Interview with Bradley Kuhn of the GNOME Advisory Board

Stormy Peters interviews Bradley Kuhn, who represents the Free Software Foundation on the GNOME Advisory Board.

Bradley, you sit on the GNOME Advisory Board for the FSF but you don’t work there. How’d that happen?

Actually, I did join the GNOME Advisory Board as FSF’s representative when I was still an employee of FSF. I joined the Advisory Board in late 2001 when I had just been named Executive Director of the FSF. I continued to serve in both roles from 2001-2005, when I left FSF’s employment and Peter Brown took over as Executive Director.

At that time, Richard Stallman asked me to remain on the GNOME advisory board as a volunteer, primarily to provide ongoing continuity to FSF’s representation on the Advisory Board. From 2005-2010, that position was in fact the only official duty that I carried out for FSF. But, as a side point, non-profits are very different from for-profits in this regard; it’s quite common for important roles to be held by volunteers. Since non-profits operate in the public good, many experienced professionals are willing to give their time without compensation.

In fact, earlier this year, I was voted onto the Board of Directors of the FSF. So, now my primary role at FSF is as one of its Directors, and representing FSF on the GNOME Advisory board is an additional activity that I do as part of my role on the Board. I nevertheless continue to carry out both activities purely as a volunteer.

The FSF and GNOME have worked together since GNOME’s beginning. What do you hope to see them do together in the next couple of years?

I think the answer is easy: I hope we can promote software freedom together! FSF has always had a practical approach to advancing software freedom in the world. Specifically, one of FSF’s goals is creating a world where any task people would like to do with a computer can be done using only Free Software. At FSF’s founding, this goal was embodied in FSF’s sponsorship of the GNU project.

As GNU’s official desktop, GNOME is an outgrowth of that activity. By creating more and better Free Software for desktops, GNOME helps FSF promote software freedom around the world. We’re very grateful that GNOME addresses this important job for the freedom of software users, and I hope that collaboration between FSF and the GNOME Foundation can continue for many years to come.

You sit on the GNOME Advisory Board as a representative of a non profit organization. How do you think all of the free software related nonprofits can work together to push our missions forward?

I think the non-profit members of the GNOME Advisory Board have an important role. The for-profit companies on the Advisory Board are generally looking at how to generate revenue through use and improvement of GNOME. Of course, it’s important for commercial activity around software freedom to exist, but non-commercial activity is at least equally important. For our part, we non-profit representatives on the Advisory Board seek primarily to help GNOME on that non-commercial side, by helping the GNOME Foundation advance its public mission as a 501©(3) non-profit.

Indeed, through the Advisory Board, I try to bring my personal non-profit management experience to assist the GNOME Foundation. I’ve been very grateful that Stormy and the GNOME Board of Directors have often asked for my help in matters both mundane and political related to the non-profit mission of GNOME.

One recent example is the work I did in collaboration with Vincent Untz and Michael Meeks in drafting GNOME’s copyright policy document (which was recently approved by GNOME’s Directors). This document is an important counter-balance to the corporate interests who are asking GNOME community to accept their copyright policies as fait accompli. I think the publication of GNOME’s copyright policy had a positive impact on helping those companies understand GNOME’s philosophy. It’s also good that GNOME has now documented its long-standing and strongly-held positions on that issue.

On the more mundane side, I’ve been helping Paul Cutler and others who have been running the hiring process of a system administrator for the GNOME Foundation. I’ve been involved with a lot of sysadmin hiring at non-profits, so I’m very glad that I’ve been able to share some of my experience in that regard to give some “knowledge transfer” to the he GNOME Foundation on that issue.

There’s been a lot of debate on the GNOME Foundation mailing list about “open source software” versus “free software”. In our official press releases, we tend to say “free and open source software”. Some of our members say “free software”, some say “open source”, some say “FLOSS” … any words of wisdom for us in how we should deal with this?

My preferred term is actually “software freedom”. It avoids the misconceptions people have about the other terms, as some people still confuse Free as in Speech vs. Free as in Beer, and to many people, “Open Source” merely means what the words say by themselves: “source code available”, but that doesn’t encompass all the rights that are required to have software freedom.

When I seek to be as inclusive as possible and I am in need of a noun to describe the software, I use the acronym “FLOSS”. I know it generates some dental jokes, but, I think it’s useful at times to be as inclusive as possible. I’ve often drawn an analogy here to the LGBT community, another important social justice cause. That community has added letters to their acronym over the years to include sub-communities who have similar concerns. Sometimes, the goals of Open Source advocates and software freedom advocates do overlap, so it’s good to include everyone when the different groups are collaborating.

