GNU Project Founder Calls Steam on Linux "Unethical"

Jeremy Wilkinson

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Jun 14, 2012
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GNU Project Founder Calls Steam on Linux "Unethical"


The GNU movement's founder doesn't like the idea of DRM on an open-source platform.

Recently, Valve's Gabe Newell claimed that gaming would help to bring Linux into the mainstream, and announced his plans to officially release Steam on Linux. In response, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project, Richard Stallman, has hit back saying that closed-source games on Linux could harm the very freedom the GNU project was set up to achieve.

In a statement on the GNU website, Stallman conceded that a wider availability of "non-free" programs would indeed most likely increase the uptake of Linux among computer programs. "However," he said, "our goal goes beyond making this system a 'success'; its purpose is to bring freedom to the users." He went on to say that non-free programs, game or otherwise, are "unethical because they deny freedom to their users."

Stallman does, however, use Steam's transition to Linux to make a call for users to steer away from Microsoft's operating system: "If you're going to use these games, you're better off using them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows," he stated. "At least you avoid the harm to your freedom that Windows would do." In all, Stallman thinks that the overall benefit of PC gamers migrating to Linux would just about outweigh the detriments, but he worries that the focus of users would shift away from software freedom.

The GNU founder seems to be unhappy at Valve's apparent attempt to use Linux as a marketing point, saying at the end of his statement, "Please take care not to talk about the availability of these games on GNU/Linux as support for our cause." While he seems happy to afford users the freedom to run closed software on Linux rather than Windows if they so choose, he certainly sounds keen to curtail any thoughts that Steam is in line with his original design philosophy.

Source: Ars Technica [https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/nonfree-games.en.html]

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Fappy

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I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
 

ScruffyMcBalls

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I kinda agree with the guy, GOG.com seems more in line with what Linux stands for, not Steam. While there's nothing wrong with a company porting their software to a new OS and supporting that port, it doesn't necessarily mean that the ideals and goals of the two mesh. In the end though it doesn't really matter to me, since I refuse to use Steam under any circumstances, regardless of Operating System. I just hope that this doesn't become a trend, DRM-heavy software coming over to Linux and dominating the market to the point that it becomes impossible for Linux to be a cheap alternative for users again.
 

Vie

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Fappy said:
I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
Free not as in Beer, free as in freedom.
 

Fappy

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Vie said:
Fappy said:
I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
Free not as in Beer, free as in freedom.
Well then if that's the case I can understand his concern.
 

jehk

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I dream of an open source gaming world. A world where every game could have a massive player base writing additional modifications like we see with Skyrim on the PC. I would pay so much money for that. Seriously.
 

Twilight_guy

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Nov 24, 2008
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Thus we see why Linux has never been a gaming platform, open source is not profitable. It's many good things but it certainly isn't something you do for a living (unless you charge for your expertise). If everything always fit the Linux ideal, its unlikely to ever have an major games on it. Still, if they want Linux to be used by more user, you have to make sacrifices to make it more appealing. Course sometimes wide spread use doesn't matter as much as holding onto ideals. Makes me wonder what the world would be like if Unix systems had become wide-spread early on and maintained there popularity and Windows was now the minority market share.
 

insanelich

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Just to clarify:

When Stallman says "free" - he means free of DRM, free of distributor-imposed limitations and with source code freely available so you can remix and change the software to whatever shape you wish.

This does not necessarily mean free of charge, but often does.
 

JediMB

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But on the other hand, not having Steam on Linux removes your freedom to use Steam on Linux.

Dun dun dun.
 

Bob_F_It

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May 7, 2008
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"You're free to do as you like, just not that"

He just seems to be dancing on both sides of the fence. I'm free to choose to agree to bind myself to a contract. If I'm told to not shake hands in a two way agreement, I'd say that's a little less free.
 

Baby Tea

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Fappy said:
I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
He's not mad about paying for games. He's mad about paying for closed games on a platform that was founded on the idea of open, free software (Games or otherwise). He doesn't have a problem with businesses trying to make money, he has a problem with businesses trying to make money on a project and platform that was founded on the idea of software freedom and open-source alternatives.

And I echo his concerns.

