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You are here: Home Bulletins 2010 Fall 2010 Bulletin A View From The Server Room

A View From The Server Room

by bernie Contributions Published on Oct 11, 2011 04:43 PM
I'm the latest member to join the systems team at the Free Software Foundation. Prior to joining the FSF, I lived in Italy where I designed firmware and embedded systems for several high-tech companies in the Florence area.

In the beginning my job there unfortunately required working on Windows with proprietary compilers to produce proprietary software. The situation improved significantly, though, over the years. My consulting firm was an early adopter of GCC, GNU/Linux, Python and other emerging technologies. It expanded rapidly as the local industry started to embrace free software at all levels: server infrastructure, process control, development workstations and, of course, embedded in devices. Demand for our expertise dramatically rose; we were being called to design new lines of products based on GNU/Linux and then to work side by side with the internal engineering team to transfer full ownership of the project. For fear of becoming redundant, traditional consultants were reluctant to share source code and best practices with their customers; as a result, for fear of loosing control, customers were reluctant to outsource core projects. When free software entered the scene, this closed business model was easily swept aside. We were still able to maintain a technical edge, but not by means of keeping our tricks secret. Free licenses allowed us to share code and best practices across the entire industry.

Witnessing the gradual liberation of the embedded scene was a tremendous experience for me--not only did it make my job easier and more productive, it also enabled me to share improvements with my peers around the world. These days, when many of us have the luxury of carrying powerful gadgets loaded with free software in their pockets, I wonder if some of that magic feeling is not lost.

In 2007, I became interested in the One Laptop Per Child project and moved to Boston to join the OLPC's engineering team. OLPC's XO-1 laptop was unique in many ways: along with the Asus EEE PC, it was one of the first mass-produced laptops preloaded with GNU/Linux and the first to ship with a free BIOS. While the laptop was plagued with a proprietary wireless chipset, it came preloaded with a revolutionary educational environment called Sugar, which embodied the same spirit of exploration and creativity that I had grown up with, in a format suitable for young hackers. These past three years, I travelled around the world for Sugar and OLPC.

I've been in Boston since October, working for the FSF. Its office in downtown Boston is one of the very first places I visited when I first arrived in the US, four years ago. It is a common place of pilgrimage for any respectable GNUdist. There's a certain sense of wonder for me in being in the place where the free software movement started. And, fiinally, I'm working in a place where people care about freedom as much as I do.

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