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April 5th, 2017

Libreboot Reorganizes: Seeks to Make Amends

It appears the people developing Libreboot have done some of the hard work necessary to fix potentially toxic personal dynamics after last year’s controversy, when the project removed itself from the FSF and GNU.

Libreboot logo

You may remember, back in September FOSS Force reported that the open source project Libreboot announced it was withdrawing from the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project. Libreboot, which produces free, open source and blob-free software to replace proprietary BIOS firmware, had been endorsed by the FSF and became an official GNU project on May 14. The final removal of the project from GNU was made official in a public email from Richard Stallman on January 5.

According to Libreboot’s lead developer, Leah Rowe, the project was pulling out of GNU because a transgender woman employed by the FSF had been terminated “just for being trans” (Rowe’s words). The identity of the woman was never made public, but both Stallman and John Sullivan, FSF’s executive director, seemed to be familiar with the incident and denied the firing had anything to do with gender identity.

As the story progressed, there were allegations that the decision leave GNU had been unilaterally made by Rowe, and that posts appearing to express the collective viewpoint of the project were, in fact, expressing only the lead developer’s sentiments.

“We (the contributors) are not consulted about any of the views expressed on the libreboot.org website when they are hastily published by Leah,” wrote Damien Zammit. then a contributor to the project, in a blog post. “So, whenever you read ‘We believe…’ or ‘We say that…’ on the lists and websites, Leah has ultimate control of the libreboot project currently.”

This Sunday, April 2, the project posted an “Open Letter to the Free Software Community” penned by Alyssa Rosenzweig, who is now the sysadmin for the project. In it, she both admits to problems that had existed within the organization, and spells out changes that have been instituted in an attempt to rectify them.

“Previously, the libreboot repository and the website could only be modified by the project leader, Leah Rowe. This setup created a single point of failure, with little leeway for dissenting contributors. Since then, I have joined the project as the sysadmin. Along with another contributor, Sebastian “Swift Geek” Grzywna, direct access to the code and servers is shared. Though the project cannot yet be completely decentralised, this change is a win for transparency.

“Previously, most of libreboot.org, including public statements such as those regarding GNU, were issued by Leah herself. The rest of the team and the community were not consulted. As Damien Zammit, a former contributor noted, the word ‘we’ on old Libreboot notices meant ‘Leah’. But alas, there is no room for the “royal we” in democracy.”

Rosenzweig goes on to explain that, as was evident at the time, Rowe had been struggling with personal issues, and indicated that she’s been working to get a handle on them.

“With all of this in mind, were the allegations against the Free Software Foundation true? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Indeed, it is unlikely that Libreboot will ever rejoin GNU, but feuding in an already fragmented community helps nobody. The world of free software is shrinking and under attack. Though the FSF may make mistakes from time to time, so do we. We do not need another divide.”

Appended to the “letter” was an apology by Rowe, in which she repeats Rosenzweig’s assertion that she’s been dealing with personal issues: “At the time of taking Libreboot out of GNU, I was going through intense personal difficulty in my life, and I was highly unstable.”

“What I’d like the most, is to simply focus on Libreboot as I’ve always done, and to forget about what happened in the past and move on.

“I sincerely hope that the FSF, GNU project and others who I have hurt, can do the same. My only goal at present is to continue improving Libreboot, and to do everything in my power to make libre hardware a reality for everyone, as is the goal of the Libreboot project.

“I will remain in my place as a developer in this project, but everything that I do from now on will be the result of open collaboration with others in the project. I very nearly single handedly destroyed this project, and caused a lot of damage to the entire community, damage which I now wish to repair. I love Libreboot, Free Software and the community, and my only wish is to see it thrive.”

She goes on to make personal apologies, both to people within the Libreboot community, past and present, and to people at the FSF and GNU, mentioning John Sullivan and Ruben Rodriguez by name.

“Finally, I would like to once again apologize to the community as a whole, for the damage that I caused. I hope that I can prove to you all that I do wish to make amends for the damage, and to improve, and to re-build bridges with the community, and to once again work with the community in bringing Libreboot and Free Software forward, into the future.”

In February, Rowe led a presentation on Libreboot, “Free your BIOS today!,” at the FOSSDEM conference in Brussels.

Going forward, Libreboot plans on nurturing a close working relationship with Librecore, an open source project that describes itself as “a distribution of Free/Libre firmware recipes for compiling and generating firmware for devices.”

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

6 comments to Libreboot Reorganizes: Seeks to Make Amends

  • It sounds like Libreboot is making a sincere effort to make adjustments and move forward. Good luck to them.

  • tracyanne

    This is good news.

  • Good to hear, both that the project is on more stable ground and that Rowe seems to be doing better herself.

    I just wish I could get a custom firmware running on my 1,1 Mac Pro.

  • Mike

    I second the above sentiments. Sounds like everything is working out better for the project and those involved.

  • Mister Goldiloxx

    I’ll step aside from the crowd and say that I have followed this story, and I don’t choose to knowingly use software (free or not) written by unstable people. That said, I wish everyone in the project the best of luck.

  • Eddie G.

    Well at least they’re on the road to mending and healing. I have never used LibreBoot, but I’m interested to know how it works….maybe I’ll give it a spin on some desktops I have sitting around, lets see what they can do! And good luck to everyone involved with the project! Here’s to wishing the year 2018 is nicer to us all than 2017 was!…LoL!!!