LibreOffice in Brno: Dragons, Friends, and Homebrew Wine

[This post is a re-upload as the original was accidentally deleted! -R]

The plan was simple: Fly from Portland to Chicago to Munich to Brno. I had at least half an hour during each layover, and I’d checked my bags all the way through, so I didn’t have to worry about mucking about with luggage claims mid-voyage. I should’ve been more suspicious when I didn’t get a boarding pass for the last leg of my flight, instead getting a boarding-pass-sized paper with a simple “see agent at gate” printed on the front. It seemed very unofficial.

Several hours later and one detour through Vienna, I was on a bus heading for Brno. Oh, the joys of international travel!

Although the trip to Brno was a little rocky at times, the city was amazing! It was a great place for the conference, the walking tour showing off the city’s “Dragon” was very appreciated, and the Czech people were very friendly, even when we shared no common language. I want to thank all the organizers and the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT) for hosting us!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the venue, but the days were so jam-packed, I never quite found the time. The original buildings are part of a 14th century Cartesian monastery, while the presentation rooms were all in a very modern glass building. There were intricate and varied buildings and facades all over Brno, with some very ancient looking houses and roofs just down the street from the FIT. Some spandexed cyclists with modern road bikes were taking a break at a nearby cafe, and I spied a penny farthing in their support van. Brno was certainly full of surprises!

With all the sessions during the day, it was difficult to get a chance to talk with more than a few people. The afterparty event at Charlie’s Square (a Charlie Chaplain brewery-pub) was a great time to catch up with contributors in several different teams. I think that some of the contributors who don’t speak English — or at least who don’t think they speak it well — often stay silent during some of our electronic meetings in Google Hangouts, on IRC, or on the phone. In person, it’s much easier to see who’s actively participating in a conversation and who is staying quiet or is confused, and then to address that person face-to-face, encouraging them to engage with the group.

The Hackfest night was a great opportunity for the QA Team to have an in-depth meeting. Xisco Fauli, the new QA Engineer, eagerly picked our brains for information about Bugzilla, the Wiki, tools, and techniques, and we spent several hours discussing some of the nuances of LibreOffice development and bug workflow, as well as brainstorming new ideas for our roadmap. I’m currently working on pulling together people for a “LibreOffice Q&A Hangout,” an idea we mercilessly stole from the Ubuntu folks (thanks, Jono!)

There were several sessions I greatly enjoyed, but the Google Summer of Code presentations were unique, as they showcased a whole new crop of LibreOffice contributors. Although many students wrap up work with LibreOffice and move on to new adventures, some stick around and become core contributors to our codebase.

During the conference, all the restaurants and cafes I went to served delicious beers with the meals. Unlike restaurants in the US, apparently each cafe serves beer from just a single vendor. At the end of the conference, I noticed that some small wooden huts were appearing around the town, selling Burčák — a kind of homebrew wine — out of plastic buckets and carboys.

As I understand it, Burčák is a young wine made as a part of the pressing process in the fall. It’s light and sweet, and puts a spring in your step as you’re enjoying a nice walk around Brno. I think one of our challenges as a community going forward will be to put a spring in our step.

To keep up our energy and continue to grow LibreOffice’s capabilities, I think we should recruit more GSoC contributors and then fight to retain a greater percentage of those completing the program. Having young, motivated, and imaginative developers working regularly with LibreOffice will not only inject fresh thinking to the mix, but will also attract other young developers to the project.

In the meantime, I’m going to go find some vineyards here in Texas and try to reproduce that Burčák. Let me know if you’re thirsty, and I’ll make some extra for when you stop by for a face-to-face meeting!

Deep in the Heart of Texas: Love for LibreOffice at Texas Linux Fest!

[This post is a re-upload as the original was accidentally deleted! -R]

When I moved to Texas last year, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get used to the never-ending hot summers and short autumns. As it turns out, Texas had just escaped from a dry spell in the months before I packed up in Vermont, and the monsoon-like rain storms that I learned to embrace in 2015 and now in 2016 are more the exception than the rule. It makes me wonder how much worse it would be if the sun were shining every day non-stop!

