I visited FOSDEM in the beginning of February. For those who don’t know, FOSDEM is the largest free software conference in Europe, attracting more than 8000 enthusiasts and hackers from all over the world. The conference requires no registration and is held on a university campus is Brussels.
This year I didn’t have a clear strategy or focus for the talks I wanted to see. The amount of talks and development rooms usually requires a strategy - popular rooms become crowded really fast and there is usually a wait outside. So to see a talk that begins at 13:00, one sometimes has to be outside the room at 11:00. The upside of this is that one gets to see talks one didn’t plan to, which is usually a refreshing experience.
I usually tell people going to FOSDEM for the first time, that if they are unwilling to figure out a strategy, then just go to one of the two largest rooms when they have nothing else planned. Those rooms (Janson and K105) are always home to relatively general topics and/or keynote tracks. They are also large enough to provide both enough room oxygen for everyone. As I didn’t have a strategy myself, that is how I ended up spending my FOSDEM, outside of food, visiting various stands, buying tshirts and talking to people I don’t usually meet outside of FOSDEM.
Apart from the more general talks I saw in the large halls, I particularly enjoyed a talk about the uselessness of end-to-end encryption in messaging apps, from the user’s perspective, given by a XMPP developer on Saturday. On Sunday, there was a big talk where the Matrix developers bragged about how great end-to-end encryption is in Matrix. While the Matrix developers acknowledged the weaknesses highlighted by the XMPP developer, their enthuisasm felt rather unwarranted, given that the main point in the earlier talk was that end-to-end encryption only benefits the server operator.
In the end, FOSDEM was as enjoyable as always, and I got myself a new pair of GNOME socks and a t-shirt, which is all I really wanted from the trip :-)