This just makes me weep. The Defective by Design campaign team are urging people to book slots at the Apple in-store “Genius Bar” to ask probing questions which they already know the answer to about their company policy on DRM and Free software. The ‘Genius Bar’ is an official Apple support avenue for their customers, and is a service provided inside many of their stores.
Defective by Design is an FSF initiative, setup in 2006 to target ‘Big Media’ companies which use DRM (Digital Rights Management) in their hardware and software to enforce the rights of copyright holders, and as a by-product restrict the rights of the consumer. The FSF is a donor supported charity which seeks to ‘promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users’.
The FSF attend conferences where their members attempt to recruit new members/donators and sell apparel, stickers and so on to fund their activities. I’ve seen them a couple of times at conferences I’ve attend and – based on the discussion with the guy on the stand, and the literature provided – I have considered donating to them. One stumbling block for me has always been the cost. It’s quite expensive to become a member (their preferred option), but you can of course donate as little or as much as you like. So far I have donated zero.
This latest campaign by the Defective by Design group is the third activity that the FSF have undertaken in the last year or so which I disagree with, and will guarantee I’ll never give them a penny. With their recent (and now moribund) Bad Vista campaign they focus on targetting one version of one operating system as the villan, with very little emphasis on the positive things Free Software gives users. They even leave the “What is free software?” ‘Common Question’ to the bottom of the front page!
More recently a member of the FSF joined the UK LUGMaster mailing list and kicked off a shitstorm by suggesting that all UK Linux User Groups (LUG) should change their names to GLUG – GNU Linux User Groups. The ‘deal’ was that if they did this, they’d get a link from an FSF site to their ‘GLUG’. When one LUG agreed to this, the FSF member edited their wiki page to add (a ridiculous amount of) detail about GNU and the FSF. When that detail was moved off the front page to a separate page (making their front page more readable), the FSF representative withdrew the offer of a link and promptly left the mailing list.
I am a pragmatic Free software advocate. I would love to be able to run a completely Free Software house, but feel that right now, the totally Free desktop/laptop is not for me, so I use non-free video drivers, non-free network firmware – just like the vast majority of the world right now. One member of the FSF offered to send me an ethernet cable to resolve my broken wireless card when using Free software. I didn’t see that as a solution, so instead I used Ubuntu with a non-free wireless-firmware based driver – which works.
Personally I use a lot of Free software and recommend others do the same. I support people who run Free software on their computers, donate to Debian, help make a podcast using only Free software, sponsor Free software events and generally do “my bit” to help foster a positive impression of Free software and the people who use and develop it.
It really feels like the FSF are undermining my efforts.
When the FSF come up with campaigns such as Bad Vista, Defective by Design and have members who have a near rabid insistence that Linux is called GNU/Linux, they create the impression that the only thing Free Software advocates can do is rubbish the competition and bitch to others who are doing good work in Free Software.
This is of course not true. Many of us are making great strides in getting Free Software on the desktop/laptop/server and in media players, mobile phones and other appliances. Clearly this isn’t good enough for the FSF though, their approach is all or nothing. You’re either with us as a Free software Zealot or you’re against us. This is incompatible with my philosophy on life, so I’ll be ‘against’ for now, and the foreseeable future.
Finally, I note in a recent mailing list posting on the subject of the Apple ‘Genius Bar’ campaign, Richard Stallman (of the FSF) claims that it isn’t a real-life ‘denial of service’ on Apple. I wonder, how would the FSF feel if their support avenues were flooded by users of proprietary software, wasting their time asking questions about FSF policy.
Is this the absolute best the FSF can do with their charitable donations? Don’t they have something better to do with their time?
Edit: According to Charity Navigator, at the end of their 2006 fiscal year, the FSF reported $832K in revenue, with expenses around $802K. How much did Defective by Design cost them? What else did they spend that on? Perhaps it’s a time for an external review of the FSF and see if they really are working in the interests of the Free Software community.