FreeDevelopers is an international, democratic company of
free software developers, whose goal is to replace all
proprietary software with free/open software, worldwide.
The company will be owned by the free developers of the
world, and it will pay its free software developers the same
world wage regardless of where the developer is
geographically located, thereby treating all developers
What is FreeDevelopers?
See our site at
for more information and to join.
It is FreeDevelopers as in Free Software Developers, but
also as FreeDevelopers as a free people, not enslaved by
proprietary software companies.
Why is it called FreeDevelopers?
Our goal is to defeat proprietary. Our goal is replacing all
proprietary software with free software. Not just making
trivial software like the print drivers free software, but all
software, especially the latest and most innovative
What is your goal?
In short, we are here to change the software development
paradigm for the world from a proprietary software
development model to a free software development model.
This is philosophical war against proprietary software. And
it is a war that we must win for the safety and freedom of
the world going forward.
No. Proprietary developers are not our enemy. They are
misguided friends fighting on the wrong side of this war.
They just don't understand how their actions hurt
themselves and all other software developers, as RMS has
been explaining for all these years. They may be mercenary
fighters that currently fight against us, but they are not our
enemy. With education and a way to pay them as much as
they get now, they will eventually voluntarily join us and
fight on our side against their old masters.
Are proprietary developers the enemy?
Our enemy is the proprietary software companies and the
managers at the top of those companies. These are the
people that disproportionately benefit from perpetuating the
system of proprietary developer servitude, which results
from hiding the code. As Richard Stallman has said, hiding
the code divides and disenfranchises the developers, thereby
empowering the proprietary software companies as it
weakens the developers. This cabal will fight us furiously
and to the end.
Who is the enemy?
Tony Stanco founded FreeDevelopers after consulting with
Richard Stallman for 8 months. Richard Stallman is the
philosopher and chief spokesman of Free Software, who in
1984 started the
Free Software Foundation
project to replace proprietary software with openly
inspectable software. For 16 years, the world did not
understand him as he warned of the problems and
immorality of proprietary software.
When and how did the idea start?
Tony Stanco, who was a senior securities attorney in the
Internet and software group at the U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission in Washington DC, realized in 1998
that proprietary software was becoming a threat to world
freedom (as evidenced by the fears encapsulated in the Y2K
bug and the Microsoft trial). He realized that secret,
proprietary software had to be replaced soon, before
technology enslaved the world. It became apparent to
him that proprietary software was putting the fate of the
world in the hands of a few powerful, unelected
businessmen (mostly from America). As Harvard Professor Lessig had stated,
software is law, and Tony
feared that machines in the very near future would be a
non-human police force enforcing those laws and
answerable only to those self-appointed few.
After researching the subject, Tony quickly discovered
Richard Stallman's work and realized that he was absolutely
right and that free software was the solution for keeping the
world free. That free software just HAD to replace
proprietary software for the good of the world, as Richard
had said for all those years.
Tony, however, also realized that free software needed a
better business model to pay its developers, so that free
software could more readily defeat proprietary with its
legions of well-paid developers.
It was on this business plan that Tony heavily consulted
Richard for 8 months in early 2000. While it became quickly
clear that a successful business plan for free software was
feasible (because of its superior development
methodologies), the fear arose that this software company
would become even more powerful than any other in the
world and that it would, thereby, simply replace one
software king with another. And that was unacceptable
because that would create more problems for the world,
rather than solve any.
The issue was that traditional corporate theory organized
the corporation as a feudal kingdom with a king at the top,
and with everyone else's energies used to support that king.
While this system works fine in competitive industries,
where competition acts as a strong check on the appetites of
any particular king, it would not work with software,
because software, by nature, monopolizes. A new system
had to be developed for software. But what?
This is where fate stepped in. While at the SEC, every day
Tony walked from one side of the Capitol to work on the
other. One day while struggling with this problem, he
looked up at the Capitol dome, home of modern American
democracy, and asked himself why could not the company be
democratic? Nations are. Why couldn't companies be, too?
Democracy, after all, was the traditional check on tyrants.
