August 27, 2001

European Commission needs Free Software experts

Author: JT Smith

Loic Dachary writes: "Have you ever been depressed, possibly more than once, to
discover that a so called Free
project was financed despite the fact that
it had nothing to do with Free Software? Europe will soon
be financing new projects and you could help prevent
similar travesties by becoming External
. Your skills are required to
validate the candidate projects."

The Fifth
Framework Programme
(FP5) of the European Commission
. Of the candidates who proposed themselves
thru the online
application form
, only a few have any real
understanding of what Free Software is and how it
works. While all experts will be eligible, only a few will
be solicited for any particular evaluation. In each case
the experts will speak only for themselves, not for their
employer nor for organizations they belong to. Early in
October 2001 a number of projects will be sent for
evaluation in the Creating a
user-friendly information society

Who will then be able, technical concerns aside, to judge
that a so called Free Software project is not in fact
simply a marketing attempt, using the latest buzzword? The
candidates for funding know that the European Commission wishes
to encourage Free Software projects
because of their
intrinsic qualities of freedom, independence and sharing.
The temptation will be great for them to say they have the
technical and human resources necessary to create and
maintain a Free Software project even if they don't have the
slightest idea of what it really means. If no expert has a
real knowledge of Free Software project development, how
will the European Commission be able to sort that out?

An example demonstrates this situation. Let's pretend that
the GnuPKI
project and the campware project submit
that are equally good technically speaking
(regardless of the fact that they deal with different
subjects). Let's further pretend that the commission has to
choose between these two, without the benefit of advice from
any Free Software experts. They will probably favor
GnuPKI since they do a better job of marketing themselves.

It turns out that people familiar with Free Software would
notice some anomalies about GnuPKI. First of all it is
not a package of the GNU
, despite their name.
Given that the GNU project provides core components to the most
widely used Free Software operating systems (Debian, RedHat, Mandrake etc.),
this mistake demonstrates a disturbing ignorance. Free Software is
a matter of communicating with heterogeneous development groups,
this is therefore a point that plays against GnuPKI. In addition,
the GnuPKI security expert, Mr
Eduard Tric, has never
participated in Free Software development
and no
package of the developed software is available as yet.
This shows a lack of understanding for the development model.
Taking these facts into account, we would now expect GnuPKI's
chances of being successful to be much lower than those of

One cannot expect all cases to be as clear cut as this
example. Evaluating a project, for the European Commission
or for your own company, often requires a more subtle study.
When dealing with Free Software it is essential to carefully
evaluate the legal status of a project with particular
regard to copyright, because various licenses
are used and many companies are involved. The ability of the
candidates to cooperate with development teams on the
network, their ability to establish a dialog and their
current involvement in the Free Software community is also
of great importance. These points are not technical, they
don't have an equivalent in non-free software projects and
can only be evaluated by people actively involved in Free



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