Response to NTEN's Holly Ross' Anti-Software-Freedom Remarks

Monday 1 June 2009 by Bradley M. Kuhn

[ This post was not actually placed here until 2011-11-16, but I've put it in proper sequence with when the bulk of it was written. (Some of you may find it new in your RSS feeds as of 2011-11-16, however.) I originally posted it as a comment on an NTEN Blog post. NTEN got really sneaky over the years after I posted this comment. First, somewhere in late 2011, they removed the comments from the blog post which originally appeared on their website. Then, in August 2015, after I found an link that showed the original article, they seem to have made sure the original content was removed from (which a website owner is technically allowed to do, although it's sneaky behavior).

I don't have the full text of Holly Ross' blog post, and it appears impossible to find online — NTEN and Holly have done an excellent job of rewriting history and pretending that they didn't originally hold an anti-software-freedom position. I suspect, though, given their historically close ties to proprietary software companies, that NTEN remains unfriendly to software freedom, even if they eventually made the URL of Holly Ross' blog post redirect to a seemingly-pro-FOSS propaganda page. Holly Ross, who later was the Executive Director of the Drupal Association, has never, to my knowledge, apologized for her comments nor responded to mine.

My original post from 2011-11-16 follows:

In May 2009, Holly Ross, NTEN's Executive Director attacked software freedom, arguing that:

Open Source is Dead. … The code was free, but we paid tens of thousands of dollars to get our implementation up and running. … I try to use solutions that reflect our values as an organization, but at the end of the day, I just need it to work. Community support can be great, but you're no less beholden to the whims of the community for support and updates than you are to any paid vendor.…

open source code isn't necessarily any better than proprietary code. The costs, in time and money, are just placed elsewhere. It's a difference in how we budget for software more than anything else. So, the old arguments for open source software adoption are dead to me.…

[Open Source and Free Software] is great to have as options. I just don't accept the argument that we have to support them simply because the code is available to everybody.

— Holly Ross, 2009-05-28

First of all, Holly completely confuses free as in freedom and free as in price even while she's attempting to indicate she understands that there are “values” involved. But more to the point, she shuns software freedom as a social justice cause. This led me to write the following response at the time, that NTEN ultimately deleted from their website:

The software freedom movement started primarily as an effort for social justice for programmers and users. The goal is to avoid the helplessness and lock-in that proprietary software demands, and to treat users and developers equally in freedom.

Perhaps there was a time (hopefully now long ago) when non-profits that focused on non-environmental issues would say things like "there's a place for non-recycled paper; it looks nicer and is cheaper". I doubt any non-profit would say that now to their colleagues in the environmental movement. Yet, it's common for non-profit leaders outside of the FLOSS world to say that the issue of software freedom is not relevant and that they need not consider the ethical and moral implications of software choices in the way that they do with their choices about what paper to buy.

I'm curious, Holly, if you had said “recycled paper isn't necessarily better than virgin tree paper”, what reaction would you expect from the environmental non-profits? Indeed, would you think it's appropriate for a non-profit to refuse to recycle because their geographical area charges more for it? I guess you wouldn't think that's appropriate, and I am left wondering why you feel that your colleagues in the software freedom movement simply don't deserve the same respect as those in the environmental movement.

I have hoped for a long time that this attitude would change, and I will continue to hope. I am sad to see that it hasn't change yet, at least at NTEN.

— Bradley M. Kuhn, 2009-06-01

Note that Holly never responded to me. I am again left wondering; if someone from a respected environmental movement organization had pointed out one of her blog posts was anti-recycling, would she have bothered to respond?

Posted on Monday 1 June 2009 at 21:34 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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