Answering frequently asked questions

The GNU Assembly — April 21, 2021

Following the Assembly kick-off, we received lots of questions and read comments that deserved answers. This post attempts to answer the most common questions.

Meta-question: why so much confusion around GNU/FSF?

Good question! A common belief is that GNU and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) are the same thing. This is untrue: GNU is not a registered non-profit, it’s an informal association among contributors, separate from the FSF. The FSF is oblivious to technical matters in GNU.

The FSF supports GNU development primarily in three ways: As legal guardian (copyright assignments, acting on legal disputes or legal representation), as fiscal sponsor for some GNU packages, and by providing infrastructure like Savannah.

Is this a fork of GNU?

No. The software in question is not being forked and the people who write that software remain the same.

What changes is how these people organize themselves beyond their individual projects—from a BDFL top-down model to a community-oriented, consensus-based model.

Is the GNU Assembly an initiative of an existing Free Software organization or is it sponsored by a specific corporation?

No, it’s not! The Assembly was founded by GNU maintainers on personal title and receives no support, financial or otherwise, from any organization at this time. At the moment the Assembly uses the resources of the individuals listed. We will publicly list anybody or any organization that provides us with sponsorship or resources to be completely transparent (Updated May 2nd, we now have a thanks page listing all the individuals and organisations who offered resources to the GNU Assembly).

You’re just a minority anyway

That’s not a question, but you’re right: about 30 people, mostly appointed GNU maintainers, endorsed the Social Contract so far and may participate in the Assembly. The number keeps increasing but is still a fraction of the number of contributors to GNU packages: there are 300+ GNU maintainers “on file”, though not everyone and not each project is active, some even left years ago for all practical purposes despite being still listed—these projects have their own governance model and rules, independent of “the rest of GNU”.

Anyway, is being a minority a problem? We don’t think so: we hope this platform appeals to many GNU contributors and contributors-to-be, but we can do great things even without on-boarding everyone!

Why now? Is this really about <current event>?

While current events certainly motivated the decision to make our efforts more visible, the desire for stronger collaboration between GNU packages and for communal decision-making as it pertains to a shared vision has been the subject of many discussions among GNU maintainers and contributors over the past decade or so.

Why didn’t you try to effect change from the inside?

We did! It goes back to at least ten years. The project was met with enthusiasm from some and hostility from others. That’s fine, we don’t have to agree!

Unfortunately, GNU would host project-wide discussions on private mailing lists, so these discussions and soul searching were only known to “insiders”. The Assembly is determined to have transparent processes; everything we did, starting with the drafting process of the Social Contract in 2019–2020, was done publicly.

Do you support PDP-11 assembly?

Some of us write assembly code (not sure about PDP-11 though), but all this is about a different kind of “assembly”.