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linux.conf.au is Like a Dream

by Karen Sandler on January 31, 2017

I’m writing this on my way to Campus Party Brasil, and I’m finally able to report about and reflect on linux.conf.au. I’m still buoyed by the enthusiasm and passion exhibited by the Linux Australia community.

I hit the ground running in Hobart. The organizers invited me to give a presentation in the opening plenary to introduce Outreachy. I explained why we need the program, how it works on a basic level and shared the metrics that show that the program is succeeding in its goals. Chris Neugebauer, lead organizer and emcee for the week, then surprised the crowd by announcing that Outreachy would be the designated charity for the conference. Every year, LCA picks a charity and sells raffle tickets to raise money for the selected charity. Usually this is a local charity, so this year LCA focused on raising money to support interns in Australia and New Zealand.

The first two days of the conference were mini-conference days, each organized by a volunteer to have a day-long track on a particular topic. I proposed a GPL enforcement feedback session for the Linux kernel miniconf—the third in our series. So far each session has been on a different continent to make sure that people have a chance to weigh in all over the world. The session wasn’t recorded, as we wanted to make sure that attendees felt comfortable speaking candidly. James Scheibner of the University of Tasmania volunteered to take notes to make sure we kept track of what was said. The session was well attended. I didn’t count how many people were there, but others told me that it was somewhere between 80 and 100 people. I expected the session to be like the one at Linux Plumbers, with an immediate flood of thoughts about enforcement and Conservancy’s activities in particular, but instead this session started out as a Q&A. About half way into the designated time, I stopped the Q&A and specifically asked for feedback. When no one volunteered to speak, I goaded the audience a bit, eventually saying that if no one had any feedback I was going to take it that they were happy with Conservancy’s work. The audience burst into applause, and there were shouts of “thank you!” The positive response was just fantastic. We continued with Q&A and also brainstorming about things that can be done in the future. I also facilitated a discussion in the Legal & Policy miniconf on Tuesday, which included a lot of interesting discussion too.

The keynotes were all really good, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point to r0ml’s talk “Keeping Linux Great”. There’s a full write-up of it on Rodger Donaldson’s blog. As always, r0ml’s talk was a roller coaster ride, densely packed with thoughts and observations. I was especially surprised to see he included a slide with Conservancy’s logo between pictures of me and Bradley! He said (thanks to Rodger for transcribing this):

If you think I’m a bozo, you need to join Software Freedom Conservancy, because they’re the vanguard of trying to push free and open software into the future and preventing people like me from ruining it. And if you think that I have an excellent point and that this might be the future, we still need free software to build it. We still need somebody to be the rearguard to prevent the barbarians from overrunning us while we build this future. So if you agree with me you should join Software Freedom Conservancy.

The pictures of us were huge on the giant screen in Plenary Hall—Bradley turned bright red, much to my amusement!

I also gave a talk in the same room, called “Surviving the Next 30 Years of Free Software”. I plan to write a separate post about it, but the video is already up. This deals with a lot of issues I’ve been wrestling with about how our community transitions when more of us become incapacitated and pass away. It’s heavy stuff, and a hard topic to talk and think about, but it’s important. I appreciate the fact that this topic was chosen by the conference and that many in the Linux Australia community are receptive to the ideas I proposed.

There were so many great talks and an engaging hallway track. I recommend reading Kathy Reid’s write-up of her highlights. (Also at the conference Kathy was elected to the post of president for Linux Australia.)

People run down to make last-minute cash donations to fund a third Outreachy intern. Picture from linux.conf.au 2017 video.

The conference wound down with fantastic lightning talks (check out Rusty Russell’s) and then I was surprised to be called to the stage by Chris. Chris, ever the showman, walked us through an ever-increasing amount of money raised for Outreachy. First, he told us that they sold many more raffle tickets than they had anticipated such that they had to get three batches of tickets and differentiate them. Then, Chris announced that two anonymous donors matched amounts and that they raised enough to fund two interns, and Kathy announced that Linux Australia was donating AU$7000! With three interns within reach, Martin Krafft ran down to the stage and called for people to donate the last amount on the spot. And then a lot of people ran down with their cash! In the end, the conference raised enough money for three interns, and the 2018 team announced that they’ll sponsor tickets for all three interns and their mentors to attend LCA 2018 (plus I got to pick the raffle winners). It was an amazing way to end an amazing conference!

Many thanks to the LCA organizing team and the Linux Australia community for keeping such a magical community alive.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

Compliance Feedback Sessions in 2017

by Karen Sandler on January 13, 2017

While we continue our principled defense of copyleft software on behalf of developers who ask us to do it, Conservancy is committed to examining whether we’re doing things the best we we can. As we publicly promised, we’ve been running feedback sessions on GPL compliance to hear from everyone who is interested in our work.

Bradley conducted a session at Embedded Linux Conference Europe and Brett and I ran one at Linux Plumbers Conference. Both were informative and, honestly, reassuring. While there are some areas we can improve (as a free software organization, we know we can always improve!), our fundamental approach is sound and seems to be in line with what developers and other stakeholders would like us to be doing. Of course, we also have received some mixed messages. Some people strongly criticize us for not being aggressive enough, while others think our rhetoric is a little too strident. What’s been great is to have everything on the table and get people involved. As a public charity, we want to be sure that we are in fact acting in the public’s interest in everything we do.

