Software Freedom Conservancy

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Software Freedom Work During the Pandemic

by Deb Nicholson on April 21, 2020

Most of us have already gotten many, many emails talking about how fast food chains, companies that sell sweatpants and soap makers are "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times." Some of those are heartfelt emails assuring you that their company is making donations to non-profits or that they are really, really, washing everything. Non-profits, while we are also "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times" generally have more to do during a crisis so we've been focusing on our work while going a bit light on our marketing.

Conservancy's communities have responded to the global pandemic in several ways. Firstly, we are all grateful for the global, remote free software community -- particularly as many key events are being cancelled or transforming into online experiences. Many of us are looking at how to better serve the people who count on us, either by improving the tools we offer or our support, or both. Here's a sampling of what our projects are doing during the pandemic.

Working Together

Etherpad recently rolled out video support. It was already in the works, but it couldn't be more timely as many, many more people look for remote collaboration tools that respect their freedom. We've tried it out with as many as six people and you get a collaborative space for document editing (minutes, statement, shared story, etc.) as well as a sidebar with everyone's faces reacting in real time — very nice!

Conservancy also houses three (3!) version control systems. There's never been more demand for efficient tooling to manage remote, asynchronous collaboration. Git, Darcs and Mercurial are ready to help you work together, remotely.

Common Workflow language has been participating in biohackathons, more information on that work can be found here.

Remote Internships

Outreachy provided remote paid internships to work on free and open source software, inviting anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country to apply. The pandemic has exacerbated societal inequities such that people who have stable tech jobs are able to weather this crisis from the safety of their homes, while less resourced people are forced to choose between having an income and safety from the virus. And of course, it's not a great time to look for intro-level opportunities, let alone remote ones that could lead to a career with working on free software. Outreachy is looking to provide as many internships as possible in the coming May round to help bring more opportunities to marginalized people when they're needed most. Additionally, Outreachy has lowered the hours requirement for interns and mentors, to make the intership more accessible to those who have additional care-giving or just increased emotional overhead during the global pandemic. Outreachy typically has provided a travel stipend to interns. Because travel is no longer safe or recommended, the Outreachy team has decided to officially cancel all travel and pay all outstanding travel stipends, which they hope will help their alumns cope with this difficult time. The Outreachy team could use your help -- making the upcoming round bigger will be tough while some funding sources are contracting. We encourage companies to sponsor Outreachy interns, and anyone whose financial situation is not impacted by the current crisis to make an individual donation.

LibreHealth and Qemu are both mentoring Outreachy interns who will get paid to work on free software, remotely (as always) this summer. Boost, Coreboot, Godot, Inkscape, Qemu, Sugar Labs, Wine and Xapian are all taking part in Google Summer of Code -- another critical remote internship opportunity that brings new people in to the free software community. Disasters tend to exacerbate the impact of existing inequalities, making things hard for newcomers. Mentoring new free software contributors, and paying them while they work and learn, is more important than ever.

Control Over Our Computing

Many folks have been trying to get work or school software functioning on their home computers for the first time this past month and are newly grateful for the important interoperability bridges that Homebrew and Wine maintain. Wine just released updates and bug fixes a week ago, while we've been working with Homebrew to ensure that their paid contractors are well-supported with proper hardware during lockdown.

As we incorporate technology more intimately into our lives, with networked devices being a lifeline to work, school, friends and family, it's never been more important to make sure we control the technology we rely on. Our team is also continuing to work on GPL compliance, making sure that companies who use copylefted software keep up their end of the deal. Having access to source code and being able to modify the software on our devices can help us limit surveillance and other predatory behavior by companies who know that their customers have little choice if they want devices that provide a lifeline in this difficult time.

Finally, it can't always be all about work. As we enter the *second* month of lockdown in many places, video games are providing an important escape for people who are staying at home. Godot helps folks create new games without having to worry about proprietary licenses. With Conservancy's help, the Godot team has been using community driven funding to make Godot better and better.

We hope you're keeping well and staying healthy!

Tags: conservancy, Outreachy, software freedom for everyone

Please email any comments on this entry to info@sfconservancy.org.

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