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[GNU-linux-libre] Discussing the FSF endorsement process going forward

From: Donald Robertson
Subject: [GNU-linux-libre] Discussing the FSF endorsement process going forward
Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2018 14:25:09 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:52.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/52.6.0

Hello all,

I wanted to write to you all to discuss the distro endorsement process,
and to explain how we hope to improve that process going forward. I've
seen a fair amount of confusion here on this list and elsewhere as to
how the process actually works. That confusion is my fault, I wasn't
paying close enough attention to what was going on here on this list and
elsewhere. I didn't see that what was going on was different from the
expectations that I had about the system, but that's clear to me now.

The endorsement process right now goes through three steps. The
applicant sends an application to <address@hidden>, who do an
initial check of the application, making sure it is the developers of
the distro applying and that there are no glaring errors. Once the
webmasters are satisfied with the situation, they then hand them over to
this mailing list, where a more in-depth review occurs. Once it clears
review here, the applicant is sent along to the licensing team for final
review and endorsement. But this complete system isn't laid out clearly
for applicants, particularly that last step of handing over an applicant
to the licensing team. Because we weren't clear about how this system
works, we ended up causing some problems and delays that were never

For example, the FSF has not rejected ConnochaetOS; we have never
reviewed the distro because they have never made it to the step where
their application was handed over to us to review. In looking through
the past history it seems they went through several cycles of people
looking at their work, but we at FSF never clarified what the steps of
the process were or where they were at in that process. We were never
clear about how the process was supposed to end.

Their experience I think really shows that we have to be more
transparent about the process, but also that I need to monitor it more
closely as well. I should have picked up on what was going wrong in the
system last year, and so I apologize for that delay. I took over
handling endorsements at the end of 2016, but haven't done the type of
review and adjustments to the process that I probably should have. But
we are going to fix that now.

What I'd like to do is lay out how I think we can all work together on
this moving forward, and get your feedback on that plan.

Thanks to Bob Call, I was recently made aware of the existence of this
review page on LibrePlanet
<>. This is a really useful
document and I thank everyone who was working on it. I think we can use
it to even greater effect in making the review process more transparent,
by documenting the steps a distro will go through on their way to
endorsement there as well. In short, those steps would be:

* The distro will apply via <address@hidden> for an initial review.
The distro should be sent to
<> at this point so they
understand the process and can track their progress. The webmasters will
do their initial review to weed out distros that clearly are not going
to meet the criteria.

* Once they pass that stage, they will be handed over to this mailing
list for additional feedback and to work out any issues that might remain.

* When they arrive on the linux-libre mailing list, they will receive an
"application manager", an individual volunteer on the list who wants to
take on the role of ensuring that their application continues to move
forward. If we have many applicants at the same time, there could be
multiple "application managers", but otherwise it could possibly just be
one "application team captain" making sure things stay on track.

* If the list is satisfied with the distro, they will be sent to
<address@hidden> for final review and endorsement.

But what happens when a distro cannot meet all the criteria? How does
that process end? For that I think we need to make sure that the FSF
makes the final call for a rejection. In the past, sometimes a distro
would write to us at licensing for our perspective, and I think that is
ok when it happens. But the best course is just for us at the FSF to be
more involved in discussions that are taking place here on the list. I
certainly haven't been active here in the past, but going forward you
should be seeing my name a lot more. We should also make clear that
while this process is ongoing and they should work through things here
on the list, that if the applicant is struggling that they can still
contact <address@hidden> directly to ping us for additional help.

While this process is ongoing, we'll use the LibrePlanet page to
document where in that process each particular distro is, and use it as
the reference for when they have questions as to the standing of their
application. We intend to handle applications in the order they are
received, allowing of course for the fact that some distros are more
responsive/quicker at handling issues and so may move through the
process faster, and we may very occasionally have a pressing
policy/mission reason for focusing on a newer application over one
that's been waiting. While each application will take a variable amount
of time depending on the particular issues involved, I think being clear
about these steps and monitoring the process more closely will help to
keep things moving.

I think with these items in place, we'll be able to improve the process
and also make sure that it is being handled in a fair manner. But
obviously, if there is more we can do (or if you think this is way off
base), then I want to get your feedback. We can't do this important work
on our own; we need your help in letting users know which distros they
can trust as being fully free. Thank you all so much for your work in
this area.
Donald R. Robertson, III, J.D.
Licensing & Compliance Manager
Free Software Foundation
51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Phone +1-617-542-5942
Fax +1-617-542-2652 ex. 56

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