December 26, 2001

Make a difference: Tech-related groups that can use your help

Author: JT Smith

- By Jack Bryar -

In the United States, the end of the year is also the end of
the tax year. It is the last chance this tax year to make a financial contribution to
a worthy organization. This year, many technology-centered charities
are in financial trouble. If you have spare cash or some time or equipment
on your hands, following is a list of organizations around the world where
you could make a difference.

Roughly 50 times a year I write about the business of Open
Source. Sometimes I cover companies trying to make Linux into a viable part of
their business plan. Other times I've covered external business and
political forces that affect the fortunes of the Open Source business community.
However, the non-profit sector is an important part of the economy, and
it's a critical part of the Open Source movement.

This year most the tech non-profits are hurting, especially since
the 9-11 disaster. A number of these really could use a hand. If you
or your business would like to help out a worthy cause, here are a few
suggestions:

The Free Software Foundation
The Open Source movement owes its existence to the persistence,
even the fanaticism of the FSF.
I support them, even if they drive me a little nuts. So should you.
Personally, I consider the Free Software Foundation a little like the
ACLU. In both cases, their zealousness is a little off-putting, but they are
doing the right thing, and the world would be poorer without them. They are
the heart and soul of Open Source. Their persistent championing of open
code and intellectual collaboration has kept the hacker ethos alive.

SPI and KDE
If you have any influence with your corporation's management,
insist that they write a check to either of these organizations or,
preferably, both.

Software in the Public Interest Inc.
is the vehicle for making financial contributions to the Debian
Foundation
. For all the extensions and revisions to Linux generated
by the likes of Red Hat and Mandrake and all the other corporate
entities, the Debian codebase remains the heart of Linux.

KDE, along with semi-competitor GNOME, has made a mission out of converting Linux into a plausible desktop alternative to Microsoft. I suggest KDE needs more financial help than GNOME mostly because they do.

Why should you (or especially) your company write them a check?
Consider this: Even if your company is Windows, wall-to-wall, even if they never
seriously consider a Linux desktop, or using Linux in their back-end, KDE
and Debian are worth supporting. Only as long as Linux exists as
a theoretical alternative to Microsoft or Sun will companies have any
leverage on keeping commercial software prices in check. Every company
in the world that relies on its desktop and server infrastructure to
stay in business ought to consider a self-imposed tax of, say $5 per CPU,
and split it between KDE and Debian. In the long run, those dollars
wouldn't be a donation, they would be an investment.

Gifts in Kind
If your company isn't ready to write a check, but is considering
what to do with outmoded hardware, there is at least one organization worthy
of your support. In the United States, the National Education Association
recommends you contact the Gifts in Kind
Foundation
. Gifts in Kind works with Parent Teacher Associations in hundreds of
schools across North America to identify needy institutions and to match
equipment to requirements. This is a particularly good avenue for disposing of
servers and routers. Most school boards understand why their students need PCs,
but few budget for the needed workgroup-level hardware.

EFF and its global cousins
This year, the Electronic Frontier
Foundation
merits special consideration. Probably no organization is doing
as much to stand up for the tech worker or the consumer of electronic
goods and services as the EFF.

They have had to fend off plenty of challenges. The atrocities of
the past year have mobilized the enemies of intellectual freedom in
capitals from Beijing to Washington. Certainly, security is a legitimate issue.
So are civil liberties. No other organization has acted in as
thoughtful and as technically informed a manner to help guide the debate. That's
why they'll get the big check from the Bryar family. In the UK, Cyber-rights.org performs a similar mission. In Australia, the best local equivalent is the Electronic Frontiers Australia. Each of these organizations are facing a financial squeeze and could use some financial assistance.

Broke? No problem
I understand that at the end of 2001, not everyone is feeling
financially able. Perhaps the dot-com and tech implosion have put you on the
unemployment line. I suggest you consider it a sign of divine intervention and act
on it. U.S. citizens should know that the Peace Corps is looking for a few good men and women to teach programming and computer basics to people around the world. Linux literate tech workers are particularly valuable. At its core, the Open Source movement is
about extending technical literacy, and empowerment -- helping people become
producers of intellectual capital rather than just passive consumers. It is
exactly the type of skill set and philosophy that the Corps needs most. Peace Corps
volunteers are building segments of the Armenian Internet. In addition
to U.S. volunteers, current IT development projects are being led by
citizens of Nepal, Romania, Ukraine and Thailand, among other places.

If you have philosophical issues about working for a governmental
agency, there's a reasonable alternative. Contact the Geekcorps. This is a unit of the
International Executive Service Corps, a private charitable organization dedicated to teaching people technical and business basics. They can use financially self-sustaining volunteers, and they can use cash.

If you can't dedicate yourself full-time, an organization called Technology
Works for Good
may be able to help you find an organization that
needs your technical expertise.

But whether you contribute your cash, your equipment or your
services, please do something. Make a difference.

Happy holidays, everyone!

-- Jack, Kathleen, Sam, Justine and Alexandra Bryar

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