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Free Software Foundation shakes up its list of priority projects

Jon Gold | Jan. 18, 2017
Free smartphone OS, intelligent voice-enabled personal assistant among focus areas

The Free Software Foundation Tuesday announced a major rethinking of the software projects that it supports, putting top priority on a free mobile operating system, accessibility, and driver development, among other areas.

The foundation has maintained the High Priority Projects list since 2005, when it contained just four free software projects. Today’s version mostly identifies priority areas, along with a few specific projects in key areas:

  • A free smartphone operating system, namely Replicant, which is a completely free software version of Android that the FSF supports financially. As the most-used computing devices in the world, smartphones need a free software presence, according to the foundation.
  • An intelligent, voice-enabled personal assistant, a la Google Now, Siri, and Alexa. According to the FSF, those systems offer convenience, but come with “unacceptable tradeoffs” where privacy and control are concerned.
  • Projects that encourage contributions from marginalized groups in society – free software has a rocky record where women, minorities and the LGBT community are concerned, and more inclusiveness is desired.
  • Internationalization of free software, broadening its usability around the world.
  • In a similar vein, projects that help make free software accessible to people with disabilities are also encouraged, particularly assistive technologies.
  • Any projects that help decrease what the FSF calls overly centralized web activities, and “user reliance on servers they don’t own.” Projects that help create alternatives to the walled-garden web ecosystems created by Google, Apple, Facebook and so on are a priority.
  • Other priorities include hardware drivers, real-time voice and video chat, security, governmental free software, and assistance for fully free GNU/Linux distributions.

The re-working of the HPP list is a meaningful change that can substantially alter the course of free software development, according to FSF executive director John Sullivan.

“We've seen the High Priority Projects List guide contributors and funding to important free software projects,” he said in a statement. “I hope others will support us, both financially and with their input, so that this can become a sort of annual strategic plan for advancing computer user freedom."

Given how much the computing landscape has changed in the past decade, the update is long overdue, said Benjamin Mako Hill, a FSF board member who worked on the HPP revamp.

“Since the first version of the list was published, threats to users' freedom to use their computers on their own terms have changed enormously,” he stated.

A full description of the new list can be found here.

 

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