August 16, 2006

Software Freedom Day: Not just for geeks

Author: Tina Gasperson

The third annual Software Freedom Day (SFD) will take place worldwide on September 16. Project organizers say the event, designed to raise awareness about the benefits of using free software, is drawing more interest this year than ever before, with participation from 150 countries.

Free software fans around the world are forming local teams that will work together to create events specific to their localities, including educational seminars, product giveaways, and free software demonstrations. "The day is completely free and there will be giveaways, prizes, and further information about how you can do your bit to help ensure technology doesn't act to lock down our human rights," says Pia Waugh, the newly elected president of Software Freedom International (SFI), the official support organization for Software Freedom Day. Nine board members from around the world chart the course for current and future Freedom Days, facilitating team requests for organizational help and giveaway items such as T-shirts.

This year, teams and individuals can compete in categories like "Best Event Photo," "Best SFD Blog Coverage," and "Best SFD Event." IBM is giving away five POWER5 servers to the top-winning teams, and individuals will get free Software Freedom Day T-shirts signed by board members.

Matt Oquist, an SFI board member and one of the founders of Software Freedom Day, says that response to this year's SFD has been good. "In 2004 and 2005 we contacted LUGs via email to encourage them to start SFD teams," he says, "but this year we just contacted the team leaders from [last year] and we still grew by approximately the same percentage." Oquist says SFD is so much fun that people are naturally drawn to it. "It really charges up everybody involved. Immediately afterward we always get a bunch of feedback, emails, and pictures. Each successive SFD draws in more people who would've been involved the year before if they'd just known about it."

Waugh says this year there are more than 150 teams so far, with more entries coming in every day. Each team consists of anywhere from two to 30 volunteers. Waugh says each team can reach up to 3,000 people with the message of free software, which is important, she says, because our lives revolve around technology. "This means ultimately our basic human freedoms such as the freedom of association, or the freedom of speech, are only as free as the technology we use to exercise those freedoms."

For Oquist, SFD is about changing minds. "One important step on the road to Software Freedom is for a majority of the world to recognize the availability and quality of free software. People have been talking for years about the 'year of Linux on the desktop.' There are a multitude of factors affecting the delay of Linux desktop adoption, but one of the primary ones seems to be this chicken-and-egg problem. Nobody wants to be first. I'm hoping to see 10 years during which a tidal force sweeps through the world, decimating beyond recovery the degree of the proprietary stranglehold on computing freedom."

The official deadline for registering teams for SFD has passed, but you are welcome to make a late entry, says Waugh, or simply join a nearby existing team. "Check out the Web site or a team near you, or even start an event yourself. It could be a barbecue, a picnic, an installfest, talks, competitions, whatever you like." She stresses, "Freedom isn't just for geeks. Freedom is for everyone."


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