March 17, 2003

What eGovOS must do

- By Richard Stallman -
Two weeks ago, the main organizer of the eGovOS (open source in
e-government) conference begged me to speak at the conference. It was
not the first time. I refused, and I would like to explain why. [Note: The eGovOS conference opens today. NewsForge editor Robin 'Roblimo' Miller will be there starting this afternoon.]

The free software movement's idealism, starting in 1984, built our
community. In 1998, the open source movement was started as a
reaction against our idealism; it looks at the same issues in
non-idealistic business terms. Both movements now operate in our

You would never guess this from what eGovOS says. Nearly all of the
eGovOS plans and description, starting with the name, recognize only
the open source movement and deny the existence of the free software
movement. The one exception is the "European" track. As a result,
most of our leaders have declined to participate--the one exception
being the president of FSF Europe.

It's not that free software activists as individuals are unwelcome at
eGovOS; on the contrary, the organizers invite us, sometimes even
implore us, to speak there. But it would be a mistake for us to
accept these invitations given the present conference framework, which
labels us as supporters of "open source" and denies our movement's
existence. This background would alter the meaning of our speeches;
the audience would either take us for open source advocates, or see
the free software movement as a mere footnote on the open source
movement. eGovOS announcements speak only of "open source". We must
also be concerned that the presence of our names in the program and
publicity would lead people to identify us as open source advocates (a
widespread mistake that is a major problem).

Every time the eGovOS organizers invite us, we respond that they must
first acknowledge the free software movement equally. But there is
something else eGovOS needs to change. eGovOS invites self-declared
opponents of our community to make presentations.

Many speakers participate in eGovOS because they think of the
conference as a place for advocacy for open source and free software,
and the organizers encourage this in private. But when they offer the
podium to Microsoft, they claim that as an academic event they must be
neutral. (Many university events are neutral, but they are not
obliged to be so.) eGovOS must follow through on its promises of
advocacy; it must take a stand on our community's side. If an
opponent of our community is invited to speak, it should be in the
form of an explicit debate which labels the adversary as such.

For eGovOS to win the full support of the free software and open
source community, it must take a clear stand for our community. It
should acknowledge the free software movement as a part of our
community, and acknowledge Microsoft as its adversary.

Copyright 2003 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted
in any medium provided the copyright notice and this notice are preserved.


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