Alessandro's blog

Free Software and related stuff

Confsl 2016 the Italian Free Software Conference

Last weekend, from Friday June 24th to Sunday June 26th the Italian FS supporters met in Palermo; we also had John Sullivan from FSF as invited speaker.

A lot happened during the three days, with plenary sessions in the morning and separate tracks in the afternoons. A sad note, however, is the very limited number of attendees. It looks like our communication was not effective and/or there’s something wrong in the approach we take for this conference, now at the 9th edition.

The topic tracks

I attended the track about FS in schools on Friday and the LibreItalia track on Saturday.

Activity in education is vibrant, and the track covered a number of success stories, that can be used as inspiration for others to follow. We went from free text books (Matematica C3, Claudio Carboncini) to a free localized distrubition with special support for disabilities (So.di.Linux, Francesco Fusillo, Lucia Ferlino, Giovanni Caruso). We also had presentations from university and high-school teachers who benefit from using FS in their activities.

LibreItalia is an Italian association rooted in the Document Foundation. The founding and most active members belong to both worlds; the track was led by Sonia Montegiove and Italo Vignoli. After the first presentation, about how LibreOffice is being successfully introduced in school, we switched to English, so the FSF could be part of the discussion, which turned into policy and marketing for FS solutions. A very interesting session I dare say, leveraged by the number of relevant FS people in the room, who brought different points of view to the discussion. One of the most important things I learnt is that we really need a certification program on our technologies. Document Foundation does, and it’s a huge success. I’ve always been against certification as a perverse idea, and I only have my qualification from public education; but I must admit the world works in the exact opposite direction: we need to stamp our hackers with certification marks so they are well accepted by companies and the public administration.

Saturday morning: keynotes

The plenary session was centered on the LibreDifesa project, a migration towards LibreOffice of 150,000 computers within the Italian army. Sonia will update us about this migration at the FSFE summit,
this September in Berlin.

Gen. Sileo, with Sonia Montegiove, presented how the project was born and how it is being developed.
They trained the trainers first, and this multi-layer structure works very well in accompanying people
during the migration from different tools to LibreOffice. The teaching sessions for final users are 3 hours long for Write, 3 hours for Calc, 3 hours for Impress; they prove very useful because users learn how to properly set up a document, whereas most self-learned people ignore the basics of layout and structure, even if they feel proficient with the tool they routinely use. The project, overall, is saving 28 millions of public money.

During the QA session, Sonia also discussed about failed migrations and back-migrations that hit the press recently. Most of them are just a failure (i.e., they back-migrate but do not achieve the expected results), driven by powerful marketing and lobbying forces, that shout about leaving LibreOffice but hide the real story and the real figures.

Later Corrado Tiralongo presented his distribution aimed at professionals, which is meant to be pretty light and includes a few tools that are mandatory for some activities in Italy, like digital signatures and such local stuff.

Finally, Simone Aliprandi stressed the importance of standards: without open standard we can’t have free software, but the pressure towards freeing the standards is very low, and we see problems every day. Simone suggests we need to set up a Free Standards conference, as important as the Free Software conference.

Sunday Morning: FSF and FSFE

The plenary of Sunday morning was John Sullivan and me. John presented FSF and outlined how they are more concerned with users’ freedom than with software. Somebody suggested they could change their name, but we all agree FUF won’t work.

John described the FSF certification mark “Respects your freedom” for devices that are designed to work with Free Software, and the “h-node” web site that lists devices that work well with Free Software drivers. He admits the RYF logo is not the best, as the bell is not recognized by non-US people as a symbol of freedom.

I described what FSFE is, how it is organized. I explained how we are mainly working with decision makers and what we are doing with the European Parliament and Commission. I opened our finance page for full disclosure, and listed names and roles of our employees. Later on, a few people reported they didn’t know exactly what FSFE is doing, and they were happy about our involvement at the upper layers of politics.

Finally, I made a suggestion for a complete change in how confSL is organized and promoted, mainly expanding on what we were discussing on Saturday at dinner time. This part was set up as a “private” discussion, a sort of unrecorded brainstorming, but in the end it was only my brain-dump, as the Q&A part had to be cut because of the usual delays that piled up.

confSL 2017

We hope to be able to set up the next confSL in Pavia, or Milano, with a different design and a special target towards companies and teachers. Also, it will likely be moved to be earlier than June.