Up until now, the supposed reason why companies could
not be truly democratic was that democracy was perceived
as a fair but an inefficient management organization. That
following Plato's precepts, the most efficient organization
was to place experts at the top. Democracy had always been
seen as paying for freedom with efficiency. And while
people were willing to make that trade-off in political
governance, they were not for corporate governance. But
the history of the last hundred years (if not for more) has
refuted that proposition. With the fall of Communism at the
end of century, democracy has shown itself to be not only
fairer, but more efficient, too. So, why couldn't democracy
work in business? Why not, indeed?
This was a radical thought, but rationally based. Still, would
it work? No one knows for sure, but FreeDevelopers was
set up to test that proposition, while it protects the world
from proprietary software for all the reasons of Richard Stallman's
free software philosophy.
More than 450 in less than 2 months from most countries,
like Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada,
France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico,
Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Singapore,
South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United
States and others. But that was only by word of mouth. We
have accelerating growth now and welcome all freedom
loving people from every country.
How many people are currently involved?
The ideas are only tentative until we discuss them with a
representative democratic, quorum, but we talking about a
sober Senate of CS professors and project leaders, and a
younger, more adventurous House of CS students and
What is the proposed structure of FreeDevelopers?
That way the projects become extended classrooms
worldwide, where the project leaders and CS professors
mentor the coming generation as real work is done on the
Most of the decision making will go very deep because the
Internet allows more people to be involved in decision
making. So, the President/CEO will not be the main focal
point and will be rotating and elected every year or 2 or 3
from the whole group of developers worldwide.
How much decision making can be pushed down depends
on the efficiency of the system. We plan to go as deep as
possible, without an undue adverse impact on efficiency.
Also, some dispute resolution system will have to evolve to
deal with the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings that
will surely arise.
Yes, because developer cohesion will be the only way to
Will one have to join FreeDevelopers in order
FreeDevelopers is different from what came before. We are
not trying to replace one software king with another. Nor
are we trying to make insider billionaires off of the unpaid
work of disenfranchised developers. However, the success
of FreeDevelopers ultimately depends on the cohesion of
our developers to fight for our cause. Much like with
political democracy, cohesion is much harder to achieve
than factional division, especially when the tyrannies have
the money to seed faithless dissent within our ranks. Still,
democracy won against such odds before because of its
ideals of fundamental fairness, equality and freedom, and
we think it will do so, again.
At this time we are only looking for people who are pure of
heart. We are too young and too few to fight the arrayed
forces of proprietary while at the same time trying to
convince people within our ranks why FreeDevelopers is the
right way to go. Right now we just have to go with the
people that Richard Stallman has already convinced. He has
Will anyone be able to join?
been trying for 16 years and if he hasn't done it by now,
adding our words will not change any minds. So for now,
we are just trying to gather up those whose hearts have
already been touched by Richard Stallman for the cause of
Free Software. We are not looking for new converts, nor do
we seek to engage in any new evangelizing.
After 16 years, the non-believers will only be persuaded by
deeds, not more words, anyway, and so we need to perform
the deeds to have any reasonable expectation of their future
support. As such, bringing in non-believers at this point will
only slow us down in our mission to defeat proprietary by
bogging us down in endless arguing over old, well-worn
issues.tion of their future
support. As such, bringing in non-believers at this point will
only slow us down in our mission to defeat proprietary by
bogging us down in endless arguing over old, well-worn
The companies are not the right focal point for us. Our focal
point is the developer, not the company. Companies don't
produce software, people do, or more specifically software
developers do. As RMS said with Free Software, traditional
software companies are antithetical to a properly
functioning software industry, because they divide
developers against each other, making them constantly have
to re-invent the wheel, since the companies hold the source
code hostage. This is not done for the benefit of the
developers (or users). This is only for the benefit of the
companies and their insiders.
Will the group be soliciting/accepting contributions
from software vendors? If so, even those who produce
We expect to divert 1% of government IT budgets to free
software. Because free software is such a better software
development model, we expect to do more with that 1than proprietary can do with the other 99%, which is
obviously a much better value proposition.
