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Perhaps we should start addressing shortcomings in our eco-system (Was: Re: What changes do you want in Debian?)

On 2021/03/19 11:13, Raphael Hertzog wrote:
> 1/ Why have you all given up on the idea to lead Debian?

This question still bothers me a bit. Firstly, I don't see my previous
term or my upcoming term that way. I believe that considering the
climate in recent years in Debian, and considering all the chaos in the
rest of the world over the last year, the work I did on stabilization
was the right way to spend my time and I don't regret that.

I think if I do regret one thing (and this partially addresses the
question posted in a mail[1] I might not have gotten previously due to a
possible spam setting problem), it would be not communicating more
properly. My plan was to set up a DPL blog and have more frequent
updates than a monthly blog. Unfortunately, that didn't quite work out.
I'll work on a strategy to fix that even before this term ends. I think
that a combination of microblogging and summarizing them in larger posts
for planet debian might work better. At the same time, I tend to be
close to action where things are happening, I think many teams would be
able to confirm that. Not everything in Debian happens in mailing lists.

[🔎] 68069c3f-b03b-4958-f950-6da5a02de781@freesources.org">https://lists.debian.org/msgid-search/[🔎] 68069c3f-b03b-4958-f950-6da5a02de781@freesources.org

But I digress, I think even as Debian we can be more ambitious in the
way we lead.

I'd like to talk about the Free Software Foundation first. They've been
a disappointment to me for a long time. At one point I were a very
active FSF member, I followed the mailing lists where RMS and other FSF
organisers would post links to misinformation out there and I'd actively
go comment and correct things along with other members, I was also one
of the top referrers of their affiliate program. I was invested in the
Free Software Foundation and I trusted them and I realised how critical
their role was not only in the software world, but I'd go as far as to
say for the advancement of our species since free software is so
incredibly critical when it comes to leveling playing fields in
business, human rights and more.

Even though I admired what they stand for, I was dissapointed in how
they do things. Explaining things like source code and software is
already difficult to the average user, but their campaigns are often
just weird and sends mixed signals. For example, the windows7sins
campaign painted Windows 7 as this thing of pure evil that should be
avoided at all costs, often using terminology to explain it that likely
only people would understand that have been involved in software for a
long time. Anyway, then last year they have another campaign to release
Windows 7 as free software, and the messaging makes it seem like Windows
7 is this precious piece of software that deserves saving and that we
should all rally together to spend time on energy on that campaign.

At the same time, they seem to do very little for some of the biggest
actual issues that could do with campaigning. In Debian, non-free
firmware is a really big problem for us. It pushes us in the corner
where we either have to release installation media that won't work
outside of the box for a significant percentage of users, or we have to
go down a potentially slippery slope and consider having something like
a firmware repository that's enabled by default. And trust me, it really
irks me that an official Debian Live image will never work on my very
own laptop because it needs the firmware-amd-graphics package in order
to initialize my graphics. The issue comes up often and really, I
applaud the people who actually work towards some solutions to this
rather than just complaining about it.

At the same time, the FSF is really harsh towards Debian. On their page
explaining why they don't endorse several distributions, they write more
paragraphs about why Debian is bad than any other distribution on that
list (and this is a list that includes Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu...
yikes). To the average person unfamiliar with all these distributions,
it gives the impression that Debian is by far the worst offender of
software freedoms on the list, ironically, they've even admitted that
it's probably by far the best for software freedom on that list, and yet
they refuse to fix that page. I've asked them to do so many times, even
once when 2 FSF staffers asked for feedback in an FSF session at
DebConf. They are just not interested.

I think the FSF could spend their time better. Back in 1998, the OSI did
a pretty good job of lobbying at Netscape to release their browser suite
as free software. We need that right now for firmware more than we
needed it for anything else than a browser since 1998. The FSF seems to
be spending zero energy on this. If I could decide for campaigns for the
FSF, I'd put together materials and go directly to chip makers and spend
time discussing benefits of free firmware to them and how the benefits
of releasing free software very likely far outweighs the benefits of
keeping it closed. Also, once you have a few chips that are free, you
can lobby laptop/computer manufacturers to start using these free chips
in their machines, making it easier to apply more pressure on those that
don't. Also, some people in our community are convinced that it's
possible that you can reverse engineer some firmware blobs legally for
as little as $100k. To me that sounds like a great deal and almost too
good to be true, but if I were in a decision position at the FSF, I
would definitely give a shot at this, every piece of hardware that gets
a piece of free firmware to go with it will make a totally free
GNU/Linux system possible for another non-trivial percentage of users
out there. It's important work. Arguably one of the most important
missions that could be taken on in the free software world right now.

In the past, some people have asked me if I'm more of a "free software"
or "open source" kind of person. And I guess in that same veign you
could ask me if I more closely relate my views to the FSF or the OSI,
but over the years they've both proven to be much less relevant to me in
terms of spreading free software and equally importantly, the *idea* of
free software as much as Debian has. Debian has been my personal free
software movement above the FSF and OSI for nearly a decade now, and in
answering Raphaëls question above I think we can do more as Debian to
lead and to be a free software movement for people who care as deeply
for our cause as we do.

Our connections into the corporate world are growing. Increasingly we
have the power to influence some decisions and get a foot in the door to
meet with decision makers. We should use that and use our powers for
good. As things are right now already I'd be willing to approve funds
for working on reverse engineering firmware for hardware that we
support. I do think it needs some project consensus first and I would
check for objections first. As said by many people in many threads, it
would be really useful to be able to poll the project on many issues.

But I digress, if we really want to be bold and show leadership, not
only from the DPL but form the project, we should go a step further and
make the Debian project not only a project to release and support a free
software operating system, but also to be a proper leader in the free
software movement and work on the issues in our eco-system that
apparently no one else cares about and it should be part of our core

This itch has always been there for me, and I imagine other Debianites
as well. But to move something like this forward in the project needs
the support of our members instead of just finding every possible flaw
at every opportunity. So I can't help wondering, does that kind of
support exist within our community? Is it possible for us to get
together to make large, important changes?


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