Overview of FOSDEM'2002

by Raphael Bauduin
[email protected]
Feb 28, 2002

The second edition of the FOSDEM took place in Brussels on 16th and 17th february 2002. The Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting not only proposed talks, but also hosted meetings of developers from some of the major Free Software or Open Source projects like (in alphabetical order :-) GNOME, GNUstep, KDE, Mozilla and PHP. This article will give you an idea of what FOSDEM is, and how it was organised.

The idea of the FOSDEM, named OSDEM for its first edition, came appeared in October 2000. The concept (a meeting of developers) and the date (3 & 4 February 2001 just after the Linux Expo Paris) were quickly determined. The hope was to be able to invite one or two speakers present in Paris for the Linux Expo, so that we could possibly have 60 visitors. Finally, we had more speakers coming from New York than from Paris and ended with at least 1000 visitors for the weekend. How was that possible? The answer is easy: had work from organisers, and support from the company formally known as VA Linux. The team of organisers was rather limited for two reasons: first, once the event grew in importance, people seeing personal interest in the event wanted to help, but were not accepted in the organisation; second, delegating and organising a team would have been to costly in time (remember all was organised in 2.5 months!). The organisation team was composed of ... three people.

After the success of the first edition and the enthousiasm of visitors about the event, we decided to organise it again. But some rest was needed first. It was however already decided to organise the event at the same period in 2002. The first work, taking place in august 2001, was to compile the results of the survey conducted during the event (visitors could fill in a feedback form). Those were very instructive (see http://www.fosdem.org/about/1200.html) and helpful. Then we started to contact potential speakers, and response was enthousiastic. Almost all potential speakers contacted accepted the invitation immediately ( see http://www.fosdem.org/speakers/ ).

The concept of the event interested [the proprietary publisher] O'Reilly, and as they accepted the non-commercial character of the event, there were no problems entering a partnership with them for the organisation of FOSDEM 2002. Other sponsors joined to support the organisation and promotion of the event (see http://www.fosdem.org/about/1058.html).

As organisation started much earlier, a team could be built. Though lots of people would like to help, few have a lot of free time. So we ended up with a team of 4 people forming the core of the organisation team: Alain Buret, Renaud Larsen, Damien Sandras and myself. Organisation was certainly not perfect, but it was at least effective. The website was often updated with interviews of speakers published every week starting in december, FOSDEM banners were made available and promoted, networking during the event got organised, a FOSDEM Info Team showed up to organise logitics during the weekend, ...

The FOSDEM Community Support operation was also launched. Lots of visitors wanted the entrance of the event to stay free, but there was also the risk to depend of a sponsor and to loose our independance. This operation was the answer: the FOSDEM organisation was accepting donations, and in exchange was trying to give something back (proportionaly to the amount donated). 40 people donated before the event, the total amount of donations being +/- 2000$. This was really a positive result, but more surprises were coming ...

As several visitors were arriving in Brussels on friday, someone took a reservation at a pub on the Grand Place of Brussels. At least 40 hackers, including some speakers went to that pub, and lots of them tried the famous belgian beers. The atmosphere was really cool, which was a good sign for the FOSDEM weekend that was arriving.

The organisation team arrived on site at 8 am to prepare the stands, put direction panes all over the campus, etc. ... Time was flying, but everything was under control. The opening session was planned on saturday at 10am, but started with a little delay. When I asked the attendance (about 700 people) if there were people present in the room that also had drunk some beer on friday evening, lots of hands were raised. I suppose they had a good motivation to be there: the deal was that those not present at the opening session had to arrive at FOSDEM singing the Free Software song ...

RMS was giving the first talk of the weekend. Few of the organisation team could attend, as work had to continue. Network installation could start at 1pm, but was already well prepared. At about the same time, the projects meeting at FOSDEM could take place in their respective rooms, where network and beamers also had to be installed. The Mozilla people immediately went to work (they did so all the weekend), and PHP finally found someone who volunteered to be responsible of the room on saturday (so we could be sure all computer and networking hardware would not be stolen, what would have killed FOSDEM right away ...). Note: on sunday, the PHP developers'room stayed closed, as no one volunteered to be responsible of the room.

Everything continued to go smoothly. At 7pm, we had the FOSDEM community support session, during which we were giving away the 2 Sharp Zaurus units (we received as sponsoring) to donators of 200 euros or more. There were three donators elligible, so one of them would be disappointed. After the ``innocent hand'' of Miguel De Icaza had designated the 2 winners, we could however console the third one with 250 euros of books to choose at the O'Reilly book. Everybody seemed happy, but then came a problem: I completely had forgotten to organise the draw for donators or 150 euros: those had a chance to win 4 books. As nothing was prepared, I proposed to look at the matter on sunday. I was really embarassed, I Richard Stallman had to remind me I promised to sing the Free Software song! I won't comment on the result, as Richard even told me to take lessons of traditional Hungarian songs. It however showed the good atmosphere at FOSDEM as all people in the public clapped their hands in sync with RMS during the song.

And now was the great moment: the Free Software Award (or is it Free Software Foundation Award, as indicated on the price itself?). Richard had to hand it over, but as he never used the software of the winner, he kept it short, and quickly asked Guido Van Rossum to come on the stage. At the request of the FSF, the name of the winner was kept secret. In the FOSDEM organisation, I was the only one to know the name of the winner, even arranging his accomodation at a hacker's home without telling him who he would host!

As the evening sessions started a little late, we ran over time, and we then experienced some problems with the security: they had locked the doors, and could not go back to the building where some people had left their bags... Afterwards, people told us they could not attend the ceremony because they were blocked outside.... It was not the last problem of the day however. We had planned a party and little buffet for 150 people. Well, as specified, it was a _little_ buffet, and some (most) people were still hungry (angry?) because they had not eaten enough. This is certainly the negative point in this year's edition ...

Lots of people, and surely the organisation team, stayed very long at the party. Session were starting at 9:30 am on saturday! I arrived first at 7:45, and doors were already open. This was a little strange, as doors should have been opened at 8:00, and not before. It could have been problematic as we had some hardware in that building. I was happy I had phoned security to not open the other buildings before we phoned them. But Murphy was looking, and when we called security to open the other buildings, they had a technical problem ... The sessions thus started with 15 minutes delay ...

From that point, everything went smoothly: everyone in the organisation had found his place. Visitors were also helpful (no, I won't talk about the exceptions who refused to put a can in the trash when I asked him to help me!).

A first look at the feedback papers was positive: people coming from Portugal, Germany, Spain, Great-Britain, Netherlands, France, Denmark, etc were all happy and constructive in their remarks. The tremendous amount of donations received is also very encouraging, as a lot of visitors are also actively supporting the event. As the event is growing ( estimations are of at least 1600 visitors this year), a legal association, called FOSDEM, has been founded to ensure the continuity of the event. The number of interesting Free Software is so high that we already have some topics for next year. The biggest challenge will certainly be to keep the atmosphere of the event: everybody was there to have fun, and meet fellow hackers.

Some links: