Monday, April 18, 2005 Day 1

The fun really started yesterday afternoon when I took advantage of the early-bird registration. So really there should have been a post yesterday called “ Day 0”, but there wasn’t. The conference “schwag”, as it seems to be officially called (or vender crap if you prefer the more common name) was impressive. I’d heard about most of it from Mikal, but there were still a couple of surprises. The coffee mug/thermos is really nice, and the mini HP Leatherman is pretty cool. I even used my stubbie holder last night.

Walking into Manning Clark, I found myself surrounded by geeks with laptops. It made me a bit sad that I still haven’t got my wireless connection working. After a brief chat to Lindsay and Stilly (Stilly: “I’m going to let you go, and then I’m going to have a coronary. See you later!”), I wondered into the miniconf.

The first speaker was Simon Phipps, a Sun Evangelist. My notes from his talk include the line “Simon Phipps -> Sun -> cool”, so it’s probably fair to say he made a good first impression on me. Through pure chance, his talk turned out to be probably the best introduction to the whole Open Source thing I could have asked for. He discussed how a phenomenon like Open Source was pretty much inevitable as society became more and more “connected”.

Probably his most interesting point was that there seems to be a lot of confusion in the English speaking world about the term “Free Software”. In most other languages, they have separate words for the concept of “not costing any money” and “not being restricted”. He said when people talk about “free software” they are meaning the second, or they don’t understand the term.

The second talk was by a guy named Marc Englaro. My notes say “Marc Englaro -> Si2 -> Suit”. He is part of a company they helps organisations migrate from their existing applications to OpenOffice. While not as charismatic as Phipps, he still had some interesting things to say. Also, very early on he convinced me that he wasn’t stupid when he quite clearly said that migrating to OpenOffice was not the best solution for every organisation.

He outline some of the main concerns organisations have in moving away from Microsoft Office, and some of the major deficiencies in OpenOffice (things like a lack of an MS Access clone, the limitation on the number of row in the Calc and the loss of pivot tables). He also talked about some of the key things that make migration easier.

The third speaker was a woman named Jean Hollis Webber who is a professional technical writer. Her talk was on using OpenOffice for technical and academic writing. Basically, in her opinion, OpenOffice is much better at dealing with the demands of professional writers than Microsoft Word. Her talk was fairly brief since things were running a bit behind.

The final speaker I heard was Ian Laurenson. From a quick glance at the program, it seems like Laurenson is giving pretty much every third talk over the two days. His first talk was about using Writer to do nice/pretty/impressive/cool formatting. He pointed out some of the common mistakes people make using Writer, and talked about some of the problems that keep popping up on the newsgroups. Sound a little dry? It was a bit, but fortunately he realised the fact. He kept the talk fairly brief and even said at the end “I could go into a lot more detail, but it’s a bit pointless unless you’ve got the program running in front of you”.

After lunch I decided to sit in of the Debian talks. Grant told me he’d been at an after-wedding party with most of the Debian guys last night, so if they were a bit hung over, that’s why. He suggested I bang some pots or something.

I came in half-way through Simon Horman’s talk on the current stat of the Debian kernel. It was pretty interesting stuff – interesting enough that I wished I hadn’t missed the beginning. Horms talked about how the different version numbers in Debian work, and talked a bit about bug tracking and reporting. He also talked about what he wanted the community to do more of to help support Debian which was pretty interesting. Basically, when users find bugs, he wants them to take ownership of them (to a degree). He made the excellent point that it’s really hard for developers to test a bug fix if they don’t have an environment that causes the bug to appear.

After Horms finished, Benj. Mako Hill took the microphone. Since he couldn’t be bothered preparing anything new, he had randomly grabbed a talked he’d done earlier. As it turned out, it was something targeted at people less familiar with Debian than most of the audience. Which suited me fine J

He talked about how customisable Debian is, and how there are currently around 115 distributions which build directly off the Debian distro (including Ubuntu). He talked about how he thinks this is a really great model, since it gives people much more freedom in their system. One size does not fit all. Pretty cool stuff, but there’s not a lot more I can say about it.

On my way out I managed to snaffle one of the new Ubuntu CDs.

I’m looking forward to tomorrows talks, especially the OpenOffice case studies and the Debian talk on “Herding the N00bs”.

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