This report from the meeting comes on-line quite late, more than a month after the event. One of the reasons is the great web-page with all video that Jonas Smedegaard put on-line immediately after the show (you find it all here: http://media.biks.dk/fb/epfsug2/ ) so the immediate need to make available what happened was met faster and more efficient than ever before (btw, if you want to help transcribe the talks, please feel free to use a pad with some intuitive name like http://pad.epfsug.eu/p/epfsug--epfsug-7-november--free-tools--Giancarlo). Another is that we didn't think of who would do the blog post before-hand, so it was a bit unclear who was taking care of it afterwards. But this time that was actually a "good thing" as we now have a summary from an on-line participant, Markus Sabadello from Project Danube, writing about what he found most interesting:
I watched the EPFSUG "Free Tools in the EP" event on-line, and was mostly interested in the FreedomBox. I have been following the FreedomBox project for quite a while, and have presented it myself at a number of events both in the US and Europe. From the moment I had first heard about it, I became fascinated by the idea of having an easy-to-use hardware device that would offer control over one's personal data and communication.
I was excited when I heard about a FreedomBox presentation at the EU Parliament, even to the point that I considered making the trip from Vienna to Brussels just to attend it in person and meet fellow FreedomBox enthusiasts. Jonas Smedegaard (who gave the presentation) is a well-known and active individual in the FreedomBox community, and with his extensive background in Debian, OLPC, and other projects, he has unique knowledge in the field of free software. I had previously watched his earlier 2011 EPFSUG talk, where he had already explained the concept and value of privacy, the general idea behind the FreedomBox, and the merits of free software and decentralized communications structures.
Therefore, I was eager to listen to his new talk and learn more about his latest thoughts and latest FreedomBox developments. This time, again, he brings forth the most important argument, one which I think more and more Internet users can identify with: That argument is that today's centralized structures on the Internet bear a high risk of abuse of power, and that an alternative approach is needed. And again he explains that the main idea of the FreedomBox is to build something that is very technical inside, but designed for people who just want things to work.
And then Jonas talks about a subject that is really important. He says that after 2 years, we do not yet have a product. That's true. While the FreedomBox in its current version does have some basic functionality that can be demonstrated (e.g. adblocking), it is far from living up to all the expectations out there. The challenge is that geeks start inventing new, exciting things all the time, while the most important task at hand today is actually more that of a librarian. That task is to build a good and working version 1, rather than dream about a future version 3. To do this, Jonas' recommendation is to focus on the essence, keep to the "boring" stuff, get done what we are already good at, and keep our fantasies under control. I fully agree with this assessment, although I also believe that fantasies can sometimes be useful too to inspire and energize a community.
Another key aspect in his talk is that he specifically addresses the relevance of FreedomBox for the European Parliament and its IT infrastructure. One of the points he makes is that the box will not be useful only at one's homes, but also in office-like environments such as the parliament. He mentions an interesting gateway service in Sweden which can "map" a proprietary e-mail service to the standard IMAP protocol and therefore create a more open environment.
Near the end of his talk, Jonas calls for help from hackers, promoters, and early adopters, who are willing to test the box and provide feedback. After his talk, the questions from the audience reminded me very much of the questions I also get when I try to explain the FreedomBox concept, e.g. what can it do at this point, and what will it be able to do, what are the hardware characteristics, how much will it cost, and where can it be bought.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Jonas' talk (whether you are new to FreedomBox or already familiar with it), as well as the other talks from the EPFSUG event. I believe the importance of having people promote FreedomBox and free software in general at a place as symbolic as the EU Parliament cannot be overestimated. Jonas mentioned there would be an event showing something "more concrete" next summer. I will definitely come.
Markus Sabadello - Project Danube
What could be said about the welcoming and opening of the meeting by MEP Torvalds is perhaps the conclusion that linux user groups are more common, important and wide spread than what you'd think, and that in the end, such communities also contribute to maintaining ideas about what democracy and transparency should look like.
The presentation by Dimitrios Symeonidis with the title "Running a Linux box inside the EP's network" was quite technical. But after listing some of the benefits that the EP and its users could draw from allowing the use of Linux desktops, Dimitrios made the remarkable point that despite these benefits, running linux in the EP is not allowed. Yet, the presentation closed with instructions on how to configure Ubuntu Linux correctly for the EP environment. The questions and answers that followed showed on a possible path forward, through dialogue with the responsible staff at DG ITEC.
The meeting ended with closing remarks and conclusions by Director-General Giancarlo Vilella. This was a welcome surprise to all of us, in particular since he said EPFSUG plays an important role in the EP and that we are, as a group of engaged computer users, "avant garde".
Lastly, a big thanks to Henrik Alexandersson for recording the event, and to the helpful staff in MEP Torvalds office for logistics and badging supporters in.
If you feel that this blog post needs additional information or improvements, please mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
slides FreedomBox: http://dr.jones.dk/fb/talk/epfsug2/
presse coverage at Joinup: https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/news/cio-european-parliament-free-software-u...