One of the most important events of the year for Europe's open source software developers is the Free and Open Source Developers' European Meeting - FOSDEM. It's held annually at the start of February in Brussels, and this year's instance is coming soon, on the first weekend in February.
FOSDEM is probably unlike any other conference you've been to.
- To start with, it's entirely free of charge - just show up, no need even to register - so there are neither name badges nor bouncers. There are commercial sponsors, and attendees do contribute funds, but neither is obvious to the first-time attendee.
- Second, it has a grungy, organic atmosphere to it, occupying the corridors and lecture theatres of the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and giving the feeling of being spontaneous (although like most apparently effortless things there's a hard-working organising committee making all that spontaneity happen). The hallways are lined with tables occupied by various open source projects. Some are selling t-shirts and stickers to support their funds but most are just surrounded by eager hackers sharing what's cool together.
- Third, and most important, as well as the 'formal' tracks, it hosts many smaller events which are crucial to open source projects globally. FOSDEM developer rooms (DevRooms) are important venues for projects, providing a place for an annual gathering, for planning activities and for building the personal relationships upon which project success is dependent.
To give you a flavour of the event, I'll share some of the activities in which I expect to participate this year.
- I'll be spending time in the Free Java developer room (DevRoom), as I have in many previous years. This was a key venue for the liberation of Java back in 2006. It was started by the various open source Java projects like Classpath and Kaffe, it now also includes official Oracle representatives and is likely to include valuable in-depth insights from OpenJDK project leaders in addition to developers from IcedTea and other Java ecosystem projects.
- I'll spend time in the LibreOffice DevRoom, where key developers from the LibreOffice productivity suite will be discussing their remarkable progress in the last year and ideas for future releases, as well as for new versions on tablets and in the browser.
- I'll spend time in the new Legal Issues DevRoom, which has a packed agenda covering developments in open source licensing, patent protection and more.
- I'll deliver a short keynote explaining the work I'm doing at the Open Source Initiative (OSI) on switching to a member-led governance, and hopefully announcing some of the first fruits of the change.
- I'll spend time meeting a vast range of friends from all over the world in the corridors and at the (frequently beer-related) social events.
FOSDEM has been such an important part of the evolution of free and open source software that I try hard to attend every year. If you're free that weekend, why not come along, make some new friends and get involved in an open source project. Chocolates and beer optional!