Strategy and serendipity

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed May 8 13:05:53 UTC 2019

On Wednesday 8. May 2019 09.03.48 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Actually I am referring to the history section "For the Long Term" of
> which I believe was written by yourself.

Yes, this was written by me. However, I still wanted to clarify that a lot of 
output on this topic that was thought to be mine was actually my brother's. 
For an insight into the specifics of developing for Android, I can recommend 
various articles of his, such as...

"Publishing Applications via F-Droid"

"The Android Learning Curve"

"Language Reflections"

> The writeup is interesting and may help to shape a better tactis
> and strategy if it picks up some more initiatives like
>  *

You may have to provide a little more context about this for those of us who 
do not readily read German and who are unfamiliar with this initiative. (Since 
various correspondents of mine who are native German speakers never mentioned 
this initiative, I feel that the origins of the initiative are not the 
principal obstacle hindering any wider awareness of it.)

For instance, with an emphasis on conflict mineral avoidance, how does it 
differ from Fairphone? And has the initiative learned the lessons that 
Fairphone needed to learn?

>  *
>  * The advances with chipset for MediaTek and other main
>    SOC producers
>  * SailfishOS(X)

I actually posted a summary of visible and/or viable projects on the 
Tinkerphones mailing list a while ago:

That thread brought up some other projects, too. As far as Sailfish is 
concerned, I haven't seen any indication of it being completely Free Software. 
I know that there is an enthusiastic community who would pretty much buy 
anything with Sailfish on it, but to me it rather seems like a continuation of 
aspects of Nokia's dubious policies with regards to keeping some software 
proprietary for "competitive advantage".

Nor, for that matter, have I seen indications of MediaTek SoCs being any 
better than they were for supporting completely Free Software at the system 
level, with original design manufacturers wedded to MediaTek being notorious 
for throwing potentially licence-violating bundles of code over the wall to 
hapless phone vendors. Interestingly, there are MIPS-based MediaTek products, 
presumably originating from companies acquired by MediaTek, which do seem to 
be more friendly to Free Software.

Consequently, initiatives wanting to have any hope of shipping entirely Free 
Software seem to have coalesced around the iMX family of SoCs, including the 
Purism Librem 5 and the Necunos NC_1, with other initiatives like Neo900 
stating that this would be the viable choice if starting again today. A lot of 
this is probably due to Freescale's corporate culture.


> This is why we don't just wait for "the market", we have to enable it.
> But for all actions of FSFE, the important point is that they can only be
> effective if we have volunteers working on it. So unlesss there are
> volunteers it is hard to do something. Most of these topics need to be
> followed up over many years and our strategy is to first keep open
> possibilities or prevent major problems for initiatives. One example: The
> fight against software patents. Another one: the push towards open standards
> (which enable competition which means people can still use a different
> software or hardware to participate in private or public processes).

The fight against software patents has been largely successful, but it 
illustrates that vigilance and persistence must be elements of any long-term 
strategy. In that case, persistence meant countering apologists who employed 
lazy cultural and economic arguments about cultivating "knowledge economy" 
jobs where patents were supposedly needed. Eventually, such people were no 
longer able to make their case without being called out, and they could 
therefore no longer rely on support from ignorant and easily-pleased 

But vigilance is required to notice the areas of conflict that emerge when 
easier monopolisation opportunities are sought, so it should be worth 
mentioning that machine learning techniques have become a hot area for 
patenting. Some might see this as a relief (that "traditional" software is no 
longer targeted by patent opportunism), but knowing that contagion is always a 
risk (that software might once again be targeted) and having some kind of 
solidarity with practitioners in such closely-related fields (and even in our 
own field), we must not be so easily convinced that we have settled any 
particular argument in our favour.

It is interesting that you raise the topic of interoperability. My own path 
into involvement with the FSFE was via the FFII whose focus was/is 
interoperability. But this topic naturally spans several different realms, and 
this is why it can often seem almost futile to further the cause of open 
standards and fair procurement. It is not possible to argue for these things 
without considering things like vested interests, corruption, and political 

This is why the FSFE must be a faithful partner to other organisations who 
have the same fundamental ethical foundations. An organisation that promotes 
something like Free Software for more than mere convenience must have 
something in common with organisations that advocate privacy, uphold public 
sector transparency, resist corruption, fight climate change, advocate for 
sustainability, and so on.

The topic of volunteering has come up before and is worth its own treatment. I 
believe that a survey of Free Software volunteering was conducted a while ago, 
and I imagine that its findings will be worth examining when they are 


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