3rd Fellowship Raffle to attract more Fellows

Gareth Bowker tgb at fsfe.org
Tue Mar 13 20:54:11 UTC 2007

On 13/03/07, Alfred M. Szmidt <ams at gnu.org> wrote:
>    Do you know a device with a free GSM stack? We'd be glad to help
>    promote that device. To my knowledge there is no such stack or
>    device at the moment, including the OpenMoko.
> What if there is no device with a free GSM stack?  Will the FSF Europe
> promote such a device despite it being wrong?

No - however I don't personally see a problem with promoting the
creation of Free replacements - and in order to develop these, a
suitable platform is required. Platforms such as the Greenphone or
N800, while not being perfect (they're non-free after all!) are still
the most free platforms available and as such, hopefully, have the
least amount of work to do to reach 100% freedom.

>    But the area of GNU/Linux distributions is much more mature in
>    terms of freedom than that of mobile phones and PDAs. The whole
>    area of PDAs, mobile phones and similar is one that is still very
>    much dominated by proprietary software. There is not a single
>    device that could be recommended without warning.
> Then the only right thing to do is to not recommend any device, just
> like one couldn't recommend any GNU/Linux specific system until
> UTUTO-e came about (and closely following other 100% free GNU/Linux
> poped up).

That's true, however before UTUTO-e came along, people still needed a
platform to use to work on. IIRC RMS ran Debian GNU/Linux (I don't
know if he still does) as this was the most Free distribution at the
time. In the same way, the N800 represents, to the best of my
knowledge, the best PDA-style device in terms of Freedom available. It
still has work to do, which is why it's being provided separately from
the main raffle, and only to people wo specifically want to work on
making the device more Free.

>    The way the Free Software community addressed similar issues in the
>    past is to get and (within legal limits) study what you want to
>    replace, and replace the non-free components one by one. That is
>    how the GNU Project got started, it was a major motivation to
>    establish Debian, and other examples exist in other areas.
> When the GNU project was started, there was no free software; one had
> no choice other than non-free sofyware.  Today we have all the tools
> needed to reject all non-free software.

For general-purpose PC-style hardware, I agree with you 100%. That's
not so true on PDAs and mobile phones. We have the tools available to
fix those last few bits that remain are still non-free though, and by
ensuring that people joining the raffle for the N800 discount vouchers
are wanting to free the device, from where I'm standing at least, the
net result is freer devices.

> Debian is also a bad example, since they distribute non-free software
> despite there being free replacements (Java for example); there are
> other problems as well with Debian, the whole non-free section being
> one such a problem.

...and yet before UTUTO-e, "even" RMS used Debian.

>    We need to build a stronger presence of the Free Software community
>    in this area.
> And this is by distributing devices that contain `almost entirely Free
> Software'?

In the early days of Free Software, it was developed on non-free
platforms. It is now the early days of Free Software on devices such
as PDAs and mobile phones. The landscape is slightly different because
we now have a large amount of Free Software which can be ported to
these devices, but there is still work to be done for this new
hardware to reach full freedom. If there are devices that are already
mostly-free, then this seems like a better starting point than a
device which is entirely non-free, or even one that hasn't been
designed yet. Regarding the last point there, that is simply down to
the fact that I'm not a hardware hacker. It'd be great if fully-free
hardware existed, but until it does then existing platforms which are
almost-free seem like the best starting point.



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