August 25, 2008

South American FOSS show is a big deal

Author: Arnaldo Ariel Arrieta

Last week's 8th Jornadas Regionales de Software Libre (Free Software Regional Sessions) at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was an opportunity for around 1,300 FOSS enthusiasts to share experiences, learn more, and have fun together.

Newcomers and advanced users, sysadmins and developers, all learned about and discussed a wide range of issues in more than 140 sessions in three days. There were also a space for the community organizations and companies to show, talk, and advocate about their activities and products.

As one of the biggest events of its kind in this part of the continent, the conference attracted people from all corners of Argentina and from other countries of the region. It was a free event (free as in beer) -- participants only needed to register in advance and come to enjoy it.

Along with the local speakers, some "big names" of the free software world made the trip to Buenos Aires. Attendees heard from Chris Hoffman of the Mozilla Foundation, Rik van Riel of Red Hat, Jon "maddog" Hall of Linux International, kernel developer Christoph Hellwig, consultant Dag Wieers, Google's Mario Bonilla, and Python core developer Raymond Hettinger.

The most hilarious moment happened at one of the keynotes. Originally, Canonical founder (and former space tourist) Mark Shuttleworth was scheduled to speak, but he could not come, so organizers reassigned his time slot. In a dark auditorium, with a screen projecting images of planets and stars and with music from 2001: A Space Odyssey playing at loud volume, Hall appeared on stage wearing an astronaut suit and joking that he was Shuttleworth coming from year 2040. He delivered all of his lecture wearing that suit, only taking off the helmet so he could speak.

The high turnout for the show, and especially so many new people who wanted to get introduced to free software, signals the importance of FOSS in the region, and shows the community that there is a lot of opportunity to spread its usage.

This year's event was organized by CaFeLUG, the Capital Federal Free Software Users Group, with support from other organizations and sponsor companies.

The conference takes place in a different city every year. In previous years, Argentine cities Rosario, Cordoba, and Mendoza, and Montevideo, Uruguay, have been host cities. Next year's 9th Jornadas Regionales will be held in Chile.

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