My. That's a mouthful of a title. I went to this event on Friday, which was run by OpenIsland. I don't really think I was the target audience; I'm already a convert and aware of the opportunities which Free Software offers. However, there were a few bits of interest to me.
Brian Doran, director of the Southern Regional College talked about including discussion of Open Source in their computer related courses. He didn't commit to more use in the colleges' IT infrastructure (and indeed Netcraft reports the website as being hosted by a Win2k3/IIS combo), but it's still a significant step forward IMO - rather than just being spoon fed MS based product people will hopefully be encouraged to think about the options available and evaluate them on their merits. We'll see if it pans out in practice.
Also notable was Reg Empey, NI Minister for Employment and Learning, giving a speech involving Open Source. It got hijacked into discussion about how they were going to invest in higher education in NI and fund more PHDs in a targeted manor, but I still think the fact that a member of the NI Assembly got up and used the words Open Source (or possibly Free and Open Source Software; I can't remember exactly which speaker used that once a sentence) is quite incredible. Whether or not he's fully aware of it, someone on his staff must have done some research, and decided that it was something government was prepared to think about, or at the very least not boycott.
During the day I realised that I'm prejudiced towards Free Software. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. I will, in general, accept slightly less functionality as long as the Free option fulfils my primary needs. And I've got used to hanging around with people who also work this way, or at the very least consider Free Software on a level playing field with proprietary stuff. I was reminded that a lot of people work the other way; either they're not aware of the Free alternatives, or they view them with a natural suspicion. So it was really good to see people standing up and talking about how they'd built their businesses on Free Software, and even better, about how they were pushing back upstream fixes/features they'd needed as part of their business. I don't know if anyone in the audience was converted, but it's certainly the sort of thing I like to see - it's important to appreciate that as well as Free Software being a great resource, it's also often beneficial to share any changes you make from a business point of view, as it tends to make things easier for you in the long run.
Hopefully the conference did some good in terms of making people aware of Free Software (well, mostly Open Source was talked about, but both got mentioned). I wasn't convinced that there was a need, but having talked to various people I think it's just that I have got used to being surrounded by converts and perhaps lost sight of the fact that there are still plenty of people out there who aren't yet giving Free Software a chance. There are plans for this to be an annual event, so I look forward to the next one (and I think there will be various more targeted meetings over the next year too; I know there was considerable interest in covering the use of Free Software in health).