Also, I think including “Libre” is important (thus FLOSS rather than FOSS) because it shows the international nature of our community. It also resolves the ambiguity of Free as in Freedom by borrowing the unambiguous adjective from Spanish and French.

The FSF promotes free software licenses. Any comment on the licenses that GNOME is currently using?

Well, copyleft licenses are my favorite ones, so I’m glad that GNOME is copylefted. 🙂 As those who saw my GUADEC 2010 talk know, I’m currently advocating that GNOME consider switching from GPLv2-or-later/LGPLv2.1-or-later to the GPLv3-or-later/LGPLv3-or-later group of licenses. I’ve also posted recently on desktop-devel about this, too.

But, I understand fully that people want to take their time and consider carefully before switching. Software freedom licenses are, for our community, similar to the USA Constitution in their importance and weight. If you are updating the Constitution for your community, you definitely want to consider carefully!

In the meantime, I generally offer my time to GNOME hackers who want to ask questions about the v3 set of licenses. My hope is that we can have a conversation over the next year or so to discuss the idea, and perhaps the community can consider seriously a license upgrade sometime after GNOME 3.0 is released.

What do you hope to see the GNOME Foundation accomplish in the next couple of years?

Well, as I mentioned above, I hope that the GNOME Foundation can help the GNOME codebase move to the v3 set of licenses. 🙂

But, more than that, I think there are technical challenges that the GNOME Foundation can help GNOME answer. The two most important platforms for the next few years appear to be netbooks and mobile phones. I very much hope that GNOME can make its way on to these devices, bringing the whole GNU/Linux system with it onto those devices, too.

GNOME has a very important role in the GNU project, because, for the casual users, it is the system to them, as it’s what they see and are presented with each day while they use their computers. Therefore, my hope is that the software freedom concepts that GNU brings to users can be presented well by GNOME on every computing device that a user might choose. I hope that the GNOME Foundation can help make that happen!

Things have been changing a lot in GNOME. We are busy working on GNOME 3, we are creating a lot of applications and libraries to interface with “web applications”, what do you think is important for us to keep in mind as we move forward?

Software freedom for network services is a serious and newly relevant issue. Users can do much more interesting activities when they network their computers and cooperate online, but if we aren’t careful, users might lose software freedom when they do so. IMO, it’s important that when GNOME integrates with these online services, it favors services that respect the freedoms and rights of users. For example, I hope that GNOME will always favor OpenStreetMap over Google Maps when integrating with online maps, and favor identi.ca/status.net rather than Twitter when integrating with microblogging services.

Also, I think the work going on in the Snowy project is really important: namely, AGPLv3’d network services that integrate well with GNOME desktop applications. I hope that the GNOME community does more such network services in the future. I also heard that the GNOME Foundation is considering hosting some of these services at gnome.org in a way thatrespects the rights and freedoms of users. I think that’s a great idea and support it.

When you’re not working and volunteering at the SFLC, FSF and Software Freedom Conservancy, what do you do in your spare time?

I really like actually writing Free Software. I actually have the background to do Free Software development; I’ve just barely done any myself because I spend so much time doing policy, licensing, and management work. So, in the time left over, I try to hack on some Free Software when I can. I’ve recently written a few patches for BusyBox, and I did a lot of coding in the last few years on PokerSource, which is an AGPLv3’d system to play poker online, written in Python using the Twisted library.I also do play poker, too. I got into poker when I was in college in the early 1990s and ran the game in my dorm. I started playing seriously around mid-2001. Poker is basically the only hobby that I have outside of Free Software. Poker’s an interesting game that requires a mixture of patience, endurance, knowledge of probability, statistics, and basic logic, and a strong ability to judge how others are going to react in various situations. I actually think there is a lot of overlap in skill sets between working in the Free Software community and playing poker well. 🙂

A group of us even got a €0.01/€0.02 no-limit hold’em poker game going at GUADEC 2010 on the last night in the hotel lobby. Although, I think someone in the GNOME community (I won’t name names) is still mad at me because I was eating a stroopwafel when I was supposed to be dealing the cards and I subsequently caused a misdeal that changed the outcome of a €4.45 pot. 🙂

About the Author

Stormy Peters is the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, co-founder and President of Kids on Computers and dedicated to making the world a better place through free and open source software.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on September 1, 2010, in September 2010. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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