Part of the assigned reading for CS889 is the Free Software Foundation’s document ‘Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases to Avoid (or Use with Care)‘. While I mostly agree with this listing, I just wanted to comment on some of the entries which I find particularly objectionable:

“BSD-Style License”

The FSF writes:

“The expression ‘BSD-style license’ leads to confusion because it lumps together licenses that have important differences. For instance, the original BSD license with the advertising clause is incompatible with the GNU General Public License, but the revised BSD license is compatible with the GPL.”

The original version of the BSD license (with the advertising clause) was rescinded over ten years ago. Go ahead. Call these licenses “Modified BSD-style” if you must; but, at present, there is not much risk of confusion.

“Content”

The FSF writes:

“If you want to describe a feeling of comfort and satisfaction, by all means say you are ‘content,’ but using the word as a noun to describe written and other works of authorship adopts an attitude you might rather avoid. It regards these works as a commodity whose purpose is to fill a box and make money.”

Alright. This is ridiculous.  The second (noun) definition of “content” offered by Merriam-Webster dictionary reads “the topics or matter treated in a written work <table of contents>”. Let me use this word in a sentence: I find some of the content this FSF article to be objectionable.

“Linux system”

The FSF writes:

“Linux is the name of the kernel that Linus Torvalds developed starting in 1991. The operating system in which Linux is used is basically GNU with Linux added. To call the whole system ‘Linux’ is both unfair and confusing.”

Ok, so this is the subject of a well-known religious war. Here I firmly state that I am opposed to rebranding Linux as GNU/Linux. While I definitely appreciate the history of GNU and of Linux, and I understand Stallman’s reasons for the rebranding campaign, I have chosen sides for various reasons:

  • Primarily, the GNU name is plastered throughout Linux (e.g., GNU prefixes, gzip, gcc, gmake, glibc, GIMP, GNOME, GEdit, etc.). For users of Linux, GNU’s contributions will not be overlooked.
  • Moreover, it is increasingly common to brand Linux by it’s distributions (e.g, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, etc.). If the Linux Kernel is indeed the only missing piece of a GNU system (and I’m not arguing against this stance), then perhaps FSF should distribute a GNU-branded complete system which they are free to name whatever they want.
  • It is easy to argue that Linux’s early success is due, in large part, from the success of other non-GNU projects such as Apache. More recently, Linux is making great strides in desktops and mobile devices because of amazing web browsers. Specifically, Mozilla Firefox and KHTML (or WebKit). Yet, we don’t field complaints for rebranding things to “Apache/KDE/Mozilla/GNU/Linux”.

“Protection”

The FSF writes:

“Publishers’ lawyers love to use the term ‘protection’ to describe copyright. This word carries the implication of preventing destruction or suffering; therefore, it encourages people to identify with the owner and publisher who benefit from copyright, rather than with the users who are restricted by it.”

In fact, I think “protection” is a reasonable and natural word to use when discussing copyrights. After all, the preamble of the GPL v3 uses variations of the term “protection” in no fewer than 5 places. For example:

“For the developers’ and authors’ protection, the GPL clearly explains that there is no warranty for this free software.”
In conclusion, I just wanted to reiterate that I consider myself a supporter of free software, but I think that the FSF should be somewhat careful in its rhetoric which can occasionally be off-putting. That being said, I do not disagree with most of the recommendations listed in the FSF’s document  ‘Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases to Avoid (or Use with Care)‘.