FOSS4G 2008 Cape Town, South Africa: Internet Roundup

By Adena Schutzberg

The Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial Conference, FOSS4G 2008, wrapped up last Friday in Cape Town, South Africa. Directions Media was unable to attend this year, so instead we offer this roundup of coverage from the 'Net. We encourage readers to add links to other coverage in the comments section below this article.

Opening Sessions
IOL Technologies covered the opening session, which featured Sindile Bidla, deputy director of the Eastern Cape's Spatial Information Services' chief directorate for spatial planning and information, noting how open source geospatial is saving money. Google's Ed Parsons described FOSS4G's goal of "democratizing technology in terms of access and creation."

New Technologies
Chris Schmidt offers his take on his blog and mentions a few technologies with which readers may be unfamiliar. He mentions GeoDjango, a high-level Python geographic Web framework "that encourages rapid development and clean, pragmatic design." It's an add-on module to "regular" Django, which provides spatial support. This is really new technology. Django 1.0 was just released on Sept. 3 and GeoDjango itself was presented at DjangoCon on Sept 6 (video). In a later post, Schmidt notes a presentation on "OL + ExtJS." OL is OpenLayers, an open source client and ExtJS bills itself as "a cross-browser JavaScript library for building rich internet applications."

Goodies to Try: A Virtual Machine and LiveDVD
Ricardo Pinho released GIS Virtual Machine, GISVM, at FOSS4G. The idea is to put an abundance of open source software and an operating system (Ubuntu [corrected typo per comment]) into a single install that can run in a window under another operating system. This is a great solution for anyone who wants to test any of the open source geo apps without doing much work. Among the geo-goodies on GISVM: GeoServer, MapServer, PostgreSQL PostGIS, QGIS, gvSIG and uDIG. It's a 1Gb download and requires the free VMWare Player or alternate to run. Free Geography Tools offers a nice walk through.

Also available is a LiveDVD (download; info) from the event with different resources. The LiveDVD requires no installation; you run it from the DVD. The package is courtesy of LISASoft and Ominiverdi.

One of the few write-ups I found about the event overall is from Sebastian Benthall of The Open Planning Project, and is titled, "FOSS4G2008 - Culture shock." Be sure to read his other posts about sessions and thoughts, as well.

He notes differences between the open source players on the one hand and government and GIS groups that attended on the other. I thought this section described the situation quite well:
The reason why FOSS4G is being held in South Africa this year is because FOSS4G is being co-sponsored this year by GISSA, the Geo- Information Society of South Africa. They have contributed to an otherwise technical conference a humanitarian focus. The first few talks given today were sober ones about the crises of developing nations, beginning with the health and crime problems in Cape Town itself. The theme of the conference is oddly cautious: "Open Source Geospatial: An Option for Developing Nations." GIS professionals from government and NGO's have been invited from developing countries around the world, with a couple hundred from South Africa itself.

The result is a strange cultural mix. The FOSS crowd [is] lively, reliably laughing and applauding when a speaker makes a dig at proprietary software (PowerPoint, Internet Explorer, Apple). Their speeches are deliberately humorous and irreverent. After Ed Parsons gave a rather cluelessly untargeted talk about how Google's (proprietary) products are awesome and how easy it is for people to use them to make (proprietary) data, the crowd dragged him over the coals during the Q&A.

The government and GIS groups must find this strange. Their tone was consistently more serious, more cautious, and less confrontational. The pace of their presentations was slower. They presented their tragic facts and their strategies to overcome them without the exuberance and confidence that this was their time to rally.


Andrew Turner's presentation slides for "Rebuilding a City through Community Participation, Neogeography and GIS" are online. Turner discusses community organizing and map making in New Orleans. Turner was with Mapufacture, which was recently acquired by FortiusOne.

Schuyler Erle's "Lightning Talk" (that's five minutes!) is available on video. If you've not heard him speak, watch the video. If you have watched him speak, watch the video. If you want to become a better presenter, watch the video. Have I made myself clear?

What's the topic? The presentation addresses public geodata and why the open source community (and everyone else) needs to participate. The presentation highlights a point that also came up at AGI recently: data licensing is still in the 1.0 version. It needs to move forward.

Maurizio de Felice of MapMappers in South Africa shared his World Wind presentation in excruciating detail.

Sol Katz Award
Paul Ramsey received the Sol Katz Award for contributions to the FOSS4G community. Ramsey was unable to attend the event and offered his acceptance via video. He posted his acceptance speech, which to my great pleasure, included a long list of those who helped him along the way. That helped reinforce community spirit as a key enabling factor in open source. One of the great things about the FOSS4G community is that it's still small enough that most everyone knows the people who win this award. Ramsey joins Frank Warmerdam, Steve Lime and Markus Neteler as recipients.

Published Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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