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Moving into the future with the FSF tech team

by Ruben Rodriguez Contributions Published on Nov 23, 2020 11:50 AM

Tech team members running the streaming systems at LibrePlanet 2019 (top) and 2020 (bottom).

Although only a team of four, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) tech team delivers a huge range of services for the free software community, providing infrastructure for not only the FSF, but also hosting and mailing lists for hundreds of free software projects around the world. They're a key part of our mission and commitment to computer users, and pave the way for others to do their computing in full freedom.

Can you pledge your support for the tech team's important work for software freedom by becoming an associate member? The work of the tech team depends directly on support from the wider free software community, and the FSF can't fulfill its mission without you. This fall fundraiser, our goal is to reach 500 new associate members. If you join today, you can select a special gift, in addition to being able to enjoy all of our associate membership benefits, which include the free "as in freedom" videoconferencing server mentioned in this appeal. If you're unable to become a member yourself, you can make a donation instead. Anything you can contribute will enable the tech team to support the free software community.


The FSF is well-known for spearheading the advocacy and support of free software, not just by recommending it in the face of pervasive proprietary options, but also by condemning nonfree software altogether. Following this recommendation is hard, even for us, because of the ever-increasing dependency on software and computer networks that we are all subject to. To follow through with our commitment, our tech team maintains a large list of services that many other offices our size would have long ago been wrongly pressured into transferring to one of the handful of gigantic corporations that monopolize those services.

Your work email account is most likely implemented through Gmail or Outlook; your office's software is likely to be served by Amazon Web Services, along with all the data backups; your company's customer service is likely to be managed through Salesforce or SAP, and so on. Make no mistake, this is true for your local government and school networks, too!

In contrast, at the FSF, we never jumped on the outsourcing wagon, and we don't use any Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) in our operations. We run our own email servers, telephony and fax service, print shop, full server stack, backups, networking, systems monitoring, accounting, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and a long list of other tasks and software development projects, with a team of just four extremely dedicated technicians. And we implement this on hardware that has been carefully evaluated to meet very high ethical standards, criteria that we push for vendors to achieve through our "Respects Your Freedom" certification program.

We are the first to understand how hard it can be for people to liberate themselves, even more so when other problems in our lives take away our attention and energy in times of hardship. But we must be vigilant to not allow those hardships to be used as excuses to further erode our freedom. Because of this, we try our best not to just liberate our own organization, but to help the free software community, and society at large, in this demanding process.

With this in mind, this year we implemented two free videoconferencing services. One aimed to facilitate our associate members' own private communications with their friends and families through a Jitsi Meet instance. And to facilitate the organization's exploration for running meetings and conferences with fully free software, we started a BigBlueButton instance that has been used for research and testing with the Boston Public Schools network, the City of Cambridge, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has also been used to run several online free software conferences, including SeaGL and the FSF's thirty-fifth anniversary event FSF35, and it will be used to run LibrePlanet 2021, on March 20 and 21, 2021.

To continue with this effort, these are some of the projects that we have lined up for 2021:

  • Forge: We want to offer an alternative to GitHub and other repositories that are not committed to freedom and privacy. This service is needed by the free software developer community in particular, but also by the larger community of creators of freely licensed materials of all kinds. We will be hosting our own repository implemented exclusively with free software, and that will allow participants to export their projects and migrate them to their own instances at any time.

  • New FSF Web site: Following the recent round of improvements to our front page, we want to continue modernizing our online presence by increasing user friendliness and focusing on responsiveness.

  • Videoconferencing resources: Our associate members now have the option to use our videoconferencing service to talk to anyone they would like in freedom (including non-members), and with more resources, we could potentially offer this to the public. We are committed to show how organizations of all sizes -- from a classroom to a city governance, online conference, or university network -- can take control of their online communication platforms by providing better documentation on how to run your own videoconferencing instance.

  • Community servers: Aside from being the home for Emacs and many other packages of the GNU Project, we also host community servers for other free software projects, like KDE, Sugar Labs, Replicant, GNewSense, and Trisquel. If your community abides by the principles of free software, the FSF wants to have the capacity to host your free software project through our infrastructure. This is a project that is high on our wish list, and we are working on obtaining the funds and resources to make this happen.

All of these efforts, including the often invisible ones we do to keep the FSF's own high standards for internal operation, could not be possible without your help and generous contributions. The Free Software Foundation is primarily sustained by individual donations and memberships, keeping us independent. We hope you'll continue supporting our efforts so that we can continue to expand our services to an ever-growing audience, until the day that free software is the rule, rather than the exception.

Photo 1 Copyright © 2019, Free Software Foundation, Inc., by Rubén Rodríguez Pérez. Licensed under [Creative Commons Attribution 4.0][22] International license.

Photo 2 Copyright © 2020, Free Software Foundation, Inc., by Matt Lavallee. Licensed under [Creative Commons Attribution 4.0][22] International license.

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