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Devs gather for beer and burgers in Belgium

Lang, tech, systems, clouds ... and Office politics

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FOSDEM 2011 This was my first FOSDEM, in Brussels, and it was a goodie.

The Free and Open source Software Developers' European Meeting (FOSDEM) was also free as in beer (OK, it was €3 for a beer token), easy to get to and neither outrageously expensive nor twee.

Somewhere north of 6,000 attendees, 200+ hours of talks, and other "knowledge opportunities", over two days, and 1Gbps of free Wi-Fi connectivity that was pretty solid over most of the compact ULB campus site about 5km from the centre of town. What more could a boy ask for?

The Friday evening warm-up event involved beers near the Grand'Place (De Grote Markt) which was a pleasant and useful way to meet people, including the Mozilla QA guy who fixed my one beef with FF4b9 UI controls then and there in the bar! The studenty theme of beer, backpacks and burgers (and wild hair) was with us for the whole weekend.

Big beasts: web, cloud, languages

Over the Saturday and Sunday of the meeting proper, there were tracks on the big topics you'd expect, such as Java, Mozilla, Office, languages, embedded systems and so on, and lots of interesting lightning talks on subjects ranging from a Finnish nanosatellite to Scala expressiveness.

(I'd have liked to see much more on energy efficiency and carbon footprint, but in the events I attended the only mention was in reducing CPU wakeups in LibreOffice.)

Presentation style ranged from post-grad coffee-room ramble to slick Power-Point poisoning, since there seemed to be academics as well as seasoned corporate professionals there. Content was good: I didn't encounter a single weak or dull talk and I saw a lot of candour, on both tech and "soft" issues such as management and (Office) politics. There was much nodding of heads in the Community Anti-patterns talk for example ...

Cloudy clangers

I was particularly interested in the LLVM talk (I encountered LLVM while trying out the Zero/Shark JVM for my ARM SheevaPlug server) but was then introduced to the Clang – a faster, better, still free, drop-in replacement for the somewhat sclerotic gcc. I'd been discussing on the train to FOSDEM that maybe we didn't need a gcc alternative since it continued to just work and was still progressing; Clang suggests that we can do much better – and even in F/OSS, lively competition is good and necessary to keep us all on our toes.

I was also interested in Infinispan, the free alternative to GemFire and Oracle Coherence which support distributed/grid/cloud mission-critical applications with cache and transactions in, for example, banking. I'm feeling very tempted to test Infinispan on Amazon's cloud for one of my pet projects...

FOSDEM is what a dev conference (and indeed a university) should be about: a free and broad exchange of ideas without sniping and carping. One of the presenters told me that what astonished him was the interest in his HTML5 talk and the genuinely interesting questions. He was ready for an avalanche of "meh who needs this web stuff". Not so.

I hope to go next year; it's well worth a weekend. ®

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