Feedback appreciated for "There is no Free Software company - But!"

amunizp a75576 at
Thu Nov 17 13:57:09 UTC 2016

El 15 de noviembre de 2016 17:28:30 GMT+00:00, Matthias Kirschner <mk at> escribió:
>I just published a blog post about a topic we discussed at the FSFE's
>last general assembly. Please let me know what you think about it.
>Looking forward to your feedback. 
>(The text is also online available under
><>. Feel free to
>share it so we get a wide range of feedback.)
># There is no Free Software company - But!
>Since the start of the FSFE 15 years ago, the people involved were
>certain that
>companies are a crucial part to reach our goal of software freedom. For
>years we have explained to companies – IT as well as non-IT – what
>they have from Free Software. We encourage individuals and companies to
>pay for
>Free Software, as much as we encourage companies to use Free Software
>in their
>While more people demanded Free Software, we also saw more companies
>something is Free Software or Open Source Software although it is not.
>behaviour – also called *"openwashing"* is nothing special for Free
>some companies also claim something is "organic" or "fair-trade"
>although it is
>not. As the attempts to get a trademark for "Open Source" failed, it is
>difficult to legally prevent companies from calling something "Free
>or "Open Source Software" although it does neither comply with the Free
>Software definition by the Free Software Foundation nor with the Open
>definition by the Open Source Initiative.
>When the FSFE was founded in 2001 there was already the idea to
>encourage and
>support companies making money with Free Software by starting a "GNU
>network". One of the stumbling blocks for that was always the
>definition of a
>Free Software company. It cannot just be the usage of Free Software or
>contribution to Free Software, but also needs to include what rights
>they are
>offering their customers. Another factor was whether the revenue stream
>is tied
>to proprietary licensing conditions. Would we also allow a small
>revenue from
>proprietary software, and how high is that that you can still consider
>it a
>Free Software company? 
>It turned out to be a very complicated issue, and although we were
>discussing it we did not have an idea how to approach the problems in
>a Free Software company.
>During our last meeting of the FSFE's General Assembly we came to the
>conclusion that there was a flaw in our thinking and that it does not
>sense to think about "Free Software companies". In hindsight it might
>obvious, but for me the discussion was an eye opener, and I have the
>that was a huge step for software freedom.
>As a side note: When we have the official general assembly of the FSFE
>always use this opportunity to have more discussions during the days
>before or
>after. Sometimes they focus on internal topics, organisational changes,
>often there is brainstorming abut the "hot topics of software freedom"
>where the FSFE has to engage in the long run. At this year's meeting,
>from 7 to
>9 October, inspired by Georg Greve's and Nicola Diedrich's input, we
>spent the
>whole Saturday thinking about the long term challenges for software
>with the focus on the private sector.
>We talked about the challenges of software freedom presented by
>economies of
>scale, networking effects, investment preference, and users making
>and price based decisions over values – even when they declare
>value conscious.
>One problem preventing a wider spread of software freedom identified
>there was
>that Free Software is being undermined by companies that abuse the
>brand recognition of Free Software / Open Source by "openwashing"
>Sometimes they offer products that do not even have a Free Software
>This penalises companies and groups that aim to work within the
>principles of
>Free Software and damages the recognition of Free Software / Open
>Source in the
>market. The consequence is reduced confidence in Free Software, fewer
>developers working on it, fewer companies providing it, and less Free
>being written in favour of proprietary models.
>In the discussion, one question kept arising. Is an activity that is
>good for
>Free Software which is done by one small company as their sole activity
>valuable than if the same thing were done as part of a larger
>enterprise? We
>all agree that a small company which is using and distributing
>exclusively Free
>Software, and has done so for many years, and no part of the software
>wrote or included was ever non-free software is good.  But what happens
>if said
>small, focused company got purchased by a larger entity? Does that
>the benefit of what is being done?
>We concluded that good action remains good action, and that the FSFE
>encourage good actions. *So instead of focusing on the company as such
>should focus on the activity itself*; we should think about ***"Free
>business activities", "Free Software business offers"***, and such. My
>was that this was the moment the penny had dropped, while others and me
>realised the flaw in our previous thinking. We need action oriented
>and we need to look at activities individually.
>There was still the question where to draw the line between acceptable
>useful activities and harmful ones. This is not a black and white
>issue, and
>when assessing the impact for software freedom there are different
>levels. For
>example if you evaluate a sharing platform, you might find out that the
>core is
>Free Software, but the sharing module itself is proprietary. This is a
>offer if you want to run a competing sharing platform using Free
>The counter example of an acceptable offer was a collaboration software
>was useful and complete, but where connecting a proprietary client
>would itself
>require a proprietary connector. It was also discussed that sometimes
>you need
>to interface with proprietary systems through proprietary libraries
>that do not
>allow connecting with Free Software unless one were to first replace
>the entire
>API/library itself.
>Ultimately a consensus emerged around a focus on the four freedoms of
>Software in relation to the question of whether the software is
>complete and useful to run a competing business.
>One thought was to run "test cases" to evaluate how good an offer is on
>Free Software scale.  Something like a regular bulletin about best and
>practice. We could look at a business activities and study it according
>to the
>criteria below, evaluate it, making that evaluation and its conclusions
>That way we can help to build customer awareness about software
>freedom. Here
>is a first idea for a scale:
>* EXCELLENT: Free Software only and on all levels, no exceptions.
>* GOOD: Free Software as a complete, useful, and fully supportable
>  Support available for Free Software version.
>* ACCEPTABLE: Proprietary interfaces to proprietary systems and
>especially complex systems that require complex APIs/libraries/SDKs, as
>  as the above is still met.
>* BAD: Essential / important functionality only available proprietary,
> functionality missing from Free Software (one example for an essential
>  functionality was LDAP connector).
>* EVIL: Fully proprietary, but claiming to be Free Software / Open
>  Software.
>**Now I would like to know from you:** what is your first reaction on
>Would you like to add something? Do you have ideas what should be
>included in a
>checklist for such a test? Would you be interested to help us to
>evaluate how
>good some offers are on such a scale?
>To summarise, I believe it was a mistake to think about businesses as a
>before and that if we want to take the next big steps we should think
>Free Software business offers / activities – at least until we have a
>name for what I described above. We should help companies that they are
>deluded by people just claiming something is Free Software, but give
>them the
>tools to check themselves.
>Matthias Kirschner - President - Free Software Foundation Europe
>Schönhauser Allee 6/7, 10119 Berlin, Germany | t +49-30-27595290
>Registered at Amtsgericht Hamburg, VR 17030  | (
>Contact (  -  Weblog (
>Discussion mailing list
>Discussion at

Hi Matthias,

Sounds good. Where would 'open core' or 'open surface' fall?

-- --
Andres (he/him/his)
Ham United Group
Richmond Makerlabs

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