GUADEC 2010: Rate Conferences by Inspiration Value

Thursday 5 August 2010 by Bradley M. Kuhn

Conferences are often ephemeral. I've been going to FLOSS conferences since before there were conferences specifically for the topic. In the 1990s, I'd started attending various USENIX conferences. Many of my career successes can be traced back to attending those conferences and meeting key leaders in the FLOSS world. While I know this is true generally, I can't really recall, without reviewing notes from specific conferences, what happened at them, and how specifically it helped me personally or FLOSS in general. I know they're important to me and to software freedom, but it's tough to connect the dots perfectly without looking in detail at what happened when.

Indeed, for most of us, after decades, conferences start to run together. At GUADEC this year, I had at least two conversations of the nature: What city was that? What conference was that? Wait, what year was that?. And that was just discussions about past GUADECs specifically, let alone other events!

For my part, after checking my records, I discovered that I hadn't been to a GUADEC since 2003. I've served as FSF's representative on the GNOME Advisory Board straight through from 2001 until today, but nevertheless I hadn't been able to attend GUADECs from 2004-2009. Thus, the 2010 GUADEC was somewhat of a reintroduction for me to the in-person GNOME community.

With fresh eyes, what I saw had great impact on me. GNOME seems to be a vibrant, healthy community, with many contributors and incredible diversity in both for-profit and volunteer contributions. GNOME's growth and project diversity has greatly exceeded what I would have expected to see between 2004 and 2010.

It's not often I go to a conference and am jealous that I can't be more engaged as a developer. I readily admit that I haven't coded regularly in more than a decade (and I often long to do it again). But, I usually talk myself out of it when I remember the difficultly of getting involved and in shepherding work upstream. It's a non-trivial job, and some don't even bother. The challenges are usually enough to keep the enticement at bay.

Yet, I left GUADEC 2010 and couldn't see a downside in getting involved. I found myself on the flight back wishing I could do more, thinking through the projects I saw and wondering how I might be a coder again. There must be some time on the weekends somewhere, I thought, and while I'm not a GUI programmer, there's plenty of system stuff in GNOME like dbus and systemd; surely I can contribute there.

Fact is, I've got too many other FLOSS-world responsibilities and I must admit I probably won't contribute code, despite wanting to. What's amazing, though, is that everything about GUADEC made me want to get more involved and there appeared no downside in doing so. There's something special about a conference (and a community) that can inspire that feeling in a hardened, decade-long conference attendee. I interact with a lot of FLOSS communities, and GNOME is probably the most welcoming of all.

The rest of this post is a random bullet list of cool things that happened at GUADEC that I witnessed/heard/thought about:

  • There was a lot of debate and concern about the change in the GNOME 3 release schedule. I was impressed at the community unity on this topic when I heard a developer say in the hall: The change in GNOME 3 schedule is bad for me, but it's clearly the right thing for GNOME, so I support it. That's representative of the “all for one” and selfless attitude you'll find in the GNOME community.
  • Dave Neary presented a very interesting study on GNOME code contributions, which he was convinced to release under CC-By-SA. The study has caused some rancor in the community about who does or does not contribute to GNOME upstream, but generally speaking, I'm glad the data is out there, and I'm glad Dave's released it under a license that allows people to build on the work and reproduce and/or verify the results. (Dave's also assured me he'll release the tools and config files and all other materials under FaiF licenses as well; I'll put a link here when he has one.) Thing is, the most important and wonderful datum from Dave's study is that a plurality of GNOME contribution comes from volunteers: a full 23%! I think every FLOSS project needs a plurality of volunteer contribution to truly be healthy, and it seems GNOME has it.
  • My talk on GPLv3 was reasonably well received, notwithstanding some friendly kibitzing from Michael Meeks. There had been push back in previous discussions in the GNOME community about GPLv3. It seems now, however, that developers are interested in the license. It's not my goal to force anyone to switch, but I hope that my talk and my participation in this recent LGPLv3 thread on desktop-list might help to encourage a slow-but-sure migration to GPLv3-or-later (for applications) and (GPLv2|LGPLv3-or-later) (for platform libraries) in GNOME. If folks have questions about the idea, I'm always happy to discuss them.
  • I enjoyed rooming with Brad Taylor. We did wonder, though, if the GNOME Travel Committee assigned us rooms by similar first names. (In fact, I was so focused that on the fact that we shared the same first name, I previously had typed Brad's last name wrong here!) I liked hearing about his TomBoy online project, Snowy. I'm obviously delighted to see adoption of AGPLv3, the license I helped create. I've promised Brad that I'll try to see if I can convince the org-mode community to use Snowy for its online storage as well.
  • Owen Taylor demoed and spoke about GNOME Shell 3.0. I don't use GUIs much myself, but I can see how GUI-loving users will really enjoy this excellent work.
  • I met Lennart Poettering and discussed with him in detail the systemd project. While I can see how this could be construed as a Canonical/Red Hat fight over the future of what's used for system startup, I still was impressed with Lennart's approach technically, and find it much healthier that his community isn't requiring copyright assignment.
  • Emmanuele Bassi's talk on Clutter was inspiring, as he delivered heartfelt slide indicating that he'd overcome the copyright assignment requirements and assignment is no longer required by Intel for Clutter upstream contributions. I like to believe that Vincent Untz's, Michael Meeks' and my work on the (yet to be ratified) GNOME Copyright Assignment Policy was a help to Emmanuele's efforts in this regard. However, it sounds to me like the outcome was primarily due to a lot of personal effort on Emmanuele's part internally to get Intel to DTRT. I thank him for this effort and congratulate him on that success.
  • It was great to finally meet Fabian Scherschel in person. He kindly brought me some gifts from Germany and I brought him some gifts from the USA (we prearranged it; I guess that's the “outlaw” version of gifts). Fab also got some good interviews for the Linux Outlaws podcast that he does with Dan Lynch. It seems that podcast has been heavily linked to in the GNOME community, which is really good for Dan and Fab and for GNOME, I think.
Sponsored by the GNOME Foundation!

That's about all the random thoughts and observations I have from GUADEC. The conference was excellent, and I think I simply must readd it to my “must attend each year” list.

Finally, I want to thank the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel costs. It allowed me to take some vacation time from my day job to attend and participate in GUADEC.

Posted on Thursday 5 August 2010 at 08:30 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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