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Our Work in 2011

Written by 

FSFE turned ten this year. How things have changed! Today, Free Software is not just mainstream, it's the market leader in many areas, whether on web servers, mobile devices, in the embedded sector, or in high-performance computing. The advantages of Free Software have proved so compelling that today, any electronic device you pick up is likely to have some Free Software inside it.

But have we really won? Many of these devices are still locked down, so we can't change the software on them if we want to. Our mobile phones may run Free Software, but many of them still lock us into services controlled by someone else. Free Software may be everywhere, but it is still constantly under threat from software patents, from outlandish interpretations of copyright, and from the brutal forces of a software market built around selling licenses for proprietary programs. We have a long way to go until software freedom becomes the default on every computer.

In this letter, you'll find a short overview of some of the things we in FSFE -- Fellows, volunteers, staff -- worked on this year. There is a lot more than will fit these pages. Please see our website for a full overview of our work in 2011, and lots of links.

Freedom in a world of networked services

Telling people about Free Software is one of FSFE's main reason to exist. Software freedom concerns everyone, and this year, we've probably managed to reach a broader set of people through conferences and events than ever before. FSFE people spoke at meetings as diverse as LinuxCon Europe in Prague (see Karsten's blog for his intervention), a Feminist Festival in Manchester (UK), and a legal conference in Seoul, South Korea. In Germany, we continued a series of monthly radio interviews on one of the major nationwide stations.

At many of these events, our topic was power and control in a world of networked services. How do we stay in control of our computing when it doesn't happen on our own computers anymore? Can we build services that are convenient, accessible from anywhere, independent from the devices we use -- and still keep our freedom? Two years ago, this looked like a distant dream. Now, our list of distributed projects working towards precisely these goals has grown to impressive length. We helped to boost the movement towards distributed systems by explaining the idea to a wider audience, and by organising conference tracks on the topic, for example at this year's RMLL in Strasbourg, France. We also highlighted the topic in connection with the distributed YaCy search engine, creating quite a splash around the world.

Patent warfare goes nuclear

Software patents came back on the agenda in a big way this year. The discussion was all about how software patents are used to hurt competition in the software market. There were several huge battles around patent portfolios, with the stakes increasing each time, as Microsoft, Apple and others chose software patents as the most important stick to beat their competitors with. Free Software is constantly at risk of being caught in the middle and trampled over. So we hoisted the Free Software flag, rode into battle, and fought as hard as we could. We got in touch with competition authorities in the US and Germany, and explained to them why Free Software is crucial for competition in the software market, and how patents hurt Free Software. We won the first round, when the authorities prevented Microsoft from getting hold of Novell's patent portfolio. We are still waiting for a decision in the similarly structured sale of Nortel's patents to a consortium led by Apple, with Microsoft on board again.

Patents weren't the only thing that kept our legal and policy people busy. We helped to fend off a legal challenge to the GPL's fundamental principles in Germany, and participated in another hearing in the still-ongoing antitrust case of the EU vs Microsoft. We provided the European Commission with input on how best to spend 80 billion Euro in research and development funding, talked to several members of the European Parliament about software patents, and supported the build-up of a Free Software user group in the parliament. We helped some countries such as the UK to come up with better ways of buying software for the public sector, and highlighted how the European Commission was doing it precisely wrong when it again decided to lock itself into Microsoft's products for many years to come. The PDFreaders campaign managed to remove advertisements for proprietary software from a quarter of all reported websites.

Our Legal Department organised another edition of the highly successful annual workshop for legal experts on Free Software. This year, we were invited to organise a similar event in Seoul, South Korea, which provided a lot of new angles and fresh inspiration.

New hands on deck

We were happy to welcome Matija Šuklje, who took over coordination of our Legal Department from Shane Coughlan. Henrik Sandklef, a GNU hacker and university teacher, replaced Fernanda Weiden as FSFE's Vice President. Bernhard Reiter handed over his role as coordinator of the German team to Torsten Grote. Sam Tuke took on the task of building up FSFE's activities in the UK.

Together, we'll make a difference

If we managed to handle such a wide range of complex challenges, it was thanks to you, our supporters, donors, and volunteers. Without you, none of this work would be possible. Thank you!

Looking ahead, there are many challenges for Free Software in 2012. Microsoft is trying to extend its stranglehold to the hardware market with an initiative called "SecureBoot". We will stand up for our freedom to install Free Software. The Netherlands are currently locking everyone in their education system into a proprietary platform, and we are campaigning hard to unlock education there. Public software procurement shows no signs of fixing itself, so we will educate authorities and push for better rules and practices.

For all this and more, we will need your help. We are currently working hard to make it even easier to participate in FSFE's work, for example in the education team and the newly launched policy team.

All this work costs money. In 2011 we were able to complete our campaigns and appointments with a budget of just 287,000 Euro. In 2012 we need to do even more. If we receive enough new donations we would be able to hire two part time employees (~43k), and intensify our work on public procurement (~20k) This would require an increased budget of 364,000 Euro, and allow FSFE to have a significantly greater impact. To secure and increase our work, we need to raise 103.500 Euro by the end of January. If we reach this goal, we will be financed for the whole of 2012. Every contribution, including yours, will help to fill the gap.

Together with you we will continue to make a real difference for Free Software in 2012 and beyond. Thank you for joining us in this struggle.

I wish you wonderful holidays and a very happy New Year!

With best regards,

Karsten Gerloff