LibreOffice at LinuxFest Northwest

Tucked up at the top of Washington state — only a few miles away from Canada — LinuxFest Northwest is a perfect example of a welcoming, regional FOSS conference.

Like the town of Bellingham that plays host to the weekend’s activities, LinuxFest Northwest isn’t gunning to get as big as possible. Rather, LFNW provides a smaller-sized conference that is much more accessible to newcomers to GNU/Linux than bigger, industry-lead events. When I gave presentations in the rooms at Bellingham Technical College, I had a marvelous mix of both experienced technical experts as well as individuals that had just shown up because they were interested in learning more about computers and Free/Open Source Software.

Due to some last-minute planning, the LibreOffice booth was located upstairs in the ‘Tutorium’ — a rooms set aside for education and instruction on GNU/Linux basics. While additional foot traffic downstairs on the main conference floor would have been nice, the more cozy and quiet location led to many involved conversations that would never have been possible when sandwiched between two other booths. Being located in the Tutorium also gave us direct access to beginners who were interested in learning more about the GNU/Linux system.

Like many of you wearing a geek badge on your belt, I spend most of my time in a text editor or on the command line, poking at this or frobbing at that. Sometimes I find myself in a browser, triaging bug reports or writing blog posts. But for some sizable portion of the computer users out there, much of their time on a computer is spent poking at values in spreadsheets or composing papers and reports in a word processor. For all of the new-to-FOSS attendees at LinuxFest Northwest it was highly valuable for LibreOffice to be present at the conference and help them understand that there are free (and Free), high-quality programs not only available for their newly-installed OSes, but (in most cases) already installed with the base system.

Just in case running the LibreOffice booth wasn’t keeping me busy enough, I gave two talks at the conference. The first was a lightning talk entitled What You Got In That Bag?: 11 essentials you’d be ludicrous not to bring to every conference, and the second was LibreOffice as a Lesson Plan: What FOSS can teach our students. In the lightning talk I mentioned several very convenient items that I try to bring to every conference I attend, including backup battery power, universal adapters, and an eBook reader. In my second talk I discussed some of the ways that one can use LibreOffice in the classroom to teach many lessons about technology including

  • The importance of open formats ensuring access to data
  • The unhindered ability to use the same software at school and at home
  • The empowerment of the right to modify, and
  • The meritocracy of Free Software

(The lightning talk page didn’t have a way to upload slides, so slides for both talks are available on the ‘LibreOffice as a Lesson Plan’ page linked above)

I’m definitely looking forward to LinuxFest Northwest 2015. I’m going to be thinking about more ways that the LibreOffice community can connect with our userbase, and think of some fresh, new ideas for ways for our supporters to promote the use of LibreOffice in the Bellingham area and beyond.


P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a quick shout-out to the venue hosting LFNW’s Saturday party: the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention. This really nifty museum has an amazing collection of artifacts dating back to the early days of electrical use across the U.S., including telegraph keys, vacuum tubes, radios (including a large shelf of crystal sets alone), and various items that I could not identify! If you find yourself near Bellingham and have some time to spare, go there and look at everything. Be sure not to miss the tube-tester/pin-straightener machine in the back corner!

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