Initially I thought I’ll go to Seoul straight from LinuxTag which would have been quite stressful. Unfortunately, LinuxTag didn’t happen for GNOME We lacked people to run the booth and it’s insane to try to run the booth with only two or three people over four days. So I went more or less straight to Seoul. Via CDG. So far I didn’t like that airport because it is huge and transfers between terminals are very slow and the terminals themselves rather poor in terms of infrastructure (power, seats, WiFi, shops). But terminal 2E was surprisingly nice. It’s got designeresque chairs to sit in, lots of power sockets, free WiFi, some shops, water fountains, and it’s generally airy. So thumbs up for that.
As for Seoul, things went surprisingly well. While i did organise this GNOME.Asia Summit to some extent I didn’t expect things to work out that nicely. The local team, which was pretty much unknown to me, was surprisingly big and they found a good venue and good sponsors.
Lemote gave us a few laptops to give away *yay*. A raffle was organized and the best speaker got the biggest machine. I didn’t win in the raffle, but I got a machine as the best speaker. It’s a Lemote Loongson. I don’t know yet whether it is what I need. I have a very underspecced Lenovo ideapad which barely runs GNOME. Running anything that requires memory is really dreadful. Yes Firefox, looking at you. And some things like Gajim, an XMPP client, don’t even work because the machine starts to swap so heavily that every TCP connection times out. Again and again. I have to explore whether the Lemote laptop performs any better. It’s MIPS after all. And according to Wikipedia the CPU alone draws 15W.
Anyway, the conference itself was good and I felt that it was bringing together people nicely. I hope that it relevant Korean businesses are happy, too. We will have to see though whether any measurable output has been generated.
The reactions to my talk about GNOME 3.8 were, as already mentioned, positive. To my surprise I have to say. I was still a bit tired and jetlagged, but from talking to people afterwards I know that I inspired some folks to take a closer look at GNOME. You can find my slides here.
I found a surprising large number of other talks interesting, too. Unfortunately, the aforementioned laptop died while taking notes so I can’t provided a nice summary. The most interesting thing I found was a talk about seafile. A Dropbox-like tool which sounds really good. But to be ready they have to fix some design problems like depending on a local webserver or not using established authentication and encryption protocols (think SSH).
I’m happy for the GNOME.Asia. May it prosper in the future. I hope we can gain some more sponsors for future editions of the event and also for GNOME. Asotherpeoplealreadystated: I’d like to thank the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my attendance at the conference. I’d also like to thank the conference sponsors for their support, including NIPA, Lemote, LG, Google, Linux Pilot, ONOFFMIX and Bloter.net.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this year’s DFN Workshop which happened to be an anniversary as the event turned 20. Needless to say that I didn’t make all 20 Well, I did a fewanyway.
The keynote was surprisingly political. Marcus J. Ranum (Tenable Network Security) talked about Cyberwar – A Matter of Logistics and Privilege and made witty and thoughtful points. So he asked questions such as whether Stuxnet was an act of terrorism and whether its victims could sue the US to get their damages reimbursed. Highly interesting subject, highly interesting speaker.
Jan Ole Malchow presented “distPaste”, a HTML 5 based webapp that uses all the browsers to store data. So a distributed storage. Might be related to the fun projectFillDisk.com.
Jens Liebchen from the awesome Redteam Pentesting did again a nice presentation this year. They got a new “Multi Function Printer” like a Canon C5051i (so a huge thing…) and had certain requirements regarding its security. He presented a threat model and shared some insights he gained while dealing with the vendor, and, more importantly, after having analysed the machine himself. It turns out that the device has a regular hard drive and runs some flavour of Linux with a big BLOB for their services. However, data was found to be spread over the partitions even though they bought a licence for “secure deletion” of data. They, rightfully, did not expect to find traces of their print or scan jobs. He mentioned that the security properties of such devices were not assessed yet. So there are loads of toys to play with.
Also funny was the work of Benjamin Kahler and Steffen Wendzel who did “Wardriving against building automation“. Basically, the question was how easy it is to break into a network and remote control the building, i.e. open doors and windows. Turns out, there are standard products which are not well secured and the deployment is usually not done properly either, so that network boundaries either don’t exist or can be passed easily.
The security of Android-App’s SSL/TLS usage was presented by Matthew Smith. They examined many many “Apps”, decompiled them and statically analysed how well they handle various conditions when building up a TLS connection. Apparently, many programs just do not care about the security properties of their TLS connection so that they just disable the verification of the certificate chain. The model is said to be too complex and too burdensome to set up during development. They also recommended to introduce a new privilege, namely sending data unencryptely. So that a user could select that an application must not transfer data as plain text.
