In his speech at aKademy, Bernhard Reiter of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) both celebrated Software Freedom Day and reminded the KDE community of what freedom in software means. The FSFE was founded in 2001 to promote and defend Free Software, and to coordinate national Free Software organizations, throughout Europe. Bernhard is the Chancellor of the German Chapter and has been involved since the FSFE's inception. Interested in what he had to say to the KDE community, I caught up with him after his talk to ask him a few questions. Read on for his responses.
You mentioned in your presentation the threats of software patents and DRM
(Damn Restriction Management, as you described it). What other areas do you
think the Free Software movement will need to address in the next few
Well to begin with, the issues of software patents and DRM will be huge and so
will be keeping us all busy for many years yet. Other issues do exist but
they are generally ongoing as opposed to short-term projects. We expect that
there will be more legislative and political attacks on Free Software, but we cannot
predict what they will be.
The most important point I want to emphasize is that we must continue to
educate people, and especially politicians, about Free Software. We must
convey what it means to the whole world, in terms of who controls technology
and how it affects our lives. If we can do that, we won't have to spend so
much time defending against attacks because more people will help us.
In Europe in particular, Governments are now driving a lot of the Free
Software adoption. What part can projects like KDE and organizations like the
FSFE play in this process?
Not everybody takes a huge interest in politics and I believe that it is normal that some people stay of the technical side of things and just develop software. On the other hand we need more people to engage themself politically for Free Software. Others should at least be responsible and keep their eyes open for events and developments where they can do their share. So they should, for example, be aware of demonstrations and lobbying efforts on issues like software patents.
In terms of development, members of the Free Software community should also
bear in mind that code can shape laws. If the code doesn't allow a person to
perform a particular action, then the code is controlling that person. In
projects like KDE, which are reaching a fairly mature stage, developers
should be focussing on the users and trying to make Free Software more usable
for them. Even development can be political issue.
An important aspect of freedom in software is the ability to use it. Yet
although KDE is currently translated into over 80 languages, there are
hundreds more that are commonly used and that aren't yet covered. How can a
community of volunteers, both in KDE and the FSFE, help this?
KDE developers already do help, in that they are part of a process of gradual
improvements in internationalization and localization. In terms of Free
Software organizations, apart from the FSFE in Europe and the FSF in North
America there aren't any well established organizations. We are hoping to
change that, but we don't want to take money and help from Governments and
companies, even if it would help with internationalization, if that were to
harm our independence and our ability to promote Free Software. We need to be
careful about where we use our money, and what the specific focus of our
In general the direction that Free Software takes ought to be driven by competition and user demand, not interference from government.
But do you not think that there is a role for government in areas where the
market cannot yet supply full internationalization, especially where a large
proportion of the population cannot speak English?
Well yes, of course government should be interested in preserving the cultural
and linguistic heritage of their country. Where the market cannot provide, it
is their duty to do so.
Moving back to software, are there any areas in particular on the Free
Software desktop that you think developers need to address most urgently?
It is hard to say what is missing before we try deploying our software in the
target markets, and so we will know a lot more when GNU/Linux is deployed in more corporations. I am worried that many desktops are adding proprietary
software to their systems where Free Software isn't yet available or good
enough, usually because it is more convenient. Proprietary PDF readers and
the MP3 format are an example where Free alternatives exist (KGhostView and
Ogg Vorbis, for example). Any many proprietary tools are being used to
develop Free desktops; proprietary vector editing applications, for example, are used by many of the icon artists. We ought to be working to stop this being necessary or even desirable.
Personally I would like to see more attention to businesses, with a good
business model for private desktop users. The FSFE has an
initiative called the GNU
Business Network which could help in this area if we received more
funding. Society needs businesses, but it shouldn't be driven by business
interests. Rather, society should be laying down the ethics by which
businesses operate. Free Software desktops can be part of the development of
such an ethical business model for Free Software.
Should projects like KDE be more proactive in promoting Free Software then, including more protective licenses like the GNU GPL?
It is a matter of strategy. Yes, the KDE Project should promote freedom both
by choosing free licenses (e.g. the GNU GPL) and by talking to partners and
the public about it, but there are also times when it is more strategic to
use a license with less protection (using the GNU LGPL, for example, to spread
Qt on Windows remains a problem for us, since it is not available under a Free
license. KDE goes to some lengths to allow proprietary KDE software to
be developed by releasing its libraries under the LGPL. This may be a good
strategy - I don't want to condemn it in general - but it poses practical problems for KDE development as they cannot accept GNU GPL code for the core libraries and the modules that require a Qt licensing exception when using GNU GPL. Which code goes into which module within KDE is governed by this requirement that only benefits proprietary KDE applications.
The KDE Project ought to recognize how much it has given Trolltech, whose
success is based to a large extent on the success of KDE. Maybe the KDE
Project could encourage Trolltech to GPL the Windows version of its toolkit?
The current arrangement is not unreasonable, but the KDE Project should be
aware that it can talk to Trolltech on an equal level.
Bernhard, thank you for this conversation.
It's no problem, it is always good to educate more users about Freedom. I
would like to note that it is a good sign that the FSFE were invited to
aKademy, and that the KDE Project and the FSFE have a good relationship. We
welcome all future cooperation.