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Free Software Foundation Prioritizes Mobile OS

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has updated its list of high-priority projects for 2017, with a free mobile OS highlighting the revised portfolio of supported projects.

While the smartphone OS and other projects were added to the priority list, others were removed, such as free replacements for Flash and Google Earth.

The FSF is a 31-year-old nonprofit organization that advocates the free software movement, with its own very strict definition of the word "free." For example, "free" doesn't equate with "open source" at all. The FSF, most known for backing the GNU OS, was founded by Richard Stallman, who contrasts the FSF approach with the open source movement, saying, "Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement."

Earlier this month, the FSF revised the targets of its High Priority Projects initiative, described as publicizing projects strategically important to further the organization's goal of freedom for all computer users.

"The list serves to foster work on projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software applications and free software operating systems," the FSF says on its priority list site. "The list helps guide volunteers, supporters, and companies to projects where their skills and resources can be utilized, whether they be in coding, graphic design, writing, financial contributions, or activism."

While known for the GNU OS, which is upward-compatible with Unix, it's another OS project that figures prominently in the revised priority list: a free mobile phone OS -- or, more specifically, the Replicant Android distribution supported by the FSF, emphasizing privacy and security in addition to the overarching concern of freedom.

The Replicant site states, "It is based on CyanogenMod and replaces or avoids every proprietary component of the system, such as user-space programs and libraries, as well as firmwares. Replicant aims to be an ethical system: it does not ship nor recommend the use of non-free software."

In adhering to the FSF's strict definition of freedom in software, Replicant doesn't include proprietary components -- even if that leaves gaps in the project's scope and functionality -- and doesn't provide a guide to installing such complementary proprietary components. That differs from the approaches taken by other open source projects, such as Linux.

By being placed on the new high-priority list, the Replicant project is likely to see revved-up developer involvement -- the site's latest blog post was published more than five months ago.

According to the priority list site, "Smartphones 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."

Other project areas added to the priority list include:

  • Free personal assistant
  • Decentralization, federation and personal clouds
  • Encourage contribution by people underrepresented in the community
  • Accessibility and internationalization
  • Free software adoption by governments
  • Free drivers, firmware, and hardware designs

Although the free phone OS was listed first in the revised list, the FSF said the projects weren't listed in any particular order.

Projects that were removed from the priority list include:

  • Gnash, the free software Flash player
  • Free video-editing software
  • Free Google Earth replacement
  • Free software replacement for Oracle Forms
  • Automatic transcription
  • Free software replacement for Bittorrent Sync
  • GNU Octave, free software Matlab replacement
  • Replacement for OpenDWG libraries
  • Reversible debugging in GDB
  • Free software drivers for network routers

And projects that were "changed" in the revision include:

  • Reverse-engineering projects was added to Free drivers, firmware and hardware designs
  • Free software replacement for Skype was renamed to real-time voice and video chat

"We want a world in which all computer users can do everything they need to do on any computer using exclusively free software," the FSF said in a blog post earlier this month. "To achieve that mission, we need to make sure that free software fulfills users' needs, and we also need to grow the free software community by making it, and the software it creates, welcoming and accessible to all. Until those needs are met, we will use the HPP list to mobilize people and resources to support those projects and to improve the workings of the movement itself."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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