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

inode0 inode0 at
Mon Apr 21 15:02:39 UTC 2014

On Mon, Apr 21, 2014 at 7:36 AM, Stephen Gallagher <sgallagh at> wrote:
> 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.)

Sure but also understand that no matter what precise words are written
down on a piece of paper at a given point in time they will suffer
from sticky questions over time as the world we fit into changes.

> 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.

I'm not really seeing what is unclear or dangerous about the quoted
statement. To me it says clearly that we make Fedora using free
software and free content and the product we hand to you is free
software and free content that you can use and modify for whatever
purpose you choose.

Interoperability with non-free software and services has always been
allowed in free software and Fedora. Our choice to make Fedora from
free software and content is our choice and I doubt it has always been
that way although I can't say for certain. I suspect early Fedora
artwork might very well have been made using non-free software. But
once the Fedora community began making it they made the choice to use
only free software and content in the creation process. Good for them.

> 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.

Well, I don't think I agree with this on several levels.

There are a lot of users, they want to do a lot of different things.
We can't enable everything they want to do. What we can do is provide
them with free software that they can modify to do what they want to
do if what we provide doesn't quite do it for them out of the box. We
will always be guessing what users want, we will always be making
choices based on incomplete information, and we will always be wrong
in a lot of cases.

The Fedora Project has a mission and the ultimate truth as I see it is
that the products the Fedora Project produces should first and
foremost be responsible for furthering the mission of the Fedora

While you choose to single out the Freedom foundation here there are
others and they are equally important. One that doesn't begin with an
F but that falls into both the First and Features foundations is
Innovation. Driving innovative new technologies in Fedora often comes
with the short term expense of reduced or impaired usability. Driving
these new technologies is way more important to my mind than losing
however many users we lose because they find it too difficult to
interact with third-party things. That doesn't mean that we can't make
it easier for them, but I don't think I would want that to be the
primary focus of our efforts or the primary focus of our project.

[ ... snip ...]


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