Strategy and serendipity (was Re: FSFE "officials" on this list (Re: The "rival" discussion mailing list))

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon May 6 15:39:09 UTC 2019

On Monday 6. May 2019 10.27.57 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Hi Paul,
> Am Donnerstag 02 Mai 2019 21:45:40 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> > I would also encourage the FSFE leadership to use venues like this list to
> > more fully engage with the community, even when this involves encountering
> > dissent.
> doing a rough count on my personal archive which starts 2016: There are
> about 1500 posts in this discussion list and I count about 350 from people
> that are in the main e.V. which is the highst official organ in the FSFE.
> So I'll estimate 20% of posts here from the "leadership".

I can imagine that many of these posts are just distributing information that 
is not really meant to be discussed, like announcements or newsletters. So, 
the involvement of the leadership in discussions may be somewhat less than 


> Also we shall spend more time on the topics were we can advance Free
> Software in society according to our constitution. Our newsletters and
> other articles are full of hints that we need to spread and explain to more
> people. I believe that most our supporters are supporting us because FSFE
> is pragmatic about what we can do (and this includes limiting the energy
> spending on "internal politics").

I appreciate the newsletter, and it is interesting to see that there are 
plenty of things happening for it to report, but I really miss a sense of 
strategic purpose or direction. The most recent newsletter has a "Get Active" 
section, which should be welcomed, but there arguably isn't sufficient FSFE-
oriented community activity for the suggested activities to be practical, 
although I imagine that some people will benefit from hearing about them.

> To make an example:
> I found some of your articles on mobile computing with Free Software
> helpful, we could see if we collect information about this more
> systematically. To include new "fair" approaches like the Shift-phones or
> LineageOS-MicroG on used phones. If some folks are interested in this a
> group of volunteers within FSFE can do a lot of useful things.

Those articles were written by my brother, not me. The attribution has 
apparently been corrected in the Web version of the newsletter, but in my 
correspondence with the FSFE where I requested the correction, we also entered 
a discussion about mobile computing and where the FSFE could be more 

I think I often make the point that advocacy has its place in encouraging Free 
Software adoption, but there also has to be viable Free Software to be 
adopted. Waiting for people to make Free Software solutions so that they may 
be promoted is a rather market-focused or consumerist way of working. That may 
work out fairly well for some things, but it rather fails for many others.

Free Software mobile solutions are a challenging area, not least because there 
needs to be software development at several levels. A practical user interface 
must be provided, which has been a particular challenge over the years, 
compounded further by rather impractical and bizarre decisions taken by the 
more established Free Software desktop projects whose code ends up being used.

Low-level software must be designed and implemented, with all the challenges 
of writing drivers for the perpetually moving target that is Linux (most 
commonly) combined with the usual matter of reconciling vendor documentation 
(if available) with reality. The "middleware" that plumbs everything together 
must be designed and implemented having had only rare outings in actual 
products, meaning that its maturity might not be so great.

And when one considers the actual hardware, if one considers that just waiting 
around for the software to come together is impractical, then given that 
hardware engineering also comes with unavoidable expenditure to even have 
anything to show at all, it becomes obvious that waiting around for the 
hardware to appear is going to be even less rewarding. Waiting for something 
approaching a complete solution to advocate is therefore likely to be very 
frustrating indeed.

Of course, there are still initiatives involving mobile hardware and software, 
but apart from those attempting to do it all themselves (and risking a 
suboptimal result), they arguably lack the support to be able to benefit from 
each other. The Replicant developers, for instance, would presumably benefit 
from a genuinely open device being developed. Would-be hardware makers would 
benefit from a version of Replicant (or something else) for their hardware.

But without sustained support for any collaboration, it is almost easier, 
particularly for the software developers, to look for opportunities elsewhere. 
People see new phones coming out all the time and hope that there is a quick 
fix to be had: that everything will line up just fine and that Replicant, or 
LineageOS, or whatever will just work miraculously, that the need to focus on 
hardware will disappear.

We are at the point where, unlike with desktop computers, we cannot simply 
wait for "the market" to solve the problems facing Free Software on mobile 
devices. Had a similar situation occurred with desktop computing, the FSFE 
would have been limited to "Free Your Windows" campaigns.

Advocating that people buy an ancient Galaxy device that was presumably 
intercepted on its journey to being scrapped or sent to landfill, "while 
stocks last", is not a sustainable situation over time. And Free Software 
should be all about sustainability. This is where the FSFE and other 
organisations lack apparent strategic direction.


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