Where will revenues come from to fund the salaries to
We view software as a public good, like infrastructure and
roads, so the government is the correct entity to fund most
of it. That does not mean that government should develop
software itself, but it should pay for it. Just like it does for
road projects, where private road crews actually go out
and do the work, while government pays for it. So instead
of paying for proprietary software as government does now,
we expect them to pay for free software. In fact, there are a
lot of government initiatives all over the world (e.g., the
U.S., France, China, Brazil, Japan, Germany, etc.) that are
looking to do just that.
But we are not suggesting a software tax or anything like
that. We just want 1% of what governments are paying
now for proprietary software. Other users like businesses
and people can free-ride on that. This is just the way most
road are done. Each business does not construct its own
roads for their own exclusive use. That would be ludicrous
and a waste of scarce resources. We are just taking the
Information Superhighway metaphor to its natural
We are trying to divert software money from going to
proprietary software. That^1s where the money is and they
are the ones that harm the industry by dividing the
developers and having them constantly re-invent the wheel.
What is FreeDevelopers's position with respect to other
free/open software companies that are not democratic?
The current free/open software companies are all doing a
great thing. We are really not competing with them, because
as long as the software is free, it really does not matter how
it gets there. We are just trying to defeat the proprietary
We are experimenting with a democratic organizational
structure, which is different from other free software
companies, just so developers have a choice.
The right solution will eventually emerge. Maybe it's us,
maybe it's someone else. It really doesn't matter as long as
the software is GPL, so everyone can share it, and the
developers are treated fairly.
Before the storming of the Bastille and the Boston Tea
Party, there was a false consciousness about the viability of
democracy, too. Paradigms change.
The most successful free software projects to date have
not been democratic processes - most authority has been
held either by a single individual (Linus Torvalds for
Linux, RMS for Emacs, etc.) or at very most by small,
self-selected groups (samba, apache, the BSDs). Given
that no major project that I know of has evolved from a
truly democratic, why do you believe that this model is
preferable, or even viable, in this environment?
Free software is about the eternal human quest for freedom
and a fairer world for all. That struggle used to be fought in
the sphere of political governance (or in other words, who
got to write the laws that control our lives), but that story,
for the most part, is over with the arrival of democracy
worldwide. The struggle now is over who gets to write the
code that controls our lives.
Professor Lessig is right that software is really law. And,
therefore, Richard Stallman is right that free software is
really about freedom, not about a more efficient software
development model, as
If you understand that the fight is about who gets to control
whom, you will see that free software has an ancient lineage
that goes back to the beginnings of time. You will also
understand that the sons, and the sons of sons, and their
sons after that, ad infinitum will continue to hack the
mountain until the world is free and fair for everyone; by
distributing the power to control others to the sovereignty
in the people themselves, including for now in our time
the fight for free software.
This goes to the very heart of the question as to why software is
different and should not be owned by proprietary
companies, though it may seem the same as other intellectual
property. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to explain.
Is software more like law (as Professor Lessig claims)
and therefore should be a public good, or more like
literature and therefore should be owned by the creators?
What is the difference between literature and law? Both are
words on paper. Why does society allow literature to be
owned by its creators, while law makers don't get to own
their creative product (as a group or individually)? While
this may seem like a trivial question, it is an important and
fundamental one without an easy answer.
No one says that law should be proprietary and that people
who create it should own it. To even put it in those terms
seems absurd. But why? Because law controls people and
they have a inalienable right to be involved in what controls
them (i.e., Rousseau's idea of a `social contract').
Establishing that right has been the ancient and noble
struggle for democracy over the centuries.
So the question is ``is software more like literature or more
like law?'' Professor Lessig say that software is law
in cyberspace, not just like it, because software controls how
people interact in cyberspace just like law controls how
people interact in physical space.
If software is law, then the ancient struggle for democracy
should also apply to software, and is the reason
FreeDevelopers is democratic; otherwise you would have the
powerful, capricious software tyrants the world has recently
Software is the law that machines obey, and machines will define more and
more how people interact with each other in cyberspace and real space.
Without being careful about how those machines are implemented and where, and
who gets to write the software those machines will obey, the world can quite
literally be enslaved by cyber-chains.
What are the main ways in which technology could `enslave the world'
(from an earlier question)
if their model wins over free software?
