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LibrePlanet 2017: Liberating your open source experience

LibrePlanet is a yearly gathering of free software activists, users, and contributors—and, it's my favorite conference of the year. Here's why.

LibrePlanet is run by the Free Software Foundation, and has steadily evolved from a yearly members' meeting with presentations from staff and board members to a full blown two-day conference with speakers and attendees from all over the world. The event brings people who care about free software together to talk about the future of the movement, address current challenges, and celebrate successes.


I was invited to give a talk at LibrePlanet 2017 on 25th March at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts representing Mozilla as a Tech Speaker. I reached Boston on 25th early morning. Around 1 AM. The journey itself was awesome till I realized that you don't get Uber or Lyft at Boston Airport.

Not that the apps don't function there. They work! Just no driver will be ready to pick you up from Airport at that time. After trying to book a cab for more than 35 minutes I resorted to more traditional optionsEventually, I reached my hotel around 2:40 and began preparing for my talk which was the next day. And of course who could resist a view like this after you are done preparing your slides at 6 A.M

The next morning I managed to get a quick breakfast and get to the venue. The venue happened to be the iconic Strata Center of MIT. My cab driver fondly called it the "weird building". While there was no visible sign outside the building, there were clear signs on the door leading up to the registration desk. I quickly got my speaker registration done, got my ID card and went into the keynote session. Each day was divided into two keynotes. The first day it was Kade Crockford in the morning and Richard Stallman in the evening. You could immediately feel how different LibrePlanet was from other conferences from the day one itself when I say how the code of conduct was promoted

After the initial keynote, which was fabulous, brave and revealing I came out of the room and found a quiet corner to sit and revisit my slides. The venue being MIT had excellent internet connectivity and plenty of places to sit with nearby plug point to charge my mid 2010 laptop.

The Talk

Once I brushed up on my presentation (a pdf document at this point), I loaded it up on a thumb drive and got ready for the showdown. I could not use my laptop for the presentation (more on that later) so I plugged that in the Thinkpad they had at the podium and started getting ready. At this point, I still had 5 minutes with me and realized the room was already almost filled up, so I snapped this picture
Just before the talk at MIT
My prime concern at that point was "shit...this is MIT...I am probably not even qualified to stand at this podium instead giving a talk". However, I still gave the talk (hence this blog post) and was one of my most enjoyable talks to the moment. The session moderator already had told me that since my talk is the last one before lunch, I could overdo it a bit. I still planned to have 5 minutes of QA after the talk which I figured I could stretch into 10 minutes eating up some of the 1.5 hours lunch time. Boy was I wrong. The talk went fine but the Q&A was awesome. It stretched more than 15 minutes and even then when I was packing up people were waiting for me so that they could actually download the code and have a go! The best part was after the talk when I had people come and ask me if they can contribute and saying they want to improve the documentation! That time I was thinking Mission Accomplished!

You can see the talk here at Mediagoblin or below at youtube. It's as usual under CC BY 4.0.

The aftermath

Once the talk was done and I finished helping people install and see how the things works (by that time I was thinking why did I not submit for a workshop as well) the room moderators approached and congratulated me saying it was full house, people were sitting on the floor and they had to close the door to not let more people in! I was so relieved that it went well. And I did not realize the ripple of my talk till I saw the reactions
That conversation was positively inspiring. later that day while having the evening party I met one of the #FSF members who said he really wanted to see my talk but couldn't. And the reason being he was the person holding the door at that time saying it's a houseful. I was so happy and excited that even with beers on our hands I got into another informal session with him talking about that session!
That day concluded for us with a keynote session with Richard Stallman, and this was my first time meeting and talking to him
RMS taking questions and announcing awards

The Conference

The next day was a motley of fun and seriousness. The day started with a keynote from Cory Doctoroy of EFF. throughout the day I attended a lot of very interesting talks, including one of SecureDrop which recently won the MOSS award and makes sharing secure files easy for whistleblowers.
And the prime attraction of the day for me was the ending keynote by Sumana Harihareswara. I first met her in summer of 2014 in WikconferenceUSA where I gave my first ever talk after coming to the United States and she was there speaking in a keynote. She not only is an amazing speaker but an inspirational figure. I sincerely urge you to go and see her talk!

That very day after the event we gathered at Grendel's Den to have one last socializing event. Which turned out to be a long excited discussion on so many things. I met with Francois Marier of Mozilla Security team from Canada. And we had a long chat on so many things starting from rust to some interesting security aspects of webVR. Conor Schaefer of securedrop was equally fun guy to talk to and most of my night I happened to spend talking to Sumana discussing some of the problems I always thought plague mozilla communities and any possible suggestion she may have.

Librem:  featuring open-source hardware and software
LibrePlanet was a very different conference for me and one that I would love to visit again. For starters, I have never seen a conference completely organized and run with the help of free software! And don't confuse it with open source software. The universe of Open Source software is pretty vast now, but free software is another story altogether. An open source software can often be non-free or incorporate closed source code or non-free proprietary code. That alone makes it not free software. Those who are still in doubt should read this piece published in gnu. This was also the reason I could not use my laptop for the presentation, it was not running free software (Ubuntu is not free software, neither fedora or mint so don't even ask about OSX). The software used to stream, the laptops all had free software installed including the firmware. No proprietary or locked code present. And for those who doesn't know. It's damn hard to do that.
Cory Doctory talking about GNU

I loved the overall feel of LibrePlanet. I loved the free and opensource culture that I witnessed and experienced there. It is different than a lot of other open source conferences where it tries to stay true to its ideologies and succeeds splendidly. I loved the audience, the discussions I had and the sessions I attended. I loved MIT and that pretty much sums LibrePlanet up for me.
The LibrePlanet registration desk

At the end, I just want to say not every day you go to a conference and see nobody using a MacBook!
This was me, excited and jumping to be at MIT (this was always my dream, fulfilled in an unexpected way though)
On the right that is snow, when in Houston it was mid summer -_-
And of course the venue
The iconic strata building

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