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

Stephen Gallagher sgallagh at
Mon Apr 21 15:27:32 UTC 2014

Hash: SHA1

On 04/21/2014 11:02 AM, inode0 wrote:
> 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.

Right, that's also the way I choose to read it (and believe is the
spirit in which it was written). However, there are many people who
believe that this description specifically asserts that even allowing
access to proprietary code in ANY WAY (even by search engine) is in
violation. This interpretation is held by some Board members, which is
why I think it's dangerously unclear. Furthermore, we've had it
claimed that even talking to proprietary web services by public, open
APIs should be considered non-free.

These interpretations seem very isolationist to me and discouraging to
new users.

> 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.

I'm not trying to claim that we should be able to do absolutely
everything. I'm saying that we should not actively discourage things
people want to do. If a company produces a third party application
that users want to use (let's say Maya, for example), I don't think
it's an acceptable stance to refuse to admit that it exists and try to
push people at Blender. Hiding it from them or making them jump
through hoops or go to third-party repositories (which we also hide!)
is needlessly antagonistic.

I think it's our responsibility to advise and recommend open-source
alternatives instead. "I see you are downloading Maya. You may be
interested in this free alternative "Blender" instead of paying
$TEXAS" (for example).

> 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 
> Project.

See my other replies for why I feel that focusing on the FOSS-only
interpretation of Freedom actively harms our Mission.

> 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.

I don't believe this needs to be mutually-exclusive. I'd actually
argue that we're increasing the competitive instinct by requiring us
to provide a more compelling argument for our choices than just
"because it's FOSS".

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