We are about to enter an age that would have thrilled all the dictators of
the past. An age where machines can be a totally obedient, non-human, police
force allowing absolute control over the movement and interaction of every
Just today I was reading an article in the latest edition of MIT's Technology
that talked about `hybrid brain-machine interfaces'. Now granted it referred
to how some are trying to develop interfaces that allow the brain to directly
control machines. But how far are we from hybrid machine-brain interfaces
where the causation goes the other way?
Since proprietary software is, by definition, unseen code not subject to
scrutiny by the public, it gives too much power to a few, unelected
businessmen - mostly from the U.S. Looking back on human history, nightmarish
scenarios are not hard to imagine.
They are potentially evil for the reasons above. They are our enemy because
our mission as free developers is to stop that world from becoming a reality.
The goal of proprietary companies is to make that goal a reality, wittingly
Briefly, why do you go so far as to dub proprietary software companies
as being `evil' and `the enemy'?
Also, I see free software as a continuation of the ancient struggle for
equality, democracy and freedom that goes back to the first moment of human
group consciousness. Those ideals have won out in the political sphere after
6000 years, and now the struggle continues in the commercial and economic
spheres. Since software is a new form of law, the analogy is all the stronger.
When hits the radar screens of proprietary they will come at us with full
force. They know that only one software development paradigm can exist: either it
is a closed-code one or a free-software one, because at their core these are
antithetical. Since their current power over the developers comes from
dividing developers and keeping the code secret, they know they have to
discredit us, else lose all their power. Since there are hundreds of billions of
dollars at stake, plus immense personal empires, we are expecting an
incredible campaign against us.
What do you envisage being the biggest problems FreeDevelopers will face in the future?
Who really is a free software developer? Some, who claim to be, but don't
understand the animating spirit of free software. So some think they can be a
free software developer and can still keep some of their code secret. Open
source has added to this confusion, because they allow proprietary layers to
be shipped with free software. Thus more people want to join us than really
should, and we really don't have a ready way to look into someone's heart to
see what they really think as soon as they join. This has created some lively
debates. Also, it is becoming apparent that there is a generation gap. People who have
worked during the proprietary age, find it hard to conceptualize how free
software can work and cling to old metaphors. Students coming out of computer
science classes, however, have only been working on free software and
understand it implicitly.
What are the more difficult decisions you are debating
between yourselves at the moment -- I've read about the debate over when to
release the first version of the democracy software?
At the last count they were 25 countries.
Please could you give me a bit more information about the 450 (or is it
more now?) developers who have joined. They're from all over
the world, but what sort of people are they?
Most are computer science and/or computer engineering students. Some have
been working on free software for years. Others are working at proprietary
companies and work with us at night when they get home.
Are they highly experienced developers with a long-term commitment to free
Mostly in their twenties, is my guess.
Any specific age band?
The ones who are not students are mostly working at proprietary companies,
because there aren't many alternatives available for paying jobs in free
Have most of them worked for proprietary companies in the past
-- and if so, how do most of them make their living at the moment?
We allow everyone in, but if they show that they don't understand free
software methodologies and are unwilling to learn, we ask them to leave.
Is everyone who wants to join allowed to,
or have you turned anyone down at this early stage?
We are technologists from all religions and political views. The unifying
theme is a belief in free software and the harm of proprietary.
Do you all tend to have similar political views, or is there a broad
mixture? How have they heard about the company?
In that proprietary software is the oppressive current regime that we are
trying to overthrow, yes. But we are non-violent. Our war is a philosophical
war over the hearts and minds of developers, showing them that by joining
together there is a better way. A way that gives them more power and allows
them to protect the world from cyber-chains.
Would it be fair to describe the free software movement as a
This is a great question, because it goes to the heart of the matter. We are
unlike a trade union because unlike traditional industrial companies,
software companies have no physical assets. In traditional industrial
companies, the power flows from the fact that the companies own the assets
that workers have to use to do their jobs. So employees have to unite to have
an equal power base to negotiate with the power base inherent in the owners
of the assets.
What are the similarities and differences between FreeDevelopers and Trade Unionism?
