No matter whom you talk to from the Linux and Open Source community – ask them about FOSDEM, and you most likely will look into sparkling eyes and get answers just like “FOSDEM is probably the best community-driven FOSS event in Europe. It’s massive, chaotic and fun.”
FOSDEM Ante Portas
FOSDEM stands for “Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting”. It is an annual 2-days non-commercial event organized by volunteers. Usually it takes place during the first weekend of February (well at least during the past 8 or 9 years – if you hurry, you will be back right in time for “Super Bowl” …), at the Université Libre de Bruxelles Solbosch campus in Brussels, Belgium.
Yes, it takes place the upcoming weekend – and is approaching fast! FOSDEM focuses on all things free and open-source software development. The goal of the event is to provide community members a place to meet to:
- get in touch with other developers and projects
- get information about the latest developments in the FOSS world
- attend a variety of talks and presentations from project contributors and leaders and
- to promote the development and the benefits of FOSS solutions
Participation and attendance is totally free. FOSDEM started back in the year 2000 as a small event. Nowadays, every year, more than 5000 developers and FOSS enthusiasts come together at the ULB Solbosch campus, to meet in “real life”, exchange experiences, discuss, hack and present their work and interests. This year’s event features 654 speakers, 687 presentations and events, and 57 tracks!
Well, the SUSE Documentation Team directly “jumps into the fray instead of being kept at bay” … Four of my teammates are proud to be presenting in front of this unique and demanding crowd, looking forward to inspiring discussions with real experts and to new thoughts around their topics. And believe me – it’s really worth listening to these topics! Just to give you an idea of what you will miss if you are not attending FOSDEM – or even worse if you ARE there and you don’t join them for their talks – here is some more detail:
A Bit of History of Computing
Liam Proven, who joined the SUSE Documentation Team in Prague last year in September, leads off on Saturday (13 pm – 13:50 pm, room Janson). His talk “The circuit less traveled – Investigating some alternate histories of computing” (part of the History track) focuses on retro-computing, lost lessons of software design, a quarter of a century of failed progress – and how learning from the past could lead to the next generation of computers.
Liam points out that there are many now-forgotten OSes and languages that could do things that modern systems can’t even approach. But they are long gone, out-competed by inexpensive commodity computers and lowest-common-denominator software. During his talk, he wants to discuss some of that forgotten history, and how what we did instead has landed us with significant problems… and some possible ways that we could escape these problems and find new ways forward.
The talk will touch upon Plan 9 and Inferno, Taos and Intent/Elate, the Dandelion machines and Mesa, Oberon, OpenGenera, Movitz, ChrysaLisp, Urbit, the Canon Cat, the original Newton OS and Dylan, and more besides. It will also examine the next big transition that we’re facing, one that almost nobody has noticed and which existing OSes are ill-suited to handle – and how learning from the past could help improve the future.
Curious now? Liam gives you some more insight himself here.
Update Feb 05: The video of the entire talk is now available.
Developers Love Writing Text … After This Talk!
Next in row is Tanja Roth, with her presentation “Technical Writing for Non-Writers”. This talk is part of the Community devroom track, and takes place on Saturday from 14:55 pm – 15:20 pm (hey – you have one hour to hurry from room Janson to room: K.4.601 – that should be enough!).
You need to write (technical) texts now and then? But you are not sure how to structure them, how to phrase your content, or how to best address your readers?
Tanja’s workshop shows you how to optimize texts to make them easier to understand (and translate). You will get to know the five universal principles that can be applied to a wide variety of text types – including release notes, bug reports, error messages, or e-mails. If you didn’t like writing and documenting your stuff at all so far, I am convinced after this talk you will find it at least much easier.
Being a full-time technical writer for more than 15 years, Tanja knows about the challenges and have come across the good, the bad, and the ugly during this time. Thus she decided to share her knowledge and experience with community members who write documentation only now and then and are struggling with this task. If you want to read more about the topic, just have a look at the following articles on Linux.com and Opensource.com:
- 5 Tips to Improve Technical Writing for an International Audience
- 7 rules for avoiding documentation pitfalls
Of course these articles should not be a replacement for your attendance of the live presentation – it is always better to listen to the expert directly and to be able to ask questions and probably even start a discussion after the talk.
Update Feb 06: The video of Tanja’s talk is now available here.
Tools, Tools, Tools – Let Them Help Improve Quality
On Sunday morning at 9:25 am (!!), Stefan Knorr expects to see a huge crowd of interested parties storming room UD2.119 – no excuses! This is when he talks about “DocBook Documentation at SUSE – How Automatically Ensuring Quality of SUSE Documentation” within the track Tool the Docs devroom.