Besides listening to the talks and chatting to people, I tried to get on the wireless in the hotel. Turns out, they interfere with your traffic, i.e. they block everything and redirect your web traffic to present you a landing page from which you are supposed to log in to the gratis wireless. The credentials to be entered were the room number and the last name of a guest of that room. Well, given the speakers and attendees list (or some knowledge of popular names in the region) it seems easy enough to just poke some data in and hope for the best. Or, instead of doing that manually, have a program doing that for you. Voila, je vous presente “petitelysee”. A simple Python script to try to log in to a landing page. As I’ve said, it’s the result of three hours or so work. So it’s not very nicely done and I obviously didn’t try it out. It has just been coded in a way that I *think* might work.
Phew, I’m excited about FOSDEM and also exhausted. We had a nice GNOME presence with a lovely booth, many helpers and nice shirts. Thanks to everyone involved who made it such a success.
Our current T-shirt was designed last minute by Andreas, printed last second by an awesome printing shop, and I like it very much. Especially the girly shirts have a nice colour. The shirt accompanies our current Friends of GNOME campaign about Privacy and Security.
In case you haven’t heard: GNOME is raising money to make GNOME more privacy aware, i.e. to allow to you to use your computer anonymously or leave as few traces behind as possible. Also security is a vital part, so maybe the money will be spent on enabling the chat to transfer files encryptedly or better OpenPGP integration into GNOME. If you want to support these goals, consider becoming a Friend of GNOME. Also, if you only want one of those shirts, become a Friend of GNOME, because at a certain level, you will be eligible to get hold of one of those t-shirts
Anyway, I couldn’t attend a single talk at FOSDEM, because I was so busy with the booth and with maintaining relationships with friends from other Free Software projects, i.e. OpenSuSE. They had, again, a very nice presence and “The Old Toad”, a nice German beer, which is really needed since the Belgian beer is barely drinkable
As for the GNOME night out, the GNOME Beer Event, it was seriously crowded. While we occupied the upper floor of a bar the last year, we had two floors this year. We did advertise it. Well enough it seems. We went through the building we had our booth in and taped loads of paper onto the walls and pillars. Not only beer event ads but also posters about GNOME Outreach program for Women or the fact that we had T-Shirts on sale.
Our stand was probably the second most beautiful after the OpenSuSE one. Our T-Shirts were aligned up nicely and we sold quite a few of them. Preliminary statistics suggest that we managed to convince people to buy something between 100 and 150 t-shirts. Next time we better try to provide more girly shirts in larger sizes as they ran out quickly. The KDE folks did have many girly shirts but overall their booth didn’t seem to be as well run as the other years.
While the booth generally went well, our interaction story with the people isn’t great. So far, we have a demo machine in the middle of the table which makes it really hard to do stuff together or to show off things, because you can’t really look at what the person is doing neither can you easily show stuff. So maybe putting the machine on either edge of the table would help.
I’m looking very forward to next year’s FOSDEM, hoping that we will have, again, a great set of people willing to spend their time standing there for GNOME.
Let me recap the talks held at FOSS.in a bit. It’s a bit late, I’m sorry for that, but the festive season was a bit demanding, timewise.
The conference started off smoothly with a nice Indian breakfast, coffee and good chats. The introductory talk by Atul went well and by far not as long as we expected it to be. Atul was obviously not as energetic as he used to be. I think he grew old and does visibly suffer from his illness. So a big round of applause and a bigger bucket of respect for pulling this event off nonetheless.
The first talk of the day was given by Gopal and he talked about “Big Data”. He started off with a definition and by claiming that what is considered to be big data now, is likely not to be considered big data in the future. We should think about 1GB RAM now in our laptops. Everybody ran 1GB or more in their laptops. But 10 years ago that would not have been the case. The only concept, he said, that survived was “Divide and Conquer”. That is to break up a problem into smaller sub problems which then can be run on many processing units in parallel. Hence distributed data and distributed processing was very important.