I arrived in Austin the night before the conference, and had a chance to chat with Deb Nicholson, the Director of Community Outreach at the Open Invention Network (OIN). Deb was presenting a talk about the effect of the Supreme Court ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank on software patentability in the US. For programmers and geeks, legal talks can get downright sleep-inducing, but Deb has a way of making this content lively and interesting. If you ever have a chance to see her give a talk at a conference (and she packs a bunch in each year), I heartily recommend it.

Deb’s been a strong supporter of LibreOffice for many years. She organized the first “SpinachCon” UX-Testing event at LibrePlanet, where LibreOffice got some great feedback from both new and intermediate users, and helped with introductions to other conferences in the US such as LinuxFestNW, SELF, Fossetcon, and TXLF. At TXLF she introduced me to Denver Gingerich, License Compliance Engineer with the Software Freedom Conservancy.

The second night of the conference my girlfriend was able to escape from work and join me in Austin, and we had a chance to chat with Denver about Free Software, LibreOffice, and his work in Conservancy. For a project as big as LibreOffice, having an independent foundation like TDF provides effective “lubrication” for all of the community, industry, and government interests to collaborate. The TDF Board does a ton of work behind the scenes, dealing with big questions — like a possible relationship with the Thunderbird email client — as well as very routine things such as keeping our domain registrations up to date.

Conservancy fills a similar role for its constituent members, but rather than being a home for just a couple of projects, it provides oversight, financial management, and infrastructure for over 30 projects, including Inkscape, SAMBA, Wine, Busybox, Git, Mercurial, and Darcs. That’s quite a lot of version control systems living together under one roof, eh?

On Saturday I gave a talk “LibreOffice Online: Flexibility and Freedom.” Even for the geeky crowd at the conference, many were unaware that LibreOffice had developed an online version, or that a downloadable VM was available from Collabora (CODE). Several attendees were excited to learn about the Android version of LibreOffice, and  wanted to learn more about the basic editing capabilities in our beta builds.

At the LibreOffice booth I got a lot of great questions about LibreOffice and our vision for the future. Although we initially were lacking AC power, we jury-rigged up a solution for the first day and were able to keep the laptops running and showing off the latest LibreOffice. Several people stopped by to talk about documentation, volunteering, and avenues of development.

I’m always amused by all of the different things I hear at conferences. At TXLF last year, someone was seriously offended by the size of my business card (it was one of the Moo mini-sized cards). I was considering printing up HUGE cards for 2016, but never found the time for it 🙂

It was great to see friends tabling alongside LibreOffice, including José Rey at the Ubuntu booth and Ken Starks at the ReGlue booth. Ken runs an amazing Texas non-profit that takes donated computer hardware, refurbishes it, loads GNU/Linux, LibreOffice, and other Free Software on it, and then gives machines out to under privileged children and their families. Ken and I had a chance to chat about expanding his operation into the Dallas area, offering free classes about LibreOffice with the machines to make it much easier for students to start using them for schoolwork.

At the end of TXLF, we packed up and headed home, but not before we stopped by Franklin BBQ — arguably the best BBQ restaurant in the whole of Texas. We got up at 5:00 in the morning on Sunday to get in line because Franklin’s regularly runs out of brisket, ribs, or sausage. The restaurant opens at 11AM, so we brought chairs, books, and some drinks in a cooler to beat the heat. As early as we got up, we were still the fourth group in line. Maybe some people never go to bed?

With a delicious end to the trip, I’m certainly looking forward to TXLF next year. Although I like my brisket to be cooked “low and slow,” I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that next summer is a lot cooler than this one’s been so that I don’t ever feel like I’m the brisket in the smoker! I just tried to move a tarp in my backyard, and it tore like tissue-paper, weakened by the sun. I’ll keep on applying the sunscreen, and hope that my skin’s made of tougher stuff than those tarps. Woof!