This year four things particularly struck me about the annual Free and Open Source Developer’s European Meeting (FOSDEM) in Brussels.

Lots of new software

Liverpool Airport
Liverpool Airport - the first landmark on my route to Brussels

Attending FOSDEM is always a great opportunity to find awesome new Free Software projects to make your life and work easier, and with more than 420 speakers in the “dev rooms” alone, and more tracks and conference rooms than ever, 2012 was especially fruitful in this regard. I found myself writing down the names of intruiging FS projects I had been hitherto unaware of every few minutes during some of the talks.

I got the impression that more Free Software is being written by European developers than ever before, and that the quality and variety is also increasing. This is really encouraging and inspiring – to find so many innovative freedom focused applications in just two days was eye-opening to the scale and rate of our ecosystem’s growth.

My most interesting finds:

Lots more FSFE supporters

FSFE’s booth was in a new location, a long way from the campus center in a separate building (‘K’) together with many booths from other organisations (I notice O’Reilly retained their usual prime position – the only booth that did).

Brussels Airport
Brussels Airport under snow when I arrived

Despite the less desirable location we apparently managed more sales than ever before! Not only that, the range of merchandise was bigger, as was the number of booth volunteers, and perhaps most importantly, the number of people at FOSDEM who were wearing FSFE endorsements was definitely greater than the year before.

I saw FSFE hoodies and t-shirts all over the place – at every single talk that I attended, large and small. This was so encouraging, and hopefully will work to exponentially increase awareness and support at FOSDEM in future. Truly our presence was growing.

Open hardware devices
Various open hardware devices at a booth, including Open Pandora

Lots of comeraderie

Perhaps it was just because as time goes on I know more and more FSFE people, but it seemed to me that the FSFE crowd was not only larger but also as, or more, friendly than before. I met tens of people at FOSDEM who I now consider personal friends, introduced them to tens of other people, and saw new relationships and camaraderie form before my very eyes. At the booth I felt like I was amongst a large group of friends, not a large group of aquaintances with shared interests. I think this is a real achievement – to maintain what I perceive to be a welcoming disposition towards new people as a team and also as an organisation as we grow in numbers each year.

ULB university ampitheatre
People leaving Janson lecture hall at the end of FOSDEM

It was also very gratifying to me to see so many people at the booth who have worked for FSFE in the past, as interns for example, and who have retained their relationship with us after their professional engagement ended.

Eszter, Hugo and Nicolas are all examples of past FSFE interns who have gone on to new jobs and studies, but who voluntarily retain important

responsibilities within FSFE – Eszter having

recently become the Deputy Coordinator of FSFE’s Policy team. This indicates to me that despite our shortcomings, the goals, culture, and camarad

erie of FSFE are on the right track. It’s so encouraging to see the good work that past FSFE staff continue to do in the name of freedom!

Kabuki restaurant
Kabuki Japanese restaurant with 11 FSFE patrons

Lots of snow

The sub-zero temperat

ures, which reached -12, were extreme and took me completely by surprise. “Brussels c

an’t possibly be colder than Manchester”, I reasoned, and so I left my thermal underwear and thick socks and jumpers to gather dust in my wardrobe.

Apart from there being no buses from the airport to the city when I arrived late on Friday evening, Brussels’ city infrastructure coped quite well, with trains and urban transport working throughout the weekend. The University didn’t fair quite so well however – several doorways and grassy areas turned into deep dark slush, and the entrance to “Bar2” on campus claimed many victims as they rushed in and immediately landed on their backs, feet sliding from beneath them (I fell twice before learning my lesson).

Brussels Atomium
My visit to Brussels Atomium en route to the airport

Coming back to earth

FOSDEM is a conference primarily concerned with technology rather than politics, unlike the Free Society Conference in Sweden, for example. As such it motivates and inspires me in different ways to that conference. Just like FSCONS, FOSDEM has left me exhausted, enthused, and saturated with thoughts, ideas, and intentions.

I’ll take back to Manchester a renewed conviction that Free Software can and does provide the tools necessary to free our digital worlds, and the conviction that our larger community of hackers can meet any challenge whatsoever that freedom may face in future, should they so wish.

From FSCONS in November I took a refreshed faith in the importance of Free Software in today’s society. From FSCONS I take refreshed faith in our capacity to deliver it.