FLOSS 2017

I usually spend most of my time safely hidden away in an attic full of geeks, but the evening of March 14th saw me embark on quite a voyage of discovery. I was on a train heading way up north to Manchester (I’m from the Isle of Wight originally, so anything north of Cowes is ‘north’ as far as I can tell, hence my apparent difficulty with geography).

The department had suggested I would enjoy a visit to ‘FLOSS Spring 2017’, the annual meeting of FLOSSUK, formerly the UK Unix User Group where I would have the opportunity to meet like-minded Linux users and get to hear about developments in the open-source world from a non-corporate viewpoint.

Things got off to a promising start – as the outskirts of Manchester slid past the train window I was encouraged by the lack of riot police and burning tyres that I had been expecting. Actually, it turns out that Manchester is a great venue for this type of event. The various hotels, transport links and ‘The Studio’, the chosen location for the conference itself are all located within easy walking distance of each other in a city centre that seemed more vibrant and accessible that some of the locations I have visited in London for these sort of events.

The conference itself turned out to be smaller in scale than many of the ‘corporate’ events I have attended in the past, but what the assembled crowd lacked in numbers they more than made up for in their enthusiasm at being part of FLOSS.

Having checked for the essentials (i.e. a more than adequate supply of caffeine and tasty snacks) we gathered for the opening keynote speech by VM ‘Vicky’ Brasseur, an IT professional and public speaker who describes herself as ‘an advocate of and evangelist for freedom and openness in all things’ and we learned of her bold vision of being able to use open source tools in a corporate environment without losing the ‘open-ness’ of that approach.

There followed two busy days of presentations on a wide range of topics ranging from individual life-at-the-coalface experiences with open source tools to much more technical discussions involving, for example, such topics as OpenSSH certificate management techniques.

It turns out that the FLOSS set are a tolerant bunch of people – we allowed Gavin Atkinson, who is both one of the FLOSS committee and a developer for FreeBSD to evangelise about… um… that other Unix-like operating system (you know, the one with the little red devil logo) and he didn’t have to dodge even one egg or rotten tomato! This feat of self-preservation on Gavin’s part allowed him to make an interesting point – we as a community spending less time worrying about which flavour of Unix to use and more time on getting stuff to work and then getting it ‘out there’.

Some other high points of the event were the ceremonial unboxing of the very first KDE SlimBook fresh off the production line. There were also the regular ‘Lightning Talks’ where each speaker gets exactly five minutes to deliver a presentation on their chosen topic (my favourite being – Quake 3 on a Raspberry Pi. What’s not to like?)

Overall thoughts? Well, I went from almost having to be physically dragged to the railway station and thrown on a train, to returning full of enthusiasm for the event and the community that organises it. The venue chosen was excellent and the variety of speakers and the topics they presented meant there was often a difficult choice to be made about which talks to attend as they all sounded so interesting. Would I go again? Definitely! (hint… hint…)

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