[Top][All Lists]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]


From: Thomas Lord
Subject: gnu.com?
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2008 02:04:30 -0800
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20060808)

* ESR's effort to initiate process reform for GNU Emacs sparked
 some larger conversation about the GNU project generally.  A
 resulting idea has reached the "half-baked" stage in my mind
 and I would like to share it before I explore it further (and
 to help decide whether I should).

 Please forgive me for not trying to attribute every point made
 in the list conversation and I note for the record that the
 mailing list archives for the past month or so should make it
 easy to figure out who exactly I am "quasiquoting," so to
 speak.  I am freely combining my own ideas with several that
 have passed on this list.  I have some original thoughts here,
 I suppose, but they are intertwingled with what others have
 said recently.

* The aim of the GNU project is to develop an operating system.
 This goal has not yet been met.

 GNU has achieved "most" of the goal, in some sense.  Using
 little besides GNU software and a kernel, usually the Linux
 kernel, of course, a free software operating system can be

 Yet, the GNU project does not itself distribute an operating
 system.  Users must either do a lot of work to assemble
 their own, or rely on Debian or on one of the commercial
 GNU/Linux vendors, or rely on a small number of poorly
 resourced hobbiest or volunteer projects.   No commercial
 vendor of free software is delivering applications advertised
 to run on "the GNU operating system".   GNU's early objectives
 of unix-but-then-a-more-lispy-environment lie by the wayside.

* Though there was once a fairly clear "target" for what the GNU
 system would one day be, both technology and free software
 have advanced so far, in the meanwhile, that there is no
 longer any clear picture of the GNU project's target.

 Early on, GNU was defined by a simple task list that (more or
 less) listed the differences between what GNU was already
 distributing and the then contemporary versions of unix.  GNU
 had "info" and "tex" but needed an nroff, for example.  GNU at
 one point needed a good shell program.  GNU would need a
 window system, just as the unix vendors had such.  For fun,
 the GNU task list asked for a flight simulator.  Most of these
 boxes got checked off (i.e. "done enough, for now").  Some
 slapstick craziness delayed a kernel.  The linux kernel
 arrived.  Commercialization happened.  And a mere decade and a
 bit later the definition of "operating system" (in the sense
 of what people expect when they install one) has expanded
 greatly.  The task list has not kept up.  This is no surprise

* A strictly volunteer project has difficulty catching-up or,
 better, leap-frogging the contemporary definition of an
 operating system, because today there is commercial demand for
 free software hackers.

 When GNU began, jobs describable as "developing free software"
 were almost non-existent.  I, for one -- and I'm sure I am not
 alone -- volunteered to try to shrink the GNU task list partly
 to force a point.  "We," (if I may), sought to create a
 complete, useful, truly free operating system *in part*
 because that would help create something in scarce supply at
 the time: a professional career path in which we would not be
 obligated to collaborate in somebody's plan to seize power
 over users (at least in the sense of the "four freedoms").
 So, "we" (some of us, at least) "worked for free" in part so
 that later we might be able to work professionally without
 sacrificing our ethics.

 Times have changed and while there are still (it seems, from
 reading the trade press and studies) more programmers who
 *want* to write only free software than there are who are paid
 to write free software -- still -- demand for very talented
 free software programmers is fiercely competitive.  Very few
 people with lots of established talent need to struggle to
 find employment writing free software.  Therefore, almost
 everyone with lots of established talent has only limited time
 to volunteer for GNU, other than where such volunteerism
 happens to coincide with the wishes of their employer.

* The definition of "GNU project" has become confusing.

 With an unclear target, and extremely limited volunteer
 resources, GNU is in a rough spot when it comes to leading
 cooperation on building -- well -- "the GNU operating system".

 The GDB project should work with the project to improve
 the Emacs interface to GDB, for example -- but there is
 no obvious way (other than catch-as-catch-can) to decide
 the priority between that work and work on "tabs" support
 in Emacs.   The obligations of GNU maintainers have some
 firm rail-guards -- but there seems to be no clear way
 to settle priorities with respect to clear goals.

* In the name of freedom, GNU needs to complete its work.

 Debian and, even more the commercial GNU/Linux distributions
 have, on balance, positively advanced the cause of software
 freedom -- at least for now.   They are not, however, clearly
 reliable sources of software freedom, at least in the GNU
 sense.   The original GNU vision has yet to fully materialize
 and no project, aside from GNU itself, seems to want to
 do so.

* The FSF ("owner" in some sense of GNU) remains, after all of
 these years, a qualified leadership.

 I need not rehearse, I hope, but merely refer to the FSF's
 very long term continuing success in fostering sister
 organizations around the world, in influencing relevant
 legislation, in GPLv3 consensus-building, in simply
 remaining afloat, in spreading the word about software
 freedom generally, and on an on.

* RMS is neither immortal nor does he possess infinite

 Recent messages from RMS highlight his personal and
 singular role in defining what "the GNU project" means.
 This is appropriate in many senses but it is not a lasting
 solution, nor one that can any longer secure sufficient
 volunteer labor to complete GNU.



* I propose the creation of gnu.com, a for-profit majority owned
 subsidiary of the FSF, roughly analogous to mozilla.com.
 The purpose of gnu.com shall be to define, complete, distribute, and
 support the GNU operating system, on a for-profit basis.

 The for-profit but only majority owned structure enables
 fund-raising to pay GNU developers competitive wages without
 sacrificing the cause of software freedom.


Random thoughts:

* Chartering the organization will be difficult, of course.
 Probably similarly difficult to making GPLv3.   Perhaps similar
 techniques of consensus-building will apply.

* The FSF's approach to labor appears from the outside these
 days to be exemplary.   E.g., it is a pro-union shop and
 offers decent benefits (as far as I can tell).   gnu.com
 should do no less.   Moreover, as majority owner, FSF can
 ensure that gnu.com does its fair share to support FSF
 workers (or if not FSF, the union :-).

* Reformulating the vision and then drilling it down to
 a task list for GNU is an exciting project -- the danger
 is that it may be *too* exciting with people seeking influence
 for all kinds of disagreeable reasons.  The success of
 the GPLv3 project gives some hope here to keep an orderly

* Though current commercial GNU/Linux vendors are not
 exempt from criticism -- gnu.com is not "against" these
 vendors.   Rather, it should be understood as resuming
 the project from which they got there start, and further
 advancing the kind of forward-looking development project
 from which they took their opportunities.



This message is not precisely on-topic for the emacs-devel
list, yet I have not witnessed any better audience and this
one seems ripe for it.   Forgive me if I accomplish nothing
other than either wasting bandwidth on an igored message or
starting a flame-war.   I hope the outcome is otherwise.

I volunteer to pay attention to what people say in response
to this admittedly "half-baked" idea either on-list or in
private responses -- and to try to do something intelligent
in response, presuming a general agreement about the cause of
software freedom and the value of the GNU project.   People
can contact me at address@hidden



Yes, of course I want a personal stake in this -- a substantial
role and ample rewards.   The idea, however, stands on its own
-- with or without me.


reply via email to

[Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread]