Sunday, 09 November 2008
I spent much of this week in Alicante. It was wonderful to have a few days away from the beginnings of Winter in Cambridge - Alicante's in South West Spain, right on the Mediterranean. It's a lovely city, although it was very quiet due to the time of year.
I was invited down to Alicante by organisers of the Congrés de Programari Lliure, Comunitat Valenciana, to present a talk about Debian. That I did, and as always my slides and photos are available in case people are interested. I wasn't too sure about what level to aim the talk, so I deliberately went for a general introduction to Debian. That seems to have been the correct level - nobody threw anything at me, and nobody was visibly falling asleep. *grin* It's also the first time I've ever given a talk with official translators, which is a weird experience! The main topic for the conference was the new release of Lliurex, Valencia's own GNU/Linux distribution targeted primarily at use in schools.
The conference was massive; I was told there were about 1500 attendees in all, most of whom were teachers who wanted to come and learn more about Free Software. There was a good spread of talks and workshops, covering topics from development through to deployment in the classroom. The level of enthusiasm for Free Software here was immense - lots of people were keen to learn more about it and get involved. I was told that out of the 15 regions/states of Spain, 11 of them have now started their own distributions to use in schools! Extremadura were the first region to experiment with Free Software like this, and their success with LinEx was a clear inspiration to their neighbours elsewhere in Spain. As well as the obvious cost advantages of moving from proprietary to Free Software, the local governments also love the freedom to use and modify their software however they like - including the ability to provide their own translations.
I met up with a lot of cool people at the conference too. The local education minister (Alejandro Font de Mora) was keen to talk with all the speakers and very enthusiastic about the future of Free Software in his schools. As is increasingly common at FS events around the world, there were of course quite a few Debian people around too. Luciano and Miriam were also giving talks, and I bumped into Rene and Miguel and a whole bunch of others whose names I'm too crap to remember - sorry! I also spoke a lot with Kurt Gramlich, the mega-enthusiastic Skolelinux developer who was also happy to push Debian to everybody he spoke to *grin*. Jon "Maddog" Hall had some excellent ideas that I'm sure we'll all hear more about soon, and his talk was excellent. He did a very good job of explaining how Free Software makes such a difference, including how it helps people to make money. He also explained that due to travel he had missed Halloween at home and he wanted to share the experience of scary masks with the people at the conference:
I had a great time in Alicante, and I'm very grateful for the invitation to go there. I wish that the UK was as far as advanced as Spain in the use of Free Software in education - they've done a huge amount of good work in this area and I'm glad we can help them.