But now think of software companies. Where are the assets giving the
companies the power over the developers? There aren't any. If the developers
unite, they have the power and there is no countervailing power base on the
So do you see what I mean? In traditional companies, workers unite to have a
countervailing power. But if software developers unite, they are the only
ones with the power. It is a fundamental difference. That is the reason, by
the way, that I think that it doesn't matter how much money and effort
proprietary software arrays against us. If we can persuade the developers to
unite, we win.
No, we are not anti-capitalism. Free markets is just another freedom of a
free people, in our view. Capitalism has historically been the greatest
leveler, because it produces more for everyone to consume. The question has
only really been one of equitable distribution of the production. And
capitalism has been working itself pure on that front, too. In its quest to
be ever more efficient, capitalism has targeted the middle-class for the
production, which obviously gets a lot of production to the greatest number
Would you say that FreeDevelopers has anything in common
with the anti-capitalist (Seattle, WTO, etc.) movement?
But an interesting thing has started to happen in the last couple of decades.
The ownership of the means of production has also been becoming much more
egalitarian, because the middle class has been buying stock in the companies
that are producing the goods in record numbers.
There are some problems of corporate concentration by ever growing mergers,
but appropriate government regulation can keep the size of corporations under
control, if the political will materializes.
We view open source companies as allies. They also want to change the
software development paradigm to a free software one. We don't want to make
too much of the differences because we are on the same side of this
Please could you expand a little on the ways you see companies selling
and distributing Open Source software as becoming `exploitative'?
Is this a commonly held view among developers?
But the biggest difference between us and them is over who gets to share in
the wealth. They have a more traditional model where those at the top of
those organizations reap most of the rewards, and rely on the unpaid work of
thousands of free software developers who volunteer their effort for the sake
of their free software ideals.
Democracy is not necessarily about efficiency. It is about safeguards from
abuse of the powerful. How you get to democracy usually, and in this case in
particular, is that you back into it, after you have tried everything else
and nothing else works. I think that explains political history for the last
6000 years very nicely. My prognosis for software democracy works on a
similar logic of elimination.
Why do you think you can successfully build a democratic company when
it's such a difficult thing to do efficiently?
Traditionally, companies were allowed to be monarchical, because market
competition acts as the control mechanism on the appetites of any one CEO.
But in monopoly situations, say electricity or local phone service, market
controls break down, so that another control system was needed to control
potential abuse. Historically that was government regulation. In fact, the
Microsoft anti-trust trial tried to use that same control mechanism recently.
But high tech is unlikely to be controlled by government regulation, because
it is a moving target. It is the exact dilemma that the Microsoft court was
struggling with: how do you control the abuse while not stifling innovation
in such a fast moving field run by technical experts?
Direct government regulation is not going to work in this case, because
unlike traditional monopolies there aren't the physical assets to regulate.
There are only the experts, and government officials are ill-equipped to
regulate them because of their superior specialized knowledge.
Regulation of technical experts is usually conducted by self-regulatory
organizations (SRO's). Examples of these are the state bar associations,
medical associations, or stock broker associations, and they work generally
pretty well in those areas. But they have generally failed in software. The
reason is that in those other organizations the members can compete against
each other, whereas software monopolizes.
So after surveying all the traditions mechanisms of control and realizing
they fall short, you are left with democracy.
It has to, because the alternative is unthinkable.
How convinced are you that it will work?
I haven't looked into it in other areas. My sense is that other areas are
functioning pretty well with the existing structures. But that doesn't mean
we shouldn't take a second look at our old infrastructures every 50 or so
years to see if we they haven't fallen into disrepair and we are just
perpetuating them because they are comfortable habits.
Would you say that some of the principles of free software could be
applied to research and development in any other fields; AIDS research
springs to mind? What is it that makes software so different that this
whole movement has developed?
I would still venture to say, however, that the Internet is going to allow
more democracy overall in R&D and elsewhere, because it allows for
communications efficiencies not previously available. But in those other
areas, change will probably be evolutionary, not revolutionary with
accompanying paradigm changes.
Software in an interconnected world is like law, so there must be a new
infrastructure in place to protect the world from the cyber-chains. It is
probably a special situation.