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openSUSE Conference 2013: the take away

The openSUSE community organized a conference in the beautiful Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece. The conference was held at the Olympic Museum. One of the most remarkable facts of this conference is that this the first community-organized openSUSE conference, and fresh change from UDS, which instead of face-to-face, real-touch interaction have gone virtual.

So one take away is that you can organize conferences just through the community itself.

No European conference starts without a party

The conference kickstarted with a party at the night of Friday which was attended by about 170 visitors. Next morning the conference started off with some music and 20-30 beach balls thrown at the audience.

Georg Greve of Kollab gave the first keynote which revolved around privacy, mainly the disclosure about PRISM, and how Free Software can come to rescue as it puts users in control of their data as well as computing. This also creates a huge ‘market’ for Free Software for people, it gives new marketing opportunities to spread the word about free software and encourage it’s adoption.

George pointed out that the US spying goes beyond reading ‘personal’ emails, it gives US companies unfair advantages over the European companies and competitors.

…if you are negotiating with the US government about a trade deal between your countries or try to get a deal to buy airplanes from either Boeing or Airbus, the ability of the US representative to read every email you send and every call you make will probably not be beneficial to you.

It’s very important to be independent of US companies when it comes to IT infrastructure, cloud computing, social network or software. Unfortunately, the US has a dominance in this space. Only free software gives the independence, sovernighty that countries need without having to develop everything from scratch. Any company can take the same GNU GPLed code of Debian an customize it to their own needs without worrying about any backdoors of the US government. Similarly, personal or private clouds should be created within the political boundaries using technologies like ownCloud or Kollab and keep that data out of the reach of US government. This way the governments will be able to protect their citizens from US spying.

George’s talk was a very important talk and you can read more here.

The second day

Ralf Flaxa, VP of Engineering at SUSE, delivered the keynote on the second day. He talked about the history of SUSE, the company, and openSUSE, the community.

“History we come from a single SUSE Professional box that everybody worked on to the model of an enterprise and a community edition. This change was prompted purely by money. If it was possible, SUSE would still be doing just ONE box. It was fun to do, but change came and the Geeko had to go with it. Today, SUSE does not make any money on the community product – and that is by design. The openSUSE contributions are paid for by a percentage of SUSE profit and that is how SUSE likes it. These changes of course resulted in more than openSUSE: the opening of processes and release of tools like OBS are outcomes as well. A major goal of SUSE was to give the community influence on the development and encourage a variety of derivatives and flavors of openSUSE.”

It played out well for both, the company and the community. SUSE may not be the second largest open source company after Red Hat, nor is it raking in billions of dollars in revenues it continues to remain a significant force. Only unfortunate fact was the deal Novell (the company which acquired SUSE) made with Microsoft, in a way validating Microsoft’s bogus claims that Linux infringes upon its patents.

Beyond that SUSE has been a very significant force in the free software world and funds quite a lot of core Linux and open source technologies – whether it be the kernel, KDE, Gnome or LibreOffice.

SUSE – openSUSE relation ship is interesting as the code has diverges between the two operating systems. As Anditosan writes, “We have SUSE and openSUSE whose code bases have diverged. This has become a problem. Ralf wants his engineers to contribute to openSUSE and this is hard with vastly different code bases; it results in spending time on back porting or simply doing double work. The need for customers/users are different for each distribution but there are things which are the same. Both home users and enterprise users need stable and moving components. We need to think about how to bring things together. Then there is the upgrade path between openSUSE and SLE. There is none! We have customers using openSUSE who might want to move to SLE who cannot do so since the distributions are so different at this time.”

Ralf shared his suggestions to improve relationship between the two operating systems which you can read here.

Later in the day Vincent Untz, the openSUSE Board chair, ran a session to discuss project-wide topic.

Community matters

On the third day Jos Poortvliet, the openSUSE community manager, talked about the workings of an open community. I have known him for a while now and, as press I can say that he really knows how to accomodate journalists, and get openSUSE covered without using bogus or super hyper PR keywords.

When there are companies who are ‘using’ the open source community as unpaid employees – using as and when needed and then keep out when important decisions are made. We have seen this pattern in at least one open source company.

George Bratsos reports, He [Poortvliet] shared the changes that we have to do as a community to adapt to the changes in the world and influences that come from people who desire to contribute. For example, he shared the new thinking of big companies about open communities where the work is done in a “horizontal” manner. Meaning that all members of this community advance and work together without leaders or a boss to tell them what to do or where to steer. Instead, the challenge of new companies is to make all their employees contribute at the same level of their boss. This principle is learned from open communities.

Beyond these ‘core’ topic quite a lot was covered during the conference. Above all the most important thing was face to face interaction where you sit together, talk, eat, play and discuss. Nothing ‘virtual’ can replace this experience.

The openSUSE team did a commendable job or organizing this physical conference and they will gather again in 2014 in Croatia, in the city of Dubrovnik.

We are looking for aspiring bloggers and journalists for The Mukt. If you are interested, apply now!

Author’s note: Due to my shift to US from Europe I was not able to attend the conference where we almost bought the tickets (my wife had to report to the new job on 16th, the same day the conference started). So I would like to thank the community members who did an awesome coverage of the event and I was able to steal their work for this report.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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