Last week, Richard M. Stallman — father of the GNU Public License that underpins Linux and a significant portion of the user-centric software that initially accompanied the Linux kernel — returned to the board of the Free Software Foundation after a two-year hiatus. . on his own highly controversial comments about his perception of the victims of Jeffrey Epstein as “[appearing to be] completely willing.”
As a result of RMS’s recovery, Red Hat – the Raleigh, North Carolina-based open source software giant that produces Red Hat Enterprise Linux – has publicly withdrawn funding and support from the Free Software Foundation:
Red Hat was shocked to hear that [Stallman] had rejoined the board of directors of the FSF. As a result, we are immediately suspending all Red Hat funding from the FSF and all events organized by the FSF.
Red Hat’s relatively short statement goes on to acknowledge an FSF statement on board governance that came out on the same day:
- We will have a transparent, formal process for identifying candidates and appointing new board members who are wise, competent and committed to the mission of the FSF. We will find ways for our supporters to contribute to the discussion.
- We will require all existing board members to go through this process as quickly as possible, in stages, to decide which of them will remain on the board.
- We are adding a staff representative to the board of directors. The staff of the FSF will choose that person.
- The directors will consult with legal counsel regarding changes to the bylaws of the organization to implement those changes. We have set ourselves a 30-day deadline to implement these changes.
But Red Hat says the statement gives it “no reason to believe that” [the statement] signals a meaningful commitment to positive change.”
I announce my resignation from the board of the FSF. (Effective end of Thursday, for administrative reasons.) It’s a decision that has been a long time coming for me, but still a difficult one: I think the work of the FSF is important, and broken things are the most important thing to do. to repair.
— Kat Walsh (@mindspillage) March 25, 2021
This sentiment seems to be shared by many, including at least one FSF board member – Kat Walsh – who opposite Recovery from RMS and resigned her board position on the same day as Red Hat’s board statement and withdrawal.
Immediately after Walsh’s resignation, the FSF announced the creation of a new board seat, to be filled with one of the FSF union staff; on Sunday, it filled this new seat with senior systems administrator Ian Kelling.
FSF President Geoffrey Knauth describes the new chair:
The board and voting members look forward to the participation of staff through this designated seat in our future deliberations. This is an important step in the FSF’s efforts to recognize and support new leadership, connect that leadership to the community, improve transparency and accountability, and build trust. There is still much work to be done and that work will continue.
Knauth, who started in his current role as FSF president in August 2020, stated that it is only a temporary appearance:
I commit to resign as an FSF officer, director and voting member as soon as there is a clear path for new leadership that ensures continuity of the FSF’s mission and compliance with fiduciary requirements.
The elephant in the room that the remaining FSF board members seem determined to ignore is the continued presence of Stallman himself – who, along with the rest of the FSF board, will soon be launching his new “transparent, formal process for identifying [members] who are wise, capable and committed to the mission of the FSF.”
It’s probably worth re-examining the FSF’s stated mission to understand its choice to reinstate Stallman, who was widely panned as far too controversial to be an effective software evangelist.
The Free Software Foundation is committed to safeguarding the freedom of computer users by promoting the development and use of free (as in freedom) software and documentation – especially the GNU operating system – and by campaigning against threats to the freedom of computer users, such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). ) and software patents.
While this statement “promotes the development and use of [free software]’, it immediately transitions into the Stallman-esque weed with an implicit statement that the GNU toolkit is a full “operating system”. .
The next section, “Our Core Work,” is all about promotion, which we summarize here with one bullet point per paragraph:
- The FSF keeps track of historical articles
- The FSF sponsors the GNU software project
- The FSF has copyright on large amounts of code
- The FSF publishes the GNU General Public License
- The FSF campaigns for the adoption of free software and against proprietary software
We suspect that scrutinizing the FSF’s own mission statements — as opposed to simply assuming its mission — answers many of the questions about RMS’s return. The FSF describes itself as an organization far more concerned with preserving a part of history that is dear to it – and attacking its perceived enemies, whether real or not – than discovering, achieving and mentoring new faces in free software.