Stallman calls use of web apps worse than stupidity

original picture by Elke Wetzig, CC-SA-BY 2.0 Germany

original picture by Elke Wetzig, CC-SA-BY 2.0 Germany

As it turns out Stallman doesn’t like web applications, he doesn’t like them at all and says that using GMail and its kind is “worse than stupidity” and just as bad as proprietary software.

One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control … It’s just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software.

The FSF itself created a license for web applications called AGPL which is used by projects like, so this little rant really surprised me. Why do you create a license for some kind of software if it is evil anyway?

I could agree with Stallman on many issues but clearly not on this one. While it is true that we don’t have control over our data, applications aren’t available on every PC, obviously not everyone is able to set up his own server and/or build personal web applications. I run a couple of applications namely irssi, mutt, ejabberd and my webdev environment on my personal server right next to me and Ubuntu does a great job helping you to set all of those things up, but you simply can not expect all people to learn how to set up servers, bother with ports and ips and dynamic dns. This isn’t Sparta but it still is madness.

What’s next? Should I produce my own electricity, drill for water and get some cows living in my flat? I really don’t think so.

Anyway, if now you’re concerned about your data and think about hosting your own services and apps you may take a look at Ubuntu Server and Ubuntu Jeos

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13 thoughts on “Stallman calls use of web apps worse than stupidity

  1. Following Stallman’s thoughts, this makes perfect sense. I, for one, don’t like having anything too personal (as email) hosted on places I don’t control. But, like I said, personal option.

    As for the Affero license, used like you said, on, makes me believe he wasn’t referring to this kind of services, but I may be wrong, as I haven’t read the articles you pointed to, yet.

  2. @Tiago I think the real problem of his statement is that you practically lose control over your data by simply communicating.

    I might host my own mail and jabber server for instance but when I want to communicate, sending data to you I give you control over my data.

    Evan Prodromou the guy behind and wrote and long post about this I just read and found interesting:

  3. My guess is that The Guardian took Stallman’s remarks at least slightly out of context. Like you say, the FSF was involved in such endeavours as the Affero GPL, and it’s highly unlikely that Stallman suddenly forgot about that.

    One indication that they just quicly wrote this up is in their analysis, which says that Stallman was “echoing” Larry Ellison of Oracle on the subject. Lol. Obviously, the two men must have made their respective statements coming from completely different angles – and the Guardian reporter didn’t pick up on that “subtle” difference.

  4. I would really like to see the free software movement work harder on getting in to the cloud computing. Not just the e-mail providers that host on fully FLOSS software, but also challenging Google Docs and other.
    Maybe we’ll see something like coming from Canonical as the next version of Ubuntu focuses on cloud computing.

  5. I think that the problem isn’t the communicating of your data, but the storing of your data on some one else server..!!!

  6. If there is no communication the data won’t end up on another server.

    You wrote a comment which along your email address and ip is stored on my server, well it’s not even my server, I’m renting it.

    You can only guarantee the control over your data on servers you got physical access to, if you don’t have physical access you have to trust other people or companies and this is basically what rms calls stupid.

  7. Well, I do not agree on the part about “people will not be able to set their own server”. After all, back in 70′s, would have you tought that people would be able to have their own computer in their house ?

    Would have you believed someone telling “everybody will have a access to this expensive network that requires lots of admin to be run”.

    Maybe running a server at home is like space travel. Expensive for the moment, only for specialists, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same forever.

    And regarding the quote of RMS, I think he doesn’t mean that all web application are evil, just the one that you are not controling. The rest of the quote say : ‘If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software’

    And yes, when you use windows, you are as dependent on microsoft than you are dependent on google when you use gmail. If tomorow, google decide to remove some features, you are screwed. If they decide to close it for some countries, people in theses countries are screwed ( ).

    So I do not think the view of RMS to be unrealistic, just a little bit extrem. He is right to be like this, so people can be fully aware of the choices they do.

  8. “What’s next? Should I produce my own electricity, drill for water and get some cows living in my flat? I really don’t think so.”

    EXCTLY !

    You should do that, otherwise you pay a premium to use electricity, water & milk, this premium(extra cash) that you pay is used by the government(via utilities companies, dairies etc) to subsidize these services for the poor people.

    Smart people are already doing it, either very rich, but mostly factories prefer to generate their own electricity for this very reason

    stallman > you
    just like
    1 > 0


  9. @Michael: Interesting point, maybe you’re right and in a couple of years everyone will own a server. I think we’ll just have to wait, and look after our data till then. :D

  10. > What’s next? Should I produce my own electricity, drill for water and get some cows living in my flat?

    You misunderstand what RMS is saying. A computer program is nothing but a set of instructions to make the computer do some useful task for the user. A compter programmer writes a computer program through a programming language into a document called “the computer program source code”. Without access to the source code, no programmer can make meaningful improvements to a computer program and there will always be reason to change a program’s source code.

    Examples of why programs that need to be changed include:
    1. software often fails to completely fulfill the user’s requirements; that is, they are inadequate in some way or the user suggests something that will help the user.
    2. compuer software can include programming errors that should not exist
    3. User requirements of a program can change as the user’s circumstances change

    Together with a computer program’s source, a one can control one’s own computing on his own computer – the user does not have to depend upon the goodwill of a company or individual in order to the user to help himself. Without the programming source, a user cannot (effectively) control his own computing. The same is true for this so called “cloud computing”; one cannot control one’s own computing when relying on the goodwill of a company or individual in order to perform private computing matters.

    Producing one’s own electriticy, drilling for one’s water and caring for some cows is not the same thing as demanding source code. These things are physical entites that have real physical limitations. Computer programs are nothing but information designed to perform useful tasks. The only reason why people are limited with software is because of policies that are intended to keep helpless and divided. When users have the four essential freedoms, they are no longer helpless to help themselves and they are no longer divided from cooperating within a community.

  11. guys, why do you really think that everyone in the world must have the same technical skills as programmers do?

    webapps are exactly for those who dont want to spend their times setting up servers, configurations etc.
    am i defenseless? are you paranoic? this is madness.

  12. @Lee: Certainly not everyone must have and certainly never will have the skills of programmers and you’re right when you say that web apps make a lot things easier, way easier. I’m being more of a pragmatic acknowledge this but I don’t think it has to remain this way software outside of the cloud can be convenient and easy to use as well. Software developers should give users the tools, and the options to decide where they want to store their data.

    If you depend only on GMail for example, they might just lock you out because a bot failed to hack into your account until investigation showed you account has not been compromised.

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