[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

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 software
at large faces today? [...]
What do candidates think of this? Is free software "going well"? Is it
going to go "better" or "worse" in forthcoming years? Why?

For me the biggest challenges for free software today that are "getting worse" are:

- 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 software base.

- 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", including:

- 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 do
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 contribute best.

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.


Reply to: