Free Software: the evolutionary way

by davidnielsen

Lately I have been getting rather annoyed with Fedora. First Codina gets turned into an impotent shadow of it’s former glory and now there is serious debate on crippling peoples hardware by removing potentially non-free bits from the kernel package (abide in a seperate package but stay with me). Now as a pro-Free Software advocate I generally support freedom, but my main problem here is that we are crippling existing setups and not once have I heard the words “work on a replacement”. The only care is the ideal of freedom and nobody seems to be interested in replacing the funtionality they rip out. This however for me has always been the tenant of Free Software, when we take something away be it the compiler, your shell or whatever, we replace it with a Free Software offering.

It seems to me that the Free Software zealots have forgotten that we need voices to speak the case for Free Software, we do this by having users. So long as we are actively making the situation better everything is fine. Red Hat e.g. has paid for the services of the wonderful John Linville who has worked hard to make Wifi better under Linux using Free Software and for years of not having this without non-free software we now have really good coverage. The same is true in many other areas, e.g. we now have upcoming good drivers for ATI and NVIDIA videocards. So long as we don’t add more non free software I think the situation is getting better the right way. Remembering that if we were to ban all non free software, such things as firmware for harddrives, BIOS firmware and other things would have to go and we have no good replacement for them yet so we’d effectively brick the machine. Naturally in due course all this should be replaced with open alternatives but none exist right now and we need voices to speak the case, we need leverage to pressure companies to open up and work with us. That is the only way we’ll get where we want to be in the long run, this hard line stance will only bring us misery.

In that vein, today I cancelled my membership of the FSF, not because I think the FSF isn’t doing important work but every person I’ve seen making the revolution argument for Free Software has included the words “Proud FSF member”, I don’t wish to be bundled in with this group and I wish the FSF would start to distance themselves from this approach. After all the GNU project started by replacing software bit by bit, I think we should go back to that wisdom.

My ideals for Free Software would be:

1) When in the market for a new functionality, always make it powered by Free Software.

2) When in the market for a new standard, always make it open.

3) Don’t cripple existing setups, what has unfortunately snuck in our platform should be a concern for replacement not removal (regressions are acceptable in this arena, once deployed functionality tends to get on par with the non-free offering fast so there is no need for a demand of 1:1 feature parity for replacement, cover the common use cases and deploy).