This site's Help Center says:

You've come to the right place if you have questions about:

  • the history and philosophies of the FSF, OSI, CC etc
  • ...

I'm sure that throwing softballs like "How old was RMS when he came up with such genius philosophy" would be well-received, but not everyone likes open-source (If you need proof, see this, for example -- I personally think it's not the best writing, but even it got a ton of up-votes)

Is actually questioning the philosophies of the FSF, OSI, CC, etc. allowed here? In other words, are people allowed to ask questions about the philosophies of the FSF, OSI, CC, etc. from the position of disagreement?

If your answer is "yes", can you link some examples of such questions that have not been down-voted/closed/deleted? (If you need proof that some posts questioning the philosophy of open-source get down-voted/closed/deleted, see here. I'm only asking if all are)


4 Answers 4


Yes, but this is not a place for arguments or discussions, or for discussing the views of particular people. Questions must be objectively answerable and have a clear scope. This is almost universal on all Stack Exchange sites.

The question you linked (“Why should software be free when housing, education, groceries, books, movies, music and utilities are not?”) starts with a strawman argument and is written in a manner that solicits opinions. Nevertheless, it got a really good answer.

It could have been a better (and more on-topic!) question if it had asked instead of assumed. For example:

  • Does Software Freedom require that software is gratis?
  • Can paid software meet the Open Source Definition?

More discussion-y but potentially still an objectively answerable question:

  • How does GNU/FSF propose software development be funded?
  • I've heard the SSPL license is necessary so that open source companies can protect their investment against exploitation by AWS. Why doesn't the OSI agree?
  • Is the goal of the Free Software movement a kind of software communism?
  • Is the goal of the Free Software movement to get rid of copyright?

But it would very much depend on how such questions are asked. They must not invite discussion about ethics or politics. It must not be about what you or I think is right.

You must also expect, by the nature of the site, that responses will be largely pro-FLOSS. So while you can ask about the history of FLOSS, can ask to better understand FLOSS ideas, or ask about the limitations of FLOSS, you are quite unlikely to get responses with an outright anti-FLOSS sentiment.

You proposed a “softball” question, expecting it would be positively received:

  • How old was RMS when he came up with such genius philosophy?

This is quite off topic. It is objectively answerable, but it's not about FLOSS. It's about a particular person. A potentially better question that also removes judgemental language like “genius” might be: “When was the Free Software Definition first published?”. As an aside, you might also find that many figures in the history of Free/Open Source Software are far from uncontroversial, and you're unlikely to get unequivocal hero worship here.

  • 1
    "Yes" Zero links though, huh? I specifically asked for examples/proof, if you are answering "yes". I didn't ask for a critique of archive.md/tJQkF . It was used merely as proof that some such posts do get downvoted/closed/deleted, if you need one.
    – MWB
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:17
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    @MWB I want this answer to be normative, not descriptive. I.e. it says what should be, not what is. I want the rest of the community to consider my viewpoint, upvote it if they agree, or write a competing answer. (Meta is different). Eventually, the best answer becomes community consensus, and if a question is incorrectly closed it's possible to link here and say “in 2021 we discussed this and agreed that XYZ”. Discussing your closed question was helpful to illustrate how it's possible to ask in a non-inflammatory, constructive manner.
    – amon
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:30
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    31k rep after 6 years on this SE. If you can't find a single example, I think it's fair to say that it probably doesn't exist. Maybe the honest answer would be "no"?
    – MWB
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:38
  • "Does Software Freedom require that software is gratis?" -- this is the kind of uninteresting softball that I talked about. No, it does not "require" it (Reality: Things just work out that way if your software is even a little bit popular.)
    – MWB
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:55
  • 1
    @MWB: Please read amon's link to "Meta is different." Given your comments, it's plain that you haven't read it. The purpose of this discussion is to establish policy, not to provide examples. The fact that you wanted examples is, frankly, irrelevant; it's not what the rest of us are here to do, and we are not your servants.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 2:13
  • @Kevin I don't see how providing examples contradict to establishing policy, and I don't see where the "Meta is different" link says things like you should only focus on establishing policy and providing examples are not allowed
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 20 at 18:02
  • @Ooker: I never said that providing examples is prohibited. I said that MWB is not entitled to demand examples when amon chooses not to provide any.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 20 at 18:05
  • @Kevin I see, thanks for clarifying that. I agree that amon can answer in the way they feel suitable. Still, I think having an example doesn't harm
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 20 at 18:11

In other words, are people allowed to ask questions about the philosophies of the FSF, OSI, CC, etc. from the position of disagreement?

Yes, but ultimately this is a Q&A site that seeks to collect information into a large collection. Questions are free to ask about FLOSS philosophies, and to do so from an adversarial perspective, but must do so along some kind of factual metric, rather than a subjective one.

