FOSDEM is a two-day weekend conference which has been going on for a few years
now. Although I don't actually develop any free software myself, I am an avid
user of it, so I attended for the first time last year, and wrote a short
Hopefully, this years report will be even more interesting that last year's.
Due to a mixup on my part, I arrived a bit early this year, and found the
volunteers busy setting up tables, signs, and equipment in anticipation
of the opening. While they were clearly busy, they were kind enough to direct
me to a coffee machine, while I waited for the show to start. Unfortunately,
the coffee machine only accepted digital cash cards, so next year I may pack a
thermos. Fortunately, a lovely young french-speaking Belgian student
showed up with her cash-card and bought me a cup of joe, for which I happily
reimbursed her with with a half-euro coin.
While the organizers were busy with the
business of making conference navigation and presentations go smoothly, the
were also hard at work, setting up their own stand. O'Reilly is FOSDEM's
primary supporter, and deserves an honorable mention for their continued
enthusiasm for this meeting. They gave away a free book of your choice to
anyone who donated at least one hundred euros to FOSDEM. Interestingly,
O'Reilly uses their competitor, Wiley, to handle shipping and distribution in
Europe - so all of their books were packed in Wiley boxes. I guess that's
globalism for you. Other supporters include OpenBSD, Debian, and
Well, Mad Dog's talk finally started a bit past 10 am, which formally kicked off
the conference. He had some interesting points to make, and spoke at length
about the beneficial aspects of using free software, while reviewing the
developments within free software during the last 700 years or so. He also
reminded us that the name, Linux, is a trademark which is owned by Linus
Torvalds. Seems there was a site which wanted to use the name,
LinuxChicks - and they were threatened with legal action to protect the
good name of Linux.
Richard "Da Pope" Stallman wandered into the theater near the end of Mad Dog's
talk, and sat unobtrusively at the edge of the audience until he was finished.
As mentioned, RMS was on again this year about software patents, and why
they should never be adopted in Europe. While I was familiar with some of his
points, his focus and delivery seemed more refined this year, and even more
He gave an analogy, which he recommended for use by anyone who
finds themselves in need of a persuasive argument against software patents,
which I'll try to reproduce now:
Suppose that, during the late 1700's, the governments of
Europe had granted music-composition patents to composers like Bach or Mozart.
Then, during the 1800's, Beethoven comes along and finds that many
compositional techniques must be licensed, before he can use them to create
his own works. That certainly might have stifled his creativity a bit.
RMS spoke at length about how software patents put ideas off limits, and how the
notion of Intellectual Property lumps together many areas of the law which have
evolved independently, and are not interrelated. He discussed the "twisted"
legal language, and the ambiguity of patent applications, which can lead to
unintended claims, and other consequences as well. He also claims that the
small developer protecting his profits with a patent is "really an unrealistic
scenario", since other ideas which she has surely used in her software are
patented by somebody else, leaving the developer awash in a sea of negotiations
which rarely yield profit, except for the big companies.
After the keynote sessions concluded, the regular sessions began. There were
and lots of good
this year - covering everything from kernel development to graphical design with
the Gimp. Security was again a focus, albeit not as strongly as last year. Open
source Certificate Authority software was featured for the second year in a row,
however. This years candidate was
The education track was new this year, with the focus being on education using
free software. This track included an interesting series of
sessions, including one about
a Linux distro which is dedicated to educational use, as well sessions
dedicated to individual software tools for learning and educating. I was
most impressed with a nifty little geometry-learning package called
which is authored by one Hilaire Fernandes. He gave a demonstration of how
DrGenius is used, along with the newer scripting features and macros. Using
DrGenius, a student can gain an insight into the mechanics and laws of
geometry which I would have gladly paid for, when I was trying to prepare for
the calculus. For example, one can easily develop an application in DrGenius
which dynamically illustrates Pythagoreus' theorem, or simple wave-slope
properties. The problem, according to Fernandes, is that there's not
enough teachers out there who are willing to try something new, making it
difficult to get feedback and contributors.
All in all, this year's FOSDEM conference was worth the trip. Now, that's easy
to say, because the conference is free - but the level of enthusiasm and
dedication to be found there simply can't be bought. Slides and other media
related to the conference are now becoming available on the FOSDEM website.