The prime example of big data was to calculate the count of unique items in a large set, i.e. compare the vocabulary of two books. You split up the books into words to find the single words and then count every one of them to find out how often it was present. You could also preprocess the words with a “stemming filter” to get rid of forms and flexions. If your data was big enough, “sort | uniq” wouldn’t do it, because “sort” would use up all your memory. To do it successfully anyway, you can split your data up, do the sorting and then merge the sort result. He was then explaining how to split up various operations and merge them together. Basically, it was important to split and merge every operation possible to scale well. And that was exactly what “Hadoop” does. In fact, it’s got several components that facilitate dealing with all that: “splitter”, “mapper”, “combiner”, “partitioner” , “shuffle fetch” and a “reducer”. However, getting data into Hadoop, was painful, he said.
Lydia from KDE talked about “Wikidata – The foundation to build your apps on“. She introduced her talk with a problem: “Which drugs are approved for pregnancy in the US?”. She said, that the Wikipedia couldn’t really answer this question easily, because maintaining such a list would be manual labour which is not really fascinating. One would have to walk through every article about a drug and try to find the information whether it was approved or not and then condense it to a list. She was aiming at, I guess, Wikipedia not really storing sematic data.
Wikidata wants to be similar to Wikimedia Commons, but for data of the world’s knowledge. It seems to that missing semantic storage which is also able to store information about the sources of the information that confirm correctness. Something like the GDP of a country or length of a river would be prime examples of use cases for Wikidata. Eventually this will increase the number of editors because the level to contribute will be lowered significantly. Also every Wikipedia language can profit immediately because it can be easily hooked up.
I just had a quick peek at Drepper’s workshop on C++11, because it was very packed. Surprisingly many people wanted to listen to what he had to say about the new C++. Since I was not really present I can’t really provide details on the contents.
Lenny talked about politics in Free Software projects. As the title was “Pushing Big Changes“, the talk revolved around issues around acquiring and convincing people to share your vision and have your project accepted by the general public. He claimed that the Internet is full of haters and that one needed a thick skin to survive the flames on the Internet. Very thick in fact.
An interesting point he made was, that connections matter. Like personal relationships with relevant people and being able to influence them. And he didn’t like it. That, and the talk in general, was interesting, because I haven’t really heard anyone talking about that so openly. Usually, everybody praises Free Software communities as being very open, egalitarian and what not. But not only rumour has it, that this is rarely the case. Anyway, The bigger part of the talk was quite systemd centric though and I don’t think it’s applicable to many other projects.
They had a few points to make. Firstly: Do not store business data (as opposed to business logic) in Puppet modules. Secondly: Put data in “PuppetDB” or use “Hiera”. Thirdly: Reuse modules from either the “PuppetForge” or Github. About writing your own modules, they recommended to write generic enough code with parametrised classes to support many more configurations. Also, they want you to stick to the syntax style guide.
Sebastian from the KDE fame talked about KDE Plasma and how to make us succeed on mobile targets such as mobile phones or tablets. Me, not knowing “Plasma” at all, was interested to learn that Plasma was “a technology that makes it easy to build modern user interfaces”. He briefly mentioned some challenges such as running on multiple devices with or without touchscreens. He imagines the operating system to be provided by Mer and then run Plasma on top. He said that there was a range of devices that were supported at the moment. The developer story was also quite good with “Plasma Quick” and the Mer SDK.
He tried to have devices manufactured by Chinese companies and told some stories about the problems involved. One of them being that “Freedom” (probably as in Software Freedom) was not in their vocabulary. So getting free drivers was a difficult, if not impossible, task. Another issue was the size of orders, so you can’t demand anything with a order of a size of 10000 units, he said. But they seem to be able to pull it off anyway! I’m very eager to see their devices.
The last talk, which was the day’s keynote, went quite well and basically brought art and code together. He introduced us to Processing, some interesting programming IDE to produce mainly visual arts. He praised how Free Software (although he referred to it as Open Source) made everybody more creative and how the availability of art transformed the art landscape. It was interesting to see how he used computers to express his creativity and unfortunately, his time was up quite quickly.
Drepper, giving quite a few talks, also gave a talk about parallel programming. The genesis of problem was the introduction of multiple processors into a machine. It got worse when threads were introduced where they share the address space. It allowed for easy data sharing between threads but also made corrupting other threads very very easy. Also in subtle ways that you would not anticipate like that all threads share one working directory and if one thread changed it, it would be changed for all the threads of the process. Interestingly, he said that threads are not something that the end user shall use, but rather a tool for the system to exploit parallelism. The system shall provide better means for the user to use parallelism.
