Some thoughts on Saturday session at FOSDEM 2006

I went to FOSDEM 2006 on Saturday 25th (schedule here). This year, I went with my brother Laurent (as usual) and my wife, Nandini. This was the first time at FOSDEM for her, it was also the first time she saw so many geeks and I am not sure she enjoyed her day…

In the morning, after a small introduction, Richard M. Stallmann gave his keynote on software patents. Of course, he was preaching to a converted audience (i.e. everyone is against software patents). And, even if we didn’t learned new information on what’s going on, it is always interesting to hear someone else’s opinion (event if it’s the same opinion as us) and a formal presentation on the subject. Two things turned Nandini against Richard Stallman… At one moment, RMS rudely asked that someone “removes this source of noise” (talking about a baby making some noise). Then, during the question, RMS roughly replied to someone trying to ask his questions because he was not talking louder enough (from the middle of the assistance) and because he “dared” to use the words “Open Source” in from of “Him”. I must say that she’s right: we seemed to easily forgive his behaviour because we know the character. But, imho, you can still be a great man, father of the GNU project and be polite.

At the end of this keynote, someone from the FFII (I think it was Hartmut Pilch) took the microphone for a short, 10 minutes speech. Unfortunately, a lot of people was leaving the room at this moment and we were not able to hear a lot. An indicator that really few people were listening to his speech (or could’nt hear it): at one moment, he made a small joke (something like “politicians aren’t used to listen to peole wearing geek T-shirts, so I am wearing a business suit” but it was more funny) and no one laughed!

We skipped the discussion about GPLv3. In the afternoon, we followed the talks about voice-over-IP (VoIP) in the Chavanne room.

We first listened to Jan Janak talking about SIP Express Router (SER, a SIP server). It was a good talk, a bit too technical for me.

Then we listened to Mark Spencer talking about Asterisk, an Open Source PBX (a PBX is a privately-owned telephone switch). If the room was quite full for Jan Janak’s talk, there wasn’t enough seats for Mark Spencer’s one! His talk was sleek-looking, full of acronyms I even don’t have a clue about their meaning and full of humorous audio clips from a (hopefully false) PBX. But it was still accessible to non-technicians.

Finally, we listened to Jean-Marc Valin’s speech about Speex, an Open Source/Free Software patent-free audio compression format designed for speech. We were about only 30-40 people to listen to his great, technical-but-not-too-much talk. From the human speech specifities to the different compression samples, Jean-Marc Valin explained us how speex processes human speech without too much technical details (even Nandini understood how speex worked in spite of the fact that she is a molecular biologist and have less interest in computer-related things). With simple audio samples, clear charts and block diagrams, his talk was a good one.

As usual, besides the official talks and tutorials, they were “dev rooms” and stands held by some free software projects (*BSD, Debian, Mozilla foundation, Fedora, …). We didn’t had too much time to have a look at them, this year. I guess you’ll find more information on the webpages dedicated to the dev room (or on blogs like Laurent Richard’s one, since he was co-organiser of the GNOME room). A last thought? I think that the free software scene is slowly evolving because, besides the usual geek men in T-shirts, I noticed more 30-40 years old people and more women than in previous editions.