Promit's Ventspace

December 26, 2009

Free Software is not Free

Filed under: Software Engineering — Promit @ 2:38 am

I’m looking right now at a library called FFTW (link deliberately omitted), used for computing fast Fourier transforms on various types of data. I’m sure it’s a very good piece of work at a technical level, but the reality is it’s a load of crap.

FFTW is a C subroutine library for computing the discrete Fourier transform (DFT) in one or more dimensions, of arbitrary input size, and of both real and complex data (as well as of even/odd data, i.e. the discrete cosine/sine transforms or DCT/DST). We believe that FFTW, which is free software, should become the FFT library of choice for most applications.

This seems reasonable until you realize that FFTW is not free software. It’s an example of the abomination known as Free Software, GPL license and all. Now they are free to choose whatever license they want for their work, but I feel equally free to call them out for it. Especially when their homepage manages to be so pompous despite having so little text.

If nothing else, I’m proud that SlimDX and SlimTune don’t attempt to force an abusive ideology on the world. They are free in the truest sense of the world. They don’t pretend to espouse freedom while obsessively restricting it. At least proprietary software vendors (usually) have the spine to say what they mean. Myself, I’ll keep things closed or open them for real. I’m not interested in the GPL protection ring.

UPDATE: May as well point out:

The non-free licenses are for companies that wish to use FFTW in their products but are unwilling to release their software under the GPL (which would require them to release source code and allow free redistribution). Such users can purchase an unlimited-use license from MIT. Contact us for more details.
We could instead have released FFTW under the LGPL, or even disallowed non-Free usage. Suffice it to say, however, that MIT owns the copyright to FFTW and they only let us GPL it because we convinced them that it would neither affect their licensing revenue nor irritate existing licensees.

This is a rather reasonable set of terms, and I personally think they should mention that right on the homepage.

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9 Comments »

  1. No, see, it’s free for Their Community. You, with your non-GPLed EVILWARE are not part of Their Community, and therefore might as well not even exist. So, FFTW can be the “library of choice for most applications (That We Care About)”.

    Never mind that it’s morally bankrupt for them to say that they’re trying to advance the cause of human development and still have this sense of outsiders to their “community” that are not free to use their code.

    Comment by capn_midnight — December 26, 2009 @ 4:26 am | Reply

  2. The GPL licence is a valid licence and has the benefit of any modifications which are released allow other users to benefit from. If you do not want to have copy left licences used in code fair enough, yet spouting that something is “crap” just because of it’s licence is not much different from an “ideology on the world.”

    The normal problem people have with GPL is that they want to include it in proprietary code. If this is the case then this is not the licenced code to use, also releasers should not use the licence if they want people to have this option.

    GPL has a place along with none copy left and proprietary licences. I am writing this comment from a copy left OS and browser and they are not crap!

    Comment by Liam — December 26, 2009 @ 9:17 am | Reply

    • The license has a place. It’s the philosophy and self-righteous demands that ALL software should follow that model which bothers me. Stallman is of course a step worse than the rest, but the FSF and GPL basically exist as his attempt to destroy proprietary code. And then they go around telling other developers that even the LGPL isn’t good enough, let alone licenses like MIT.

      Comment by Promit — December 26, 2009 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

    • Eh, he didn’t call the GPL crap. He said the specific library (FFTW) was crap. And he said that it was nonsense to license your code under GPL *and at the same time claim that it is free*.

      You can use GPL as much as you like. Your code just isn’t “free” then. It is exactly as free as proprietary commercial code. I can use it if I promise to follow your precise and very strict conditions. Whether the condition is “open-source everything you’ve ever touched” or “pay me all your money” doesn’t really matter. Neither is “free”.

      “Free”, as in “freedom” means “You’re allowed to do whatever the hell you want with this code”. GPL does not allow that. Hence, saying GPL code is “free” is nonsense.

      And I don’t see what the supposed crappiness of your OS or browser has to do with anything. Make up your mind. Are you arguing that:

      1: The GPL license is not crap, or
      2: Not all GPL’ed code and software is crap, or
      3: The specific GPL’ed code known as the FFTW library is not crap?

      #3 is what Promit actually said. So far, you seem to be arguing a mix of #1 and #2. Why? No one’s said anything that contradicted those.

      Comment by jalf — December 26, 2009 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

      • Jalf,
        Maybe you can not read yet I can
        “I’m sure it’s a very good piece of work at a technical level, but the reality is it’s a load of crap”
        Hmm why is it crap then Promit?
        “This seems reasonable until you realize that FFTW is not free software. It’s an example of the abomination known as Free Software, GPL license and all. Now they are free to choose whatever license they want for their work, but I feel equally free to call them out for it”
        So it maybe good technically yet crap because of it licence? Hmmm.

        The problem some people posting here do not understand what “Free Software” means, I suggest you have a look at the definition and then post your comments on why it is not free. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

        If people had actually bothered to read the libraries page on how free software is defined the would also see that it is not the only licence the code is available under. Further for people who make comments about the MIT licence, you maybe interested to read why it can not be released under LGPL “We could instead have released FFTW under the LGPL, or even disallowed non-Free usage. Suffice it to say, however, that MIT owns the copyright to FFTW and they only let us GPL it because we convinced them that it would neither affect their licensing revenue nor irritate existing licensees. “

        Comment by Liam — December 30, 2009 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

      • It’s quite simple. GPL/FSF respects the freedoms of users, but it blatantly disrespects the freedom of developers — and then has the audacity to attack developers for not using it.

        MIT’s politics and business model don’t have much to do with the MIT license.

        Oh and for the record, I’m not averse to buying FFTW. It’s the pompous air combined with the GPL license that annoys me.

        Comment by Promit — December 30, 2009 @ 5:04 pm | Reply

    • I don’t need a web site link to tell me what is free software or whats not. I understand the English language and people that don’t (like GNU), should rather keep quite and not create idiotic definitions for it and put it on the Internet. If somebody gives me a lollipop for FREE, nobody needs to tell me how I must suck on it, or demand that I chew it. Then it is NOT FREE. And they can stick it up their @$$.

      Comment by Nugpot — January 7, 2010 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  3. I really agree. There’s no freedom in restricting derivative projects to, not only remain open-source, but also adhere to the “free software ideology”. Forcing some code to remain open-source is somewhat understandable, but calling it freedom is nonsense. What “free software” should really mean is software that allows anyone to use it for any motive, including egoistic personal gain! MIT and WTFPL are examples of licenses which fall in that category.

    The saddest thing is how the GPL is so ligthly chosen by new projects and pushed by the open-source (even non-free software) community.

    Thanks for making slimdx and slimtune truly free rather than GPL.

    Comment by Trillian — December 27, 2009 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  4. I agree. GPL is not free, and should be sued for lying.

    Comment by Nugpot — December 30, 2009 @ 3:42 pm | Reply


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