Attendees at the FOSS Means Business event fell into two categories:
- Those with long beards, long hair and techie-sloganed T-shirts, hard core programmers who are paid-up members and evangelists of the free/open source movement. (Women in this camp - and there were a good number in attendance - had the long hair, but lacked the long beards!) They were all eager and positively excited to listen to their bearded and Rapunzel-like hero - Stallman.
- The other half of the audience were more sober and less worshipful. They came from universities and IT departments/companies across Ireland. Suits & ties, smart casual, but no T-shirts.
A suitable venue to sit at the feet of visionaries and listen to their tales and wisdom.
So what did we learn from Richard Stallman?
- He went through his four software freedoms, numbered 0 to 3 - oh, and the "free" in free software refers to freedom rather than cost.
- He'd some interesting points about sharing being at the heart of community.
- He reminded us that he started the GNU project back in 1984 - unbelievably over 20 years ago - though he missed out some of the interesting history about the early rivalries in his MIT lab.
- He dealt with the issue of why it should be called GNU/Linux or GNU+Linux, but certainly not just Linux on its own.
- And he reaffirmed why he doesn't warm to Linus Torvalds' relaxed opinions on free/open source software - sounded like he feels Linus is too liberal and leading us down a slippery slope!
- And he ended by donning his gown and disc-hat to become St IGNUcius, a Saint in the Church of Emacs - which whipped one half of the audience up to a frenzy, and left the rest looking bemused.
Stallman celebrated his 53rd birthday at Friday's conference - pity no one was enthusiastic enough to start a rendition of Happy Birthday.
Disappointingly, I heard little that wouldn't have jumped off pages of the GNU or Free Software Foundation (FSF) websites. Stallman's ego is a little too large on stage, and his insight doesn't quite line up with today's business realities and direction - perhaps he's spent too long directing GNU and FSF to keep up with the industry? He half-told a story of how on arriving at the airport in Belfast he picked a fight with airport security over something trivial - hardly surprising given his extremist views of software! Even more disappointing, I missed most of the rest of the other speakers.
Google were there giving out colourful pens and light-up badges. Pity that Google didn't send Vint Cerf up instead - he spoke recently at Google's European HQ in Dublin. As one of the "fathers of the internet" (he defined the IP protocol), his ideas and experiences would be well worth a listen.
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