He praised Haskell for providing very good means for using threads. It is absolutely side effect free and even stateful stuff is modelled side effect free. So he claimed that it is a good research tool, but that it is not as efficient as C or C++. He also praised Futures (with OpenMP) where the user doesn’t have to care about the details about the whole threading but leave it up to the system. You only specify what can run in parallel and the system does it for you. Finally, he introduced into C++11 features that help using parallelism. There are various constructs in the language that make it easy to use futures, including anonymous functions and modelling thread dependencies. I didn’t like them all too much, but I think it’s cool that the language allows you to use these features.
There was another talk from Mozilla’s IT given by Shyam and he talked about DNSSec. He started with a nice introduction to DNSSec. It was a bit too much, I feel, but it’s a quite complicated topic so I appreciate all the efforts he made. The main point that I took away was to not push the DS too soon, because if you don’t have signed zones yet, resolvers don’t trust your answers and your domain is offline.
Olivier talked about GStreamer 1.0. He introduced into the GStreamer technology by telling that its concept is around elements, which are put in bins and that elements have source and sink pads that you connect. New challenges were DSPs, different processing units like GPUs. The new 1.0 included various new features better locking support that makes it easier for languages like Python or better memory management with GstBufferPool.
I couldn’t really follow the rest of the talks as I was giving one myself and was busy talking to people afterwards. It’s really amazing how interested people are and to see the angle they ask questions from.
As reported, FOSS.in took place this year, in Bangalore, India. I was fortunate enough to be invited again to this leading Free Software event in India, if not Asia.
The event hosted many very good people and it was a real pleasure to be surrounded by smart folks that love Free Software. It’s a real honour to be invited and speak on the same stage as these people. And it’s an honour to be able to talk about Free Software in a so called developing country and try to form the next generation of Free Software hackers.
There were many talks and I think I will follow up with a separate post about that.
My first talk went really well I think (others do seem to think so, too). The audience seemed to be genuinely interested and I enjoyed being on stage. At some stage, I need to revamp my slides though. I usually go with TeXed slides, but for the GNOME ones, I keep using LibreOffice. One of the minor problems is, that I want to play videos from within the presentation. I can do that (more or less) with LibreOffice and PDF can also do it. But this is not working with my version of Evince
The second talk was a surprise for me, because I was told just a few hours in advance that I need to give another one. Apparently someone couldn’t come and the slot needed to be filled. I jumped in and did my show. I was still a bit hung over from the night before, but it went off well. Except for the fact that my laptop went off the presenter desk. It’s a bit shaky still, so if you happen to have a spare machine that’s decent enough, let me know. Anyway, I have to say, that I dislike the fact that I was told just a few hours in advance that I had to give another talk. But I appreciated being the one that is considered to entertain the people the most. Also very interesting was that I sat on a panel that Lenny moderated. I remember well when Lenny was asked to do that for the first time last year in Japan. He does it well and again, I felt very honoured to be invited to sit next to all those important people, eventually being considered being one of them. However, it appears that there no videos yet.
As for the rest of the trip, we went to Sri Lanka and did a round trip there. An interesting country indeed. Very developed. Not as affordable as expected but still very good value for us whities.
I hope that the FOSS.in team manages to pull it off again next year. I really believe that the event impacts the development of Free Software in the region. And without such an event, great opportunities are lost.
As usual, thanks to FOSS.in and the GNOME Foundation for supporting me to go there.
As so many people did, I attended GUADEC in A Conrunha *yay*. Overall, the conference was well organised. The local team was really committed and helped us a lot with all our matters. Little details like providing fruits, some sweets and chocolate for the hacking areas made everything just nice.
They also were very careful about keeping the news updated and the GUADEC website interesting. So they publishedinterviews, photos and announcements regularly so one had an incentive to browse the website often. Very well and smartly done.
While I didn’t attend that many talks, I do think that the first keynote stood out. Jake Appelbaum gave a really inspiring talk about Tor and GNOME. He explained Tor and why it is important to provide anonymous internet access not only for wrongdoers but more so for regular people! For example, he mentioned that he had to use Tor on the venue because the WiFi would block SSH. So to get uncensored access to the network, he would use Tor. Another example was to not tell Google where you are. You authenticate with your credentials, but not from your IP, so you only share your location if you really want to. He had very clear proposals for GNOME and hope to be able to share the list soon. I, personally, would like to see us communicate very clearly, why we spy on our website users using Piwik.
The second keynote was a bit annoying, as she was referring to “open source” all the time although she really meant Free Software. Anyway, at the end of the day, I think her message was that other people exist that want a Free society and that we should not feel alone.
