I went to Limerick this week-end to attend the SkyNet/Ubuntu talks. It was good fun, I enjoy so much walking around UL campus and corridors, basking in old memories of when I was just settling in Ireland and was learning so much, all the time :)
The first talk was mostly about selling up Microsoft cloud services, which felt a bit surreal for a mostly open-source audience. I suspect the organisers didn't highlight enough that this particular afternoon of talks was slanted toward Ubuntu and open-source in general, so we definitely weren't the best audience. It's very strange to hear that the cost of computing is coming down at last, then being told that no, it's impractical for businesses to try to switch to free alternatives like OpenOffice, while at the same time mentioning that there won't be any more compatibility issues between .doc and .docx since Microsoft is dropping support for Office 2003 and businesses are forced to upgrade to Office 2007. How does this match the necessity for companies to look at ways to reduce costs, or not being willing to look at compatible alternatives (since they already managed compatibility issues for .doc/.docx issues)?
The second talk was about Google Summer of Code, by the very dynamic Jimmy O'Regan. He insisted a lot on the importance and impact that having a designated mentor has on a new contributor. I'm struggling myself to get involved with open-source communities at the moment (as opposed to projects in themselves), so that's something that's very interesting to think about, and see if perhaps it could be adapted in a scalable way to lower the barrier to involvement for new contributors outside of GSoC.
Right before the lunch break, the folks from Tog had a talk on setting up your own hackerspace. I'm not sure at all we've ironed out all the issues with our own space in Dublin, but it'd certainly be very cool for other cities around Ireland to set up their own so we can all learn from each other's experience, within the Irish culture. I didn't know about the Hackerspaces design patterns, I definitely have some reading to do on that. The main point to take away from the talk IMO: "Try and work on the fun stuff." :)
Matt Zimmerman, CEO of Canonical, gave an interesting talk on the conflicts between managing a community and managing a company, where transparency sometimes is just not possible for legal reasons, and the lessons Canonical learnt and is learning along the way. They're still figuring out the best practices. I like the "anything that could be public, should be" policy, as opposed to the "anything that hasn't been explicitly okayed cannot be talked about" from most other companies. Canonical folks work to earn their commit rights like the rest of the community, they're not granted automatically. Canonical is not doing too bad for transparency because it's grown organically from people working from home so when they need to talk, they do it on Freenode publicly. That's interesting to me because I'm sure I read somewhere (can't remember where though) that one of the problems with the OLPC project was actually having offices, because whether or not you mean to you end up talking about projects, issues and decisions and it looks to the community as if you're working behind closed doors without involving them.
Laura Cza talked about the Ubuntu community, all the ways to get involved and also everything that is going on in Ireland relating to Ubuntu and open-source events. I really look forward to the Free/Open/Global Jam in March! I was a bit spoiled for the talk as I had already read through the slides from the first version of the presentation a couple of weeks back :)
Finally the day ended with a talk on CouchDB, by a presenter who should win some sort of prize for very realistic impressions of heads exploding in the audience not only once but twice. I'm going to have to give a try to CouchDB soon. I probably need to hear a couple more talks about it before I really start getting my mind around the concepts and the "why and when should I use it" (till then I'm doing quite fine with my PostgreSQL adventures!).