back to article Stallman: Android evil, Apple and Microsoft worse

Android isn't free software but the mobile operating system is better for developers than Microsoft's Windows Phone and Apple's iOS. That's the view of GPL author and Free Software Foundation (FSF) founder Richard Stallman, who's cautioned developers on the perils of building code for Google's Android. His argument, though, …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mr. Clarke, it's either GPL or ASF license.

    [Quote] His argument, though, appears to contradict earlier statements from the FSF in which Android phone makers were accused of violating the GPL. Where there are alleged violations, Stallman appears to blame them on the terms afforded phone makers by the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) licence that cover large portions of Android. [/Quote]

    If it is ASF then there's no violation and consequently, no blame at all. Get it ?

    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      You can't mix and match OSF licenses.

      GPL protects the rights of the authors. ASF doesn't. With ASF, you can do whatever you bloody well want to do with it.

      So if Android is a mix/match mashup of both licenses, all bets are off. You can't assign ASF rights to GPL code that you don't own. (Meaning you have to be the original author to allow the rights to the code to be assigned under the T's&C's of ASF.

      FAIL to the AC who doesn't get this simple concept.

      1. Dr. Mouse

        No, you can't mix & match the licenses for the same piece of code. The code which is under the GPL must be kept under the GPL (unless the copyright holder agrees to relicense). This code must then be distributed once the binaries are distibuted to comply with the license. Strictly speaking, this includes the point when Google send it to their partners.

        But the parts licensed under ASF do not have this requirement. So as long as they are distributing the code to the GPL-licensed components on distribution, there is no breach of the license.

        I am not defending Google's (and the handset developers') actions, but this is how the licensing works.

        1. Ian Michael Gumby


          True. However, the key is that you have to show that the GPL code can stand alone and separate from the ASF code, and vice-versa.

          I seriously doubt that Google can demonstrate this hence I am skeptical.

          Add to it comments from their lawyers ... ;-)

          1. KjetilS

            Re: @Mouse

            "the key is that you have to show that the GPL code can stand alone and separate from the ASF code, and vice-versa."

            Show me where it says so. You can have a different license for every single little piece of code if you want to, however you cannot compile GPL'd code into a project using the ASF license. The other way around shouldn't be a problem.

            Having ASF-licensed kernel modules running under a GPL'd kernel is *not* a problem, and you do *not* need to release the source code for those modules.

            Having an ASF-licensed user space on top of a GPL'd kernel is *not* a problem either.

            1. Ian Michael Gumby


              No, you can't.

              Think of it this way... you snarf some GPL code. You then replace one of the component modules with your own and then say its proprietary so I'll release the GPL code sans the component module that I replaced.

              It just doesn't work. I mean you can try it, but if the FSF catches you, they will sue you and win.

              The point is that you have to show that your code can function independent of the underlying GPL code.

              It would be different if you took a GPL app and then wrote something that attached to the app using the GPL code's open APIs so that the original GPL code stays intact. Thus the licenses of the GPL code are intact.

              The point is that you never want to mix and match open source licenses because of their incompatibilities.

  2. nyelvmark

    Language problems again

    The English word "free" represents 2 very different ideas, represented by 2 different words in other languages that I know. In French, for example, these words are "libre" and "gratuit".

    You can understand the distinction by considering the expression "a free woman". In the French sense "libre" this means a woman who isn't anybody's slave. In the "gratuit" sense it means a woman you can have without paying. The difference is significant, not only with regard to women, but also software.

    Now, I'd always assumed that Stallman's "Free Software Foundation" meant that Stallman and his cronies believed that people shouldn't need to pay for software. It seems I was wrong. Apparently it means we should pay them, because they're "free", rather than paying Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, etc., who presumably aren't.

    Have I got this wrong?

    1. cloudgazer

      Stallman meant free as in 'libre' - kinda, sorta, ish.

