OLinux: Freedom, Equality and Fraternity

Interview by Allan Vasconcellos ( 17/12/2001 ), OLinux http://www.olinux.com.br

OLinux: What are the FSF Europe activities?

Georg Greve: The FSF Europe works towards all aspects of Free Software in Europe.

This includes the "classical" issues of working for the GNU Project and supporting the development of Free Software, but this is only a part of our activities.

Other activities are more work-intensive and often less visible, but usually at least as important.

Free Software is one of the answers to questions raised by the upcoming information age, but only if society becomes fully aware of these questions, we can make sure that Free Software is here to stay. Since many people are surprised to hear this, I'd like to point out that society includes companies, by the way.

We may be finding a different form of society sometime in the future, but right now business is an important part and we work towards explaining how Free Software benefits companies - the "We speak about Free Software" campaign is an example of this.

At the same time we need to make sure the political and legal processes do not harm Free Software. All our work may be destroyed instantly by a law ruling Free Software illegal. This danger is more real than most people realise and only constant and enduring work can prevent such things from happening.

Therefore we work as a competence center for politics, lawyers and press in order to help them make informed decisions and participate actively in the different fields.

Making Free Software understood is one of the crucial issues we have to take care of. Only if the importance of freedom is truly understood, people will work to gain it and be careful not to lose it again.

More information can be found at
http://fsfeurope.org/documents/whyweexist.html
http://fsfeurope.org/documents/whatwedo.html

OLinux: Has FSF Europe suported or influenced the French Gov. during the decision to adopt Free Software on the Public Administration? What was the FSF role in this decision?

Georg Greve: Yes, the Free Software community and the FSF have taken part in this process. Most people know that Richard Stallman has talked to several government officials in France, but there was more.

During the past two years, activists of APRIL and AFUL have worked towards this legislation. As you may know APRIL is the associate organisation of the FSF Europe in France and its founder and president, Frederic Couchet is also the French chancellor of the FSF Europe.

Along with Olivier Berger, secretary of APRIL, he has worked many hours on the political issues of Free Software for quite some time now.

Of course the FSF Europe was only founded this year (we officially began work March 10th 2001), but I guess you could say that we did indeed participate in this process since our inception.

OLinux: What do you (FSF) think about the creation of a FSF Latin America? Here, we need such an institution to support the Free Software employment on the Public Administration.

Georg Greve:I think this is a great and very important step, but also one that needs to be done with great care.

Before founding the FSF Europe, we spent about a year discussing all the issues related to such a step. What is it that makes the FSF special? What is important to keep an eye on? The FSF has always stood for certain principles and values - which are not always easy to maintain, so it is a step that requires a lot of consideration.

It seems that the FSF Europe has spawned initiatives to create FSF organisations around the world. We already have a FSF India and Masayuki Ida recently visited Europe to talk to us about our input on possibly creating a FSF Japan.

In our discussions with Masayuki Ida or the volunteers from South Africa it became clear that a good way of getting things going is to create some sort of open Free Software association first and work closely with the FSF organisations around the world.

Good examples of such organisations are the associate organisations of the FSF Europe.

OLinux: FSF Europe "was born" from the FSF USA or it's an independent institution? And how is the relationship between both?

Georg Greve: The FSF Europe and the FSF are legally independent sister organisations. We work closely together and in daily work it is usually not relevant which FSF you are working in or for.

In a way this is a lot like that of other international institutions, such as Greenpeace or the Red Cross.

Europe is currently the most active area for Free Software in the world, so having a European FSF seemed like a natural thing to aim for. When I first voiced that idea to Richard Stallman - that must have been about 2.5 years ago - he agreed and suggested other people to get in touch with for this endeavour.

So we began discussing all issues related to creating a FSF Europe sister organisation. In November 2000 we were certain that it could be done and it could be done right, so we issued "Declaration of Intent" , making the idea public.

I have been working full-time on getting the FSF Europe going since January 2001 now. From the FSF in Boston we got some financial support for my work for 6 weeks and a lot of moral and personal support, which was of course very helpful.

So it is very much a child of the European Free Software community.

