This weekend the annual meeting of Free and Open Source Developers (FOSDEM) takes place in Brussels. As usual, the ULB fills up with developers from all over Europe, discussing large scale projects such as Gnome desktop, Mozilla, Xorg and PHP. Unfortunately none of the talks addressed our usual working tools (we'll see more of that in LGM 2008 coming May), but many relevant issues were/are discussed.
Community and Code
It is impressive how large scale software projects with thousands of volunteers can function, and Robert Watson spoke about exactly that. Using the long history of developing FreeBSD (30 years!) as a case study, he spoke about tools and approaches that matter when keeping such a project alive. Interesting elements were the use of parallel version control systems; Perforce allows for more flexible project management and CVS keeps track of long term development. He also discussed ways they resolve conflicts and the joy of having some of the original programmers around - this might have inspired their successful mentoring projects.
Standards versus Patents
Pieter Hintjens introduced the term: 'captive standards' as a way to make understandable the difference between proprietary standards such as OOXML, and let's say HTML. While a standard might be public (i.e. the specifications are published), it can still be patented and owned by a single company. The owner can than at any time decide to make changes, retract, prevent others to implement or to make users pay; this is what Hintjens means by a standard being captive. With the current push by governments for open standards (recently for example in The Netherlands) it is important to ensure that the difference between open standard and captive standard remains clear.
Women in FreeJava
In the FreeJava development room, we were introduced to Duchess, an international network of female Java Programmers. Asked to speak about their project and about why they felt the need to start such a group, an interesting discussion sparked off about why women are less present (especially in Free Software!). It was interesting to witness a generally felt concern with the lack of diversity in software projects, and at the same time frustrating that it is so hard to speak about what could be done about it. I think this studies (Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology, 2006) might be a good place to start: http://www.flosspols.org/ and particularly Gender_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.pdf
Although The Sound Copyright Campaign was introduced in the left over minutes of one of the so-called 'lightning talks', and it's url passed around on little handcut notes... the issue deserves center stage. Now that tracks from the first golden age of recorded sound reach the end of their copyright term (50 years), recording companies are trying to extend the lease. This just at the moment seminal soul, reggae, and rock and roll recordings are about to be free from legal restrictions, allowing anyone (including performers themselves and their heirs) to preserve, reissue, and remix them. Sign the petition!