Strategy and serendipity

Carsten Agger agger at
Wed May 8 09:41:56 UTC 2019

On 5/8/19 9:12 AM, Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:

> The GNU project was started in different times. To me it has reached its goals 
> and should have been called concluded for good. (See comments to my article 
> [1]).

It's my understanding that GNU considers itself to be a project for the
creation and maintenance of a free operating system called GNU. As such,
it is upstream to a lot of related GNU/Linux distributions, such as
Debian, Fedora, etc.

And, again as such, it's hardly ended. There's still a need for someone
to take ownership over and maintain the huge number of packages that
constitute the GNU part of GNU/Linux. Also, I believe the struggle to
have a free operating system is an ongoing one, as there's also forces
who want to undermine the access to a free OS (giving us, e.g., all the
proprietary Android flavors).

> FSFE did consider doing software development or running infrastructure, we 
> even did something like this on a small scale in the past.
> However each times the limits were visible.
> It just does not work, as software development and innovation is not an 
> expertise you can just buy.

As someone who develops free software (and only free software) for a
living, I'd like to qualify that observation. High-level competence in
software development can indeed be difficult to find, but with access to
a very interested, higly technical and also very idealistic community,
the FSFE should be in a unique position with regards to access to highly
talented professionals.

And on the other hand, in a pragmatic world, software development *is*
something you hire.  I know that many free software projects have a high
level of volunteer participation, but high quality software is generally
not made by volunteers. In order to really get the products over the
usability and quality threshold, you need the kind of sustained effort
that requires funding. Because even though programming and all sorts of
tweaking or hacking may be a fun activity for many people, software
development as a discipline is generally not about fun - it's work,
because there's so much that needs to fall in place once you're done
with the funny parts.

Thus, if software development is not "bought" by NGOs like the FSFE, it
will be "bought" by proprietary software companies like Google or
Microsoft - because it  will almost always be paid for.

Now, the thing about developing free software for clients, as my company
does, is that we're very focused on writing software that served the
needs of these specific clients, as efficiently as possible. In the
process, we build many things that can be reused by other clients or in
future projects, thus helping our clients or other free software
businesses deliver things faster and cheaper, but our main focus is
that: Fulfilling the needs of our clients.

If organizations like the FSFE or the FSF were to produce free software,
the situation would be the same - but the "client" would be the
strategic necessities of the free software movement, filling the current
gaps and clearing away hindrances for widespread adoption e.g. of free
mobile devices. I think it makes sense.

>  In addition FSFE would get into competition with 
> many other good organisations (companies and others). That would not be a 
> healthy separation of work.

Like I said, the companies would be motivated by their clients' needs
(small companies like their own) or their bottom line  (Google), and
while a company may be uncompromising about never doing anything
proprietary, the focus is not improving free software *as such*. As
such, the FSFE would not *compete* against e.g. Google or us, it would
*supplement* and contribute to the ecosystem. I think that would be very
healthy indeed.

> This probably means more explanations, I am sure I've written a lot of stuff 
> about this on mailinglists in the recent 18 years. Overall this is not just 
> the FSFE: Centralized software development has a number of hard drawbacks.
How would a small organization as the FSFE getting involved in software
development be any *more* centralized that what's currently going on,
with very many projects being funded by really big players?

I do realize, however, that such a thing would require funding. For a
start, however, it wouldn't have to be all that expensive. It's my
understanding that the FSFE often hires young people from law and
political science backgrounds - who are passionate about free software -
as interns to help with the organizational work. Why not do something
similar for computer science backgrounds? The passion alone would ensure
passionate people working on it, as free software jobs are not easy to find.


-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 833 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <>

More information about the Discussion mailing list