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Ubuntu User and Member Ryan Lortie Writes Open Letter to Free Software Foundation

He raises some big points dealing with the goals of the FSF and how to accomplish them

The Free Software Foundation is recommending gNewSense and Ututo as beginners' Linux distributions. Ubuntu user and member Ryan Lortie has written an Open Letter to the FSF raising some big points dealing with the goals of the FSF and how to accomplish them. We bring you the full text.
Hello FSF,

This is an open letter.

In the past year your organisation has seemingly taken a new stance on what is important. You have started participating in things that matter to people other than hackers. You are making attempts to reach normal people -- wouldbe consumers of Trojan Horse technology products. These efforts are absolutely commendable. There is no doubt that the fight for freedom will be won only by convincing people that there are practical alternatives to companies that are more interested in their bottom lines than they are in providing a working product.

Your Defective By Design campaign is brilliant. I've actually heard people other than hackers (albeit, still geeks) talking about it. Your new Bad Vista campaign also hits the nail right on the head by letting customers know what they need to know to make an informed decision. A distinct feature of these campaigns is that they don't spend time harping about ideological freedom, but rather, stress real world problems inherent in DRM. You talk about practical problems that people will encounter and be affected by. You talk about practical solutions.

I am writing this letter because of a controversial decision that you have made.

The Bad Vista page contains the following text:

...and provide a user-friendly gateway to the adoption of free software operating systems like gNewSense (http://www.gnewsense.org) and Ututo (http://www.ututo.org). 

I'm not aware of what Ututo is, but by your recommending it, I'm going to assume that it is subject to the same problems with gNewSense.

From the standpoint of focusing on real practical issues rather than harping about ideology, gNewSense is basically exactly the same thing as Ubuntu except that it doesn't work on most people's computers.

People have ATI and nVidia video cards. Most people have laptops with wireless cards that at least require firmware.

One of the real practical problems with closed source software is that if there's a bug then you can't fix the bug and this might prevent you from using your hardware. In terms of practicality, this isn't really much better then not being able to use your hardware at all in the first place.

Another practical problem is that gNewSense isn't a rock star. Ubuntu is.

Let's face it -- no matter how good you are, you're not going to get the average computer user to install a new operating system. The people you will convince to do this are people who are already technology geeks. These are the same people who have read tech news sites talking about this "Ubuntu" thing.

Faced with a recommendation to install gNewSense, they will say "huh?". Faced with a recommendation to install Ubuntu, they just might say "ya... I've been hearing a lot about that. Maybe I should give it a try."

Even if you manage to get people to install gNewSense, you're most likely going to be harming your cause. The overwhelming majority of computer users have some hardware that requires some sort of binary-only code to operate. People will install gNewSense and, with very high likelihood, some part of their system won't work. They will get frustrated and annoyed -- possibly turned off of free software forever. I know people who still pass judgement on Linux as a whole based on experiences from 5 years ago.

Ubuntu is more or less 99% free. It doesn't even come anywhere close to being as awful as Vista is. Besides -- I bet your computer is already at least a little non-free. Is your BIOS open source? The ROM firmware on all your devices? Your CPU's microcode? We all put up with these things in the meantime because we understand that the only chance of success will be to get people on to our platform. Without users, we can't make demands.

I understand that it's quite a strange position to be in to be condemning Ubuntu on one hand for their shipping of proprietary code, while recommending them to people on the other hand. To do so would require swallowing some pride. I hope that this is something that you're capable of doing.

Through your campaigns of the past year you've indicated your understanding of the fact that your key to success lies in public acceptance. Recommending Ubuntu instead of gNewSense will increase the public's acceptance of your platform. You have to make sacrifices -- that's just the way it is.

I'm sure you appreciate the importance of what you're trying to do and that you realise what a unique opportunity you have right now. Please don't waste it.

I am an Ubuntu user and member. This letter is my personal opinion.

Ryan Lortie

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