Between the talks, one could have a great time talking to people, especially during lunch. For not talking so much, the WiFi worked pretty well all the time. Quite amazing actually. I am also amazed by the effort people put in to things for GNOME. The locals did, i.e. put some GNOME feet stickers on the ground or hung a daily sheet on the wall to indicate today’s timetable. Daniel created an awesome Yearbook for the GSoC and OPW students and Andreas created an annual report. Thanks for working so hard on cool GNOME things!
It also happened that we had our first in person board meeting and I was very excited about that. We were quite productive during the rather long meeting. But afterwards I was quite exhausted. I guess it was the same for everyone involved. I am also quite happy to see two strong proposals for a GUADEC next year. It will be great.
Also thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel to this year’s GUADEC!
I realised again, though, that I don’t like the Madrid airport and Iberia all too much. It’s a huge airport with no clear way indications, too few benches and power, and annoyingly loud and pointless passenger announcements. But well, it seems to be the cheapest in Spain…
Another huge round of “thank-yous” must be given to the i18n team. It is just incredible how they manage to cater for so many languages in usually close to no time. I have met many people at conferences or exhibitions that mentioned that if there was a success story to GNOME, it would be the translations. And the very fact that we get mails and bugreports in non english languages shows the success of the team, namely giving a very native feel to the users. To show our appreciation, we went for dinner and had a very good evening with discussions, food and wine. Again: Thanks!
PS: Here the whishlist:
Empathy should support OTR and it should be enabled by default (like adium)
I heard this so many times, I nearly stopped asking for feedback at all!
ZRTP/SRTP/TLS for all VoIP services (forward secrecy and strong crypto)
Tor controller extension for gnome-shell – why settle for only having
What if we could contextually launch applications anonymously? A 'Launch
Torified' context for applications (perhaps with torsocks?)-
NAT? Who cares? How about 'single-click file sharing over hidden services?
Decentralized instant messaging – resist traffic analysis (Federated
XMPP HS? For extra fun add decentralized and anonymous offline message
Ability to configure wireless networks before connecting to them
VPN 'automatically connect' checkbox should work and no traffic should
leak before the VPN comes up.
VPN connections must fail closed.
Ability to override DNS settings for all connections.
macchanger support in network-manager
Random MAC addresses per connection or per if-up
Ability to use a Tor DNS resolver on unpriviliged port
Normal modem support
Full Tor support in NetworkManager
Think of it as a free VPN
Full Guest mode in Gnome/GDM that uses Tor by default for all network
traffic – don't just refuse to write data to the disk, refuse to write
information to the bare network too
After it didn’t happen last year, it will this year! I’m talking about FOSS.in, the premier Free Software conference in India, if not Asia. I’m very pleased to see that this event managed to pull it off again. Also, everything seems to be very much in time this year, so I expect things to go down smoothly.
If you have something cool to share and want to attract a highly motivated audience, which doesn’t only want to listen, but also to do something, then you should consider submitting something. The FOSS.in 2012 takes place, again, in Bangelore, India, from 2012-11-29 until 2012-12-01.
I had the great pleasure to be invited to GNOME.Asia taking place in Hong Kong and to give a talk there.
The first day started off with a very nice introduction by the local organizing committee. It is amazing how much energy they invest in Free Software, especially in GNOME. I think it’s outstanding given that I don’t see that many contributers from eastern Asia and that I was told several times that the attitude in Free Software communities is discomforting, at best, to people from eastern Asian cultures. But maybe it’s because of GNOME’s rather friendly community these people feel comfortable in GNOME. Let’s keep it that way.
The main talks were given by westerners and I hope we (the westerners) could encourage the audience to believe in themselves and in GNOME. We, I and my old GNOME friend Andre Klapper, were talking about how to start contributing to GNOME as a member of the Bugsquad. We already talked together a couple of GUADECs back. Our slides can be found here. With probably 75% of the conference attendees the talk was comparately well attended and I think it went well, too. We had a good and very unexpected discussion afterwards, too. That was very refreshing.
The second day was filled with talks, too, although I didn’t find it as interesting as the first one. Mainly because I couldn’t understand many talks. The language barrier was quite high for me as my Chinese isn’t all too good While I do appreciate the Free Software communities for enabling everyone to have access to computing, i.e. by translating the software into every language in the universe. I do sometimes wonder whether we actually fragment ourselves and should rather concentrate on improving the actual code. Especially since we are an international community having interational conferences. If there were isolated communities, it is crystal clear that translating everything into these languages is a major bonus. But since we eventually want to talk to each other and support each other, the translations are a bit of a hurdle to overcome. But this point is very moot because these people probably wouldn’t even know about Free Software, not to mention want to exchange thoughts, if the software wasn’t translated in first place.
