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Free as in Freedom: A Keynote Considered

By Rob Enderle
Aug 11, 2004 10:43 AM PT

Last week, I spoke at SCO Forum and have been fascinated at how far some folks appear to be going to misquote the keynote I delivered there. If you separate yourself from bias, you will see that I never said that all folks who buy the concept of free software are idiots -- only some of them. You also will see that I am very clear that "free," in the context of my talk, is, in fact, free as in free beer. I do know the difference between that and free as in freedom.

Free as in Freedom: A Keynote Considered

You'll also note that I don't mention open-source software very much at all and that "open source" clearly isn't in the title of the keynote, regardless of what some postings around the Net have said. I'm a big believer in freedom and I also believe that a large number of Linux backers only believe in free as in "free only if you agree," which denies choice and, in my view, isn't freedom at all.

Personal Experience and Groklaw

I spent a lot of the keynote talking about personal experiences at IBM, but this was to focus on something that I've called the "big company disease," which is where a large company can do some incredibly stupid things because they are concealed by the firm's complexity.

This was to showcase how some of what SCO alleges is possible, but it also was to remind some of the users that this problem likely exists in their own companies. This message was not specific to open-source software or to Linux.

I did refer to Groklaw as a propaganda site, which it is. Any site that claims to be against something and then generates a lot of it is a propaganda site in my view.

Groklaw claims to be an anti-FUD site, but it generates more anti-SCO FUD than almost any other site I could mention. What really upset me were the folks in the keynote audience writing for Groklaw and apparently mischaracterizing what was going on at the SCO Forum.

Free Software

The last part of the talk was on free -- as in free beer -- software. In the keynote, I called out three types and focused on the fact that most "free enterprise software" isn't free.

And the "idiots" I call out in the keynote are those who use free software and don't understand the related costs. You see, even here, my focus is on people who make decisions without reading the fine print.

I have no problem with people who use this stuff and really understand the risks associated with that use, but I feel very strongly that people who make a decision without considering both the negative and positive consequences are, in fact, idiots.

Preserving Freedoms

In the end, the talk focused more on preserving the freedoms we enjoy by protecting the freedoms of others, making informed decisions and acting against those who improperly use the threat of force to further their own agendas.

It's hard to disagree with these points, which are likely why the keynote is being so widely misquoted this week. Strangely enough, this phenomenon introduces one final point: Many of you are being manipulated by others. What you have read on sites like Groklaw about this keynote, compared to what I actually said, should prove that point enough so you start asking critical questions.

Those questions can lead to better decisions, and better decisions are what I've always been about. That's my "secret agenda," and it always has been.

Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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