Going beyond advocacy

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Tue Feb 11 22:22:59 UTC 2020

On Tuesday 11. February 2020 07.46.27 Nico Rikken wrote:
> By putting the Reuse project and the GNU project against each other I
> tried to favor a small targeted project compared to a large, seemingly
> all-encompassing effort. But as you showed me, even GNU has its points
> of focus.

The aim of something like GNU now should be a computing environment that 
allows people to conduct their lives, to interact with other individuals and 
organisations, and to focus on making their lives better, whether it is to 
help them organise their lives, pursue their interests, be creative, or simply 
to be educated and entertained.

Of course, to counter those who claim that their phones offer such an 
environment, it should be noted that such an environment should naturally be 
Free Software from top to bottom and uphold the user's need for things like 
privacy and safety. Otherwise, we wouldn't be invoking the GNU name in talking 
about it.

> With regards to funding, there might be other organizations willing to
> sponsor an effort, as long as the goal is clear. So that is where to
> begin.

This is one area where the FSFE should be central, in my opinion. It should be 
a venue where things get done by people being able to bring different skills 
and resources to bear on problems that need solving. Where else would sponsors 
and those with financial resources go to get such things done otherwise? And 
where else would developers look for meaningful areas of endeavour that 
advances society in some way?

I know we live in an age where entrepreneurism is encouraged and people are 
meant to have great ideas, seek capital through "the market", and so on, but 
we all know how that usually ends up. The skill-sets for success as an 
entrepreneur and for producing decent, lasting, non-exploitative systems can 
be rather different, and we shouldn't expect people to master both realms. 
Otherwise, we really are minimising the chances of anything constructive 
getting done.

> In regards to the PDF issue, it makes sense to first get an idea of the
> scope of the problem. Like I mentioned, I heard some reports about this
> issue, but am not aware of the current problems on this topic.
> Collecting theses reports can help to scope the issue: what
> organizations are not using open standards, what proprietary extension
> are we talking about, and what use-cases does it relate to? Then we
> could move forward by requesting the organizations to adopt open
> standards, by suing them into compliance, or by developing software
> that provides a workaround.

I agree. For all I know, my experience was based on a misunderstanding 
(perhaps there wasn't an actual form involved), or involved me not having the 
right software (despite trying different versions of different tools), or 
involved me not choosing the right settings (in the frustratingly opaque and 
poorly-designed interfaces, thinking specifically of anything that seems to be 
developed for GNOME these days).

We need to understand the capabilities of Free Software today, what the 
missing capabilities are, how those capabilities are used, what people's 
experiences are with the technology, and whether (and in which ways) Free 
Software fell short. We need to assess which projects would form the basis of 
supporting what is missing, whether they are capable of adding support, and 
whether they are interested in doing so.

We also need to establish patterns of behaviour in organisations that have 
power over us so that the software we use is not rendered inadequate due to 
unnecessary technological change. This leads to another area of endeavour 
entirely: that of organisations focusing on sustainable, enduring, undemanding 
solutions instead of pursuing needless change and causing confusion, 
frustration and waste.

> The pdfreaders.org website currently lacks information on typically
> used extensions. Also there is no way to file a complaint on a specific
> case that could help paint a better picture of the current situation.

The PDF Readers campaign focused on anticompetitive and coercive practices, 
which was an important thing to do. But as I have noted before, we also need 
to be able to answer the follow-up questions of what people should otherwise 
be using after telling them that a document format and a software package are 
not the same thing.

At the time of writing, it is just you and I having this discussion, Nico, 
because our mails have not made it to the list, but I hope that others have 
useful insights that they might eventually be able to share with us.


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