Proposal: Revision of policy surrounding 3rd party and non-free software

Robyn Bergeron rbergero at
Wed Jan 22 12:36:49 UTC 2014

----- Original Message -----
> From: "Christian Schaller" <cschalle at>
> To: "Fedora community advisory board" <advisory-board at>
> Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 1:02:20 PM
> Subject: Re: Proposal: Revision of policy surrounding 3rd party and non-free	software
> ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Bill Nottingham" <notting at>
> > To: "Fedora community advisory board"
> > <advisory-board at>
> > Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8:51:26 PM
> > Subject: Re: Proposal: Revision of policy surrounding 3rd party and
> > non-free	software
> > 
> > Christian Schaller (cschalle at said:
> > > While we might want to update some of the pages you mention, for most of
> > > them there is no need.  They are just general statements about wishing to
> > > support free software, which we do.  And as I mentioned in the original
> > > email, we need to have users to achieve that.  There are some issues
> > > driving users away from Fedora that we can't fix (ie.  software patent
> > > mess), but we should try to fix the things we can.
> > 
> > You mention patents... but that's not the only kind of contributory
> > infringement that can exist. Can't help but notice the inclusion of
> > the nVidia driver in the examples and in the discussion. Is this stating
> > that Fedora and its primary sponsor considers the act of facilitating the
> > use of non-GPL modules in kernel space is completely OK from a copyright
> > perspective?
> > 
> > Because that would actually be a fairly large change for both Fedora and
> > others.
> > 
> > > Our influence with the rest of the world and promoting freedom rests on
> > > us
> > > having users and obviously the way we have been building Fedora and the
> > > policies around Fedora used so far is not giving us that.
> > 
> > In terms of userbase, Fedora can definitely say that, and it's up to the
> > project
> > to consider whether that's due to:
> > 
> > - high rate of change and instability in updates
> > - short lifecycle of releases
> > - project's inability to work with those that embed it for actual product
> >   uses
> > - large changes in major functional areas (desktop, init, etc.)
> > - lack of preinstalls on common hardware
> > - inability to install non-Free software in the GUI without manual work
> > - inability to install patent-concerned software without manual work/
> >   inability to play popular media
> > - thanks, I'll just use my tablet and I don't need another OS
> > - Windows or Mac now 'good enough' for their client use
> > - lack of focus on a particular use case (such as developers!)
> > 
> > Admittedly, Fedora doesn't have necessarily the time or the mechanism to do
> > isolated testing on any of these axes, so the plan appears to be a shotgun
> > approach to whichever areas managers feel like targeting? That's not
> > inherently wrong, I'm just curious why this one was chosen as one, and if
> > it's as simple as "it's pretty easy to do technically." (As opposed to
> > "work with those that embed Fedora", which can't be done in three lines of
> > code somewhere.)
> I think most of the items you list here make sense as things we need to work
> on and which I hope
> to contribute on working on. But as you say some of them are more effort/more
> long term than
> others and solving one of them doesn't preclude solving others.

Time and effort aren't the only thing that distinguish some of these solutions from others. While this one may seem like an "easy fix," as compared with some of the others, it's *not* a solution where we can say, "we have nothing to lose in trying this (except time and effort)."

Others in this thread have spoken passionately about their feelings regarding the Freedom element of Fedora's Foundations, and how this proposal would conflict with the project's principles, as currently written. This is also a part of Fedora I myself hold near and dear to my heart, so please don't take the following as any indicator that simply "doing the right thing" isn't on my mind.

I do have to wonder what the "opportunity cost" is of fundamentally changing the Fedora Project's principles. It is a core piece of our messaging; the Foundations are a strong element of our overall brand; changing those things alone, unlike a "quick fix to the code," is something that takes *years* to re-establish and grow. And while we aren't the most "popular" distribution - I would expect that a decent portion of our current users have chosen us *because* of our stance on Freedom. And it's entirely possible that some of the distributions downstream of Fedora have chosen us as the upstream partially because of this stance as well, even if it's simply because it causes them less worries in the legal department, and because they expect that element of Freedom to be an ever-present, dependable quality of Fedora.  

Moreover, and not just because I know Johann would pipe in otherwise and say "why is this about the users and not the actual people contributing" :) - what is the cost to our *existing* contributor base? Many people choose to contribute to Fedora - despite a plethora of other contribution opportunities out there - because our stance on free software resonates with their personal beliefs. They're doing something that matters in the larger scheme of things.

So, sure: Perhaps we gain some users. (Though I suspect that this particular issue that this proposal is designed to solve, while occasionally annoying to some users, is (a) far less annoying than other issues, and not likely to be a single thing that sways folks; (b) a problem that many people used to encounter and perhaps caused them to depart from Fedora usage previously, which has largely become a LOT LESS ANNOYING since then.) But at what cost?

On top of that, I suspect there is potential for immediate and long-term damage in terms of PR, people's perceptions of Fedora, etc. I can only imagine the headlines on slashdot/hackernews/lwn/various press outlets. And while that immediate reaction may be forgotten about in a week when there's some other piece of news elsewhere to jump on, I have to wonder what others will remember long term.

There are a lot of users, and potential users, out there. Some have come and gone from their usage of Fedora and moved on for a variety of reasons. People I have talked to who fall into that category have cited a variety of reasons why; 1 year is too short (both for pure desktop and "we develop and deploy on the same platform, and one year is too short for server"), my job requires $otherdistro, I got a Mac so I can do specific things and just use vagrant for my linux-related-work, and things that are more complaint-oriented (dealing with updates, bugs, etc.)

But there is one common theme I do hear: Respect. "I used to use Fedora, but, ___________. But I really do respect what you guys do." "You guys really do take a stand." "Fedora does the hard work." "It sucks that you guys get negative attention for things; you're doing it first, of course there are issues, but if you didn't do it, nobody else would follow."

While Fedora the distro may have a reputation - deserved or not - for "being a bit too hard" (and again: some of these views are based on when people used it YEARS ago), some of those things, as listed above, can be fixed. And the word can be spread. "They gave up," however, is something that CAN'T BE REPAIRED in people's minds; history can't be erased. The foundation of Freedom is something we are known for, and is something we can actually capitalize on (as terrible as it sounds to position it as a marketing tool, when it's really not just about "marketing" to us - the meaning is far deeper of course). And giving that up for, well, basically, nothing in return - except perhaps a few users, and I suspect that this is not the thing that will sway them to return, but rather just one piece of the puzzle. "Friends, Features, First, Fairly-easy" just doesn't have the same ring to it. 


> > > So we have decided to change, both in technical terms with the Fedora
> > > Next
> > > plan, but we also need to revisit how we practice our policies, which is
> > > what this proposal is about.
> > 
> > 'we'?
> We as in the Fedora project
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