The Free Software Foundation's "High Priority" List: A Key Guidepost: Page 3

Posted December 10, 2007

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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According to Peter Brown, FSF executive director, the list is scheduled for updating early in 2008. The main page encourages suggestions for additions to the list, asking that suggestions include the reason that a project should be on the list, and its web address.

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This list is not complete by any means. Most users could probably make the case for one or more additions (my own would be a GUI for Optical Character Recognition). Also, the list is partly political. You won't, for instance, find support for Microsoft's Office Open XML, the default format in the latest versions of MS Office. This is because many, including Richard Stallman, the FSF's founder, believe that the community should have nothing to do with the format, which was developed to challenge the use of the Open Document Format.

Otherwise, as a guide to the hot spots, the high priority list is a reliable guide to the state of free software.

Personally, I find the current list both encouraging and depressing. On the one hand, it is encouraging in that relatively few items affect daily computing for the average user. Moreover, the fact that free software is in reasonable enough shape that it can start thinking beyond immediate needs and worry about such things as the BIOS is a sign of progress.

On the other hand, it is discouraging because progress sometimes seems slow. Video drivers have been a problem for years, and the improvements, while real, are also painfully slow. Similarly, Gnash has not yet developed to the stage where it can rival Adobe's Flash reader, despite several years of work.

Still, over time, the list reflects progress. For instance, since Sun announced last year that it was releasing the Java code, you will no longer find support for free Java implementations listed. By comparing the current list with previous ones, you can get a sense of the gradual evolution of free software, seeing where it's been and where it is heading. For a GNU/Linux watcher, it remains an invaluable resource.

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