GNOME fndn. is actively violating the Freedom 3

Paul Boddie paul at
Fri May 14 17:45:56 UTC 2021

On Wednesday, 12 May 2021 23:52:28 CEST Heiki Lõhmus wrote:
> On Wed, May 12, 2021 at 07:14:51PM +0000, kreyren at wrote:
> > 
> > This is not as GNOME is seemingly intentionally making their libraries
> > to work only with their solutions and even trying to make their
> > library to break 3rd party software (common practice in non-free
> > software) according to the termite project that put in effort to
> > hotfix lot of those changes to make the terminal to work.
> It is not up to you or the termite project to decide what benefits the
> whole community.

The problem here is rather familiar in Free Software, and the realm of the 
"free desktop" in particular, in that the (part of the) community developing 
the software seems to have its own "vision" about how the software should be 
used. This software gets packaged up by distributions or by the developers 
themselves (who have not always been able to cooperate with distribution 
maintainers) and ultimately lands in front of end-users as some kind of "done 

What one then has to consider is how a user may practically exercise their 
freedom to modify and distribute the software. This can be particularly 
challenging if the software of interest is part of a virtually monolithic 
suite or collection of projects and libraries, and I think the "free desktop" 
projects made considerable mistakes, historically, in their technological 
choices and assumptions about how they might be able to encourage people to 
get involved and to contribute.

(For instance, KDE largely shunned dynamic languages for ages, where such 
languages would have made modification convenient and approachable, and then 
decided to introduce JavaScript as a kind of scripting solution, which rather 
came across as condescending whilst failing to appreciate the maturity and 
diversity of existing dynamic language adoption. My most recent experience 
looking at the GNOME platform required buying into the use of GNOME Builder, 
which is not an experience I personally would feel comfortable imposing on 

But as has already been pointed out, no-one is being denied their "four 
freedom rights" in the referenced matter: people can always change the code 
and redistribute that code to other people, and this must indeed have been 
going on. It might have been inconvenient to maintain a fork, and the most 
seemingly efficient outcome might have been to integrate the changes upstream, 
but the upstream developers are not obliged to accept and maintain any code 
that is offered to them.

However, what we see is a rather asymmetric relationship with regard to 
influencing what end-users will ultimately experience. A few people working in 
a large company (let us call it "Blue Hat") may be able to leverage adoption 
of that company's operating system distribution to get their "vision" in front 
of lots of people, and being in such a privileged position, they may be able 
to reject requests for changes or improvements, claiming that they simply know 
better than everybody else.

It would be all very well to insist that anyone who has improved on a 
particular piece of software can merely release it, get the word out, and 
eventually Blue Hat might come round to adopting it instead of the original 
upstream edition of that software, but we all know that many social, 
institutional and technological obstacles would need to be overcome for that 
to happen. Meanwhile, most end-users just have to take what they have been 
given, which rather starts to feel like proprietary software.

Some Free Software projects have considerable incumbency advantages, and their 
developers have considerable power and privilege over end-users because of 
that. Unfortunately, not enough attention is given in the Free Software 
movement to the responsibilities that should accompany such power and 
privilege. If it is not the end-user failing to appreciate a "vision" (and are 
doing the equivalent of "holding it wrong" [*]) then the excuses of "we're all 
volunteers" or "we do this for fun" get trotted out.


So while I don't believe that in this case anyone is "actively violating" any 
of the four freedoms, I don't particularly think that the technology concerned 
is developed in a particularly democratic or respectful way. But again, I 
don't think these issues are adequately addressed in the Free Software 
movement, aside perhaps from a degree of attention on development practices 
and project transparency.


> > Which to me clearly recognizes the presented situation and why we
> > should do something about it instead of making our own rules to define
> > those freedoms e.g.
> Don't troll, please.

Although one can argue it is insincere to portray the FSFE's description of 
the four freedoms as redefining them, I think care has to be taken to avoid 
losing or mutating various nuances when rephrasing them. For instance, the 
"study" freedom on the FSFE's site doesn't correspond precisely to "freedom 1" 
because it fails to mention changing the software.


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