Interviewer: I know I may have said some harsh things on the Tron list, but I'd actually like to put all that aside, and personally thank you, as you've given me an idea to write an article about the larger picture.
Basically, I'm trying to patch together ideas into an article that addresses the issues that we all have recently suffered through. So, I'll ask you the same questions that I have of others, and I'd appreciate your complete honesty and I will promise that I will NOT turn this into a personal attack on you. This was never my intention.
Nick: Thank you for taking the time to approach me and hear me out. I'll try to explain my side of things as best I can, here.
(Note to Adequacy.org editors: As you can see, a little politeness can go a long way. :)
Interviewer: So, here we go. In the particular example I am using, someone who was exploiting a Microsoft Outlook bug by modifying his X-Headers to cause his messages to be read as attachments on a mailing list.
Nick: As a matter of fact, that's factually incorrect. While it's true that my headers do have some doozies, they're mostly innocuous. The worst one probably is the X-WebTV-STationery, which sets my text to black-on-black for anyone reading with a WebTV. WebTVs are pretty rare nowadays, but that's easily overridden I'm told. The +++ath bug
only affects your ISP's modems (which are NOT likely to have the hangup flaw), and it's formatted wrong anyway. That one's more of a troll.
No, the attachment bug is far more subtle than that. It doesn't happen based on headers, which are rightfully the section of an e-mail that mail readers are SUPPOSED to process. Instead, the bug
is that any message that has the word "begin" at the beginning of a line will be treated as a garbled attachment from that point on.
It's a horrible bug in Outlook, though not one that appears when an exchange server is used (I can explain why later if you like). Microsoft has not even acknowledged it as a bug, and apparently recent versions of Outlook Express have had features REMOVED that once let the user read the mails anyway. It used to be that the user could
select some sort of "view source" option and view the message unprocessed. I'm told that this no longer works.
My other two headers are mostly annoyances. I set a Reply-By that flags my messages as red, and my X-Message-Flag pretends that the reason they can't read my mail is because of some censorship software somewhere blocking my message from their eyes.
Even if I were to remove all of the custom headers from my messages, the simple fact is that my ordinary internet-standard plain-text messages will still cause this problem. In fact, the
problem was discovered *accidentally*, when Bruce Sterling distributed a document via e-mail that had the word "begin" appear at the start of a line in the middle of one of his paragraphs.
Interviewer: Another example is a mailing list that will reject any mail from Windows-based clients.
Nick: Yes. It's true that I run a mailing list that does not allow posting from Windows users. Many people complain about this, but in my mind I see it as no different than a restaurant or dance hall having a dress code. It raises the bar for entry to the list, and ensures that users really want to be there.
There are two ways, actually, that one can meet the crackmonkey mailing list dress code. One is to simply use Free Software, and not use a mailer that requires you to accept a license that makes you promise not to share with your friends. Another is to continue to use your Windows-based mailer, but hack the headers of your message so as not to betray your use of the software.
Both methods demonstrate an effort made to post to the list, as well as a certain degree of technical acumen. Our IRC channel on slashnet.org has the same sort of dress code: You can use a non-Windows IRC client, or you can fake your version information.
Interviewer: This caused problems for many people using Microsoft products, and as such, I'm trying to gain perspectives from both the Microsoft/Non-Microsoft sides to help describe the situation of people who believe in open-source to the point of zealotry, and how this can be addressed in the modern 'free society' of the Internet and the spirit of "Open Source" in the fact that it supports a non-discriminatory feeling and policy. And how some people have taken the battle to new level with this kind of behavior.
Nick: First of all, I am not a member of the Open Source movement. They seem only interested in how you can make money from free software. I am actually (believe it or not) more concerned with the ethical and moral issues involved in the subjugation of human beings through restrictive copyright and patent law. I consider myself a
member of the Free Software movement.
Many people have somehow drawn the premature conclusion that the reason I do this is because of some sort of ideological zealotry. What I do with my e-mails was certainly informed by my technical
experience with free software, but it is not done out of a desire to change anyone.
Many people have also mistakenly joined the open source/free software cause with the anti-microsoft cause. This is foolhardy, since there are many proprietary programs for GNU/Linux and BSD whose
licenses are just as antisocial as any Windows license. You'll note that there are a lot of proprietary programs that don't suffer the
flaws of Outlook Express, and they can read my messages just fine. Don't you think that if I were doing this out of some sort of free software zealotry, I'd break ALL proprietary mailers?
Also, there is the mistaken impression that I am somehow discriminating against a whole class of people by writing e-mail that Outlook refuses to read. I see this as a curious by-product of
American culture, whereby your consumer tastes somehow create a ready-made cultural identity for you. There are a great many FREELY AVAILABLE mailers (for Windows, even) that are capable of reading plain-text messages. You yourself are using Eudora, which is just such a program!
Interviewer: Would you view behavior like this as a detriment to the open source movement as a whole?
Honestly, I'd like to hear your side to this, the reasons why you feel the way you do, and why you chose to follow the path you have.
Nick: I've been using Unix-based mailers for well over a decade. I've been mailed countless illegible attachments from Windows users over the past ten years. It's immature of me, I know, but to some degree turnabout is fair play.
I don't do it to win people over (and yes, it definitely generates a lot of ill-will for free software among those who mistakenly associate it with the cause), although I have seen many people for whom this was the straw that broke the dromedary's back. If people think my messages are worth reading, then they will (like the dedicated posters to the crackmonkey mailing list) adjust their computing environment to accomodate.
The folks using Outlook Express have locked themselves into a limited subset of the information that can flow over the Internet, and
are blaming me personally for not limiting my transmissions to that outlook-centric subset. If I were to post all of my messages in Russian, even fewer people on the Tron list would be able to
understand them; but would there then be an uproar demanding my removal from the list?