There was actually one talk about Asian Women’s participation in Free Software Projects. But the talk disqualified itself quite early by bringing the common biological argument of different brains and that thus women could not code (sic!).
I enjoyed the stay in Hong Kong so much that I decided to append two weeks of traveling through China. It was very hot and humid and next time I’ll try to carry less things with me (although I do travel very lightly already).
Thanks a lot to the GNOME Foundation for making this possible for me. I also think that it helped to foster Free Software and GNOME in Hong Kong, China and Asia.
At this time of the year, there is a special thing happening in Berlin. It’s the annual LinuxTag, a mix of conference and expo. And again, we (GNOME) had a booth.
We shared the space with our friends from Qt and KDE, as we already did for last FOSDEM, and we got along quite well. It’s good to see friends again and again.
The critics from last events, i.e. FOSDEM and LinuxTag, were incorporated. So I did get enough tape, glue, T-Shirts and even a rollup-display *yay* Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for providing resources.
However, compared to last year we had less material, because only one EventsBox was available and we had less furniture for the booth, because LinuxTag lacks sponsors. So we had to deal with non ideal situations, but well, that’s how it always goes, no? And as we are engineers, we managed quite well, I’d say.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have any GNOME talk, so this is something that is definitely to improve for next year. You can already think about cool things to present in lovely Berlin. Interestingly enough, the computer, we used to demo GNOME, was very stable. Obviously, I wanted to show the freshest GNOME release, which was 3.4, but so far no distribution had a stable release which included the newest GNOME. So I used a Fedora 17 Beta and well, some things crashed (reliably) but it was still very smooth. The webcam was the most annoying piece of hardware. But well, it was stolen quite early so we didn’t have to bother too much about it So yeah, if you happen to have a spare webcam that works with a recent Linux and Cheese, we’d happily incorporate that into our EventsBox.
Generally though, people were interested in the newest developments and we had nice chats about the past and the future of GNOME. Unlike last year, we probably did not convince anybody to go to GUADEC (as it’s now in Spain and not in Berlin) We also couldn’t convice too many people to buy T-Shirts. The dark green one from second last FOSDEM were quite popular but as they are old, we only had 4 to sell.
A big thank you to all the people helping out at the booth and of course to LinuxTag for providing us with the opportunity to present ourselves.
The talks I’ve seen, which were not many, as I’ve spent much time at the booth, were not really exciting. I’ve seen Ulrich Drepper talking about Lock Free Data Structures on modern CPUs which was, well, a bit slow for me. He seems to be very knowledgeable but I think he presumed the audience not to be. Anyway, apparently modern Intel CPUs can do transactional memory and you can even now write code that uses that feature in the future while staying compatible with today’s CPUs. You need a new enough toolchain though.
Some other guy talked about forking. I was curious but he delivered his story about forking Nagios only. He didn’t mention any problematic fact at all and was mainly concerned about establishing an own brand.
I followed “Distro Battle” for a short period of time. Basically, five contestants were about to solve some problems a user could face with her distribution. So Mageia, Fedora, Debian, Kubuntu and OpenSuSE with their respective representative should solve problems like “install this printer” or “use this 3G USB dongle”. They had the chance to introduce themselves first. Mageia was running LXDE, Fedora had a GNOME 3.2, Debian a GNOME 2 and Kubuntu and OpenSuSE were running some recent KDE version. The Kubuntu representative introduced her distro by showing how easy it was to install the whole non-free packages and by stating this would be the very first thing you wanted to do on your fresh install. Funnily enough, Kubuntu self-destructed with a reboot into memcheck. Apparently, she aborted the install at a very unpleasant moment while there was no kernel ready. So the GRUB menu didn’t have any other option than memcheck. The non-GNOME desktops failed getting the 3G dongle to work while NetworkManager sorted that out on the GNOME desktops. The printing failed completely in OpenSuSE because they used their Zast-Tool; and Debian had a minor issue with ZeroConf not working.
So it’s quite a funny concept this “Distro Battle” although nowadays the GNU/Linux base is rather streamlined, isn’t it? So it doesn’t matter much which distro you use in order to get a printer or 3G dongle running unless you try to implement your own stuff.