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You are here: Home Bulletins 2014 spring Help us make tablets and ebook readers Respect Your Freedom

Help us make tablets and ebook readers Respect Your Freedom

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Jul 21, 2014 11:38 AM

Our "Respects Your Freedom" computer hardware product certification program encourages the creation and sale of hardware that will do as much as possible to respect your freedom and your privacy, and will ensure that you have control over your device.

For too long, free software has been an "aftermarket" issue. What devices can we buy that will allow us to successfully replace the proprietary software that ships on them with our own free software?

This is a horribly twisted state of affairs. We have to pay the very people working against our freedom in order to recover it. This also places a severe limit on the growth of the free software movement, as installing completely new software on a device can be intimidating for many users, even if the expertise required has been decreasing over time.

More companies than ever before have been selling systems pre-installed with GNU/Linux, but they are still a tiny minority, and in nearly all cases still include some proprietary bits, such as proprietary firmware related to hardware support, and proprietary bootloaders.

The Respects Your Freedom program is the centerpiece in our work to change the world in this area. Over the last two years, it's been building up momentum, giving us multiple 3D printers, two kinds of USB WiFi devices, and a complete laptop running a fully free operating system with a free bootloader. We've been working hard following the checklist of devices most computer users want right now, to make sure we have at least one certified option in each area.

Soon, we'll be certifying a wireless router. I'm especially excited about this, because just about everyone needs a router in their home, and just about everyone currently has one that runs at least some proprietary software. Because of the prevalence of these devices, it will be a big step forward for user freedom.

A certified router will also enable us to promote configurations that will boost our other free software awareness and adoption campaigns -- such as offering both a private network (for you) and a public network (for neighbors, guests, and passers-by). Having widely available public WiFi is the most realistic current option (in conjunction with some of the cool mesh network projects out there) for mobile communication using only free software. All cell phones require proprietary baseband firmware to connect to the cellular network, and those companies will fight us tooth and nail if we attempt to connect with free software radio firmware on a widespread scale. We need our own network, and routers that run on only free software are the next step. A free router could also be shipped with GNU MediaGoblin, GNU social,, or other important free software network service replacements preinstalled.

That's just one example of how getting a single sort of device certified to Respect Your Freedom out there leads to an expansion of opportunities for free software use and advocacy. You're also going to want wearable computing devices that don't restrict you like Google Glass, and I bet you don't want either Microsoft or Google driving your car if you can help it.

It's all part of our long-term goal of proving that you can in fact have a life that is fully featured technology-wise, without sacrificing your freedom. All day long we are told by companies making excuses for themselves that it is prohibitively expensive or outright impossible to make hardware that requires only free software.

And yet a small nonprofit with a staff of twelve, in conjunction with a few small companies, has been doing just that.

This work is being done by just a couple of us, as part of positions which also involve many other responsibilities. Fortunately, we also have the help of some volunteers. But to make this program fulfill its ultimate vision, we're going to need more than this.

We're in the advanced exploratory phases for the next devices we want to certify -- an ebook reader, and a tablet. Both of these are more complex in terms of software than anything we've certified so far. Making this happen will require more of our resources, as well as more resources from the companies working with us.

An ebook reader we can promote will give a huge boost to our campaign against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on ebooks. A tablet will enable us to push back more effectively against companies like Apple and Microsoft, who are working hard to make the mobile computing space extremely restrictive and subjugating.

We keep waiting for some company to get it right from the beginning. But that's just not happening. We're actually seeing regressions in many areas of hardware compatibility with free software -- some of them intentional.

If we're going to have hardware that respects our freedom, we have to demand it -- both with our voices and our pocketbooks. We've shown that when enough of us get together, we can actually make free devices a reality.

We'll launch specific crowdfunding campaigns for the tablet and ebook reader once we have plans in place, but we need your support now to get to that place. Please join us in this effort with your donations, your memberships, your networking, and your skills. Think of what we could do with even a fraction of what people begrudgingly pay regularly to all the companies working against their freedom.

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