Over the weekend of 4-6th February Martijn and I (Ben) attended FOSDEM 2011.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with FOSDEM, it’s the annual Free and Open Source Software Developer’s European Meeting. This is a weekend-long free, open conference (no registration, no cost, just turn up and take part), which is held at the Free University in Brussels.

This year, there were around 5000 developers attending the conference. Over 1500 people attended the Friday night beer event in the spacious Delerium cafe (close to the Grand Place). There were geeks and hackers of all kinds, and there were a huge number of communities represented – from the big names in F/OSS (e.g. Mozilla, Ubuntu, Red Hat, MySQL, Postgresql, etc) all the way through to tiny projects, hardware hacking, open telecoms – an enormous range of talent and projects.

It was a fantastic weekend, and we can’t recommend it highly enough for developers who are interested in the Free / Open software world. Liking beer (or indeed wine) is also a big advantage :-).

Martijn and I were primarily interested in the Free Java room (although we did attend some other talks as well). This housed talks by many of the great and good in the Java world – so we really recommend that you take advantage of this next year as you can get access to key technical players in the Java space for free!

The keynote speech in the Java room was delivered by Mark Reinhold and Joe Darcy from Oracle who covered the state of the OpenJDK. They made it very clear that the number one priority for Oracle is to keep Java at number one. This talk quickly turned into a roomwide discussion on the proposed OpenJDK governance model, the JCP, TCK licensing and thoughts on the future of free and open Java in general.

This is very definitely a period of “Interesting Times” for the Java world, and it does no good to ignore that. Some of the debate in the Java room was at times heated, and even bordering on acrimonious.  However, there were certainly a lot of positives that came out of the weekend, e.g. helping to reduce the demonising of engineers that work for large companies and hopefully kickstarting a much wider community effort to produce a fair and reasonable governance model to drive Java  forward.

The wider Java community (and even Oracle) needs your help! Without your voice and the voices of your clients, Oracle, IBM et al are not able to see the negative impact that they could potentially be having on the Java ecosystem.  So we encourage all of you to read the proposed governance – and Simon Phipps’ scorecard summarising the opposing view and then get productively get involved in the debate on the mailing list.  Please note that some of the issues raised in the scorecard have been addressed and we hope to see a new draft and therefore a new scorecard soon.

In addition to the governance talks, and some interesting analysis talks (including Stephen O’Grady’s talk “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Java“) we saw some amazing technical talks – from new JVM languages being used to illustrate new JDK 7 features, through to the latest thoughts on modularisation (including two great back-to-back talks on aspects of the new Project Jigsaw codebase). While FOSDEM is clearly an environment which cares about the more social and political aspects of software (how could it be otherwise?), the technical level is both very high and very welcoming – both established personalities and very new developers were made to feel comfortable, and that their contributions were valued.

As one final aside, on the second day we gave our “Free Java, reasons to be cheerful” talk with some heavy LJC branding – and have got some great feedback so far.

We’re definitely going again next year – so if you’re interested, come and talk to one of us at one of the LJC events – it would be great to get a larger group together for a trip.