On February 4th and 5th 2023, I attended FOSDEM for the first time. It was a blast, and this is a report on how it went.
Day 0: Getting there
Since I don't like airports and air travel, I decided to travel by train, a journey of 6 hours and 45 minutes. Booking really early made my ticket super affordable, so affordable that I opted to travel first class.1 This went well, even with mobile linux. DB has a check-in page served via their on-train WiFi which allows you to check in. Worked just fine on my Surface Go 2 on the first train, and it also worked on my Librem 5 on the way back. 2 Unfortunately, I did not make the first connection and thus arrived a bit over two hours late (21:46 instead of 19:35), which led me to just check in at the hotel (right next to Bruxelles Midi) and not go to any of the social events that happened on Friday.
Day 1: Saturday
FOSS on Mobile dev room
While I woke up earlier than I wanted to, I still managed to be slow to get going, and when I arrived, I just went straight to the room UB4.136, which then still was quite empty, and for a few minutes after my arrival, I would be just alone in it. It would not stay that way.
To shorten this post, I've added comments to my post that detailed talks to watch - read them now, if you are interested in my thoughts.
All talks were great, with Alfred's talk about Lomiri and Norman's talk about Genode on the PinePhone standing out to me, likely because both were touching subjects I did not have much experience with.
Attempting to live report on Linux phones only
Now, I did not just sit there. I also took photos using a pre-release build of Millipixels and posted (the first of them) to Mastodon. You may think: That's easy, why didn't you go through with it?
Honestly, if I had had a SIM card in my Librem 5, I might have, but I had somehow managed to not bring one of these SIM card tray removal pins, and thus I had to fight the difficulty with getting an internet connection on a conference full of nerds with multiple RF devices.3 Still, there were more obstactles: Pictures out of Millipixels aren't/weren't orientated correctly.
Fortunately, Image Roll can help with this, but the resulting images larger than the source material (~10 MB instead of ~5-7 MB), a size that my Mastodon account, accessed by Tootle, did not like, maybe due to the aforementioned connectivity situation or due to other factors - it's IMHO super reasonable to enforce a file size limit on a service you offer for free.
Thus I had to find a way to resize the images. I had not planned for this, so I quickly searched for resize with apt and flatpak and ended up finding Resizer, an app made for Elementary OS, which, after scaling it to fit the screen with Mobile Settings. Now if only my skills with Imagemagick were better, I likely could have done all this in one command, but at least I found a way to do this.
Now why did I stop posting these toots? Well, honestly, typing under time contraints on mobile keyboards wasn't fun; and I had to restart my Librem 5 to get the camera to work again - which is totally acceptable running a pre-release build of something that's clearly marked as a developer preview.4. And since all these complications added up, they took my attention away from following the talks - so I decided to just relax and listen. A good idea.
Afternoon: Finding and visiting stands
After having sit through all of the talks in the dev room, I left with others to find the Linux on Mobile stand, which had been moved to building K, into a crowded spot, right next to stairs. With many people passing by, it was a good location, and I have been told that many people were interested to learn about Linux distributions for phones - some being even surprised that "this" is a thing.5 Also, on Saturday, the MNT Pocket Reform attracted some additional attention - I did not go hands on, but that prototype was definitely working and beautiful. The downside of all this attention and the crowded space was that I did not feel comfortable with and made me feel slightly overwhelmed.
So I took off for PINE64's stand in building Aw (a nice, old building), and guess what, it was less crowded there. I was hoping to meet Lukasz, whom I would only meet later, but I got to see the PineTab2 and plenty other PINE64 products, e.g. the Star64 and the (huge) QuartzPro 64 dev board. More on that later.
I then set out to find the Ubuntu Touch stand, as it turned out that they had managed to set up a surprise stand in building H, demoing many devices (including one mystery device booting Tiano Core (and thus likely Coreboot)), and, of course, a convergence demo. Fortunately for me, it was less crowded.
(Not) Leaving early
I walked around some more, and eventually figured that I should maybe just go home. Club Mate did not help anymore. I was tired. I had already eaten, but I still felt worse and worse. I was at the bus stop, when I saw that I had received a message, and thus went back to Aw to say Hi to Luaksz. After that, I figured: Let's pay building K a last visit. I bought a shirt, and went to the Linux on Mobile stand with the intention of telling people that I was leaving for today. Somehow, that did not happen. I walked around with Ollie to get food and decided to get a beer, which weirdly enabled me to stay longer. We ended up recording an episode of the postmarketOS podcast. After that, we took a bus and the metro and had dinner with postmarketOS and Mobian contributors.6
Day 2: Sunday
This was a day I had nothing planned for, or, to be more precise, where I had not planned to attend any talks. I met with Lukasz to have a coffee, and I played a bit with the PineTab 2.
That aside, it was another day of moving between stands and talking to a few people - it was really nice to finally talk to so many people I knew from the internet.
PINE64 had exactly one PineTab 2 (8 GB RAM, 128 GB eMMC) prototype at FOSDEM. Despite some Manjaro folk also manning the PINE64 stand, it ran a build of danctnix featuring Linux 6.2rc5 and the Plasma Desktop. Considering that the RK3566 is still relatively fresh, I found it to run quite well, needing to be rebooted every then and now. The tablet itsef and its keyboard accessory felt solid and well made. I think that it's going to be a nice device.
Regrets and learnings
- I could have talked to more people,
- I did not manage to also get LinuxPhoneApps.org stickers, I could not draw attention to the project of mine that needs it most,
- I learned that arriving earlier on Friday and planning ahead (e.g., planning a meet-up early) is more important than not leaving on Sunday.
All in all, it was a blast and I had a great time. I look forward to attending more events (I hope to be able to attend Chemnitzer Linux Tage and/or Linux App Summit), and will definitely try everything to attend FOSDEM 2024.
It's not really worth it, you get a cookie and sit farther apart from people that are just as annoying, but more entitled.
That aside, I could have used KDE Itinerary, but opted for Phosh's ticket box plugin.
Generally, I was on 3G a lot in Belgium, which made uploads tough, and being quite exhausted in general did not help, either. I also honestly did not plan for this at all.
I would later find out that toggling the kill switch could have the same effect as restarting the camera app.
I was also told by people at the UBports stand in building H that they still get to hear 'I thought Ubuntu Touch was a dead project' after all these years. (I could rant about how Linux publications (news sites and podcasts) are to blame for this, but that's a topic for another day.)
Of course, my presence there had not been planned for, and unfortunately, there were no extra places in the restaurant. I only realized this after ordering - I am so sorry to have taken someone elses place!