RMLL 2013 Report

Blog post by mmu_man on Mon, 2013-07-15 23:23

This year, the RMLL (Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre) / LSM (Libre Software Meeting) were held in Brussels, in the very same place where FOSDEM is held every year, although not by the same team.

The trip to RMLL is usually by itself full of surprises. This time, I took the train to Paris on friday evening, since a friend from April (a french Free Software advocacy association) was kind enough to let me have a couch for the night before car-sharing to Brussels. However, I didn't have his full address, only the metro station, and of course when I arrived there, calling his phone wouldn't ring him at all. Luckily enough i still had some battery left on the laptop and found a hotspot I could use to log on IRC and ping him so he could phone me and direct me to his flat. Then on saturday after having left Paris to pick up some others in Lille, he noticed he forgot his wallet at home, so I would have to lend him some cash. We found the others and went to Brussels, straight to the "Place de la monnaie" in the town center, where the General Public Weekend was taking place, only to be told we had to go to the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) to get our vouchers for the youth hostel and camping. So we went there, then to the camping where we left the car, then back to the Libre Village. You see these stories make for some nice introduction ;-)

The few booths there for the weekend were targeted to the general public, with FLOSS advocacy groups and educational projects. In front of them was a huge inflattable penguin, which attracted kids as much as the small fountains around, leading some parents to stop by and visit the village. The place was quite well chosen, with a crowd of people going to and fro for shopping, so even if only a small fraction was diverted to us, that made for a nice audience. After some time I had to leave the others going back to their camping and find my way to the hostel with the metro and bus.

Sunday was quieter on the morning, starting slowly. The giant Tux was moved closer, to the center of the village, facing outward. Afternoon more people passed by since the shops were opening due to sales.

On monday, Olivier arrived quite soon, and we spent some time setting up the booth, located on the first floor of the K building, which was probably not the best exposure, and we were afraid of not being seen at all. So we made several announcements downstairs, along with some big visible signs pointing the stairs. We were already quite lucky to get a booth, since due to organisational issues I didn't see the call for booths until I asked for it on IRC, and the acceptance notifications weren't sent either. This is also the reason for not having an Haiku related talk, since the "Operating Systems" track got silently cancelled without notice due to the low count of proposals and it was then too late to resubmit to another topic like "software development". The organisation team clearly had higher importance issues to tackle first, which I'm grateful they did. At least I helped spread the word so there were enough booths to visit.

Tuesday was quite busy. Indeed, I first attended the political panel about Power, Technology et Freedom, composed of two MEPs (Member of the European Parliament), Karsten Gerloff from FSF Europe, Eben Moglen from the Software Freedom Law Center, and Richard Stallman. Several subjects were discussed, ranging from FLOSS itself to related topics like OpenData and OpenAccess.

Then after a quick lunch, I headed to the EU Parliament (the "official" one is in Strasbourg, but the MEPs also spend part of their time in Brussels) with some others, for a session of the JURI Committee (the one dealing with legal affairs, usually last to make their point before an official approval on things like ACTA). The topic of this session couldn't be more on-purpose: "Legal aspects of free and open source software". Several speakers were invited to explain several aspects of FLOSS, first on licences, starting with Eben Moglen, then with a second panel about public administration topics like procurement. After the first panel, only the speakers for the second panel were invited to raise questions, so we were a bit frustrated throughout the second round, but then afterward we were also invited to speak, and I managed to sneak in after the first question, to raise an issue which affects us way more than GNU/Linux users who usually get binary drivers for some hardware while we don't. I tried to explain how the lack of publically available specifications hurts us as FLOSS OS developpers and also maintains the status quo on the tied sale issue, since not all drivers even on Linux are correctly written when no specifications are available, so then people trying to get free of Windows sometimes just bail out to go back to Windows which "just works". I already explained this vicious circle in a blog article long ago. This was also an occasion to mention Haiku there, which is quite cool. The full video is available here (crappy embedded WMV file... the last speaker claimed they use Free Software for streaming but it seems they forgot to configure them to output open formats. You can use tools like Weboob to download it, I wrote the europarl support but however I didn't port it to Haiku yet. Or you can ask for excerpts on their site which will send you a mail with the link).

After spending some time in traffic jam to get back to the ULB, just to notice Olivier already left with my bags for the Libre Dinner, I made my own way to the town hall where it was held. This was again an occasion to talk to many people, including some who probably wouldn't have stopped by our booth.

On wednesday morning we mostly saw the few ghosts who survived the Libre Dinner. Afternoon though, another talk featured Richard Stallman, so I popped in at the end to invite people to get out by the upper doors to see our booths, and it worked quite well, giving us probably the largest audience of the week. Thanks Richard ;-) Of course we had several people remembering BeOS, as always. Others asked if it was yet another Linux distro, or even why we were wasting time reinventing the wheel, but hopefully we made them understand the necessity for technodiversity. And of course we had a few fans who inquired about our progress, and the missing things like package management, or the OpenOffice port for which I was happy to let Oliver answer ;-)

On thursday I went to see a talk about Free Software and free moneys, as I participated in the launch of a local currency in my own town recently. At 12:30 I was invited to talk on Radio RMLL (french) along with others who attended the JURI session. We started with some excerpts from a french TV show last week with people who clearly ought to know about FLOSS but didn't seem to remember it at all, as if there was no valid alternative to Microsoft and Apple, which made us jump on our seats.

Friday was almost spent exclusively in moving metal cases of various sizes and designations (although I wish I had a wooden blue box instead) to finally get home, and I'm now writing this in the train.

Although this edition was expected to be a little tricky due to several teams taking over the organisation over the year, and we probably had a little less people due to this, it was I think an interesting gathering, with many different yet interesting people met, and new ideas to stack on my org-mode TODO list.