A Little Bit of Fry and Richard

How good to see one of “us brits” over there…

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Tuesday, September 2, 2008 — The GNU operating system is turning 25 this year, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has kicked off its month-long celebration of the anniversary by releasing “Happy Birthday to GNU,” a short film featuring the English humorist, actor, novelist and film maker Stephen Fry.

Fry on Free Software

This is a great introduction to Free Software – one that your mum, dad and other friends & relies can understand.

Stephen has generously donated his time to the cause of free software. His ability to communicate a technological and philosophical movement in terms of the basic principles of sharing and user freedom — ideas that everyone can understand — will introduce a new and broader audience to the benefits of free software,” said Matt Lee, an FSF campaigns manager and writer/producer of the film.

Go on – go and watch the film* and forward the link to anyone you can think of. You are also free to download the video (link to UK Mirror) and share and distribute it too under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

* If you are one of those poor souls still using proprietary software, you might need to read this first. The video is encoded in Ogg, a free an un-patent encumbered format that is really free to use. Of course you could go and download a free operating system too and rid yourself of the shackles and chains which Stephen so eloquently describes.

Blogging for traffic?

I generally enjoy Matt Assay’s blog and I would say that the majority, i.e. more than half, of his prolific output (how does he find the time to do his day job as well as write 3-6 posts/day?) is either interesting, insightful or occasionally both. However, he wrote a post today that completely baffles me.

The post in question is titled “Richard Stallman’s not-so-finest hour”. And it refers to an article Richard Stallman (RMS) wrote – on request – for the BBC in which RMS talks his usual talk. To be honest there isn’t much new in what RMS penned here. Having heard him talk in Manchester a couple of months ago, this BBC article is basically the summary of his thesis that has stood the test of time and has given the world the Free Software Foundation, GNU and the GPL and much , much more – a new way of thinking and an ideal. Basically he derides M$ for being, well, M$ really. A convicted monopolist and anti-competitive software vendor that has used every legal trick in the book to lock it’s customers into a spiral of upgrades and new purchases of what is pretty uninspiring software.

To pay so much attention to Bill Gates’ retirement is missing the point. What really matters is not Gates, nor Microsoft, but the unethical system of restrictions that Microsoft, like many other software companies, imposes on its customers.

So Matt Assay took one small paragraph from this to generate his headline and thrust for his post:

Gates’ philanthropy for health care for poor countries has won some people’s good opinion. The LA Times reported that his foundation spends five to 10% of its money annually and invests the rest, sometimes in companies it suggests cause environmental degradation and illness in the same poor countries.

What I fail to see is why this made Matt “cringe”? He (RMS) only mentioned a well known and reported article published and investigated by the L.A Times back in January 2007!. But that is the only part of the whole BBC article where RMS mentions the Gates Foundation and he does so only to expose an interesting story to the great unread who are simply blinded by Gate’s presence (remember Tony Blair?).

If Matt had bothered to read the article in the LA Times he would find snippets such as:

Using the most recent data available, a Times tally showed that hundreds of Gates Foundation investments — totaling at least $8.7 billion, or 41% of its assets, not including U.S. and foreign government securities — have been in companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially concerned philosophy.


… In 2005, the foundation held nearly $1.5 billion worth of stock in drug companies whose practices have been widely criticized as restricting the flow of key medicines to poor people in developing nations.

If you are prepared to read a bit, there is a great deal of smelly fish surrounding the activities of the investment side of the foundation.

Matt concludes:

He may be right. He’s probably wrong. Regardless, it just demonstrates poor judgment and bad taste to try to kick Gates on his way out, especially for the charitable work that Gates and his wife do.

Ahhh, poor old Bill on his way out. What a crass statement that is. The guy is still the richest man on the planet and deserves to be scrutinised. RMS didn’t “kick Gates”, he just noted some of Bill’s past deeds – and accurately I might add. Why didn’t you mention the many companies Gates has crushed in the past Matt?

So I really don’t get what Matt has found that is so disingenuous to a man who has stolen ideas from other companies, crushed competition by using illegal and anti-competitive practices, and created the world’s largest convicted monopolist.

Perhaps Matt isn’t really being stupid or blind. Perhaps he gets paid to generate lots of traffic for CNET? I don’t know. But this is nearly as smelly as The Gate Foundation’s investment strategies…

My personal opinion to the readers of this or Matt’s piece would be to believe a man who has spent his adult life giving stuff away, and preaching that giving is a good thing, and who has created one of the most powerful movements for change in recent history. Rather than to believe a man who has done none of the above and is called Bill.