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Help the FSF tech team build the future of free software

by Andrew Engelbrecht Contributions Published on Nov 28, 2018 01:48 PM

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) tech team works every day to maintain and improve the infrastructure that supports hundreds of free software projects, along with the FSF itself and its mission to create a world where all software is free. Will you propel the free software movement to new frontiers by supporting the FSF? Our annual fundraiser is happening right now, and we want to welcome 400 new Associate Members before December 31st. You can join for as little as $10 per month ($5 per month for students) or make a donation. As a special bonus, all new and renewing Annual Associate Members ($120+) can choose to receive a set of enamel pins. Become a member or make a donation today.

The FSF tech team has been busy over the last year. Our small three-person band supports FSF and GNU infrastructure, and we work hard to improve the services we provide. All of this infrastructure runs on free software and is self-hosted: for example, we use CiviCRM to manage events, campaigns, mailing lists, and our database of members; our new member forum is powered by Discourse; and we used tools like HUBAngl and GNU MediaGoblin to stream, record, and publish 30+ hours of video from LibrePlanet 2018. Much of our infrastructure is routinely under an impressive load -- the Mailman list server we run for hundreds of free software projects continues to spool out nearly a half-million messages per day.

We don't do this work alone. We are fortunate to have both a worldwide community of volunteers and a thriving internship program. The six interns we mentored over the past year have inspired us with their work and dedication. Projects they worked on include:

  • A free software replacement for PayPal's nonfree JavaScript, which can be run from the command line;
  • A physical system for remotely resetting unresponsive servers with freedom-respecting software;
  • Upgrades and improvements to the Free Software Directory;
  • The replacement of the GNU Image Manipulation Program's old JPEG codec with a well-maintained library;
  • Researching site monitoring systems like Prometheus;
  • Testing Pagure, a code collaboration platform; and
  • Researching the code used for license selection in GitLab, to facilitate future patches.

Two of our interns came to us from Outreachy, which connects under-represented people with paid internships working on free software projects. In addition to completing the above specific projects, our interns are now better prepared to take on future challenges within free software. We're proud that we helped them deepen their involvement in the movement.

We rely on volunteers to provide and maintain services to support thousands of free software developers around the world. An important part of what we do as staff is make sure those volunteers have what they need. Volunteers continue to maintain Savannah, which hosts both GNU and non-GNU code, and to take care of and its translations.

In addition to supporting free software development and advocacy by others, the team also directly funds some upstream contributions. We are not just users of free software -- we also submit patches and bug reports to the projects we rely on. When we have the resources, we fund extra development in areas that are particularly important for user freedom. This year, we contracted with the author of the popular browser extension NoScript to do major improvements on GNU LibreJS, giving a significant boost to the campaign for protecting users against proprietary JavaScript.

We also use our position as technical representatives of an established institution in the world of free software to attract new kinds of resources to the movement. Currently, we are working with students at the UC Berkeley Blueprint program to develop software which will enable people around the world to more easily support the free software movement both financially and with their activist energy.

We've done a lot this year, but there are also many projects we didn't get to, and new projects that we want to take on in 2019. We want to spend more time directly supporting and improving the GNU Project infrastructure beyond the maintenance of the services we host. We would like to provide better options for developers who want to host their projects with organizations that share their commitment to free software principles; we want to be offering a more attractive public online presence for the FSF itself; and we need to show that a nonprofit can be best-in-class in its operations and at its mission without giving up its freedom to Service as a Software Substitute or proprietary software.

Thanks to the generous donations we've received this past year, we are building our capacity to take on these challenges. Ruben Rodriguez, formerly a senior systems administrator, has taken on a new role as our chief technology officer. Ruben's new role affords him time each week to continue contributing to Trisquel, a fully free GNU/Linux operating system. Andrew Engelbrecht, previously our Web developer, has joined Ian Kelling as a senior systems administrator, which means we're currently hiring for a Web developer. We're excited to be growing from a trio to a quartet, but we also know we could keep a whole orchestra productively busy.

In order to continue our work and push free software to new frontiers, the FSF tech team needs your help. Much like free software itself, the FSF is only as strong as the communities of users and contributors that support it. I encourage you to do what you can to give us the boost we need to start 2019 strong.

Yours in freedom,

Andrew Engelbrecht, Senior Systems Administrator,
and the Free Software Foundation Tech Team

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