(Für die deutschsprachige Version hier klicken.)
I have been involved in free software for 18 years and am the executive director of The Document Foundation (TDF), the non-profit foundation behind LibreOffice.
My first contact with open source was during my school time, when in 2001 several classmates and me jointly developed a school network based on open source, including central user management and software deployment.
Shortly thereafter, in 2004, I got in touch with the OpenOffice.org community at that time, where I was soon able to volunteer as lead of the German and international marketing projects as well as to help with the infrastructure. In the non-profit support association OpenOffice.org Deutschland e.V., from 2006 on I became involved first as a youth leader, then as a board member and a later on supervisory board member, which should turn out to be a helpful experience for the years to come. One of the strengths of open source projects is that everyone can easily try out different areas in order to learn out about their interests and strengths.
In 2010, I was one of the co-founders of the LibreOffice project and then, until 2014, the first chairman of the board of the non-profit The Document Foundation (TDF), whose statutes I co-authored. Since March 2014, I have been the executive director of the foundation and am responsible for the daily operations with a donation volume of more than 1.3 million euros per year. I also regularly deal with international trademark, copyright and various tax topics. Today, the foundation has hundreds of contributors spread around the globe – the international cooperation and the insight into all the different cultures and ways of life are one of the most valuable experiences for me.
As a professional journalist, I have so far published over 130 articles in print and online magazines worldwide on topics such as free software, open standards, and legal issues, and previously advised several companies on their open source strategy, including how to publish their own software as open source and how to build a community. I also worked for a law firm in IT and media law.
Together with the Munich Café Netzwerk, an institution of the local youth service, we started the open source meetings and the open source cooking.
Since 1992, after a five-year stay abroad, I have been back to my hometown of Kaufbeuren. I am a proud uncle, I enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Allgäu region, which I also like to photograph, and I like enjoy to listen to music on good headphones.
My interest in computers and technology started when I was young. As a pupil I gathered experience in programming and was proud when some of my programs made it onto the CDs of various computer magazines. Reading my own name in an article was something special – at that time I had no idea that I would also be a writer myself later on.
Much more exciting to me than playing games or programming, however, was the possibility to connect computers over a network. In 1991 I made my first experiences with mailboxes, from 1995 on I was active as a FidoNet point for a while and from summer 1996 on I was also on the internet. By a lucky coincidence, in July 1999 I got a server, which I could host in a friend’s datacenter. My first Linux was a SUSE version from July 1994, but servers were still an unknown territory for me…
The topic of computer networks kept me excited also during my graduation years. When my school finally got a DSL connection, but didn’t have a suitable router at hand, as a team we developed a proper Linux system together, starting in October 2001. The router was simply called “the cat”, because it “was purring like a cat”, it worked without any problems. By the way, my username “floeff”, which has also been my nickname ever since, comes from this time.
Even after I graduated from school, I continued to volunteer there for a long time, and by the summer of 2005, as a team we had revamped the entire network. There was now a central user administration with LDAP, software distribution, a router, a Squid proxy including parental controls (which made some pupils quite unhappy), a Samba file server, a PDF print server and an iptables firewall – all based on free and open source software. The system and its web interface for students and teachers, which was programmed by the system administrator at the time, are still being further developed and in use by more than 1,000 people, plus we gave courses on its operation in the school’s internal teacher training. Word spread quickly, and so I was also able to support another local school with the installation of a proxy server and helped my hometown with the installation of a Linux server for an online city map.
All this was mainly possible because the software we used was not only freely available as open source, but also because the required knowledge was shared in many howtos, blogposts and forums – and many helpful community members patiently answered questions on the mailing lists. Soon, I found the idea of open source more and more exciting. Of course, for me as a pupil, one of the main reasons also was that I could simply get started at home and replicate the system we used at school. However, I didn’t yet understand the really important ideas behind open source.
That changed less or more overnight when I switched from StarOffice to OpenOffice.org in 2002, and there was more and more mention of a community in which volunteers were also involved. One of the strengths of these communities is that everyone can easily explore different areas to learn about their interests and skills, without facing too complex hierarchies. I was very fortunate to meet people who took me by the hand, and when an IT trade show took place in Munich in October 2004, I really wanted to be there.
I still had little idea of OpenOffice.org as a software and was a newbie in trade show planning. However, that was not a blocker – on the contrary, thanks to the help of dear colleagues, I enjoyed it so much that I became more and more active in the community. From May 2005 on I was responsible for the German-speaking marketing, from July 2007 on also for the international marketing project at OpenOffice.org and I was also active in the infrastructure project.
