The Forgotten "F": A Tale of Fedora's Foundations

Stephen Gallagher sgallagh at
Mon Apr 21 13:23:21 UTC 2014

Hash: SHA1

On 04/21/2014 09:08 AM, Haïkel Guémar wrote:
> Le 21/04/2014 14:36, Stephen Gallagher a écrit : Lately, I've been
> thinking a lot about Fedora's Foundations: “Freedom, Friends,
> Features, First", particularly in relation to some very sticky
> questions about where certain things fit (such as third-party 
> repositories, free and non-free web services, etc.)
> Many of these discussions get hung up on wildly different 
> interpretations of what the "Freedom" Foundation means. First,
> I'll reproduce the exact text of the "Freedom" Foundation[1]:
> "Freedom represents dedication to free software and content. We 
> believe that advancing software and content freedom is a central
> goal for the Fedora Project, and that we should accomplish that
> goal through the use of the software and content we promote. By
> including free alternatives to proprietary code and content, we can
> improve the overall state of free and open source software and
> content, and limit the effects of proprietary or patent encumbered
> code on the Project. Sometimes this goal prevents us from taking
> the easy way out by including proprietary or patent encumbered
> software in Fedora, or using those kinds of products in our other
> project work. But by concentrating on the free software and content
> we provide and promote, the end result is that we are able to
> provide: releases that are predictable and 100% legally
> redistributable for everyone; innovation in free and open source
> software that can equal or exceed closed source or proprietary
> solutions; and, a completely free project that anyone can emulate
> or copy in whole or in part for their own purposes."
> The language in this Foundation is sometimes dangerously unclear.
> For example, it pretty much explicitly forbids the use of non-free 
> components in the creation of Fedora (sorry, folks: you can't use 
> Photoshop to create your package icon!). At the same time, we 
> regularly allow the packaging of software that can interoperate
> with non-free software; we allow Pidgin and other IM clients to
> talk to Google and AOL, we allow email clients to connect to
> Microsoft Exchange, etc. The real problem is that every time a
> question comes up against the Freedom Foundation, Fedora
> contributors diverge into two armed camps: the hard-liners who
> believe that Fedora should never under any circumstances work
> (interoperate) with proprietary services and the the folks who
> believe that such a hard-line approach is a path to irrelevance.
> To make things clear: I'm personally closer to the second camp
> than the first. In fact, in keeping with the subject of this email,
> I'd like to suggest a fifth Foundation, one to ultimately supersede
> all the rest: "Functional". Here's a straw-man phrasing of this
> proposal:
> Functional means that the Fedora community recognizes this to be
> the ultimate truth: the purpose of an operating system is to enable
> its users to accomplish the set of tasks they need to perform.
> With this in place, it would admittedly water down the Freedom 
> Foundation slightly. "Freedom" would essentially be reduced to:
> the tools to reproduce the Fedora Build Environment and all
> packages (source and binary) shipped from this build system must
> use a compatible open-source license and not be patent-encumbered.
> Fedora would strive to always provide and promote open-source
> alternatives to existing (or emerging) proprietary technologies,
> but accepts that attracting users means not telling them that they
> must change all of their tools to do so).
> The "Functional" Foundation should be placed above the other four
> and be the goal-post that we measure decisions against: "If we make
> this change, are we reducing our users' ability to work with the
> software they want/need to?". Any time the answer to that question
> would be "yes", we have to recognize that this translates into lost
> users (or at the very least, users that are working around our
> intentions).
> Now, let me be further clear on this: I am not in any way
> advocating the use of closed-source software or services. I am not
> suggesting that we start carrying patent-encumbered software. I
> think it is absolutely the mission of Fedora to show people that
> FOSS is the better long-term solution. However, in my experience a
> person who is exposed to open source and allowed to migrate in
> their own time is one who is more likely to become a lifelong
> supporter. A person who is told "if you switch to Fedora, you must
> stop using Application X" is a person who is not running Fedora.
> [1]
> Interoperability is and has always been a key value in the FOSS
> community. Freedom also means freedom not to use FOSS software, off
> course, we ought to favor FOSS alternatives, but we must respect
> end-users choice.
> But above the 4 Foundation, there is our mission statement which is
> "to lead the advancement of open source software and content
> (...)". I agree that we must take care of our end-users but not at
> the expense of our superior mission. Should we delay a feature
> because it will break a proprietary driver or any crapware like
> Skype ? I don't think so.

To interject here, I think there are ways to avoid this problem. One
example would be the Software Collections approach. We could in many
cases keep an older version of a feature (or at least libraries)
around in Software Collections so that the tools like Skype can take
advantage of it. As far as proprietary drivers, that's a harder
discussion. I'd argue that it's probably in our best interests to at
least be having conversations with the driver manufacturers and
convincing them to test their drivers while the updated kernels are
still in updates-testing (or before, if something is changed that is
likely to impact them).

> I know we're walking on a tightrope, between delivering something
> useful to the community and staying true to our values. I believe
> that more collaboration with the larger ecosystem (upstreams,
> downstreams, third-party repositories, and even proprietary folks)
> is the key to success.

Yes, absolutely. That's something I think I failed to bring across in
my initial email: I see this fifth Foundation as a mandate to expand
our community through communication. The best way to accomplish
"Functional" is to have people working together at every level. If we
continue down the path of "it's proprietary, so it's okay if we break
it blindly", that puts the users of those features off and it makes us
an unwelcoming place to participate.

> I share your concerns and agree with rephrasing the Freedom
> Foundation to be clearer, but I disagree with the Fifth Foundation
> proposal. Especially, since it is placed above the Four others and
> denature our mission statement, the one everyone here pledged
> allegiance to.

I think "pledged allegiance to [the Fedora Mission Statement]" is a
bit of a stretch. The only thing I signed (outside of my Red Hat
employment contract) was the FPCA, which only states that all of my
contributions are of the appropriate license. Also, as I say above: I
think that winning people over by persuasion and an iterative process
is more likely to yield fruitful results than telling them "do it this
way, right from the start". People get defensive and nervous about
jumping in head-first.
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