March 5, 2008 at 4:52 pm (open source)

This year I was fortunate enough to attend the premier Free Software event of Europe, FOSDEM. FOSDEM is a weekend long event in which Free and Open software developers, enthusiasts and users meet up to watch presentations, key notes, lightning talks and demonstrations of some of the coolest things going on in Free Software right now, as well as taking part in workshops and talking to people representing many of the biggest projects and companies in Open Source.

My interest is mostly that I am an enthusiast, although I also work with Open Source technologies in my job, plus I intend to become a developer in the future. To make it all even better – it is hosted in Brussels, Belgium – this being quite nice because the first time I went abroad it was to Brussels, and I have very fond memories of the holiday.

Anyhow, back to FOSDEM. For those who have been to LUGRadio Live, over here in the UK, it is much like that event – although bigger – and with more of a technical focus, and – of course, far less rude. As for language (as opposed to Langridge) all the talks I attended were in English, and all the people who I spoke to at the event spoke English extremely well. This was good, seeing as I cannot speak any other languages well, and can barely articulate a coheisive sentence on demand in my native tounge. I remember being surprised of the widespread use of English throughout the actual event – however it makes sense as computing tends to be a realm where English has become the working language.

In general, I found the talks to be of a high quality – both well presented and rich in content. Being such a large event they were able to have both a really broad base of subjects, as well as having entire rooms dedicated to key projects – such as and Mozilla. Unfortunately – with so many really interesting things going on all around – this meant that it was impossible to see everything that you wanted.

Saying this, I found that there wasn’t much going on in the graphics and design area, it would have been great to have a Dev room for GIMP, Inkscape, Xara, FontForge, Blender – just to name a few of the more popular ones I’d love to hear about. CrystalSpace 3D appeared to be the only major graphics related project in the entirety of the event, excluding Xorg stuff. It would have been nice to hear about the creative tools out there from those developing them – as it wasn’t just graphics, there also seemed to be a lack of audio/video creation tools hackery on show too… It’s not as if FOSDEM was entirely technical either, the Mozilla related talks I saw tended to be timelines, facts about the Corporation, demos and job recruitments – rather than nitty gritty tech talks. However thei few Mozilla talks I saw may have been unrepresentative, for all I know.

Various people out there probably know that I am interested in game development – and it was great to hear about CrystalSpace 3D and the GGZ development framework. These and the virtualisation talks are probably the things that I found to be most interesting. Again, it was a shame that voice recognition wasn’t covered at all – even across the immense breadth of what was on offer there – however, this is merely a symptom of that fact that there isn’t a lot of work going into Open Source speech recognition, unfortunately… I also attended the Globulation2 talk as I’d played it once – and thought it was pretty good. And PackageKit – the package abstraction layer sounds very nice – this was the first time I’d heard of it, and I think that if some key distros adopted it (which certainly sounds like they are) it could be quite a big win in the Linux-on-the-desktop thing. Although it did get me thinking about how AutoPackage seems to have effectively died, something that I am deeply annoyed about.

I greatly enjoyed FOSDEM08, I certainly feel it was worth going. And I’ve definately come back with a spring in my step – eager to advance my skills as a developer. On that note, one thing that I learned at some point during the event was not to be shy of using abstraction layers and frameworks rather than reinventing the wheel. Sure, abstraction carries with it an enlarged overhead, however as a fairly novice developer, trying to re-invent the wheel from the ground up over and over again wastes time – and unless you do know what you’re doing – will likely result in badly written code that isn’t as effective as using a properly written abstraction layer. At least, that’s my current opinion of this.

Anyhow, I intend to be at the next FOSDEM, if I’m able to make it. And, finally – I’d like to thank Juddith and Christopher so much for being able to put me up between them both for the 3 nights I was over in Belgium for. I really, really appreciate this – epsecially on such short notice. Also, thanks to them both, for ensuring that the time outside FOSDEM was as interesting as the event itself. Thank you.

Chris Hayes / cbhworld


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