Free Software: Behind the Scenes
byon January 15, 2019
We wrote a few weeks ago about how Conservancy has several projects that support new people or less technical people and help bring new people into free software. We also support many projects that most folks probably don't think about very often. Many of our projects exist relatively outside of the spotlight and facilitate the creation of free software by providing tools, systems and infrastructure for developers.
Testing and Automation
Once you've got some code, how do you make sure it works everywhere you want it to -- in the way that you want it to? Testing and automation. Selenium is a suite of tools for browser automation. The W3C recommended their WebDriver tool as the best tool for the development of a more accessible and collaborative web last year. Just a few short months ago, we welcomed Reproducible Builds, a project that attests that your build is safe and uncompromised. The integrity of code is critical if you care about user safety and true software freedom and that's why each build needs to be tested and verified using a free software tool.
Interoperability and efficiency are also important. Projects that ignore this can find it hard to increase adoption. QEMU is a generic and free/open source machine emulator and virtualizer that helps developers build programs that work on different kinds of hardware. This lets developers create free software that works on all kinds of machines and with all kinds of hardware. Buildbot is a framework which enables software developers to automate software builds by scheduling different pieces of work. Both tools help developers create software that is useful to all kinds of users on all different systems.
Freedom All the Way Down the Stack
It's a little easier to expain why you want software for the tools that users directly interact with, but what about the tools that most users never see? The bits that talk to the hardware, the pieces that turn on your machine and the code that powers the internet also need to be free. You can't mix and match fee and non-free code and be sure you are getting all of the benefits of user freedom. That's why we are proud to spport so many projects that live close to the bare metal and work on critical interstitial bits that don't always get a lot of press.
Samba removes barriers to interoperability and is standard on nearly all distributions of Linux. Samba is what allows GNU/Linux and Unix machines to access file and print servers that are designed with Windows users in mind. This kind of hardware to hardware level interoperability makes it easy for folks to choose a free operating system for their personal machine, when their workplace or school isn't ready to switch.
Harvey OS provides a fully free operating system with a very compact kernel in which all resources are treated as files. This provides Unix users new ways of working with permissions and applications. Coreboot is an extended firmware platform, which provides users with a lightning fast and fully free boot system for desktops, laptops, servers and tablets. Start with freedom as soon as you boot!
We must have a free software foundation to build on top of, if we ever hope to offer users a completely free computing environment, both online and off. Linux XIA is a protocol stack for Linux that uses eXpress Internet Architecture (XIA) to enable a more trustworthy and interoperable internet while also improving continuity for network users.
Metalink is dedicated to improving downloads. Metalink makes it much easier for people — especially those in areas with inferior Internet connections — to download Open Source and Free Software. Just one non-free piece in the puzzle can counteract the intention to provide user freedom, privacy and security by that free software developers are working to provide throughout the rest of the stack.
Nuts and Bolts
We love supporting tools that free software developers use as part of their workflow to create more free software. We host three version control systems at Conservancy; Git, Mercurial and Darcs, which is a distributed revision control system written in Haskell.
We also support projects that help developers maintain their internal code. Kallithea is a free software source code management system that we use for many of our own scripts and systems. It lets teams easily maintain different versions of internal code projects. phpMyAdmin is a free and open source web interface for the MySQL and MariaDB database systems. It's a mature project that helps folks administrate their web-based MySQL instances.
Conservancy believes that everyone deserves full software freedom, without backdoors or exceptions. Developers deserve free tools and users deserve freedom all the way down to the bare metal. We don't live in that world just yet, but it's got to be built one piece at a time. Many of our projects aren't famous, but they're all important for securing full user freedom and that's why we support their work here at Conservancy.
Sage Weil: Challenges and Hope
byon January 9, 2019
This is part of our ongoing series on generous matching donors. Sage is the principal architect of Ceph, a completely distributed free software storage platform. Sage serves on the advisory board for CROSS, a program that turns technology created through student research into successful free and open source projects. He even won the O'Reilly Open Source Award in 2013 for his work. Sage and several other outstanding individuals are joining Private Internet Access and a big anonymous donor in offering a total of $90K in matching funds (just through January 15th!) to Conservancy for our continued work to support community-driven licensing and governance practices.
Deb: What's the most exciting thing you've seen recently in free software?
Sage: There are two key free software trends that give me hope. The first is the recent traction in open hardware, most notably with RISC-V, which moves us closer to being able to build a completely free and open hardware *and* software stack. The second is continued commitments to open source from governments around the world, most recently with the EU's bug bounties on a few critical projects.
Deb: Tell us about the moment you decided to become a Conservancy supporter.
Sage: When I learned about Conservancy's involvement in Christoph Hellwig's GPL suit against VMWare I realized that Conservancy was more concerned with user freedom than industry politics and/or the business interests of its supporters. It's because Conservancy is a grassroots organization, supported by individual donors, that it is able to fight unequivocally for free software principles and software freedom.
Deb: Do you have a favorite Conservancy project and/or one that is indispensable to your own work?
Sage: Conservancy's support for Outreachy and its willingness to tackle the diversity challenges in open source communities is a huge contribution to the free software movement. The lack of diversity in the communities I work most closely with is (in my view) one of the greatest risks to the long-term health and success of the relevant projects.
Deb: What do you hope to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?
Sage: I would love to see Outreachy continue to expand its reach and scope, and I look forward to seeing the GPL litigation demonstrate that copyleft licenses can't be willfully violated with impunity. Most importantly, though, I would like to see Conservancy continue to serve as a living example of what true open source advocacy looks like as a challenge and model for other free software organizations.
Deb: Anything else you'd like to add?
