Group: Freedom Ladder/Free replacements meeting

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In the interest of privacy, only FSF staff members are identified in the meeting minutes (by their initials). All lines that do not begin with initials are suggestions or comments made in the course of the meeting by members of the community.

Some messages have been combined with others and/or rephrased for readability, or in cases where a single speaker's point spanned several separate IRC messages.

If you recognize a point of yours and think we've phrased it a way that misunderstood your point, please feel free to edit and correct it. After all, there is a wiki!


  • GF: This purpose of this meeting is to discuss how to introduce the concept of "free replacements" to someone, and what some of those replacements might be.
  • GF: This first part is pretty crucial, but also tricky. We don't want a bad experience with a free program to keep someone from trying another.
  • We should keep the pressure on behavior where people force other people to use nonfree software rather than help people switch to free software.
  • Is the purpose of the meeting to suggest only local software, or can there be a balance between (free) cloud services and local software?
  • GF: In general, we're talking about someone who knows about the concept "free software" at this point, but hasn't taken further steps like switching to a specific program.
  • Advocating for someone to switch something to a web service, even a free one, might pose problems, especially if it's managed by someone else.
  • A table for "replacement" would be something good to have, like Firefox, LibreOffice, etc.
  • Jumping from one SaaSS to another shouldn't be seen as "progress" toward freedom.
  • People's finding their own motivation is still key here. It's a "state of mind" that someone will be working toward; everyone's steps will be different.
  • GF: A good point was raised last week, which is that we don't want people to become dependent on something like Google Docs to help ease their transition to GNU/Linux. So ideally the "replacements" would be local software, not SaaSS.
  • Whatever we call it ("state of mind," "beliefs," etc), what matters is that it inspires action.
  • It's 2021: why not have cloud integration?
  • GF: VLC has always been a go-to for me as a program to suggest to people.
  • "Just following the steps" isn't enough; you have to have the mindset to see you through to the end.
  • GF: Getting into discussing VPSes, etc., is beyond the scope of this step, since we're still talking about someone who isn't a power user.
  • Recommending a game like Super TuxKart would be a good idea.
  • We need to take into account the user's level of technical knowledge.
  • GF: Cloud services could be important to address in some way; more just as a warning about some issues they pose without going into the weeds of specifics. The goal is to get someone on an FSDG distro by the end of the steps, not (necessarily) self-hosting their own network services.
  • Recommending a local software replacement instead of something accessed via a browser is the best option.
  • GIMP and Inkscape would be good suggestions. These could be suggested if someone is more artistic; it's worth thinking about "tailoring" replacement suggestions.
  • Shotcut or Kdenlive would work for video editing. As would Blender.
  • GF: Helping someone know how to find free software seems like a good idea. That way we can tell them that the skills they've learned is the same on GNU/Linux – just that they'll be using their distro's package manager.
  • We could add something about most people using free software without knowing it, to not make the programs seem so foreign.
  • GF: The ideal progression is using one, free (local) program, using another, and another, and so on, until they're on an FSDG distro.
  • It's important to give diverse examples in the form of stories, for example: "Alice installs a program to fill a strategic use case where her work depends on it and she don't want to assure to still be able to use that program in the future." Or "Zora has just started activism and needs a software to publish a politically oriented fanzine."
  • One important thing to keep in mind is that there are many sites that offer free software binaries bundled with malware (SourceForge). This could be a good argument for switching to GNU/Linux, since packages retrieved from a distribution's own repos don't have this problem.
  • We can illustrate "trade-offs" with stories as well: "Alexander installed Fedora because he had a graphic card that wasn't supported yet by linux-libre, he will try to get a RYF compliant laptop later on."
  • There's such a thing as an acceptable compromise, since things are on a timeline / progression: if someone's choosing between using a GNU/Linux distro with nonfree firmware vs. not using free software at all, we should obviously prefer the former.
  • We should use a blend of fictional / nonfictional "how I got into free software" stories sourced from the community.
  • GF: It's funny that you mention that, as that was the start of this project; so that sounds like a good idea.
  • ZK: It would be even better if there are real stories.
  • We should show live images to people and play up the fact that they don't have to make permanent changes to their hard drive.
  • Should we mention that WINE allows you to run Windows applications in GNU/Linux?
  • GF: Probably not; WINE exists almost solely to run nonfree software, and we don't want to encourage "backsliding" in that way.
  • But the same could be framed in a story: "Bob has switch to GNU/Linux but still uses <that nonfree software that is on the high priority list> for his work and is willing to try any free software replacements and help as he can (he's not a programmer though."
  • The story above could be framed like a hypothetical, i.e. "if you need to use a nonfree program for work but still want to get started with free software.."
  • I was excited to read the "freedom ladder" idea because I feel that the FSF being explicit/consistent about doing even a little is a really important and practical message: taking one step, replacing one nonfree program, refusing to use Facebook for a meeting just once, etc. The FSF has an image outside of its loyalists as being obsessive and impractical, quite unfairly.
  • It all [has to be] consistent with taking steps towards freedom. The trick is to offer awareness and steer towards freedom rather than away from it or presenting compromises as solutions.
  • Even if someone's excited about switching, you should advise them to wait and temper their excitement, and teach them about realistic consequences / problems they might face. And the need to be able to find solutions to their own questions, although the community can still help.
  • It's often useful to have friends/acquaintances whom you can rely on. There might be a young hacker in the neighborhood who would be glad to help someone out. Recommending online communities where you can make acquaintances that can help you out is good; also imparting the understanding that, once you've learned some of this stuff, you should stick around and pass it onto the next newbie.
  • GF: Right. Someone doesn't even need to be finished with the ladder to help another person climb, e.g. someone on step 3 could help someone on step 1, and so on. We should emphasize "peer learning."
  • If I got a relative to install LibreOffice and they loved it and told five of their friends who also did it, I consider that a far bigger win than trying to get a relative to use Ubuntu and them just getting confused and ignoring it.
  • GF: I agree.
  • Online communities can be intimidating. A lot of people prefer to do it verbally instead of in text, so we need to make sure we don't imply that forums are the only places to get help.
  • Often, free software doesn't come in a single giant program or "suite" to do things, but several different independent programs that can be used more or less in concert with open formats etc.
  • It may be beneficial to explain this to someone unfamiliar with this way of computing – e.g. explain the "Unix philosophy" as part of the ladder.
  • GF: It could be an "extra credit" point, or "further reading," but we need to be careful not to overwhelm people with technical details.
  • Krita should be a program suggestion.
  • Something good for the freedom ladder might be an explicit mention of a computer that is now too old-and-slow to run Windows is probably perfectly useable with GNU/Linux, and that it's an easy way to try things out, maybe in the same list as live CDs. In my own experience, they love that, and they get interested.
  • GF: That's doable; especially since my current computer is from 2007.
  • We should add a story where the user is making a mistake by thinking that a small nonfree program isn't an issue, and it turns out to be a huge issue.
  • GF: We took the meeting out another half hour again because of the interest, but I think we have to adjourn for now. We'll still be reading the discussion, though. Thanks for participating, and please leave any points or comments you want to emphasize on the ladder's discussion page.