      If he had called it 'Logiciel Libre' to start with it would sound both chic and alliterative. Anyway what Stallman means is that the source code is free, and that developers are free to change it, and free to distribute it, though only if they keep it free for other developers to do the same.

      You charge cash for GPL software (or most other free licenses), but since you can't stop somebody copying it you really can only charge for the media, or the manuals or a support contract to go with it.

    2. LaeMing

      Free as in "freedom"

      not as in "Free of charge."

      The latter is also often the case, but is a side-effect, not the aim.

  3. JDX Gold badge

    Got to love how Stallman is so certain that his definition is the only one which matters.

  4. Quxy

    No contradiction here

    Someone wants the source code for some feature of Android. When the code is not forthcoming, they allege a GPL violation. But because the code in question is actually covered by ASF, there is in fact no violation of anything.

    I think that RMS explained it clearly enough (i.e. the allegations derive from a misunderstanding of the licences), and Gavin understood his explanation.

  5. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton


    Strange with a dash of vested interest?

  6. heyrick Silver badge

    Oi, matey!

    Please go away and fix that horrid mess called GPLv3. For a free licence using your definitions of free, it is pretty restrictive. Until such a fix (GPLv4?) is available, shut up about what is and isn't "free".

    1. The BigYin

      What's wrong with the GPLv3?

      It's quite clear to me that "free" means "free as in speech, not as in beer". So I can take any GPLv3 code, change it as I see fit, and then keep it for myself or re-distribute it (with source, of course) as long as I do so again under GPLv3 (or any later version, my choice).

      If you don't like the GPLv3, you have two very distinct choices:

      1) Don't use it, no one is holding a gun to your head; and/or

      2) Clearly state what the problem is and propose an improvement.

      1. cloudgazer

        One problem is in the attitude to signed binaries - GPL v3 makes it explicit that you must release the master keys.

        Improvement, drop the requirement - in fact, introduce an explicit exception for signing keys.

        Think of it in terms of a 1st person shooter. GPL v 3 isn't just saying that you have the right to hack the client to play with auto-targetting or auto-shooting or even full blown botting - which would be fine. it also says that the server cannot stop you logging your bot in and playing against normal folks using technological means.

        The license isn't just limiting how the code is distributed, it's effectively limiting what the code can do when trust is an issue.

  7. E 2

    I love Richard Stallman & co

    Even if they'd only ever done GCC & G++ I'd love them.

    Still I just do not understand why periodically Stallman starts moaning about people who do not use the GPL for everything. So far GNU has produced everything needed for a working OS *except* a production-quality kernel that can be installed without losing some hair. GNU produced the GPL and in doing so revolutionized software development and distribution. GNU can be proud and should be.

    If GNU wants some OS-kernel-respect, perhaps GNU could polish the HURD to the point where a PhD (ahem) is not needed to install and run it. I think the HURD is neat, really cool technology, but it is a bitch to install*.

    * Yes I know about Debian's efforts with HURD... that's the bitch I'm talking about.

  8. Christian Berger

    Of course it's not

    Just look around why so many mobile devices aren't supported by Cyanogenmod. The situation still is way worse than on the PC. Without proprietary drivers you cannot even get audio.

    So it's still far from open. If Google wanted an open system, they would have forbidden closed source hardware drivers.

  9. Snarky

    "Smelly hippy is right."

    Something I heard once...

    But not everyone likes GPL terms. They, or anyone, want to use ASF? They are within their rights, all rants aside.

  10. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Comparatively measured statement

    by Stallman's standards

  11. Chris Rowland

    Just a thought experiment:

    If I were to develop some software and sell the compiled code with terms that state that the source was available for an additional payment could that be licensed under the GPL?

    It's obviously not free as in beer but the customer has the right to buy the source so it's free as in speech - isn't it?

    This code would, of course, not depend on any code licensed under any other scheme.

