Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Why Ubuntu LoCo's should move to LibrePlanet

In the debate over whether it is worth supporting projects like Ubuntu which are not purely free software, my opinion thus far remains that Ubuntu does help further the free software movement. Arguments against this are welcome, but that is a discussion for a future post. The reason that Ubuntu's local community teams should move to LibrePlanet is because having one of the worlds strongest FLOSS advocacy networks centered around one piece of software and sponsored by one company is a disservice to the greater free software community.

I have been heavily involved in Ubuntu advocacy for years, but for a while now, i've been considering the prospect of local teams operating independent of Canonical. This would not be a move to abandon Ubuntu, but simply to open up more possibilities and reach our full potential. Most people in LoCos are not loyal to Ubuntu, but to free software (aka open source). We are united by a set of ideals and work together to promote software which helps further these ideals. Why then, must all of our advocacy revolve around one GNU+Linux distribution? There are two main reasons for why it currently does.

Firstly, because Ubuntu is seen by most people as the best way to introduce new people to a (mostly) free desktop environment. It is certainly much easier to simply promote one operating system than a family of them. Still, this is no reason to limit ourselves. A team not entirely exclusive to Ubuntu can just as easily choose to promote Ubuntu exclusively for events aimed at the general public. Ubuntu may be the best now, but if something better came along or if Ubuntu went downhill, we should be able and ready to adapt. Being an Ubuntu LoCo does not provide this flexibility.

Secondly, because the infrastructure is there. Canonical provides a wiki and mailing lists to their teams and in exchange, the teams work for them, albeit loosely, as part of the Ubuntu LoCo project, under its name and banner. Canonical also provides printed install discs to officially approved teams, but there is no reason why Canonical should not provide sponsorship to any team of people who will be promoting Ubuntu. It's mutually beneficial. In the meantime, to continue receiving materials only provided to officially approved teams, LoCo's can continue to operate alongside LibrePlanet groups. This isn't all to say that Canincal has been working to actively lock teams in, but this is the effect it now has. Creating the LoCo project, providing the structure needed to establish global network of local advocacy teams, was a great service, but the time has come to grow beyond its current scope.

LibrePlanet is inspired by Ubuntu's LoCo Project, but it's instead organized around ideals, not any particular piece of software. Surely there are some who only care about what tools work best, but let's not forget the ideals which made these better tools possible. Most of us imagine a world where these ideals are universal and see an incredible amount of potential in that. LibrePlanet isn't yet another social group for GNU+Linux users, but a team of activists. These groups are more open to users of any free software who may be interested in advocacy. Sponsorship could come from Canonical, Mozilla, or whoever. Isn't this much more in line with the nature of FLOSS?

Being a LoCo does in many ways lock you in to promoting Ubuntu. You may promote other software and welcome users of other distros, but by their very title, LoCo teams exist for Ubuntu. The very reason i began taking this idea seriously is because some non-Ubuntu users wanted to get involved with an event organized by my local community team, but did not want to work under an Ubuntu banner (literally). I don't blame them. I went on to discover many people who lurk on our mailing list and even IRC channel simply hadn't gotten involved because they were put off by the exclusive nature of the group even though they do happen to use Ubuntu themselves. There is an incredible network of people out there who want to help, and we shouldn't box them out.

Many people have some badly tainted perceptions of the FSF, but being a LibrePlanet team does not require strict adherence to FSF rules. Teams could work on would be creating a voice for free software that doesn't have the (in my opinion mostly wrong) reputation of the FSF to be too extreme, and this is coming from someone who often doesn't agree with their approach. To provide an example and get the ball rolling, i'd like to announce the LibrePlanet Massachusetts Team.

Mailing list: http://lists.libreplanet.org/mailman/listinfo/libreplanet-us-ma
IRC: #libreplanet-us-ma on FreeNode
The LibrePlanet Massachusetts Team is a group of volunteers and activists organized around furthering the ideals of free software and related issues concerning digital rights and free culture.
This group is working towards a free society through free software, but we are not a local Free Software Foundation team. We share the same end goals as the FSF, but some of us may find it necessary and more effective to make some temporary compromises with proprietary software in order to better spread free software. Some of us may not necessarily say GNU+Linux or always say "free software" instead of "open source", and some of us may use pragmatic benefits to advocate free software with the understanding that freedom is the underlying concern and principle which makes it all possible. We are open to people of all levels of interest in free software and welcome new participants. We are all united in the fight for software freedom as an important and necessary means for the prospect of a free society.
You can start your own LibrePlanet chapter here: http://groups.fsf.org/wiki/Form:Group