Today the Free Software Foundation is celebrating 30 years with a User Freedom Summit in Boston. The best homage is criticism, and I still claim that software freedom is in dire need. A festschrift is in order, but this small post will have to do for now.
Read the GNU Manifesto and included “easily rebutted objections”, please. Generally it is prescient and as relevant as ever. Excellent, right? Now, three observations, evident at the link, but also about the software freedom movement generally.
Romance of heroic developers who write free software so that they may “continue to use computers without dishonor” and altruistically enforce copyleft licenses. The goal is software freedom for all, but it is to be delivered and enforced by a tiny class of superheros hacking on the margins of the software industry and the legal/regulatory/public policy system.
Moral certainty with no attempt to engage with other moral takes on software; the opposition is amoral. Claims that one’s issue is “moral” are embarrassments unless constantly justified, and better, held open to doubt. Software and the claims of software freedom advocates are important enough that both deserve much greater scrutiny, e.g., from philosophers and social scientists.
Lackadaisical marketing; the Manifesto’s “easily rebutted objections” wants the “to let the free market decide” whether advertising is necessary to spread GNU. It has decided: the complex of advertising, marketing, distribution, and sales is what proprietary vendors do. The software freedom movement again competes at the margins, leaving the unenlightened masses with access only to the wares of proprietary vendors, the latter subject to hectoring rather than competition.
I see a commonality among these: lack of appreciation for economies of scale. The development of computing, morality, and culture are each massive undertakings. Any movement that stands aside from the global, industrial scale currents of any of these consigns itself to a “dark ages” of its own conception.
These may also be observed in the User Freedom Summit schedule. The four activities represented are good to great. I support them all, but nonetheless am going to use them as foils to speculate about what a software freedom movement that rejected romance, certainty, and laziness?
Community Licensing Education & Outreach
Our work in free software is motivated by the idealistic goals of spreading freedom and cooperation. Strong copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL) allow us to spread this freedom and cooperation by ensuring that our software only to be distributed as part of free software programs, and not as part of proprietary ones.
Alternative: software freedom as public policy.
Introduction to federation
decentralization on the web, and why it is important for freedom, democracy, and a non-Orwellian future.
Alternative: Public big data infrastructure
Dip a toe in crypto
intro to crypto presentation and a facilitated discussion combining technological and social perspectives. We’ll also save ample time for a workshop introduction to GnuPG email encryption based on the FSF’s Email Self-Defense Guide
I don’t have time to find a more directly on-point article at the moment, but User Education Is Not the Answer to Security Problems is in that spirit.
Alternative: making encryption ubiquitous and transparent in GNU systems.
Libreboot: A talk and demonstration
Libreboot is a free software BIOS/UEFI replacement for general purpose computers, including laptops and servers/workstations, and based on coreboot. The purpose of this session is to talk about the history of libreboot, why it was started, why libreboot is important and how it could benefit you.
Alternative: selling and demanding computing devices that respect user freedom.
Critical cheering along similar lines about a FSF initiative may be found in Make the Day Against DRM a day for freedom, and further in prioritize(projects, freedom_for_all_computer_users) and 6 reasons for GPL lovers, haters, exploiters, and others to enjoy and support GPL enforcement.
Along different but possibly complementary lines, read Software that liberates people: feels about FSF@30 and OSFeels@1 by Luis Villa.
Congratulations and thanks to the Free Software Foundation for 30 years of pro-commons activism.