Strategy and serendipity

Carsten Agger agger at
Mon May 6 19:18:44 UTC 2019

Hi Paul

Thanks for your mail, which raised some points that are very close to
what I myself have been thinking for some time now, albeit I believe
with a rather different backstory.

On 5/6/19 5:39 PM, Paul Boddie wrote:

> 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.

This! Incidentally, today I attended a talk with RMS in Aalborg, here in
Denmark. In the question time, I asked him if it wasn't a contradiction
that he's talking a lot about free software as a thing for communities
of people - also non-virtual - but that if you look at software for
self-organizing communities, there's not a lot of it, and it's not
without its problems; what there's *really* a lot of in the ecosystem is
programming tools, with a disproportionate share funded by companies
like Google and Facebook who may produce a lot of free software but
aren't really friends of software freedom.

RMS answered that that's because that's what people are interested in;
the FSF might want to make more software for ordinary people, but it
doesn't really have the funding for such a thing, whereas the people who
are active - i.e., to a wide extent those who *do* have funding - are
making a lot of the infrastructure components and programming tools that
I actually love to work with, but don't at the end of the day do a lot
for the empowerment of more ordinary (less technical) communities.

So it's the same point as you make: One reason for the lack of adoption
of free software may be a lack of awareness, but it's also to a wide
extent a lack of *actual software* to fill people's needs. And this is
indeed especially true of mobile devices, where people are depending on
proprietary apps that often work well, but at the cost of freedom and

In the years I've been in contact with the FSFE, the organization has
mainly been focusing on campaigns as well as on legal matters - patents
and other, indeed very important, stuff.

But maybe the FSFE should, if it were possible, consider producing and
funding free software itself, the way the FSF has been funding and
spearheading the GNU project. An idea could be trying to create the
necessary infrastructure for truly free mobile phones, to follow Paul's
thoughts here.

This depends, of course, on the available budget, and development
efforts are not cheap; however, I think an organization like the FSFE
could make a real difference here. As with the GNU project, the desire
to run valuable free software projects with (say) two to three paid
developers and a community organizer to coordinate volunteers might
attract more contributions by itself.

By this proposal, of course, I may be re-raising a point that has been
discussed many times before and been decided against for good reasons,
but Paul is right: In crucial areas, software freedom needs actual
software more than advocacy; and "the market" won't solve this, because
the large players in the mobile area simply have no interest in Freedom
- and so, using some of the organization's funding to actually create
this software could go a long way.

As someone who makes their living writing software, I'm all too
conscious of financial limitations and used to be responsible about
budgets, but within (once again, say) the mobile area it might be
possible to start out with achievable goals in terms of usability and
impact and take it "stepwise".


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