Re: [to all candidates] Free Software challenges and Debian role
On 2013-03-11 16:35, Stefano Zacchiroli wrote:
But then, one wonders, what are the main challenges that free
at large faces today? [...]
What do candidates think of this? Is free software "going well"? Is
going to go "better" or "worse" in forthcoming years? Why?
For me the biggest challenges for free software today that are "getting
- End-users are moving to more closed hardware. Only a small
proportion of people carefully screen their hardware for free-software
drivers etc. before choosing it. In the last few years, we've been in a
fairly good situation where installing Debian on laptops and desktops
generally just worked. That won't necessarily stay the case. And for
many tablets and phones there is already no easy way to install any free
- End-users are moving to web applications/"the cloud". Few of the
most heavily used ones are free software. Even if they are, centralised
web applications remove users' ability to modify software to their own
needs unless they duplicate a large amount of infrastructure. And in
many cases cloud services reduce users' control even over their data
itself, not just over the platform. We used to have trouble with the
network effect of e.g. Microsoft Office file formats, but free-of-charge
web applications can be even worse for free software, since objectors
need to argue an ideological point to say why they want information in
another way, rather than only explain that they haven't bought that
piece of software or that it won't work on their OS.
- Server users are also migrating to "the cloud". In many cases this
means that their services move to sit on a non-free platform, and it
often reduces ease of modification even in free parts of the platform.
Alongside those we have some challenges that may be "getting better",
- Divisions. When we take free software as an ideological/political
position, it is natural for us to defend our principles even against
divergent views from others who believe in free software. For example,
we have had significant disagreements with the FSF. However,
factionalism damages our cause, and makes it harder for outsiders to
hear the viewpoints that we share.
- Radicalism. There is a danger that we stop being radical, and forget
about activism, and become happy for free software just to be some "open
source" code that supports the lower-level of internet services, and
something we can run ourselves on carefully chosen hardware. But there
is already public and media awareness of some of the negative aspects of
"the cloud", including for users' privacy and control of their data --
there is an opportunity for us to gather new supporters.
Then, if you think free software is not at its best at present, what
you think Debian could do to help? At a glance, Debian seems to have
always done one thing (distributing free software) and has done so
relatively well. Is that enough for current and future free software
challenges? Or should we change to better face those challenges?
As a member of the free software community, Debian should aim to take
clear positions, especially where it can combine its voice with other
parts of the community. Beyond that, I do think that building an
operating system that we intend to be "100% free", and making it
available to others to use, modify and redistribute, is how we can
In my platform, I also spoke about a hope that we might increase our
active contacts with press, companies, governmental organisations, and
through local groups. In those contexts we should always be clear on
Debian's position on free software. Often a "missionary" attitude could
be counterproductive, but that doesn't mean we should hide our position
behind vague statements.
In some cases it is easier for Debian to be heard than purely
campaigning organisations -- for example Debian contributors who run
companies in a region can contact politicians and local media as
concerned business interests. In most regions, a free software economy
that supports many small local businesses would be economically
preferable to depending on a few large international IT companies.