Sage: The two technology trends that most concern me are the continued erosion of online privacy (and relatively scarcity of freely available tools to help protect private communications and anonymity online) and the growth of public cloud providers as new instruments of software lock-in. Free software is a key component of any strategy to push back against both of these trends, and I am happy to support organizations like Conservancy that are focused on preserving the user freedoms that we often take for granted.
Do you share Sage's vision of a diverse, vibrant and community-driven free software future? Please donate today! Or if you've already donated, share stories about our work and let folks know that we depend on grassroots support to do all the work that we do. Thanks!The photo of Sage and his daughter is used here courtesy of Sage Weil.
Just a Few of the Talks We Gave in 2018
byon January 7, 2019
We gave lots of talks in 2018! One of the most important things we do is to bring fresh perspective on software freedom and to educate people about the most important issues facing our ability to have ethical technology. Many are a similar message - effective advocacy means meeting people where they are, and much of our introductory material is dipped into repeatedly, so we're not suggesting that you buy a van and follow us around. (Not to mention that you'd eventually need to cross the Atlantic, which you can't do in a van last time we checked.) Anyway, here a few of the talks that represent the critical free software themes that Conservancy staff discussed all year.
- Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler delivered her Linux Conf Australasia keynote on January 24th, "Hey, did you ever get the source code to that thing in your heart?"
- Karen keynoted PyGotham on Friday, Oct. 5 with a talk titled, "Software Freedom and Ethical Technology" which hits on the major themes that Karen touched on for keynote style introductory talks in 2018.
- Bradley Kuhn keynoted freenode #live on November 4th, where he discussed, "Interactive chat and the future of software freedom"
- Brett Smith at LibrePlanet on March 24th, "A usability study of the GPL"
- Deb Nicholson, our new Director of Community Operations, keynoted Open Source Lisbon on September 27th.
"In 2012 at LCA, Karen gave her first full length keynote talking about her pacemaker defibrillator, her journey to seek the source code on that device and her newfound passion for software freedom as fundamental for all of our critical technology. Now, six years later, Karen evaluates her efforts over the intervening time and assesses the current outlook for software in our hearts and everywhere."
At events around the world, she spoke to conference goers about the Internet of Things, how dangerous it is to rely on proprietary code for so many things and tied this all to her personal struggle with her embedded (inside her body) heart monitor. She kicked off 2018, by giving a similar talk in January, to thousands of students at CUSEC, a completely student run conference in Canada.
Bradley asks if we are really winning when open source projects are constantly requiring us to use proprietary software to participate? Realtime, interactive chat is integral to collaborative software development and we should always insist on free software solutions, like Freenode.
Brett brings his unique, interdisciplinary perspective to the topic of license usability. How can we make it easier and more appealing to participate in free software and use free software licenses? Brett shares data and suggestions in this talk on how we could improve our strategies and documentation.
This is a snippet from her talk, which was titled, "Free Software: Good for Business, Good For Society." She spoke about how the collaboration and transparency that are part of working with free software communities can help us be our best selves -- at work and in the world.
Interested in having someone from Conservancy speak at an event you're organizing this year? Drop us a note and we'll see if someone from our small staff can be part of your event.
Join us at FOSDEM 2019!
byon January 4, 2019
FOSDEM is possibly the largest community organized conference for free and open source software. In Brussels the first weekend in February, FOSDEM brings thousands of free software contributors and enthusiasts together for an intense two days of talks, stands and socializing. FOSDEM celebrates its 20th year in 2019.
Conservancy will be there, participating in myriad ways throughout the weekend. If you're going to be attending, we hope you'll join us.
Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn will be delivering the opening keynote of FOSDEM, entitled "Can Anyone Live in Full Software Freedom Today? Confessions of Activists Who Try But Fail to Avoid Proprietary Software". Deb Nicholson, our Director of Community Operations will keynote later on Saturay, with her talk "Blockchain: The Ethical Considerations".
The First Annual Copyleft Conf!
We're running Copyleft Conf, a one day conference starting at 9:30 AM and finishing at 6:00 PM CET (Brussels time) on February 4th, 2019 dedicated entirely to providing a friendly and safe place for discussion of copyleft as a key strategy for defending software freedom. Registration opens soon and the schedule will be up next week. Email us for general questions, or to ask about sponsorship. We're also looking for volunteers - it's a brand new conference and there are loads of ways to get involved to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Legal & Policy Devroom
Conservancy staff members Bradley and Karen, along with collaborators, Richard Fontana and Tom Marble, wil be running the Legal and Policy devroom for the eighth time. There is no event like it. Get there early since the room frequently fills up.
Join us at the Stand
We will also have a stand at FOSDEM on both days. We've already had a few impressive volunteers step up (you know who you are, and hopefully how much we appreciate you.) The stand scene at FOSDEM can be kind of intense -- and like dutch licorice -- best in small doses. If you'd like to help out with our FOSDEM stand, please email us -- we promise fun times and deep appreciation, with very little licorice. ;)
Our member project, Git's community will be gathering on February 1st to discuss all things Git at Git Merge. Deb is doing the opening keynote and will be discussing building an inclusive free software future.
Homebrew is having its first in-person meeting. We often help out member projects plan developer meetings and this year, we're proud to help Homebrew get together to discuss project business face to face.
More project news!
We're also helping facilitate a phpMyAdmin meeting in Brussels co-located with FOSDEM.
Ah, Brussels in February. Is there anything like it to make one appreciate living in California? JK. We go for the amazing community. Plus maybe the beer and the chocolate. See you there?
Didn't see your project's news up here? Let us know! We'll keep updating this until FOSDEM happens.