I spent a week at GUADEC 2022 in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was an excellent conference, with some good talks, good people, and a delightful hallway track. I think everyone was excited to see each other in person after so long, and for many attendees, this was closer to home than GUADEC has ever been.
For this event, I was sponsored by the GNOME Foundation, so many thanks to them as well as my employer the Endless OS Foundation for both encouraging me to submit a talk and for giving me the opportunity to take off and drink tequila for the week.
For me, the big themes this GUADEC were information resilience, scaling our community, and how these topics fit together.
Stepping into the Guadalajara Connectory for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, but this was still my first GUADEC, and my first real in-person event with the desktop Linux community in ages.
So, I was happy to come across Jona Azizaj and Justin Flory’s series of thoughtful and inviting workshops on Wednesday morning. These were Icebreakers & Community Social, followed by Unconscious bias & imposter syndrome workshop. They eased my anxiety enough that I wandered off and missed the follow-up (Exploring privilege dynamics workshop), but it looked like a cool session. It was a brilliant idea to put these kinds of sessions right at the start.
The workshop about unconscious bias inspired me to consciously mix up who I was going out for lunch with throughout the week, as I realized how easy it is to create bubbles without thinking about it.
Beyond that, I attended quite a few interesting sessions. It is always fun hearing about bits of the software stack I’m unfamiliar with, so some standouts were Matthias Clasen’s Font rendering in GNOME (YouTube), and David King’s Cheese strings: Webcams, PipeWire and portals (YouTube). Both highly recommended if you are interested in those components, or in learning about some clever things!
But for the most part, this wasn’t a very code-oriented conference for me.
Accessibility, diversity, remote attendance
This was the first hybrid GUADEC after two years of running a virtual-only conference, and I think the format worked very well. The remote-related stuff was smoothly handled in the background. The volunteers in each room did a great job relaying questions from chat so remote attendees were represented during Q&As.
I did wish that those remote attendees — especially the Berlin Mini-GUADEC — were more visible in other contexts. If this format sticks, it would be nice to have a device or two set up so people in different venues can see and interact with each other during the event. After all, it is unlikely that in-person attendees will spend much time looking at chat rooms on their own.
But I definitely like how this looks. I think having good representation for remote attendees is important for accessibility. Pandemic or otherwise. So with that in mind, Robin Tafel’s Keynote: Peeling Vegetables and the Craft of (Software) Inclusivity (YouTube), struck a chord for me. She elegantly explains how making anything more accessible — from vegetable peelers to sidewalks to software — comes back to help all of us in a variety of ways: increased diversity, better designs in general, and — let’s face it — a huge number of people will need accessibility tools at some point in their lives.
“We are temporarily abled.”
Community, ecosystems, and offline content
I especially enjoyed Sri Ramkrishna’s thoughtful talk, GNOME and Sustainability – Ecosystem Management (YouTube). I came away from his session thinking how we don’t just need to recruit GNOME contributors; we need to connect free software ecosystems horizontally. Find those like-minded people in other projects and find places where we can collaborate, even if we aren’t all using GNOME as a desktop environment. For instance, I think we’re doing a great job of this across the freedesktop world, but it’s something we could think about more widely, too.
Who else benefits, or could benefit, from Meson, BuildStream, Flatpak, GJS, and the many other technologies GNOME champions? How can we advocate for these technologies in other communities and use those as bridges for each other’s benefit? How do we get their voices at events like GUADEC, and what stops us from lending our voices to theirs?
“We need to grow and feed our ecosystem, and build relations with other ecosystems.”
So I was pretty excited (mostly anxious, since I needed to use printed notes and there were no podiums, but also excited) to be doing a session with Manuel Quiñones a few hours later: Offline learning with GNOME and Kolibri (YouTube). I’ll write a more detailed blog post about it later on, but I didn’t anticipate quite how neatly our session would fit in with what other people were talking about.
At Endless, we have been working with offline content for a long time. We build custom Endless OS images designed for different contexts, with massive libraries of pre-installed educational resources. Resources like Wikipedia, books, educational games, and more: all selected to empower people with limited connectivity. The trick with offline content is it involves a whole lot of very large files, it needs to be possible to update it, and it needs to be easy to rapidly customize it for different deployments.
That becomes expensive to maintain, which is why we have started working with Kolibri.
Kolibri is an open source platform for offline-first teaching and learning, with a powerful local application and a huge library of freely licensed educational content. Like Endless OS, it is designed for difficult use cases. For example, a community with sporadic internet access can use Kolibri to share Khan Academy videos and exercises, as well as assignments for individual learners, between devices.
Using Kolibri instead of our older in-house solution means we can collaborate with an existing free software project that is dedicated to offline content. In turn, we are learning many interesting lessons as we build the Kolibri desktop app for GNOME. We hope those lessons will feed back into the Kolibri project to improve how it works on other platforms, too.
Giving our talk at GUADEC made me think about how there is a lot to gain when we bring these types of projects together.
The hallway track
Like I wrote earlier, this wasn’t a particularly code-oriented conference for me. I did sit down and poke at Break Timer for a while — in particular, reviving a branch with a GTK 4 port — and I had some nice chats about various other projects people are doing. (GNOME Crosswords was the silent star of the show). But I didn’t find many opportunities to actively collaborate on things. Something to aim for with my next GUADEC.
I wonder if the early 3pm stop each day was a bit of a contributor there, but it did make for some excellent outings, so I’m not complaining. The pictures say a lot!
Everyone here is amazing, humble and kind. I really cannot recommend enough, if you are interested in GNOME, check out GUADEC, or LAS, or another such event. It was tremendously valuable to be here and meet such a wide range of GNOME users and contributors. I came away with a better understanding of what I can do to contribute, and a renewed appreciation for this community.