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!