August 27th, 2007
Explaining what freedom in computing is about, is also talk about the FSF and/or the GNU project; they’re nothing less than the flagship of the free software movement and they’ve made huge steps toward freedom in computing, but they have missed a key point: If the average computer user is not on our side, we’ll get nowhere.
Ours is a wonderful, well-founded philosophy, just like many others. So why would a friend of mine try to find out what yet another philosophy is all about? After all, there are many things that hurt societies and everyone doesn’t have enough time to support/learn about everything that’s going wrong nor how to solve it. Therefore, our most important concern must be how to approach people.
Getting people’s attention is even more important than trying to develop a free BIOS or a free flash player. The industry offers technology and people accept/reject it, this is how things work and this is why having people on our side is the way to go (instead of begging the industry for mercy). There would be no need to develop a free alternative to the Google Earth client in a Free Software-aware society, for example.
What’s worst, the Free Software Foundation doesn’t even seem to have a plan to solve this situation, after 23 years spreading the word about Freedom-respectful software: GNU.org is supposed to be the main resource on Free Software, but it is not aimed at everyday computer users. Let’s have a look at GNU.org:
- A nerdy introduction:
What is the GNU project? The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete Unix-like operating system which is free software: the GNU system. Variants of the GNU operating system, which use the kernel called Linux, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as “Linux”, they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems. GNU is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix”; it is pronounced guh-noo, approximately like canoe.
- It’s overloaded: It’s full of links everywhere and they mix resources for people to know what Free Software is all about and those for potential volunteers.
- It provides no guidance on how to make the switch to a free computing environment.
It’s definitely not the place I’d recommend my friends to learn about Free Software, as you only get one chance to make a first impression and I wouldn’t waste it that way.
I’ve talked with Stallman about this and he knows they haven’t been approaching everyday computer users the right way (he told me many people say that it’s not easy to know how to make the switch by following GNU.org and they wanted to change that). Anyways, redesigning the whole GNU.org website wouldn’t be enough, as there are other features of the FSF that make it harder to have the average computer user on our side:
- Their strictness: On one hand, they expect people to make the switch to a fully free computing environment in one go by only recommending fully free distributions, but we all know that people fear unknown things, so if you spread the word about the wonderful Free Software philosophy and the only option you give to make the switch is using a fully free operating system, you are making it harder for people to take Free Software seriously because there must be a trasition period. On the other hand, they put much effort into making people understand that “GNU/Linux” is the right name of the operating system.
- Lack of interest in the average computer user: The FSF has only been focused on two important, but not-so-useful target audiences: Techies and politicians. Techies are definitely useful to make software, but how could you rely on techies to do marketing? Politicians, on the other hand, rule a nation/state/whatever, but they go and come, so you shouldn’t rely on a given politician/party; focusing on the population is a safe bet, though.
However, it’s very unlikely that the FSF is going to change and I understand their position and their crucial role in the free software movement, so I’ll keep supporting them. But then, a fork organization is urgently required to meet the need for an effective advocacy for Freedom-respectful software among everyday computing users and this is why GNU/Linux Matters exists.
PS: This blog post’s aim is not to blame the FSF and promote GLM, but to express how disappointed I’m in the poor effort to spread the word about free software on behalf of the Free Software Foundation.
PPS: This blog post does not represent the position of GNU/Linux Matters, just like the rest of the website.