  • For example, "If all software can be freely modified and redistributed, how could software developers possibly make money? Isn't the ability to charge per copy effectively destroyed under such conditions?" is a great question, which could be answered by explaining whether or not the resulting economics would indeed eliminate the ability to charge per copy, plus explain market strategies that would emerge if it did so.
  • A slightly more problematic question might be, "How does free software justify the fact that there exist no market strategies that allow programmers to make money for the act of writing free software?" This question is still on-topic, but misaligns with the necessary answer: an answer needs to deconstruct the question's assumption, i.e., free software need not justify this outcome because it is incorrect. This is still ultimately a question of economics, despite being phrased as an ethical question. You might find the economic answer unsatisfying, but even professional economists can disagree widely on the outcome of any particular course of action.
  • A very off-topic question might be, "I personally want to be able to deny giving recipients the right to redistribute my software. How does free software justify asking me to give away my legal right to do so, when I hate the idea of doing that?" There is no objective metric here: sure, the asker dislikes free software, but that dislike hasn't motivated them to ask a particularly meaningful or useful question.

An interesting borderline on-topic question might be: "Why does free software focus on software only, when it doesn't appear to be meaningfully different from other intangible goods that can be copied freely?" A good answer might investigate what position the FSF/OSI does have on non-software works like e-books and digital music, and include any justification they provide, for both their views and their level of effort (e.g., possibly they agree in principle, but feel another organization is better equipped to advocate on this matter). The factual component to such a "why?" Q&A rests in discovering what viewpoints and justifications have been offered by proponents of the named philosophies.

Such a format runs the risk of burrowing uselessly deep ("Well, then how can they justify that justification? Oh, but how do they justify that justification, then?") but at a surface level of questioning, I think asking about what philosophical viewpoints exist, and how they address immediate practical problems, is on-topic. You may ask such questions from an adversarial perspective. You may find the philosophies you ask about remain unconvincing even after you understand their justifications more robustly, but that's fine: we're only a Q&A site.

Since you ask for particular instances where this guidance has been appropriately followed, i.e., appropriately factual questions have remained open despite a subjectively skeptical or hostile attitude toward FLOSS:

  • Why don’t unprivileged user accounts violate the GPLv3?

    • This question says the GPLv3 was designed to be "deliberately almost impossible to comply with" for certain industries and pointedly asks why the SSPL is hypocritically treated worse by the FLOSS community despite being more or less equivalently antagonistic. That said, the question is clear about its specific claims and questions, which allows answers to fluidly clarify unknown points and correct the misconceptions expressed clearly in the question.
  • Does Free Software Foundation's guidance about SaaS disallow usage of password vaults?

    • This question prompted a now-resolved-and-deleted discussion featuring one viewpoint, "My problem with the question that on the first spot it looks like a statement. Like 'Did politican X eat his mother?,' this is a not a honorable journalism even if it does not state anything about politician X" -- so it's clear at least some of the community read this question as antagonistic. That is, some subjectively read the tone of the question as "how can the FSF be such luddites as to condemn such a necessary modern tool as a password manager?"
  • How to address common FOS license problems? - About creditstealing and ruthless cashcowing

    • The author openly states their question arises because they "had some disputes with a group of passionate FOSS proponents" -- clearly the question is not based in an endorsement of FLOSS ideology.
  • How can I trust to Open Source programs?

    • The question reads deeply skeptical (rightly so, IMHO, given the problem domain it asks about) but especially in view of their comments, I see this author as intent on proving that their proposition is impossible (which is broadly correct) at the expense of not taking in the useful information in the answers they received. Nevertheless, their underlying factual question is relevant, unambiguous, and reasonably answerable, so the question rightly remains open.

Pertaining to your recent specific question that you've linked to here (which, full disclosure, I answered, and did not vote to close), I think it began as a really good on-topic question, whose projection into the factual-Q&A space I might phrase as "How can free software justify asking programmers to give away their software gratis?" to which I offered the answer, "Economic forces will ensure programmers get paid for software labor, even if that payment does not come from many end users paying per-copy." When this answer (even after many edits directly addressing your specific concerns) didn't appear to correspond in any way with what you wanted, it called into question our understanding of what the underlying factual subject of the Q&A was. In other words, it became less and less clear how one could formulate any answer that was in communication with what you wanted to learn.

I personally think your underlying questions (as I initially understood them: how developers get paid for making a software artifact that is given away gratis to users, and how non-software media is considered under software-freedom rules) are great ones for the site. I would love to get your question back into an answerable, openable state! I am very happy to discuss this further in the comments or chat. (I only ask that you not mention "providing expertise or documentation" as an economic model: that is a separate, parallel, economic strategy that doesn't have anything to do with the economic outcome I propose, whereby programmers get paid for actual development labor. It doesn't pertain to my answer and I'm not interested in discussing it separately from my answer here.)

