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2019 in Review: Worst Year Ever for Software Freedom

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 2:47 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A railway station

Summary: A look back (and ahead) as the year’s end fast approaches, marking the end of a mostly bad year

THE first half of the last month of the year is now over. Free software is doing extremely well in the sense that it’s widely used (more than ever before), but listening devices (commonly euphemised as “smart” “assistants”; they’re neither) apparently continue to spread, sometimes even as holiday “gifts”. Yesterday I found out that a fellow Ph.D. student, whom I shared an office with a decade and a half ago, had left the company where he worked for about 15 years. It’s a small company we rely on for hosting (at my night job). I won’t name him or the company; they’re likely victims of the whole “clown computing” hype — the idea that all data and all computing should be outsourced to few monoliths — typically in another continent and with lucrative military contracts (those include access to all the data!).

“I couldn’t possibly imagine that Richard Stallman would leave the FSF later in the year…”In 2019 we cut down most USPTO coverage; that’s a decision I made almost exactly a year ago when I was in Berlin; coverage about European Patent Office (EPO) scandals was prioritised and seeing that European software patents were making a comeback in “hey hi” form (also in the US, where bypassing 35 U.S.C. § 101 isn’t simple) it seemed important to tackle.

I couldn’t possibly imagine that Richard Stallman would leave the FSF later in the year; nor could I envision a number of other setbacks to come, including the rapid deterioration of the Linux Foundation (total deviation from its identity and mission statement), demise of Linux.com (all writers fired except one who isn’t even using GNU/Linux!), and closure of Linux Journal. There were several other bits of bad news; what an awful year it has been! Our associates largely share that sentiment.

The important thing is that we remain vigilant and fight back. The software keeps spreading, but it doesn’t always spread freedom with it (for various different reasons, depending on one’s definition/interpretation of freedom).

“The important thing is that we remain vigilant and fight back.”We started a number of initiatives, including Delete GitHub. Earlier this year, for a number of months, we had the Openwashing Report. We ended it when it started to feel a tad repetitive. At the moment figosdev works on Systemdisenfranchised, which neatly fits into the Librethreat Database. Seeing the democratic process in Debian this month, there’s hope they’ll choose to become separable from Red Hat/RHEL. If that’s not too late…

At the moment I use 3 laptops; one runs GNOME, another runs KDE Plasma and the main one runs Openbox. The main one is satisfactory for work and the setup suits my workflow; this machine turns 11 next year. I use it without battery (it hasn’t worked for nearly a decade), without a screen (it’s broken, so I use this laptop only with an external monitor) and the keyboard too is mostly busted, so I use an external one (for years now). That’s difficult to explain when guests come over, but all these issues are hardware issues, nothing to do with GNU/Linux…

“At the moment I use 3 laptops; one runs GNOME, another runs KDE Plasma and the main one runs Openbox.”In 2020 we expect more actions at the EPO (protests, strikes) and far too much apathy on the subject of software patents. Almost nobody but us is left to speak about this issue (which is sad and unfortunate). On the Free software side of things, we hope to see fewer companies/projects joining GitHub (Microsoft) and more leaving it; the same goes for Windows and Azure. From what we’ve been hearing, even from former Microsoft insiders, things aren’t rosy at Microsoft. People are leaving, both staff and customers. Microsoft is aware and it seems to be busy chasing contracts with authoritarians in China, the Pentagon, ICE and Big Polluters (oil giants that drill the seas).

If the fake news has an element of truth to it, Microsoft has some sort of Arctic vault. Good. Maybe they make burial plans for the company itself. That’s long overdue. Is the vault large enough to accommodate the many hundreds of dead Microsoft products and projects? Will Bill Gates outlast the company? If not, he can always use his Epstein contacts posthumously to meet lots of young ladies, making up for the loss of youth he cannot buy back. Imagine… no more “Bill says” articles.

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