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You are here: Home Bulletins 2024 spring The programs we use every day

The programs we use every day

by Miriam Bastian Contributions Published on Jun 18, 2024 12:43 PM

Did you know that at the FSF we do all of our entire computing with free software? In this interview, you can learn how the FSF staff does their day-to-day tasks with free software, which programs helped them get started with free software, and read some stories about how they came to use a specific program.

FSF: Jeanne, you're working as the membership coordinator. What are your must-use programs, and why?

Jeanne: My must-use program number one is Emacs. Why? Because of how easy it makes it to edit text and manage my life via Org mode, which enables me to keep organized notes and TODO lists.

FSF: We have another big Org mode fan: our licensing associate, Craig. Craig, how did you come to use Org mode so much?

Craig: I wanted to implement David Allen's Getting Things Done (GtD) methodology in Org mode. It was easy to find the resources I needed from the community to customize Org mode for GtD. At its core GtD is essentially a system of lists which Org mode manages in powerful and intuitive ways. I am constantly delighted to learn new features and look forward to new discoveries as I have only just begun my Org mode adventure.

FSF: Jeanne, apart from Emacs, are there any other programs you'd recommend others use?

Jeanne: WorkRave! This program will save you from macular degeneration, muscle atrophy, carpal tunnel syndrome, inflammation, brain fog, general misery, and an early death! I like how it forces me to get up and look away from the screen at regular intervals. I'm currently still stuck in the aspirational phase of my relationship with it, though. Instead of obeying its prompts to break, I reflexively turn it off, like I would close a pop-up ad. So I guess it's also a program that I'd recommend I myself use.

FSF: Michael, you're our GNU/Linux systems administrator. Maybe you can explain why you -- and several other staff members -- use Trisquel as an operating system?

Michael: Well, it is entirely free software. It is one of the few GNU/Linux distros endorsed by the FSF. I personally use it because it is the same environment as our servers and most of the staff machines. It is helpful to "eat our own dog food" in order to find issues and help work through issues that staff come across. In the future, I would also like to familiarize myself with Parabola.

FSF: Do you also use Emacs as your text editor, Michael?

Michael: I mostly use Vim or Neovim, because they are guaranteed to be on all of the servers I SSH into. I minimally change the config to set background=dark so the configurations are mostly the same everywhere. And you can highlight columns and edit them all at once. Simply press CTRL+v, navigate to highlight the text to replace, c to remove it and edit, write a new string for the column, and then press ESC to apply it to all lines.

FSF: And which image editor do you use?

Michael: I use GIMP for editing a picture taken with a camera or a quick one-off resize of a raster image. For drawing raster images starting with a blank canvas, I use Krita. Inkscape, on the other hand, is the best free software tool for creating and editing vector graphics. Imagemagick can automate the same edit many times on the command line.

FSF: Many people communicate with the FSF on IRC and a lot of the communication within the teams is on XMPP. Which IRC client do you use and why?

Michael: WeeChat with two Es because it's extensible with Python, and the logging helps me build my meeting notes faster.

FSF: Last question for you, Michael: you store your passwords in KeePassXC. Why?

Michael: Because it's offline and secure. It doesn't come with an online storage option by default like other password manager and it erases passwords from the clipboard after a period of time.

FSF: Krzysztof, as the FSF's licensing manager, what do you use to track changes in legal or other text documents?

Krzysztof: Meld. This is a very useful graphical frontend to diff, which helps a lot to identify all differences between text files.

FSF: Can you tell us a story about how you came to use a specific program or feature?

Krzysztof: A few years ago, I learned the basics of 3D modeling in Blender because I wanted to arrange and decorate our flat, and the designer we worked with was delivering only very limited visualizations prepared in a proprietary format. It surprised me how fast I was able to learn it using online tutorials and how much more was possible to do with this single program.

FSF: Miriam, as the program manager, one of your main tasks is to organize LibrePlanet. Which free software programs are the bread and butter of the conference?

Miriam: Well, for the streaming, OBS and Icecast are indispensable, and this year, for the first time, we did the videoconferencing for the remote talks on Galène, which worked pretty well. From the campaigns teams viewpoint, however, I'd say Scribus, GIMP, and Inkscape are vital for LibrePlanet because we use them to create all the conference materials, such as the logo, the T-shirt, or the sponsoring prospectus.

FSF: Which free software tool is making your job much easier?

Miriam: Git! On the campaigns team, a huge part of our job consists of editing. A version control system like Git is vital in tracking changes and comparing different versions of a text. And then there's Etherpad, which we use for brainstorming and collaborative text editing.

FSF: Any other vital pieces of free software that keep the FSF running?

Miriam: Many! One program we use every day, which I had not heard of before I started working at the FSF, is Request Tracker (RT). It's how we track external and internal requests. Say you write an email to to make us aware of any issue, then this email will end up in the campaigns queue, and someone from the campaigns team will pass it to the right person. Then there's CiviCRM, a brilliant relationship management site, which we use to keep track of members, donations, and mailings. For most of our meetings, we use Mumble, a low-key audio chat. I like to discover the huge variety of free software by observing how my co-workers solve a task and it's fantastic how many tips and tricks one can learn from each other. And I love how the FSF not only talks about software freedom, but practices and celebrates it every day. The existence of the FSF shows that you can run an entire organization in complete freedom.

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