LibrePlanet begins with Snowden, ends with DRM protest

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On the scene

LibrePlanet is a yearly gathering of free software activists, users, and contributors—and, it's my favorite conference of the year. Here's why.

LibrePlanet is run by the Free Software Foundation, and has steadily evolved from a yearly members' meeting with presentations from staff and board members, to a full blown two-day conference with speakers and attendees from all over the world. The event brings people who care about free software together to talk about the future of the movement, address current challenges, and celebrate successes.

A very special guest

This year's conference opened on the first day with a conversation with Edward Snowden and Daniel Kahn Gilmore called "The Last Lighthouse: Free Software in Dark Times." Snowden was conferenced in via Jitsi, a free software video conferencing tool. The FSF's executive director, John Sullivan introduced both speakers although there couldn't have been a single person in the room who wasn't familiar with the story of the NSA whistleblower and civil liberties champion. In fact, Snowden was greeted with a standing ovation. The appreciation was clearly mutual. Snowden opened with, "What happened in 2013 wouldn't have been possible without free software. I didn't use Windows because I couldn't trust it. I used a Debian machine." He continued, "I get to say thank you to you."

Gilmore and Snowden went on to discuss the difficult task of getting people to separate privacy and security concerns and the critical importance of bringing more people into the free software movement.

Where the rubber meets the road

Much of the rest of the conference focused on getting down to the details of creating the important software that people need, and how to shape projects that are focused on growth. Early on Saturday, Dave Thompson from GNU Guix and Chris Webber from GNU MediaGoblin talked about how to improve the deployment of free software for both technical and non-technical users. Sumana Harihareswara of Changeset Consulting talked about "Inessential Weirdnesses in Free Software," and pointed out several things that projects regularly do that are alienating to new people and advoacting that we work together to eliminate those behaviors. That afternoon, four members of the committee that reviews the FSF's High Priority Projects List was available to discuss it's recent decisons with the wider community. The official conference closed with Karen Sandler, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, musing on the relationship between free software contributors and the companies that are part of our communities.

More community with your community

The unique activist nature of LibrePlanet means that there are several community-organized events surrounding the main conference. Friday afternoon boasted a SpinachCon, where volunteers help projects improve their user experience or their new contributor experience. On Saturday evening, Software Freedom Conservancy members gathered for a brief cocktail hour to discuss legal and policy issues. Serendiptiously, the W3C was also meeting in MIT's Stata center on Sunday to discuss baking DRM into the HTML5 standard. There was a rally and protest against DRM followed by an inter-organizational forum with Richard Stallman (FSF), Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Danny O'Brien (EFF), and Harry Haplin (W3C).

Whatever the W3C decides, you can count on it either being lauded or condemned at LibrePlanet next year.   

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Deb Nicholson wants to make the world a better place with technology and social justice for all. After many years of local political organizing, she started handling outreach for the Free Software Foundation and became an enthusiastic free software activist. She likes talking to developers about software patents, to project maintainers about leadership and to activists about free software.


I loved the quote from Snowden, "I didn't use Windows because I couldn't trust it. I used a Debian machine." Thanks also for the link to Jitsi. I shared that with many tweeps already. Great article.

Thanks for the roundup, Deb Nicholson! This was my first LibrePlanet but I can tell it won't be my last; it's a place where free and open source software makers and users can have conversations it's hard to have anywhere else. And I'm honored that you included my talk!

Readers interested in the "Inessential Weirdnesses" talk: I'm presenting a revised version at OSCON in May.

I couldn't attend, so thank you for posting the transcript on your site. It wasn't what I thought. From the title, I thought maybe by 'weirdness' you meant some of the silly (or even snarky) comments in code and odd little jokes and easter eggs in the UI like the games built-in to Emacs.

It seems that when you say weirdness, I should interpret it as an attitude of aloofness, causing an unwelcoming or even hostile culture to those who are on the outside. We are too attached to being underdogs; addicted to a life is quieter in the margins. We secretly enjoy holding the keys to esoteric knowledge and revel in our assumptions that, when we see some upper executive using Windows, we are superior to our superiors. We say they should all try Linux and LibreOffice, but don't really want that because it would put us and them on the same level. This is the wrong attitude. This is not how we bring nobler ideas to the world. Of course, no-one admits to thinking like this -- these things creep into our consciousness when we aren't paying attention.

We need to let go of every notion of "Us and Them", but to do that we also need to let go of the desire to feel superior and the fear of losing. This isn't meant to be a secret society; this is not what secret societies do. Even the Masons aren't secret anymore. Time to let go; this baby is grown. Trust that the open-source movement is strong enough to survive the greedy paws of business and non-tech users, and maybe it will bring some enlightenment to a world ruled by money.

In reply to by brainwane

Samuel Lawson, I'm glad the text of my LibrePlanet talk was useful to you! I've now revised those remarks into a talk I gave at OSCON; here's the full text. I appreciate your thoughts about elitism and aloofness; I figure it's always worth introspecting and reflecting to see whether we're holding those attitudes. And I hope the ideologues and the pragmatists have the ability to learn from each other!

In reply to by Samuel Lawson

I did appreciate Snowden's comments on windows. I think with the advent of Windows 10 the open source community has an immense opportunity to transition users over to the platform. Arguments for a transition could include you learn the Linux CLI once as Powershell keeps changing. Then there are the privacy concerns of having a keylogger built into the OS, plus all the other draconian behaviors such as forced updates and using YOUR bandwidth to share patches. The response of "Oh you can turn these things off." Is shot down by the behavior of platform updates setting these back to the open default.
Even the voice recording still continues if you uninstall Cortana. I'm also appalled by the fact that the security community at large hasn't pointed this out as a high risk OS.
I love the freedom, choice and control that open source and non-proprietary Linux gives us. I'm also concerned that the 800lbs gorilla will "cuddle up" to the open source community to try and gain a foothold in this space.

Snowden is an active agent ..the controlled release of information.He is not telling you anything 'they' don't want you to know.
Its really funny seeing people jump on board the Snowden and Anonymous wagon .. lol its a psyops operation, both are controlled by U.S agencies.
....another psyops that idiots jumped on board 'wikileaks'
...TOR is not anonymous it is U.S military controlled, anonymous nodes (servers) passing information, you don't even know which nodes your information is passing through yourself lol the internet is full of idiots, no shortage.

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