TITLE: Remind Me Again... AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 17, 2011 3:52 PM DESC: ----- BODY: This post is a mild and perhaps petulant rant about shackling free software. Feel free to skip it if you like. I've been setting up a new iMac over the last couple of days. I ran into some difficulties installing Remind, a powerful text-based Unix calendar program, that made me sad. First of all, I need to say "thank you" to the creator of Remind. He wrote the first version of the program back in the 1970s and has maintained and updated it over the last 30+ years. It has always been free, both as in beer and as in speech. Like many Unix folks, I became a devoted user of the program almost as soon as I discovered it. Why am I sad? When I went to download the latest version, the server detected that I was connecting via a Mac browser and took me to a page that said only not to use Remind on an Apple product. I managed to download the source but found its compressed format incompatible with the tools, both apps and command-line programs, that I use to unstuff archives on my Mac. I finally managed to extract the source, build it, and install it. When Remind runs on my new machine, the program displays this message:
You appear to be running Remind on an Apple product. I'd rather that you didn't. Remind execution will continue momentarily.
... and delays for 30 seconds. Wow, he really is serious about discouraging people from running his program on an Apple machine. This is, of course, well within his rights. Like many people, he feels strongly about Apple's approach to software and apps these days. On the Remind home page, he writes:
Remind can be made to run under Mac OS X, but I prefer you not to do that. Apple is even more hostile than Microsoft to openness, using both technical and legal means to hobble what its customers and developers are allowed to do. If you are thinking of buying an Apple product, please don't. If you're unfortunate enough to already own Apple products, please consider switching to an open platform like Linux or FreeBSD that doesn't impose "1984"-like restrictions on your freedom.
I appreciate his desire to support the spirit of free software, to the point of turning long-time users away from his work. When I have downloaded earlier versions of Remind, I have noticed and taken seriously the author's remarks about Apple's closed approach. This version goes farther than offering admonition; it makes life difficult for users. I have always wondered about the stridency of some people in the free software community. I understand that they feel the only way to make a stand on their principles is to damage the freedom and openness of their own software. And they may be right. Companies like Microsoft and Apple are not going to change just because an independent software developer asks them to. Then again, neither am I. I do take seriously the concerns expressed by Remind's author and others like him. The simple fact, though, is that I'm not likely to switch from my Mac because I find one of my command-line Unix tools no longer available. I have concerns of my own with Apple's approach to software these days, but at this point I still choose to use its products. If it becomes too difficult to install the new versions of Remind, what will I do? Well, I could install the older version I have cached on my machine. Or perhaps I'll run a script such as rem2ics to free my data from Remind's idiosyncratic representation into the RFC2445 standard format. Then I would look for or write a new tool. Remind's author might be pleased that I wouldn't likely adopt Apple's iCal program and that I would likely make any tool I wrote for myself available to the rest of the world. I would not, however, tell users of any particular platform not to use my code. That's not my style. I may yet choose to go that route anyway. As I continue to think about the issue, I may decide to respect the author's wishes and not use his program on my machine. If I do so, it will be because I want to show him that respect or because I am persuaded by his argument, not because I have to look at a two-line admonition or wait 30-seconds every time I run the program. ~~~~ Note: I could perhaps have avoided all the problems by using a package manager for Macs such as homebrew to download and install Remind. But I have always installed Remind by hand in the past and started down that path again this time. I don't know if homebrew's version of Remind includes the 30-second delay at execution. Maybe next time I'll give this approach a try and find out. -----