Bart Schouten <> writes:

> I am just going to respond point by point. I was not merely talking
> about open source here.

But I was.  :)  I'm not particularly interested in talking about anything
else, since that's the point of this discussion: Debian as a free software
project, and what that means for our relationship with our users.

I do greatly appreciate your in-depth explanation of where you're coming
from.  The ideas of mutuality that you talk about resonate with me as
well, and I'm not after some sort of one-sided relationship.  But I think
we're talking past each other a bit in that this is exactly the point: the
customer model is one-sided, except for the money flow.

You were specifically talking about the free software relationship with
users who do not have the technical capabilities to contribute to the
development of the software, so that's what I'm focusing on.  In that
situation, I think the gift characterization is accurate.  If people are
actively collaborating together on a project, each contributing pieces of
it, this becomes a somewhat different scenario of a mutual project where
everyone is adding their piece to build something together.  But that
inherently involves collaboration, which isn't the context of this thread.

(In a sense, we're all collaboratively building human society together,
but I think that sense is too abstract to help much when trying to decide
specifically how the Debian Project should deal with incoming bug reports,
although it's worth keeping in mind when deciding when and how to
volunteer one's time.)

> The idea of a gift is that it is free. You most assuredly know that in
> open source software is not considered to be a free gift, but something
> that requires a "retribution" (contribution in return).

I most assuredly don't know anything of the kind!  In fact, I completely
disagree with that statement!

No one is required to contribute to my open source projects in order to
use them.  In fact, if I required such a thing, it would not be open
source; it's explicitly ruled out by the definition.

Maybe you're talking about copyleft licenses specifically?  Those require
that *if* you make modifications *and* you distribute them to other
people, *then* you have to provide source.  But that absolutely doesn't
require you to contribute in kind!  You can use the software and modify it
all you want for your personal use without any sort of in-kind

(That said, I'm one of those free software developers who prefers not to
use copyleft because I don't like the sorts of relationships that are
created by long legal documents, although I do respect what advocates of
copyleft are trying to accomplish.)

> And of course I recognise that. But it's the same for /everyone/. You're
> not special here. The problem is that you think you're so special, and
> you're not. EVERYONE has to deal with support burdens.

I don't think I'm special in the slightest.  In fact, the whole reason why
I care so much about this issue to be discussing it in debian-devel at
this length is because I think I'm not special at all.  The support burden
problems I've seen are ones I think other people struggle with, and I
think being clearer about what the expectations and responsibilities are
is better for everyone involved.  Part of managing that support burden is
knowing how to say no clearly and forthrightly, rather than saying no by
default by keeping around bugs that will never be responded to and feeling
guilty about them.

Also, this is an important principal of the Debian Project.  See 2.1.1 of
the Debian Constitution:

1. Nothing in this constitution imposes an obligation on anyone to do work
   for the Project. A person who does not want to do a task which has been
   delegated or assigned to them does not need to do it. However, they
   must not actively work against these rules and decisions properly made
   under them.

It's our first general rule for a reason.

Anyway (snipping quite a lot here), I think you're working from a
different definition of gift than I was, and I probably muddled the waters
by talking so much about personal gifts to specific people.  Free software
isn't that sort of gift; it's a gift to the public, which is a different
sort of thing, since it doesn't create those sorts of personal
relationships.  It's a gift to strangers, a way of saying "I made this
thing, and if you find it useful, you can use it too."

> This can only imply one of two things:

> - the gifts you give are fundamentally broken or incomplete or unfinished
> and require outside resources to be able to use them
> - the gifts you give are fundamentally broken or incomplete or unfinished
> and require outside resources to be able to use them.

> There is no other option here.

Yes.  I believe this is true of all free software.  If it's not broken
now, it will be at some point.  This is just how software is.

If you don't want the gift, that's fine!  I have no objections to that at
all!  I don't want you to use something that you don't enjoy, or that will
bring you pain, or dependency that you don't want.  But I'm not going to
give the gift on different terms just because you want different terms; I
have not the time nor the energy to do so.

> I will just say that I feel you feel you are entitled to a sense of
> praise as to those "wonderful gifts". Apparently you feel that what you
> are giving is the best of the best, the very finest there is.

No, absolutely not.  This couldn't possibly be more wrong.  I'm not
talking about gratitude at all.

You have absolutely no obligation to be grateful to me.  I don't mind if
you don't use my free software at all.  I don't mind if you think it's
awful or broken.  For many purposes, it probably is!  This is not at all
about gratitude -- I'm not trying to get you or anyone else to feel or
express gratitude.  I expect the vast, vast majority of people who use the
software I write to never mention a single word to me about it.  If it's
particularly useful to someone, the occasional thank you is lovely, but
absolutely not required.  Most people will never care it exists.

Rather, this is about obligation and responsibility.  I have no desire to
convince you to feel any particular way.  I *do* want to avoid creating
the expectation that I am going to support my software indefinitely,
implement any specific feature, or fix it if it breaks for you.  I may be
able to do that, and I do like making people happy, and I do like solving
people's problems.  But I also have other time and resource constraints or
may simply lose interest, and I cannot afford (financially or emotionally)
to put the sort of committment into free software that I can put into a
paying job.  Very, very few people can.

That's why the expectations and culture around free software is very, very
different than the customer relationship.  You don't have to pay, you
don't have to interact with the provider of the software at all, and
there's no exchange of value.  But, as part of that, there's also no
obligation incurred.  The software may break, it may not be fixed, the
developer may lose interest, the developer may not care about your use
case, or any number of other things can happen.  As a free software user,
you have to be relatively self-sufficient, or hire someone who can be
responsible to you for making it work.  Good free software requires less
maintenance and less self-sufficiency, but it's just part of the package
for all free software to one extent or another.

(It is for a lot of commercial products as well, but that's a separate

This isn't at all about gratitude or ego.  If anything, it's the opposite:
I'm trying to be very clear with you that the free software I provide is
provided as-is, with no express or implied warranty, and may not work for
you at all, and I do not promise to improve it or fix it in any way.  It
may be awful.  It may be completely broken.  I may not fix it.  The only
thing I promise is that it won't *intentionally* do harm.  If those terms
make it unacceptable for you (and I completely understand the concern over
dependence), please, I beg of you, don't use it!

I don't want you to think that I'm promising any of those things and then
become upset later when I don't meet obligations that I never agreed to.

Russ Allbery (               <>

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