However, the more activities the German-speaking OpenOffice.org community carried out, the more we missed a legal entity that could collect donations, handle insurances or sign contracts. Therefore, in 2005, together with many community members, we founded the non-profit association OpenOffice.org Deutschland e.V., later renamed to Freies Office Deutschland e.V., in which I was active from 2006 – initially as youth leader, from 2008 on in the board of directors, and from 2012 on in the supervisory board. This association and its creation of a foundation were to hold some interesting surprises for my future…
Besides my activity in the community, I continued to work on my infrastructure projects and was always grateful when I could find good tutorials. I also tried to document my own work for the general public. Then, a colleague from the community helped me to get my first publishing contract in summer 2006 – my first article was about software distribution and central configuration of OpenOffice.org in Windows networks. I learned all about this topic through my volunteer work at the school.
I quickly realized that writing was not only a convenient way to finance my studies, but also a great opportunity to share knowledge. As a professional journalist, I have so far written over 130 articles on topics such as free software, open standards and legal issues in print and online magazines worldwide – for example c’t and iX, T3N, IT-Administrator, opensource.com, Linux-Magazine, Linux-User, Admin-Magazine, Ubuntu-User and EasyLinux. I also gained my first experience in blogging. Holding the first magazine with my own article in my hand was an incredible feeling – this Linux-User issue has a very special place today.
The intersection of technology and law kept me busy also during the following years. For a law firm in IT and media law, I wrote several legal professional articles, e.g. on subscription traps, spam and virus filtering, or the licensing model of free software. At a large commercial law firm I learned a lot about copyright law and unfair competition, in the context of seminar papers I dealt with the use of a sign as a trademark using the example of Google AdWords and I also wrote about development, licensing, liability, warranty and other legal questions about open source software.
Because of my experience in community work, from summer 2008 on I was able to advise several companies on their open source strategy, including the release of their own software as open source and the creation of a community, but also on the choice of the right infrastructure. My first “Community Handbook” was also written in this context.
Then there was finally a change in the OpenOffice.org community. In September 2010, we founded the LibreOffice project, which at that time was still run by our association Freies Office Deutschland e.V. and for whose server infrastructure I was responsible for the first three and a half years. The idea of creating an independent “foundation”, which had been circulating for many years, was taking concrete shape and the idea of The Document Foundation (TDF) was born.
While in Germany we had the association, and there were local organizations in other countries as well, we lacked an international entity that was responsible for the project as such and could, for example, hold trademarks and domains as trustee. Due to our special history, we wanted to anchor strong rights and guarantees for all contributors, so after comparing options in several countries, we decided for a non-profit foundation (“Stiftung”) under German law, whose very special statutes our lawyer Mike Schinagl and I drafted together over many months. Openness, transparency and the prevention of conflicts of interest are just some of the dedicated elements of these statutes, which contain an association-like element with the board of trustees, which is appointed on a quarterly basis, and by that de facto establishes a new type of foundation.
The Document Foundation was recognized by the Berlin supervisory authority in February 2012, and I had the honor of being its first chairman of the board until 2014, when I was appointed executive director in March 2014, responsible for the daily operations. In addition to managing the foundation’s projects and budget, I regularly deal with international trademark, copyright and various tax topics. In addition to a small business part, these days we have a donation volume of more than 1,3 million euros per year. LibreOffice is now the leading free office suite, available in 112 languages, with 210 million users worldwide.
Definitely by far the most beautiful aspect of an open source community is to work with hundreds of contributors who are all spread around the globe. Already as a small child, I was able to grow up in an international environment for five years. Since that time, I have also been fluent in English. Today, the international cooperation and the insight into all the different cultures and ways of living are one of the most valuable experiences for me, for which I am very grateful.
I really enjoy to share and pass on experiences and knowledge. Besides publishing on my blog, which I have been running since 2015, I love to give presentations and workshops as well as interviews and to participate in podcasts. On one hand I talk about technical and legal topics, such as setting up mail servers or configuring routers and firewalls and data protection matters, and on the other hand on all the things I have been able to learn by working in the community. My favorite talks are “Ten thoughts on community leadership” and “What do open source and cooking have in common?“.
I support the idea of open source and free software, but I feel comfortable on all platforms and use Linux, macOS and Windows, as well as Android and iOS. For networking, I use OPNsense, previously OpenWRT, and over many years I have gained experience with network components from Ubiquiti and MikroTik. On the latter, I have also published a German-language beginner’s course and a technical article. Since May 2020 I also use FreeBSD as server operating system.
For more than twenty years I have been volunteering for two schools, which I support, among other things, in running the web and mail servers for over 300 users. In 2009, together with a friend, I founded the Open-Source-Treffen (open source meetings) at the Munich Café Netzwerk and the year after I launched the Open Source Cooking. Since 2011 I am a Fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and a member of LinuxTag e.V., meanwhile German Unix User Group e.V. (GUUG), since 2012 I am a member of the board of trustees of The Document Foundation (TDF) and since 2015 a founding member of Open-Source-Treffen e.V.
Since 1992 I live again in my birth town Kaufbeuren. I am a proud uncle, I enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Allgäu area, which I also like to photograph, and I like to listen to music on good headphones.