  • ZERO links to questions by people clearly skeptical of OS, despite your extensive bibliographical effort, as shown by your comments under my answer. That should tell you something.
    – MWB
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 8:36
  • 2
    @MWB I've now edited the middle of my answer to link to three on-topic questions that I view as having an openly skeptical attitude about FLOSS.
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 20:32

Yes, I think taking help in understanding the justification behind philosophy and in building strategy for solving a major practical problem would be encouraged as far as it is:

  • Framed in a constructive and friendly way
  • Not too subjective (avoiding the closing of the post with "opinion based" reason)

Link to an example question I posted more than 6 years ago!

How is selling FLOSS packages for monetary compensation a viable strategy?

If you see the revision, you'll learn how Mr. ArtOfCode framed the title in a wonderful way (see the 3rd Revision) that the post got well accepted by community.

Though I am not active user on this site, you can find this post at the top in the list at my profile page! It was also chosen for a bounty of 200 points by ex-moderator.

I don't have much explanation but I think the moral of the story would be useful.


A state of biased censorship exists on the site, and not to acknowledge this plain fact would be dishonest. I don't think you'll find many of the following questions on this site without them being down-voted/closed/deleted:

(I just went through Leo Liou's objections to Open Source and turned each paragraph into a question, best I could)

  • What causes open-source software to be chronically inferior to its commercial counterparts?

  • What can our project do to prevent less-than-talented contributors from trying to "help", as is common in Open Source?

  • Doesn't keeping my software closed-source protect it better from someone taking it and passing it off as their own?

  • What can open-source communities do to be less toxic and behave more the way paid engineers, working on closed-source projects, do?

  • Why should software be free when everything else is not? (I already tried to ask this one)

  • How can open-source projects compete, when their developers do what they please, avoiding the less-glamorous tasks, like support, documentation, etc.?

  • How can open-source projects be as secure as commercial ones, when they tend to be distributed, unprofessionally using the same machines for development and everything else (See the FreeBSD server compromise)?

  • How can open-source projects compete with closed-source ones, when there is so much more turn-over?

Sure, you can convert some of them into irrelevant strawmen like "Does Software Freedom require software to be gratis" that open-source supporters can knock down and pat themselves on the back. That's not the point. The point is that being against Open Source gets you censored.

  • 2
    Question #2 has been well-received here: How do I deal with (enthusiastic) contributors who damage more than they help?
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 18:43
  • Question #3 has basically been adversarially addressed at How to address common FOS license problems? - About creditstealing and ruthless cashcowing Certainly, closed-source software that doesn't allow derivatives is better in this specific regard because the situation does not arise at all, so I don't think "is it better?" is a useful question (versus usefully asking about how to deal with it strategically, in the open-source context in which it does arise).
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 18:50
  • 2
    Question #4 is the subject of How do I handle aggressive or toxic project maintainers? The current second answer touches on why issues arise in an open-source context in ways they would be less likely to in a closed-source context. (I also question a little the premise that closed-source is really so free of toxicity, or if private mailing lists simply aren't publicly inspectable. But my musing here is itself an example of an unanswerable question that I wouldn't pose in a Q&A.)
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 3:08
  • I think Question #6 is too open-ended to be a good fit. You might ask questions about how to incentivize people to perform the unpopular, non-development work (e.g., How can I convert users to contributors?), or, reading the question very literally, ask how to attract and retain users (which is what I assume you mean by "compete") even if that work does indeed remains undone. But I think even those questions run the risk of being too broad; there is a universe of interpersonal options to attract users/devs or incentivize them to do something.
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 16:46
  • @apsillers Your examples are not questioning the philosophies of the FSF, OSI, CC, etc.. They are presented as coming from supporters of Open Source, not its skeptics.
    – MWB
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 8:23
  • I now understand your thesis here is: "In practice, the exact same factual question could be closed or remain open based solely on its attitude." I can understand why you find the other answers unsatisfying! You're asking about a practical failure to judge questions solely on their factual merits, so answers about factual standards don't satisfy your concerns. I'll try to find questions with a stronger anti-FLOSS sentiment, but I suppose I'd also challenge you to produce any links where this happens. Searching for questions by sentiment, rather than content, is a very difficult task.
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 13:15
  • In your example question, the problem is not a critical viewpoint but confusion over what question is being asked (which, again, I would love to resolve and reopen!) I said the economics of libre software is compatible with many paid developers. You replied that libre software is nearly always gratis. But that didn't criticize my answer: I assumed the software would be gratis and gave an example of gratis software that is developed for paid hire, Apache. Your edit adds confusion to your question because it states an assumption already in my answer, while also calling it unsatisfying.
    – apsillers Mod
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 13:39
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    "I don't think you'll find many of the following questions on this site without them being down-voted/closed/deleted" there's another possibility: no one has asked such a question on here, making your case the first?
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 14:57
  • I'd claim that even the OP's case isn't an example of a question being closed because it questioned the FSF's philosophies; instead, it was closed because lengthy questioning elicited that any answer that satisfied the OP would be a statement of opinion. But then I suppose I would claim that, as one of those who voted to close it on exactly that basis.
    – MadHatter Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 12:35

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