The Big Push 2009 -- Free Software Foundation Appeal
Dear Free Software Supporter,
Our community has made enormous progress in creating tools that enhance communication and freedom — with profound effect on people's lives. Free software has become a model for how our society can progress collaboratively, and members of our community are at the forefront in expressing these ideals.
Advocacy, diplomacy, and education are a vital part of the work the Free Software Foundation does for the free software community — but to clear a path for free software adoption, our work has to also reach beyond this community. We reach a wider audience with important campaigns on related ethical issues, such as Defective By Design — our campaign to eliminate DRM, which has had a profound effect on the way people look at digital restrictions on music, games, electronic books and video. And as web applications and other network services become increasingly popular and convenient, we are working to ensure that computer users are not asked to give up their freedom in order to use them. Our release of the GNU Affero General Public License and ongoing discussions with the autonomo.us group represent a solid foundation to tackle this issue and help our community further develop free software alternatives for the benefit of society.
Today, there are many questions that the free software community needs to tackle — Does your employer or school require you to use Microsoft software? Are you required to use proprietary formats to interact with your bank or local government? Are your children being trained to use Microsoft or Apple rather than learning how to be in control of the computers they use?
As advocates for free software, we can challenge the status quo and so-called convenience of using the invasive tools of proprietary software companies, because the opportunities for change have never been better:
The Free Software Foundation through its End Software Patents (ESP) campaign filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in their en banc hearing of in re Bilski — http://endsoftpatents.org/bilski — the Bilski ruling gutted, if not technically overturned, the State Street ruling that in 1998 opened the floodgates to the patenting of business methods and software. The vast bulk of software patents that have been used to threaten developers writing software for GNU/Linux distributions running on general purpose computers has in theory been swept away. The Bilski ruling undoubtedly represents a breakthrough for free software and a success for our campaign, and with this ruling we are on the path to lowering the threats that institutions face when considering adopting free software.
Completely free distributions like the FSF-sponsored gNewSense are now viable, something that just a few years ago seemed far out of reach. Our work with SGI earlier this year means that 3D graphics acceleration can finally be achieved with free software and gNewSense.
The relaunch of our High Priority Projects list highlights that the proprietary software for which there is currently no free alternative and that users feel forced to use is dwindling and being tackled aggressively.
Hardware manufacturers friendly to free software have given us the first free software smartphone, the Neo FreeRunner. The OLPC project gave us the first free software laptop, the XO, that has quickly established the low-cost subnotebook marketplace — where the economics have made GNU/Linux a popular choice. And for the past few months, FSF systems administrators have been working on the forthcoming free software friendly Lemote laptop, which Richard Stallman is using and that we hope will be widely commercially available. The availability of free software friendly hardware has never been greater.
The FSF has been campaigning for free and open formats and standards. Our free audio and video codecs campaign has been winning hearts and minds, and Mozilla's Firefox web browser will soon carry native support for Ogg, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to promote free codecs. Our campaign alongside many partners for OpenDocument Format (ODF) and against Microsoft's OOXML has been successful, with many countries adopting pro-ODF policies.
We celebrated the 25th anniversary of the GNU Project this year with a breakthrough film from the English comedian Stephen Fry, who gave us an important reminder of the alternative vision for the technology we use, a vision where people don't trade freedom for convenience but instead support development of tools that create a better society. More than 1 million people have watched the film and it has been translated into 32 languages.
Combined, these breakthroughs are important because they give us an opportunity to put aside the claims of convenience that are used to promote the monopolists' pervasive tools, and ask important questions of our employer. Why are we using this proprietary software that locks us to this vendor when we could be using free software that would give us control? It gives us the chance to demand open government. Why is it, that my local government is forcing me to purchase one vendor's software to access public records, when there are free formats that we can use that work with free software? And why does this school accept corporate donations of proprietary software that come with handcuffs on my child's education, rather than use free software that will give my child the opportunity to be in control of the technology she is learning to use?
Peter T. Brown
Executive Director, Free Software Foundation