    1. cloudgazer

      Kinda Sorta ish

      You can only charge as much as the cost of distribution of the source, say the cost of burning a DVD and a stamp. Once anybody had acquired that source from you they could then also make it available for download for no charge and you could make no complaint.

      Relevant part of GPLv2 is below.

      3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it,

      under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of

      Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

      a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable

      source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections

      1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

      b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three

      years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your

      cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete

      machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be

      distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium

      customarily used for software interchange; or,

      c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer

      to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is

      allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you

      received the program in object code or executable form with such

      an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

      1. Chris Rowland

        That's essentially free as in beer as well then.

        Doesn't it mean that a developer who spends some time developing an application would then sell it to someone who requires the source and publishes it so everyone can replicate the application. The original developer now has no more sales and so no income.

        Even developers need to eat.

        1. cloudgazer

          GPL tends to imply free as in beer, but it doesn't require it. You can still charge for documentation for example - Larry Wall made a lot of cash selling Perl manuals over the years. You can also charge for support. You can charge for a linux distribution which includes both GPL and non-GPL code.

          There are other ways to monetize code than just selling it.

  12. mudskipper

    Trying to ignore this guy

    The GNU license is a pain - quote "To protect your rights, we need to prevent others from denying you these rights or asking you to surrender the rights. Therefore, you have certain responsibilities if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it: responsibilities to respect the freedom of others." etc etc blah blah

    Stop lecturing me like a 13 year old virgin having a difficult puberty - grow up -and leave you shit at home.

    Can I have a GPL without the preamble. No. .. because ''.. changing it is not allowed..." first sentence - welcome to "'free' as in 'free speech'" as defined by one person.

    Probably needs a shrink to have a look at the ego too.

  13. ChrisInAStrangeLand

    Stallman is completely wrong.

    Apache is free as in libre because you can take the code and do as you want with it. GPL is only free as in beer because authors have the government hold a gun to your head if you don't give them modified code, which isn't liberty at all.

    1. Ru

      Tricksy words

      Freedom of the code, not freedom of the developers.

      Me, I'm all in favour of the LGPL. Some stuff is best open-sourced in such a way that everyone can fiddle with it... the stuff you cannot sensibly sell. Everything else which you can actually make money from can then be written under strict licensing and still benefit from the common code.

      Its the way to go.

    2. PatrickEB

      Not really

      Apache is free in in that you can give it away.

      GPL is free because you can give it away.

      Apache you can do as you like.

      GPL you can do as you like.

      Apache allows you to act in a self-serving, grasping, greedy manner.

      GPL requires that if you use something which has been created by another and wish to then redistribute that thing, you must share with others.

      In other words, GPL requires you to play nicely and behave in the same manner as all those who provided you with the software in the first place.

      If you don't want to do that, then don't use things that are covered by the GPL.

      Find something else.

      There's nothing "Not Free" in that because it doesn't restrict you in your use of the software, it just prevents you from taking advantage of other peoples hard work to your own benefit without benefiting others who have helped you.

      It's quite simple really: If you are a greedy, self-interested, selfish individual, who doesn't want to play nicely with others, GPL isn't for you.

  14. Smac


    "Stallman has written in The Guardian that Android cannot be considered free because parts of the software are licensed under the ASF licence."

    This is erroneous, at best; and dishonest, at worst. No where in the referenced article does Stallman say as such.

    From the article Stallman wrote, referenced by this one:

    "Google has complied with the requirements of the GNU General Public License for Linux, but the Apache license on the rest of Android does not require source release. Google has said it will never publish the source code of Android 3.0 (aside from Linux), even though executables have been released to the public. Android 3.1 source code is also being withheld. Thus, Android 3, apart from Linux, is non-free software, pure and simple."

    The Android software is not free because the source code is being withheld. The use of the Apache licence does not, in itself, constitute non-free software. Indeed, the Apache licence is a Free Software Foundation approved licence.

    I suggested the author recheck their facts; I have to wonder why there was no response.

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