In the SUSE documentation team, we have been using DocBook XML for years. But then, even with all our experience and the strictness of XML, we still make (sometimes) mistakes. So we have been adding QA tools to our tool belt. In his talk, Stefan is presenting mainly the following tools:
- The SUSE Documentation Style Checker (written by Stefan himself) – which helps us to check for consistent terminology, writing style, correct spelling, “soft” XML rules that don’t fit the DTD, and “gotchas”
- Travis, the CI tool – which you probably know and hopefully love and which we use to make sure our documentation validates when it enters our Git repository
- Pull request workflows – which make collaboration much easier
- dapscompare – which we use during the development of our layout stylesheets to check for unintended consequences and for issues with tool dependencies
Using these tools helps us ensure good formal quality, so that human reviewers can focus on the content. It also helps with make translation efficient. So I just urgently advise you to participate in this session – some of these tools might be very useful for you, too!
If you want to get the entire picture of how we create documentation at SUSE and how our toolchain works, just have a look at Stefan’s article From 0 to “Hit Publish!” at the SUSE Blog.
Update Feb 06: If you missed the talk, just watch the video.
Password Myths and Security Theater
Last, not least, our team lead Markus Feilner brings up the rear – but with a highly explosive bang up-to-date topic! On Sunday afternoon (14:00 pm – 14:50 pm, room Janson), within the track Security and Encryption, he dares to put in the spotlight his theses about the “Security Theater and The (mostly) unknown OSI Layer 8”.
Markus states that “Security is but a feeling. A feeling that the admin has when he’s leaving at beer o’clock. And mostly the biggest risks for the assets he has to protect are not of technical nature. Since a few years, I have been diving into the problem that we (Humanity, politics, IT experts, OSS nerds and Security people of any kind) often are prone to undertake measures under the flag of improving security that do not help.” So, what are the biggest myths about security risks? Markus will discuss some of them with you – such as:
- Regularly changing your password is a good thing.
- A password manager is a safe place. (No, there is no software that’s really safe).
- The darknet is an anonymous place and police won’t get you there.
- Antivirus software helps.
- There is security in/with closed-source software. (Of course not. There’s nothing but trust.)
- A smartphone is a secure two-factor-auth tool. No, it’s not even a second factor.
- Most home banking TAN mechanisms are safe. (No they are not!)
- We can trust hardware and software from the US. (No we can’t.)
- Security by obscurity.
- I have a strong password nobody ever will crack, thus I am using it everywhere. (NOOOO! Password reuse is the worst.)
- A good password is one that you can remember
- … and more to come during the session …
Markus’ talk is full of examples, findings and revelations of twenty years of training and consulting, and his experience as an investigative journalist: From passwords to Kerberos servers, from VPNs to the Dark net and anonymity, to the hack in the German Bundestag back in 2015 and why it will happen again. Why Google is afraid, why modern hardware sucks, why most VPN services are not worth a cent. How to circumvent the great firewall of China. Eight years in Journalism have given him lots of anecdotes to tell.
Markus demonstrates that all these stories have one thing in common: The biggest security risk sits in front of the computer. OSI Layer 8, and pretty often you can achieve more working on this layer. Almost always the same amount of time and money is better invested here, but there’s so many myths around. Yes, this talk contains some brisance – and you should definitely not miss it!
Read more about this talk and his neologisms such as “blameware” in the FOSDEM interview. Not too long ago Markus also published a great article about password myths and the security theater on heise.de – unfortunately it is available only in German (go learn German!). But if you would like to dive deeper into the topic, just visit his home page.
Update Feb 07: If you want to watch Markus’ entire talk, just have a look at the video.
And more from SUSE
Well – you could have figured that the SUSE Documentation Team members are not the only colleagues from SUSE you can meet at FOSDEM. Of course the openSUSE project will be there with a stand (and with Doug DeMaio) – you’ll find it in building K (level 1, group A) booth #9. And with regard to the sessions, Sunday seems to be quite “SUSE-heavy” with talks from
- Frederic Crozat: Developing Enterprise and Community distributions at the same time, impossible ? (Update Feb 07: watch video)
- Richard Brown: Distributions are not democracies and that’s okay (Update Feb 07: watch video)
- Abhishek Lekshmanan & Denys Kondratenko: Ceph & ELK (Update Feb 14: watch video)
Now that you know which sessions to follow and which booth to visit, I wish you great two days – packed with good information and great conversation – at FOSDEM. Get through the “masses”, deal with the “chaos”, and don’t forget to have a lot of fun!
Disclaimer: The text at hand has not been reviewed by a native speaker. If you find typos or language mistakes, please send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) – or if you like them, just keep them and feed them.