Libre software as the result of the will

[Note: this is only a rough translation of the only authoritative version: the French one. Understand it at your own risks ;)]

[Epigraph --- not cited the D day] 'You will see enterprises developing, made by selected men, acting in teams, producing in a few moments, in a place, both unexpected, some crushing events.'

Paul Valery.

The subject of this presentation is the Zeroth Debian Conference, which will be held during the Libre Software Meeting; at the same time, but, also, a bit apart.

A bit apart, because Debian is a distinguished organisation. Distinguished, because solely based on voluntary work. Distinguished, because Debian assumes its mission which is to be a libre distribution, a distribution of an operating system derived from GNU, and draws the consequences from it; all the consequences.

Actually, what is a distribution? It's a collective effort aiming at collecting the miscellaneous pieces of this puzzle that is an operating system, made up of a kernel, different essentials utilities run for the use of the services provided by the kernel, and special applications designed in order to allow, after the installation, the inclusion, removal or update, in short the change of the software bricks without breaking the system.

What kind of consequences can be drawn from this definition? The operating system is based on _a_ kernel. If the aim is to provide libre systems, a distribution must give all the operating systems matching this criterion, and, thus, not limit itself to one kind of kernel: Debian releases Debian GNU/Linux systems, but also Debian GNU/Hurd ones, ans is trying to build a Debian/GNU FreeBSD one, and reflects by these names the different contributions: Linux is a kind of kernel; Hurd is the kernel developed by the Free Software Foundation GNU project; as for the BSD derived kernels, they are 'historic' ones. Why the GNU mention? _Because a kernel alone is of no use_: it's ready to propose services; but one has to be able to ask for them. It's the task of miscellaneous indispensable utilities, which have been mainly developed within the GNU project. It's thus normal to acknowledge this contribution.

As for what belongs on its own to Debian, it's to insure the coherence of this heterogeneous set --- if ones notices the different orgins of the elements, attracted by all the threads of the world wide web---, and to develop the utilities used for the installation and the administration of the system, by way of a packets manager, which simplifies the maintenance.

So Debian is distinguished, but Debian is also part of a whole, a whole producing the software elements without which Debian would become senseless; a whole evolving with principles that Debian can not simply ignore.

Debian is a part of the Libre software movement, and nothing that is libre is out of its scope. Why feeling the necessity of gathering Debian? But for the very same reasons which have made necessary, for us, the Libre Software Meeting.

Libre software is born from a will. 'Because willing frees' [1]. Nothing that has been done by, altogether, a handful of men --- to which I don't belong...---, has been done as an easy solution. The will of some men is what allows the struggle against the increasing of the entropy, against the evolution towards a probable state which, inevitably, is a decline: the success of the Libre software was improbable, because libre software is a human enterprise. The success of Libre software is improbable: it will never be the result of a laisser-faire. And to try to confine, using specious pretexts, the discussions about the libre software to the sole technical aspects, feigning to believe that the philosophical debates are vain politicking quarrel is, at best, to be shortsighted: because only stupids can think that by refusing to militate in favour of their ideas, they will prevent their adversaries from promoting their own ones, especially when these adversaries have only to use a tremendous inertia in order to win...

When one hears today some people delighting in a hazy 'bazaar' model, which would be the libre panacea, 'bazaar' that can only be a gas of egoisms, indeed egotisms engaged in loud and unproductive brownian movements, one can say that it's definitively more easy to give maxims, than to understand the question.

Libre software is a human project; it can not be absolutely foreign to intelligence.

To use some thermodynamic words, intelligence is a intensive value, not an extensive one; the sum of mediocre intelligences will never equal a genius. Most of the time, the intelligence of the crowd is the intelligence of the less intelligent of the group. It happens sometimes that the intelligence of the group is strictly inferior to the intelligence of the most stupid of its members. But sometimes there is this miracle that a set of men manages to transcend the intelligence of the most competent _for a particular problem_, because this is precisely the most competent who leads the group. But at least one can say that we are far from a bazaar model...

The struggle for freedom, including freedom of software, will never be achieved, nor easy. Since to climb back up a slope has always required some effort. And for these fights, there is no need to lose one's time to try to convince the ones who are not persuaded that an idea is better defended standing!

So why the Libre Software Meeting? Why the Debian Conference? Because to satisfy oneself with only virtual exchanges, this is converting a revolutionnary idea in an utopia, since etymologically, an utopia is a 'non place', an idea realized nowhere. This is reducing groups which are, foremost, groups of men, with their complexity and liveliness, to e-mail exchanges necessarily oversimplifying. The Libre idea is not an utopia since one can touch it today, since a part of the actors of Libre software is realized here.

Debian exists, because it is here, gathered for a dramatic event : unity of place --- Bordeaux; unity of time --- from 4th to 9th of July 2000; unity of action --- working for Libre software in general, and for the improvement of Debian in particular.

Because Debian exists, it has successes, but problems too. About which the debianers will have the opportunity to discuss freely. And for the ones who would say that it would be better to hide worries, I answer with this metaphor of a local celebrity, François Mauriac: 'The ostrich hides its little brainless head in the sand and persuads itself that its featherfull behind doesn't offend somebody's sight.'[2]

But you will also see Debian work, and Debian at work, via different presentations. [program snipped]

This speech was designed in order to make you react a bit... You can even give me a roasting!

But nevertheless: welcome in Bordeaux!