non-Free Software, and more drivers in its Free core that require separately distributed non-Free Software to function. The welcome news is that Open Source advocates have joined the Free Software Movement in denouncing the practice of Free Bait or Open Core.

OSI director Simon Phipps writes “Open Core Is Bad For You”, “it's a game on software freedom”, “it's a bait-and-switch, wrapping the same old lock-in in the flag of open source and hoping you won't notice.” Bait-and-switch is a deceptive commercial practice in which one product is announced to attract customers, to sell another instead.

OSI director Andrew C. Oliver adds that “Open Core puts the software user at a disadvantage in the same way that all proprietary software puts the user at a disadvantage”, it “is merely a nick-name for a proprietary software company”, and those who imply their “proprietary software is open source or has the advantages of open source are engaging in deception.”

This agreement between the Free Software movement Freedom campaign and Open Source spokespeople on a matter of principle signals the importance of denouncing this practice. However, most of our community is not aware that Linux has this problem. The most popular GNU+Linux distributions, and most of their user groups, downplay the problem of non-Free parts of Linux.

Free Bait, or Open Core as first coined by Andrew Lampitt, is a licensing strategy that combines Free and non-Free Software: the distributor offers, under non-Free terms, premium features that are not available in the Free, typically copyleft, core. The original definition, presented in the context of deriving benefits such as profit or code contributions, may appear confusing because it conflates non-Free with commercial, but Free Bait does not mean selling additional permissions to the same code, letting others offer non-Free extensions, or offering Free extensions to paying customers. Rather, it means that a community member or distributor of the Free core also offers non-Free extensions to go with it.

Sad to say, Linux fits the definition of Free Bait or Open Core. Many believe that Linux is Free Software or Open Source, but it isn't. Indeed, the Linux-2.6.36 distribution published by Mr. Torvalds contains sourceless code under such restrictive licensing terms as “This material is licensed to you strictly for use in conjunction with the use of COPS LocalTalk adapters”, presented as a list of numbers in the corresponding driver, and “This firmware may not be modified and may only be used with Keyspan hardware” and “Derived from proprietary unpublished source code, Copyright Broadcom” in the firmware subdirectory, just to name a few examples.

Although the corresponding drivers are part of the Free and GPLed core, the features they are meant to provide will only be available to users that accept the non-Free code that Mr. Torvalds redistributes. The drivers work as bait, luring users into accepting the deprivation of essential freedoms over the corresponding non-Free Software.

Most GNU+Linux distributions follow the same practice: they include other freedom-denying programs beyond the kernel Linux, while continuing to associate themselves with the terms Free Software or Open Source.

Even if they, Linux included, remove all these non-Free programs, as long as they keep software or documentation that induces users to seek and use non-Free programs, they're still bait.

Please join us in bringing these problems to users' attention, and also in informing users about the various Free GNU+Linux distros and Linux-libre, our Free version of the kernel Linux. Available since October 21, Linux-2.6.36-libre is Bait-free Free Software; Linux and GNU+Linux can be de-baited and Free again, if we work together at it.

About Linux-libre

Linux-libre is a project maintained by FSFLA, that releases cleaned-up versions of Linux, suitable for use in distributions that comply with the Free Software Distribution Guidelines published by the GNU project, and by users who wish to run Free versions of Linux on their GNU systems. The project offers cleaning-up scripts and Free sources, binaries for some Free GNU/Linux-libre distributions, binaries to replace with minimal changes the kernels in non-Free GNU/Linux distributions: Freed-ebian and Freed-ora, and artwork with GNU and the Linux-libre mascot: Freedo, the clean, Free and user-friendly light-blue penguin. Visit our web site and Be Free!


Free Software Foundation Latin America joined in 2005 the international FSF network, previously formed by Free Software Foundations in the United States, in Europe and in India. These sister organizations work in their corresponding geographies towards promoting the same Free Software ideals and defending the same freedoms for software users and developers, working locally but cooperating globally.

Copyright 2010 FSFLA

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