The Free Software Foundation (FSF) turned thirty years old on October 4th, 2015. They celebrated the occasion -not just what it means for the organization, but what it means for the success and longevity of the free software movement- with a daytime User Freedom Summit, followed by an evening party featuring toasts by longtime friends and associates of the FSF, and an address by their president Richard M. Stallman (RMS). Friends around the world also celebrated, putting on over 22 events in 8 countries. Individuals who couldn’t attend events watched their free-software-powered video stream.
At the FSF and in the GNU Project, they want all computer users to be able to do everything we need to do on any computer, using only free software. The FSF has been working toward this goal for thirty years.
In order to make steady progress toward their goal, the FSF divides its resources (over 80 percent of which come from individuals) between three major areas of work -advocating and spreading free software ideals; promoting and facilitating use of free software licenses, especially the copyleft GNU General Public License; and driving actual development of free programs.
In honor of the thirtieth anniversary, here are thirty concrete things they do at the FSF to transform the global society into one which respects computer user freedom.
- Provide general infrastructure support for GNU developers, including software hosting, web space, mailing lists, copyright assignment, and more
- Support fundraising and promotion for Replicant, as part of our initiative to create fully free mobile devices
- Support fundraising and promotion for GNU MediaGoblin, as part of our initiative to advance free, decentralized replacements for network services that threaten user freedom
- Maintain the High Priority Projects List to inspire and organize free software development in key areas
- Speak at events all over the world advocating free software and copyleft
- Organize the annual International Day Against DRM (Digital Restrictions Management)
- Run the annual LibrePlanet conference
- Submit briefs to key Supreme Court cases, such as those on software patents and copyright issues, and file other official comments to agencies like the FCC and Library of Congress
- Fight against plans to have an official DRM extension to HTML5
- Certify and promote hardware that requires only free software, under our Respects Your Freedom program
- Produce an annual Giving Guide encouraging freedom-friendly gifts, and organize events around the world to distribute it in key shopping areas
- Help people get started using specific free programs, such as our Email Self-Defense Guide, which teaches people how to encrypt their email
- Speak to journalists at all kinds of publications about the necessity of free software and fundamental flaws with proprietary software
- Host the monthly Boston CiviCRM meetup at our office
- Receive frequent visitors from around the world who want to see the home of GNU and the FSF
- Encourage and help other nonprofits use free software for their operations like we do, whether their mission focuses on technology or not
- Celebrate achievements by others in the free software movement, such as through our annual Free Software Awards
- Answer thousands of questions emailed (and snail mailed!) by people wanting to know more about free software
- Build the Free Software Directory and the community of contributors around it so that people can find free software to do everything they need to do
- Build a database of hardware that works with free operating systems (h-node.org), so people know what to buy
- Enforce the GPL family of licenses, following up on reports of companies not following their terms
- Answer hundreds of questions each year from developers about how to properly use free software licenses for their work
- Fund Outreachy, as part of our support for initiatives to improve diversity in the free software movement
- Make attractive materials explaining the basics of free software to newcomers, like our “Usr Lib” video, and organize translations of our materials into many different languages
- Campaign for the abolition of software patents (not just fighting “bad” patents or “trolls”)
- Campaign against Restricted Boot and other attempts to lock down our devices
- Run a Tor relay node, and participate in efforts to expand the Tor network
- Produce and sell printed freely licensed documentation, both technical and philosophical
- Contribute code to free software that we use
- Host GPL compliance seminars and help steward: copyleft.org
This list does not cover everything that they do. Nor does it cover all of the things they need to be doing. But they have to consider whether it’s too many things for their staff of twelve, their nine volunteer board members, and their core team of community contributors, to tackle at once. They take on so many things because they don’t want to ignore any threats to user freedom, or miss any opportunities to expand this movement.
During his address at the anniversary event in Boston, RMS said, “If you want to finish something taking decades, nothing’s more important than remembering where you’re trying to get to.” I’d also add, you’d better know where you are.
They are taking the occasion of this significant anniversary to start a year-long intensive process of reviewing where they are: Taking stock of their current initiatives, making sure they have appropriate metrics and desired outcomes associated with each one, and assessing how they use their resources in light of that information. With a clearer sense of where they are, they can improve their efficiency, and do a better job at prioritizing what’s most important. Being able to clearly demonstrate their successes will in turn lead to more resources, enabling to expand and take on more projects.
We can help with this effort -you can always send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, but they will also be offering more structured opportunities to provide feedback. I hope you will participate. Make sure you are on their main mailing list at fsf.org/fss to receive the announcements.
They look forward to sharing the results of this reflection with you. They greatly appreciate all the contributions we make in the form of time, money, and ideas. They couldn’t do any of this work without us, and all at the FSF are determined to be the most effective organization they can be for us.
Here’s to the next thirty years!