We’ve got another feedback session scheduled next week at the Linux Kernel Miniconf at linux.conf.au on Monday afternoon. If you’re there I hope you’ll join us. I’ll also be facilitating a fishbowl discussion on GPL compliance at the Legal & Policy Miniconf Tuesday morning. Please let us know if you have any other suggestions for where we should hold more feedback sessions. We’ve been trying to strategically propose these sessions where they’ll be the most effective (we did propose a feedback session with an eye towards getting key corporate leadership feedback at the upcoming Open Source Leadership Summit, but the session was unfortunately not accepted). Other conferences we’ll be at this year include FOSDEM, Campus Party Brasil, SCaLE, LibrePlanet and OSCON. We’ll have a booth at most of these, so even if we don’t have a session please just stop by our booth and tell us what you think!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are only days left for us to earn our generous match from Private Internet Access. We’ve made great progress, but we’re only about 70% there! Please sign up as a Supporter - you’ll be donating to the support of our many member projects, copyleft defense, diversity work via Outreachy as well as the overall promotion and advocacy of free software. There’s still time for your donation to be amplified, but only if you sign up now!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

Software Freedom After Trump

by Karen Sandler on December 29, 2016

I’ll say it: it’s been rough since the election. Like so many other people, I was thrown into a state of reflection about my country, the world and my role in it. I’ve struggled with understanding how I can live in a world where it seems facts don’t matter. It’s been reassuring to see so many of my friends, family and colleagues (many of them lawyers!) become invigorated to work in the public good. This has all left me with some real self-reflection. I’ve been passionate about software freedom for a long time, and while I think it has really baffled many of my loved ones, I’ve been advocating for the public good in that context somewhat doggedly. But is this issue worth so much of my time? Is it the most impactful way I can spend my time?

Karen Sandler delivers her keynote at this year’s OSCon EU

I think I was on some level anticipating something like this. I started down this road in my OSCON EU keynote entitled “Is Software Freedom A Social Justice Issue,” in which I talked about software freedom ideology and its place relative to social justice issues.

This time, like when I was doing the soul searching that led to the OSCON EU talk, I kept coming back to thinking about my heart and the proprietary software I rely on for my life. But what’s so powerful about it is that my heart is truly a metaphor for all of the software we rely on. The pulse of our society is intertwined with our software and much of it is opaque from scrutiny and wholly under the control of single companies. We do not have ultimate control of the software that that we need the most.

After all of this deep reflection, the values and the mission of software freedom has never seemed more important. Specifically, there are a few core pieces of Conservancy’s mission and activities that I think are particularly relevant in this era of Trump.

Defending the integrity of our core infrastructure

One the things I’ve focused on in my advocacy generally is how vulnerable our core infrastructure is. This is where we need software freedom the most. We need to make sure that we are doing our best to balance corporate and public interests, and we need to be able to fix problems when they arise unexpectedly in our key systems. If we’ve learned anything from Volkswagen last year, it’s that companies may be knowingly doing the wrong thing, covering it up while also promoting corporate culture that makes it extremely unlikely that employees may come forward. We need to have confidence in our software, be able to audit it and be able to repair it when we detect vulnerabilities or unwanted functionality like surveillance.

Software freedom, and copyleft in particular, helps us keep the balance. Conservancy is dedicated to promoting software freedom, defending our licenses and supporting many of our member projects that are essential pieces of our infrastructure.

Transparency

It may feel like we’ve entered into a world where facts don’t matter but we at Conservancy disagree. Conservancy is committed to transparency, both in the development of software that can be trusted, but also in our own operations. We’re committed to helping others understand complex topics that other people gloss over, as well as shedding light on our own financial situation and activities. (This end-of-year giving season I recommend you carefully read the Form 990s of all of the organizations you consider donating to, including ours—check out how money much the top people make and think about what the organizations accomplish with the amount of resources they have available to them.)

Diversity

While hate and exclusion are on the rise, it’s more important than ever to make sure that our own communities do the right thing. I’m proud to have Conservancy host and to also personally help run Outreachy, making sure that many of the groups that are now feeling so marginalized have opportunities to succeed. Additionally, software freedom democratizes access to technology, which can (in time) empower disenfranchised communities and close digital divides.

Because together, we get it

Perhaps most importantly, unethical software is something that everyone is vulnerable to, but most don’t understand it at all. You need a certain level of expertise just to understand what software freedom is let alone why it’s so important. There are many things we can and should work on, but if we don’t keep our focus on software freedom the long term consequences will be dire. Software freedom is a long-term cause. We must work towards sound infrastructure and look after the ethical underpinnings of the technology we rely on, because if we don’t, who will?

We can’t just be reactive. We have to build the better world.

Please join me in doubling your efforts to promote software freedom. Help Conservancy continue its important mission and become a Supporter now.

Tags: conservancy

QEMU's Stefan Hajnoczi on Why He's a Conservancy Supporter

by Karen Sandler on December 12, 2016

In this video, Stefan Hajnoczi, free software developer and contributor to QEMU, briefly explains why QEMU joined Conservancy and why he is a Conservancy Supporter. Join Stefan and join now!

Tags: conservancy, supporter, Member Projects

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