Hacking in Good Company: Libre Software Meeting 2001, Bordeaux, France 2-8.7.2001

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Armelle, the
logo of the event Nowadays it is difficult to find an information technology trade show or conference without big furry penguins and signs screaming about Linux support. Also conferences and other events especially dedicated to open source and free software have been popping up. Still, the Libre Software Meeting is special because it concentrates around the word free, free as in freedom.

The event is at the same time a conference with a wide variety of informative talks and a meeting where many developers who rarely meet in person can pleasantly gather around the dinner table. This was the second LSM, organized mainly by the core group of only half a dozen ABUL members.

See also:

aut_9715.jpg The district of Talence had done a nice job advertising the LSM. Michael Vogt here leaning against the sign.

Focused Anarchism: The Debian People

Calculating the Debian Centre of Mass Debian Conference started a few days earlier than the main conference and was the biggest of the LSM subtopics. Probably over half of people's laptops were running Debian GNU/Linux and with roughly 50 developers present on-site support was well guaranteed. I have a separate page on the Debian part of the event:


opening.jpg The official opening of the conference was on Wednesday July 4th in the main auditorium. Francois Pellegrini (on the left) promised to fix some bugs in the organization compared to previous year but probably introduce some new ones too. Pierre Jarillon (on the right) told about the ideas behind the conference and how it got started. The event gives a possibility to meet people in person and to synchronize work. Right timing is essential, if standards become too late we'll see a new version of the Unix wars but too early standards destroy creativity.

Jean-Paul Chiron wished us welcome on behalf of the Aquitaine region. Some other people were also expected but they didn't make it due to traffic problems.

Almost 20 tracks offered something for everyone and people with many interests had hard time choosing between talks in parallel. Technology topics were rather concentrated on their particular interest and broader subjects related to law, business and culture had their own very visible track. A lot of effort goes currently to tools aiding in collaborative development and producing consistent documentation. XML is slowly living up to all the hype words in this area.

It was to nice to see a few common interests leading to ex-tempore workshops and additional presentations. Debian developers gave a presentation to the medecine people how package management could help them in software installation and the participants from Africa had a fruitful discussion with top security specialists how to secure the free software distribution network on their developing continent.
aut_9757.jpg Many less glamorous free software topics almost never get publicity in the mainstream media. Jan Buchal reminded us about the needs of visually impaired people. There were also many African representatives who are building the information infrastructures in their countries. The savings in software prices and modest hardware requirements become very important when they try to offer affordable access to computers and the Internet. But price is not the only issue. Free software gives them the possibility to be a part of the development community which wouldn't be the case if some proprietary software were donated to Africa at no cost.


hacking.jpg No matter how little free time but you can always check your e-mail! The "hacking rooms" provided the technical infrastructure to keep up to date what's happening in the world and to actually write the code planned during coffee break discussions. There were computers installed but most people brought their laptops. At night they were open until the last person left - usually not before 4 am.
bradley.jpg Richard Stallman couldn't come but the vice president Bradley Kuhn was there to lead the strong attendance of the Free Software Foundation and other associations advocating free software. The FSF is currently founding suborganizations outside United States and at LSM FSF Europe was naturally a key topic.

In France interest towards free software seems to be particularly strong. There are dozens of small Linux user groups and April, a national organization which holds a position similar to FSF. The desire to use GPL-licensed software in administration and other public entities has led to a legal problem. The French law requires a contract in native language and the only official version of GPL is in English. Work is in progress to produce an official translation but avoid legal effects that could weaken the licence worldwide.

Using free software in education has recently gained momentum in France. The education topic at LSM was a bit separate from the others not being targeted to developers but professors and other teaching personnel. The school-oriented specialized distributions are improving and have already input from real-world experiences at schools using them. One particularly interesting example is AbulEDU, a blend of simple applications installed on a colourful desktop aimed at primary schools.
patents_roundtable.jpg Recent development in the European Union regarding software patents were discussed in a panel. First Béatrice Dumont, a lawyer from the University of Rennes 1 presented the current situation. Then she answered our questions with Anne Østergaard from the Eurolinux Alliance and European Parliament member Gilles Savary.

Currently software is already patentable in Europe after a "make-up" to describe it as a part of a physical invention. There are many big companies pushing the law to fully cover plain software too but the final decision is not made yet. The campaigns against patents have made some key people aware that free software developers are not the only ones to suffer if patent protection is extended to new areas. Still, the number of patents is sometimes regarded as a measure of innovation and many are in favor so the question is going to be a tough one.

Anne Östergaard dreaded that patentability issues are so extremely complicated that it takes years to figure out all the effects. Newspapers don't write of the topic because it's so difficult. Anne was concerned on more general level how hard it is to be aware what's going on in the decisionmaking on the European Union level. She had many other good points too which the audience loudly supported with applaudes.

Eben Moglen, the author of Anarchism Triumphant shared his strong views how free software is going to change the world. The effects of openness go much deeper than just software. Music and movie industries don't like what's happening because none of the plans to lock up content using proprietary data formats work on a free operating system. Eben considers the GPL license which prevents proprietary modifications and add-ons as the greatest achievement ever of the Free Software Foundation.


reading.jpg The best dinner places were in the city center, just getting there was sometimes difficult due to unregularity on the only available bus line. Wednesday evening some April members led us to a particularly cozy restaurant. Bradley Kuhn and Loic Dachary reading the book "ELIHU - the Musical GNU" with Frédéric Couchet meditating on the right.
aut_9684.jpg This was the basque way to drink cider.
aut_9703.jpg Thursday evening people gathered to "Libre supper" in a local restaurant. We were lucky to enjoy the aperitifs in the sunshine, some other evenings were quite rainy. The meal itself was nice but the overall atmosphere didn't match that of last year. Those that knew French culture noted that cheese was missing.

After the meal the night continued on the lawn in front of the dormitories - with dance music provided by laptops. ;-) One by one the batteries died and people concentrated on chatting and enjoying the cool summer night. One participant even forgot his machine outside and got it back the next day from a less drunk or tired friend.

aut_9767.jpg The conference ended on Saturday and I had booked the train for Sunday evening. Those willing to spend also the last day working could hook power up their laptops as usual but I decided to explore the city and a couple of museums with David Grey. Bordeaux consists largely of old two or three story buildings and climbing to a church tower gives a view over the whole area.

A couple of problems with accommodation and an increased number of people including nightly coding sessions put a lot of pressure on the wonderful organization crew. Still they had the courage to announce the third LSM to be at the same place 8-12 July 2002. If you can help them next year send mail to François Pellegrini <pelegrin@enseirb.fr>. Those with pictures, notes or other material from the conference should see the proceedings page.

Thanks a lot and hope to see you next year!

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi> 2001.
Redistribution of this document as a whole or any of the pictures individually is permitted in any medium provided this copyright notice is preserved.

Last update 23.05.2002.