OLinux: Which is FSF's purposes for Education?

Georg Greve: Free Software in Education is something that is extremely important because everyone should grow up using software freely.

There is a lot of initiatives in and around Free Software and Education that work towards similar goals, but very often they do not coordinate their efforts enough and sharing experience is something that is also not done effectively enough.

In order to support these initiatives, the FSF Europe has begun gathering initiatives in and around Free Software and Education, one of them, Ofset, has even become associate organisation of the FSF Europe, in order to network them more effectively and enable them to share their experience.

It would be very useful to bring all these initiatives together at some point to discuss the issues in person - if we find volunteers to organise it, we would be glad to support such a summit next year.

The FSF Europe itself advocates the importance and advantages of Free Software to politicians at every opportunity.

OLinux: What exactly is the campaign: "We speak about Free Software?"

Georg Greve: The "We speak about Free Software" campaign is an initiative to raise awareness for Free Software with businesses. Also it allows companies to distance themselves from the hype built around "Open Source" and show that they have really understood the issues behind Free Software and that they feel committed to it.

Funny enough, the idea for this campaign was born in Milano, Italy this year, where some Free Software businesspeople complained about the abuse and fuzziness of the term "Open Source" and asked whether we couldn't do anything to advocate the term Free Software again, which is what they would prefer to use.

Of course we were willing to help, so we assembled some of the reasons why Free Software is the superior term and concept and put them online at http://fsfeurope.org/documents/whyfs.en.html.

You might find it interesting that Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source movement and author of the Open Source Definition was among the first to let us know he welcomes this campaign and asked us to add his name to the list of supporters.

OLinux: In which stage is the adoption of Free Software all over Europe currently?

Georg Greve: Europe is definitely the region with the strongest acceptance for Free Software right now, but there are huge regional differences. Most advanced are Germany and France, where politicians slowly become aware of the issues and have made a few first legislative steps in favor of Free Software - although this is still not as far as we would like it to be.

Other countries, like Italy, still have more work to do. In some cases much more work. We're on it. :)

OLinux: Do you think Free Software can overcome the property softwares someday?

Georg Greve: I'm not certain whether I like the word "overcome" in this context.

Our goal is to have Free Software available for everyone and every task. People should be given the freedom of choice to do anything they want with Free Software. Noone should ever have to use proprietary software.

So we do not want to make proprietary software illegal, we rather want to make sure that noone is forced to use proprietary software and everyone understands that proprietary software is a bad choice.

This means we seek to inform people why they should prefer Free Software. It is my firm belief that there is no reason to use proprietary software while there are compelling reasons to use Free Software, but this is a decision everyone should make for her- or himself.

Given that the disadvantages of proprietary software are so obvious once you know where to look, I am quite confident. Given that even people from the Free Software community still fall for marketing schemes like "value added" proprietary software additions, we still need to spread the word, though.

Allowing people to make such informed decisions and making sure they are still capable of making this decision is what the FSF Europe is working for.

OLinux: What do you think about Microsoft's market policy? And about the process of EU against Microsoft?

Georg Greve: The FSF Europe has applied for third-party status in the EU investigation against Microsoft to make sure that EU officials get proper information about Free Software and to pledge for open markets, which inevitably means Free Software.

I can only emphasise that although Microsoft makes a very visible target, they are not the big devil. They are the natural consequence of a system based on proprietary software.

Still they are one of the most visible representatives of the proprietary system and they play dirty, which is something we should not accept. This is nothing new, it is just that we have found ourselves in the focus of their interests because Free Software has been too successful.

The best quote in this context is probably from Ghandi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win."

OLinux: Could you send a message for the brazilian fans of Free Software.

Georg Greve: Keep on spreading the word. What we do today will influence the future of mankind for the next 200 years to come - we have to make sure that people understand the issues of Free Software and the importance of freedom.

Do not let anyone tell you these issues were irrelevant or otherwise harmful, they are not. Only by talking about freedom and philosophy will we be able to explain these issues to people, so please keep talking about it and explain it to everyone who is interested in listening.

Freedom counts!