08.18.19

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Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Introduction

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 9:45 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A publication from the Free Media Alliance

Overview

  • You are here ☞ Part 1: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Introduction
  • Part 2: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Free as in Speech
  • Part 3: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Free Software in Education
  • Part 4: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Narcissism in The Community
  • Part 5: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: The Simplest Ways that AI will Change Computing
  • Part 6: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: There is More Than One Iceberg Ahead
  • Part 7: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: Distro-libre and feature-schema
  • Part 7: Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: A Free (as in Freedom) Library, and Federation of Advocates

Rock with ring

Summary: “The FSF isn’t just threatened, it will hit a large iceberg in the future that changes it permanently.”

Originally this was written to assist FSF members in bolstering the success of the Free Software Foundation. Now it is written to assist other free software advocates in continuing the success of the FSF instead.

Fewer assumptions were made in the previous approach to this writing — now we assume some things:

1. The FSF isn’t just threatened, it will hit a large iceberg in the future that changes it permanently.

“Now it is written to assist other free software advocates in continuing the success of the FSF instead.”2. It will not change course on its own, nor will it carry enough lifeboats for such a tragedy.

3. It likely will continue in its mission, in an increasingly diminished capacity.

Of the greatest concern is not what capacity the FSF will have in terms of money and numbers. Whatever happens in the future, the FSF will likely manage to pull through in terms of funding and having some purpose. The most important things the FSF still does and will likely focus on in the future, include:

1. The RYF campaign will continue to promote hardware that meets the requirements of the FSF.

2. The FSF will continue to collect funds to help pay for various programmes, organisations, and software development.

“Of the greatest concern is not what capacity the FSF will have in terms of money and numbers.”3. They will continue to host the FSF website, maintain licences and the Free Software Definition.

Presumably they will continue to lobby against any legal challenges to these activities, which is also valuable.

Other key accomplishments of the FSF include establishing the free software movement, creating the GNU operating system and creating free software licences such as the GPL.

These include some of the most important contributions to free software of all time, and no effort is being made to make small of these things.
So what could go wrong? Some things have actually been going wrong for several years.

One of the worst things that will happen to the FSF will be the eventual loss of its founder. Stallman is not going to be with the FSF forever, and has said before that he has no replacement.

For those who feel the FSF has already spent years ignoring some important new threats to software freedom, and given that he has already said he has no replacement — it is reasonable to speculate what sorts of problems the FSF will experience without Stallman as its President or on its Board of Directors.

“Stallman is not going to be with the FSF forever, and has said before that he has no replacement.”The greatest failure of the FSF already, is its failure to produce more Richard Stallmans. Not that you have to be Richard Stallman to run the FSF or promote free software, but it would certainly help. We have few complaints about him that wouldn’t apply just as readily to anybody else in the FSF.

And let’s be realistic — even if it were part of the mission of the FSF to replicate its founder, that’s a taller order than the one the FSF actually exists to serve; nobody but nobody is RMS.

Not to single out the FSF on this matter — Microsoft continues to be run by Gates with a lapdog at the helm, as it did with Ballmer at the wheel. Apple is just not the same at all without Steve Jobs. These corporations may outlast their founders, but few will survive intact. The future of the FSF is most likely not the FSF — or it is, we suspect, the FSF with other organisations to pick up the slack.

We keep a list of people most likely to fill Stallman’s shoes — hopefully it will not be John Sullivan, as he already fills the role he is best suited to. Sullivan would be, at best, the Tim Cook to Stallman’s Jobs. Compared to RMS, he is uncharismatic, unimaginative and businesslike. That doesn’t mean he isn’t useful to the FSF, but without RMS it’s hard to imagine the FSF becoming anything under Sullivan except increasingly boring and middle-of-the-road. In fact it may have already become that, not to pin it unfairly on a single person.

“Not to single out the FSF on this matter — Microsoft continues to be run by Gates with a lapdog at the helm, as it did with Ballmer at the wheel. Apple is just not the same at all without Steve Jobs.”Better candidates would include, as always — Ben Mako Hill, who is shy compared to Stallman though not too shy to do a good job, Alexandre Oliva who is probably more like RMS than any other person alive — too bad (in a way) that he’s already an asset to FSF-LA or perhaps he could naturalise and work for the FSF in Boston.

Denis Roio works for Dyne.org and lives in Europe, or he would otherwise make an interesting replacement. And Kat Walsh could make a good President, if she cares enough about free software (she probably does) and her ties to “Open source” aren’t strong enough to conflict. (Ben Mako Hill has them too, but has spoken openly against the threat they present.)

Eminem, if he cared about free software issues, would make a great stand-in for Richard Stallman. He is great at arguing his points, he knows the people he criticises intimately, and he never backs down from an argument regardless of how powerful his opponent is. Stallman is a little more honest, and finding someone as honest as RMS is unlikely but preferable.

Now this looks like a job for me
So everyone, press lots of keys
Cause we need to liber — ate our PCs
They would be so non-free without me

Open source has made great effort in twisting every reasonable critique Free software has made of monopolies, into something deeply controversial or overzealous. They have simply rolled over for a corporation that not only refers to their actions against all competitors (including Free software and Open Source) as war — but one that was founded on referring to hobbyists as thieves for sharing software, at a time when the industry was just transitioning away from software that was (by default and common practice) in the public domain.

Let’s be really clear about this — around the time Microsoft was founded, most computer enthusiasts already shared software, which was generally legal to share. Copyright and industry practice then changed dramatically, Bill Gates started calling people thieves for sharing, and Stallman started working to preserve a non-corporate (non-monopolistic) way of developing and distributing software.

“Let’s be really clear about this — around the time Microsoft was founded, most computer enthusiasts already shared software, which was generally legal to share.”Ever since, Free software was painted (by corporations and by Open source) as overzealous and unreasonable — simply for not wanting monopolies to take over what was once the right of every computer enthusiast on Earth.
When companies who literally own the media corporations want to destroy your occupation, your hobby and your rights, and paint you as a zealot for simply arguing for those rights — it does you no good to be an overly agreeable person.

Apart from being good at arguing for liberty, you also need to be able to bring people together. Stallman has proven himself to be wildly successful in this regard, without the false compromises and weakened goals (artificial victory) of Open Source.

In addition, some of the things that needed to be solved — like the creation of a free operating system and large-scale software support — are already solved, and only need to be defended. The FSF’s defense of this resource is both minimal and insufficient, there are several other threats to the FSF that could do harm to all they’ve done so far, and they need someone running the ship that is going to be able to protect its existence and advance its mission in the 21st century.

“While we are at it, we should be talking about other ways in which the FSF has failed and what we can do about those problems as well.”They aren’t ever going to find someone as qualified as Stallman, so we really should be talking about what’s needed and how we can find (or produce) enough people that can do those things.

While we are at it, we should be talking about other ways in which the FSF has failed and what we can do about those problems as well.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (Public Domain)

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