PHILADELPHIA, USA, 28 April 2004
Looking around at the recent Non-Profit Technology Enterprise Network conference in Philadelphia, it would have been easy to think that free and open source software is sweeping the non-profit world.
With an attendance of over 700 people, this year’s NTEN event featured a full track of six workshops on free and open source software (FOSS) topics — almost all of which were packed. Workshop topics ranged from FOSS basics for non-governmental organisation (NGO) techies to hands on help for e-riders to a ‘why care about FOSS?’ workshop for executive directors. The large conference cybercafe was also all-FOSS, thanks to the people at the Non-Profit Open Source Initiative (NOSI – www.nosi.net).
All this was followed by a non-NTEN event called Penguin Day
(www.penguinday.org), a summit of almost 100 NGO staff, e-riders and developers interested in the connection between non-profits and FOSS. The day provided an opportunity for constructive
and energetic conversations about usability, global collaboration, NGO/developer cooperation and the economics of FOSS. These conversations provided more fuel for what appears to be a growing movement within civil society for the use of FOSS.
Of course, appearances can be deceiving. These events certainly inspired and motivated those who attended, but they seemed to have only a small impact on the broader NTEN crowd. Many of the 700 people attending seemed completely unaware that a huge conversation about FOSS was going on around them. This conversation is getting louder, but it is still too quiet or too scary to be on the radar for many people.
Yet this shouldn’t take away from the feeling that a movement is building — because it really is. In fact, the need to reach out and broaden the conversation to include more and more NGOs is exactly the kind of challenge that will fuel this movement. This was captured perfectly in a lunch speech by the Free Software Foundation’s Eben Moglen who said: "As a civil rights movement in the digital age, the free software movement needs to reach out and connect with other social movements. We all have something in common — wanting to make sure that people can help people to create a freer world."