FSF Changes Priorities

January 18, 2017

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has made a major update to its High Priority Free Software Projects (HPP) list.

The HPP list highlights projects of great strategic importance to the goal of freedom for all computer users. A committee of free software activists, assembled in 2014, spent a year soliciting feedback from the free software community for the latest revision of the list.

"As the technological landscape has shifted over the last decade since the first version of the list was published, threats to users' freedom to use their computers on their own terms have changed enormously," said Benjamin Mako Hill, who is part of the High Priority Projects committee and also a member of the FSF's board of directors. "The updated High Priority Projects list is a description of the most important threats, and most critical opportunities, that free software faces in the modern computing landscape."

Launched in 2005, the first version of the HPP list contained only four projects, three of them related to Java. Eighteen months later, Sun began to free Java users.

While the FSF does not ask to run or control projects on the HPP list, it uses its position and visibility in the community to help bring them beneficial help and attention, including directly supporting development for some.

High Priority Free Software areas:

Free phone operating system

Smart phones are the most widely used form of personal computer today. Thus, the need for a fully free phone operating system is crucial to the proliferation of software freedom.

Decentralization, federation, and personal Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) clouds

This large and fragmented space deals with increased centralization of Web activities, and user reliance on servers they don't control, or Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) "clouds". The free software community provided extensive feedback regarding many projects that fall under this initiative.

Free drivers, firmware, and hardware designs

Drivers, firmware, and hardware are integral parts of the computers we use and the devices that interact with them -- and when these things are proprietary, they are incompatible with free software. Therefore, drivers, firmware, and hardware that can be fully used with free software are crucial to the operation of free systems.

Real-time voice and video chat

Many widely used voice-over-IP programs, like Skype and FaceTime, use proprietary protocols and nonfree implementations. These programs seduce free software users into using proprietary software, often two users at a time. Using proprietary voice and video chat software means that we can't be sure who is listening in, because we can't see the code. Unfortunately, Google Hangouts is also not a solution here, because it still requires users to run proprietary software.

Encourage contribution by people underrepresented in the community

Free software relies on contributions from community members. But systemic barriers often prevent interested individuals from becoming contributors, especially when those individuals are from groups that have been historically marginalized.

Free software and accessibility

Accessibility is the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to software programs by people with disabilities or impairments, or those using assistive, adaptive, or rehabilitative technologies. This includes adding features and building tools, including screen readers, keyboard shortcuts, and more, to increase access to software programs.

Internationalization of free software

Internationalization is the process of designing software so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. Internationalization is a feature ethically tied to the values of free software, and is often a strength of free software. But we can do better: Free software can accept translation contributions from anyone who submits them, whereas proprietary software companies historically only bother with languages it serves their profit and other interests to include. When we internationalize free software, we make it easier for others to adapt and spread it in other languages and regions.

Security by and for free software

Security is a concern for all computing and all computer users. Although users cannot ever be truly certain of their security when using proprietary software, that does not mean free software is automatically secure. Free software developers and users must take steps to improve the security of free software projects.

Intelligent personal assistant

Apple's Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Amazon Echo's Alexa, and other intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) are becoming more pervasive. Whatever convenience they provide comes with unacceptable tradeoffs: The breadth of access to users' data they take in order to operate is enormous, and both the client and server accessing such data are not distributed, posing Service as a Software Substitute issues.

Help GNU/Linux distributions be committed to freedom

Projects like those on the FSF Licensing and Compliance Lab's list of free distros are dedicated to distributing a complete GNU/Linux operating system that contains only free software. They are high-quality distributions that create a complete free operating system without any binary-only blobs or package trees that contain proprietary software.

Free software adoption by governments

Government adoption of free software has the potential for a huge effect on the proliferation of free software, given that government employs many people, funds millions in software contracts each year, and most people interact with their government in various ways. We must demand that government not be held hostage to proprietary software.

"We've seen the High Priority Projects List guide contributors and funding to important free software projects," said FSF executive director John Sullivan. "We are committed to making the list more active than it has been in the past, by drawing on the immense expertise in the free software community. I hope others will support us, both financially and with their input, so that this can become a sort of annual strategic plan for advancing computer user freedom."

The latest revision of the list includes nine project areas, encompassing software projects, advancements in free software-compatible hardware, and efforts to expand and deepen the inclusivity of the free software community. Also, there is now a changelog to document revisions to the list. The committee published a full explanation of its work in March, and several members of the committee shared its findings at last year's LibrePlanet conference.

The committee includes ginger coons, Máirín Duffy, Matthew Garrett, Benjamin Mako Hill, Mike Linksvayer, Lydia Pintscher, Karen Sandler, Seth Schoen, and Stefano Zacchiroli.

Terms of Use | Copyright © 2002 - 2017 CONSTITUENTWORKS SM  CORPORATION. All rights reserved. | Privacy Statement