I love Steam, and applaud a lot of the business practices that Valve has adopted. They aren't perfect, but they are a pretty massive step in the right direction. I also love Linux, and what it represents. It shows that people can come together to create something truly great and ground-breaking, something that really actually has a foothold in the market (However small)...and is entirely free. It was created to be used, not be bought. It's about the open, free exchange of software and ideas for the sake of helping others, and building up our digital communities.

And those two things are a bit at odds. Not entirely, but at a certain level, they don't mix. Steam is a distribution platform for closed source, locked entertainment. Linux is a platform for open source, open entertainment and productivity.

Bringing Steam to Linux can open the doors to Linux for thousands of gamers, who may have never otherwise tried Linux as an alternative. This is very very exciting.
But it also brings with it the possibility of other big businesses pushing their way into the world and platform of Linux. Businesses who may not hold to the ideals of Linux, or as least understands them, as well as Gabe Newell seems to. Steam is a powerhouse, undeniably, and with this push (Depending on it's success) comes the very real possibility of a proverbial 'flood' of unscrupulous software and game companies looking to make a buck in the once free land of Linux.

Will that happen? Who knows. I won't say the glass is either half empty, or half full. But I and many other open source advocates will be watching this with both great excitement, as well as great concern.
 

Steve the Pocket

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Vie said:
Fappy said:
I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
Free not as in Beer, free as in freedom.
On the other hand, if it's free as in freedom it might as well be free as in beer, because one of those freedoms is being able to redistribute it as widely as you want ? so basically, piracy. Which is all well and good if you're making open-source software as a hobby and want to share it with the world, but Stallman and his fellow software-wants-to-be-free types think it's morally wrong to create media for profit. They're basically communists in denial.
 

Fappy

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Baby Tea said:
Has Linux ever had its philosophy endangered like this before? I admit, my knowledge of Linux is limited to a few friends who use it.
 

UNHchabo

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Fappy said:
I guess this guy forgot the part where Valve is a business. I'd understand being upset about Steam's use of DRM, but the fact that he is mad about paying for games is... unsettling.
Stallman is well-known in the software world for his dedication to his principles above everything else. He works off of a laptop that's entirely open-source; he works off of the command-line almost exclusively, and rather than using a web browser, he sends an e-mail that launches a script that mails him back the page he wanted.

He's a weird guy, but you can't claim he's a hypocrite; he stands by everything he says. :)

http://stallman.org/stallman-computing.html
 

Baby Tea

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Sep 18, 2008
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Fappy said:
Baby Tea said:
Has Linux ever had its philosophy endangered like this before? I admit, my knowledge of Linux is limited to a few friends who use it.
There have been, and are, other companies that sell software for Linux. But I can't think of any company like Valve making this kind of push. As far as I know, it's pretty unprecedented. Which is why it's both so exciting, and so scary.
 

Yuri Albuquerque

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ScruffyMcBalls said:
I kinda agree with the guy, GOG.com seems more in line with what Linux stands for, not Steam. While there's nothing wrong with a company porting their software to a new OS and supporting that port, it doesn't necessarily mean that the ideals and goals of the two mesh. In the end though it doesn't really matter to me, since I refuse to use Steam under any circumstances, regardless of Operating System. I just hope that this doesn't become a trend, DRM-heavy software coming over to Linux and dominating the market to the point that it becomes impossible for Linux to be a cheap alternative for users again.
He would not like GOG, too. He is a fanatic. And he does not speaks for Linux, he speaks for GNU (not that I think there is a Linux that isn't GNU, except Android and Chrome OS, maybe).

Walter Byers said:
I dream of an open source gaming world. A world where every game could have a massive player base writing additional modifications like we see with Skyrim on the PC. I would pay so much money for that. Seriously.
"Modding" is not the same as "open source".

Twilight_guy said:
Thus we see why Linux has never been a gaming platform, open source is not profitable. It's many good things but it certainly isn't something you do for a living (unless you charge for your expertise). If everything always fit the Linux ideal, its unlikely to ever have an major games on it. Still, if they want Linux to be used by more user, you have to make sacrifices to make it more appealing. Course sometimes wide spread use doesn't matter as much as holding onto ideals. Makes me wonder what the world would be like if Unix systems had become wide-spread early on and maintained there popularity and Windows was now the minority market share.
You CAN make Open Source for a living. There are millions of companies that proved that. But I don't think this remains true when we talk about games.

JediMB said:
But on the other hand, not having Steam on Linux removes your freedom to use Steam on Linux.

