Software Freedom Day: Taking open source to the streets


Author: Melissa Draper

Thousands of open source advocates and enthusiasts from around the world are expected to take the message of free and open source software to the streets on September 15 for the fourth annual Software Freedom Day.

On Software Freedom Day, teams of enthusiasts hold local events to educate their local communities, supported by the parent organisation, Software Freedom International, and sponsors such as Canonical and the Free Software Foundation. It’s an advocacy event whose the primary motive is outreach — promoting free and open source software to local communities.

The event is growing. The inaugural 2004 Software Freedom Day had around 12 teams. Pia Waugh, president of Software Freedom International, says, “We had about 180 teams last year, and this year we are expecting about 250.”

Events on the day vary from team to team. Activities usually include informational seminars, software demonstrations and training, and product giveaways. Some teams have been known to dress up in Tux costumes to gain attention and direct people to the action.

Running a Software Freedom Day event is beneficial to Linux and other open source user groups, as the impact can last beyond the actual day.

At Mawson Lakes, a suburb of Adelaide in Australia, Paul Schulz’ 2006 Software Freedom Day event brought together different enthusiast groups. The most notable result has been the continuing interaction between local Linux user groups and Air-Stream, an Adelaide-based community wireless initiative. Their cooperation recently included a speaker interchange between the LUGs and Air-Stream. Several new LUGs have also been formed in the area due to the interest sparked from last year’s event, and the organizers say they have seen a greater level of open source involvement in the local community center.

Another lasting effect can be seen in neighboring New Zealand, where past Software Freedom Day events in Christchurch have paved the way for a Linux and Free Software training programme. “Since we found a more permanent home for our SFD events, in a suburban library ICT teaching centre, we have been able to maintain the positive relationship through monthly Ubuntu and free software live CD-based evening classes,” says Rik Tindall, a member of the 2006 Christchurch team. “Many new users have seen this series advertised, and come along for CDs, tuition, and installation help. Thus we also gained a regular schedule and base for training our SFD volunteers. From SFD, the profile of FOSS in the community has therefore been doubly lifted.”

Best Event Photo 2006
The training programme is so popular that there is also a need to cater for children. Tindall says, “This experience has also identified the need for a creche-like facility on SFD, for the many small children that attend a library with parents or grandparents on any weekend. We will prepare a section of our teaching suite accordingly, as a ‘penguin creche,’ with several games and puzzle packages ready.”

Getting involved

Registered teams and individuals are in the running for a number of prize categories that are yet to be announced. Last years categories included Best Event, which was won by LinuxChix Zimbabwe team, and Best Event Photo, won by Vibek Raj Maury from Nepal and Bruce Kingsbury from Waikato in New Zealand.

Teams that register by the end of July are eligible for a free event kit, which includes T-shirts, stickers, balloons, and software CDs. After this date, teams can still register their participation but will not be eligible for the free kit, although they can still purchase T-shirts and software CDs at the Software Freedom Day shop.


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