Dun dun dun.
As I said, he is fanatical. He does not see that, ironically, he wants to ENFORCE freedom.

Fappy said:
Baby Tea said:
Has Linux ever had its philosophy endangered like this before? I admit, my knowledge of Linux is limited to a few friends who use it.
Nope. And Linux is pretty popular on servers.
 

Jmp_man

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Apr 24, 2011
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I still think Steam should go though with it. If it turns out that Linux users WANT Steam on their systems then wouldn't it go against the "freedom" that Linux stands for by not letting them have Steam?

If they want it they want it, if they don't they don't. I'm not sure if this will blow the door wide open for Linux, but I do know what happens when you leave the door open... you let in the bugs.
 

PingoBlack

Searching for common sense ...
Aug 6, 2011
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Fappy said:
Baby Tea said:
Has Linux ever had its philosophy endangered like this before? I admit, my knowledge of Linux is limited to a few friends who use it.
All the time actually ... As Linux is used to run very expensive commercial server software often.

His concern is the mixing of open platform (which Linux installed at home is) with licensed software, as Linux on servers has already gone past that hurdle of "open" in many cases. I agree with him as well. DRM is important but it is at odds with fully open platform philosophy.

I really like the fact that he doesn't dismiss Steam as an idea all together, but rather sounds a warning so it is not implemented wrongly. Good time to do it too, before it is officially released.
 

uncanny474

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Jan 20, 2011
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Baby Tea said:
He's not mad about paying for games. He's mad about paying for closed games on a platform that was founded on the idea of open, free software (Games or otherwise). He doesn't have a problem with businesses trying to make money, he has a problem with businesses trying to make money on a project and platform that was founded on the idea of software freedom and open-source alternatives.

And I echo his concerns.

I love Steam, and applaud a lot of the business practices that Valve has adopted. They aren't perfect, but they are a pretty massive step in the right direction. I also love Linux, and what it represents. It shows that people can come together to create something truly great and ground-breaking, something that really actually has a foothold in the market (However small)...and is entirely free. It was created to be used, not be bought. It's about the open, free exchange of software and ideas for the sake of helping others, and building up our digital communities.

And those two things are a bit at odds. Not entirely, but at a certain level, they don't mix. Steam is a distribution platform for closed source, locked entertainment. Linux is a platform for open source, open entertainment and productivity.

Bringing Steam to Linux can open the doors to Linux for thousands of gamers, who may have never otherwise tried Linux as an alternative. This is very very exciting.
But it also brings with it the possibility of other big businesses pushing their way into the world and platform of Linux. Businesses who may not hold to the ideals of Linux, or as least understands them, as well as Gabe Newell seems to. Steam is a powerhouse, undeniably, and with this push (Depending on it's success) comes the very real possibility of a proverbial 'flood' of unscrupulous software and game companies looking to make a buck in the once free land of Linux.

Will that happen? Who knows. I won't say the glass is either half empty, or half full. But I and many other open source advocates will be watching this with both great excitement, as well as great concern.
"And Lo, EA followed Valve's lead, and expanded to the land of Linux. And lo, nobody gave a damn, because Origin was still horrible in every way imaginable."

I'm sorry to break this to you, but if you want people to use something, you have to make it worth using. If you want people to switch to Linux, they have to have comparable functionality to Microsoft and Apple.

I've used Linux. I stopped because half my games didn't run. If my games DID run, I'd use Linux, since that would make it a straight upgrade from Microsoft.

So, I guess it boils down to: Is Linux an elitist, exclusionary platform that rejects everyday users in favor of those who are ultra-smart or who are willing to have a computer that doesn't actually work so long as it's "free"? Or are they actually trying to ACCOMPLISH something? Because if they want the average user to switch to Linux, they have to make Linux worth switching to. Coding something falls outside the bounds of "common knowledge" and into the bounds of "professional-level learning". If you want Linux to be a platform made specifically for professionals, fine, but don't promote it as an alternative to Windows. Because as horrific as Windows is, I don't have to code my own patches.
 

Azuaron

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Walter Byers said:
I dream of an open source gaming world. A world where every game could have a massive player base writing additional modifications like we see with Skyrim on the PC. I would pay so much money for that. Seriously.
Wait... like Skyrim, on the PC, with Steam Workshop behind it? ;-)