June 11, 2012

Best Of LinuxCon Japan 2012

Here are some of the highlights from this year's edition of LinuxCon Japan, the largest yet with some 650 attendees. There were lots of sessions beyond those touched on here, as well as a lively hallway track—not to mention the lunch, dinner, and drinks tracks. One suspects that next year's conference will be bigger and better still. 

LinuxCon Japan attendees 2012

Open Source at Apple

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin kicked things off at LinuxCon Japan last week with a look at how and why companies and their developers can leverage open source software. Linux, he said, "showed the world a better way to innovate", because it created more than just software, it created an idea. That idea is that "all of us are smarter than any one of us" and by collaborating, we can unlock that idea to make new products more quickly.

A slide with a half-dozen phones—all turned off—demonstrated his thesis that software is the differentiator; "if you are going to create great software, you must master open source," he said. Zemlin surprisingly pointed to Apple, which uses open source in every product that it makes. Normally we think of Apple as "the most closed company in the world", he said, but it is actually pretty good at open source.

If you look at the legal notices inside the iPhone, you will find the text of the GPL. Apple uses BSD, WebKit, CUPS, and other FOSS projects in its products and clearly understands how to use open source software to be competitive. And that is what the conference is all about, he said, to show attendees how to make the most of FOSS for their projects, which means collaborating with the community for maximal advantage.

Tizen Customizes UX

Zemlin's opening was followed by several keynotes that looked at various aspects of that collaboration, how it works, and what it means. Dr. Kiyohito Nagata, senior VP at NTT DOCOMO, spoke about how his mobile carrier company plans to use the Tizen mobile operating system, why it will lead to more customer choice, and, ultimately, more customer satisfaction. Tizen will allow carriers to customize the user experience while sitting atop a stable HTML 5 base that will provide portability of apps between different phone hardware.

Format Key to Patch Acceptance

Greg Kroah-Hartman provided a perspective on the development side of the equation by looking at common patterns in kernel patch submissions that lead to maintainer grumpiness. There are fairly easy steps that submitters can take to ensure their patch gets the review it deserves. As a maintainer, any patch he accepts becomes something that he may need to maintain down the road, so it’s in his self-interest to ignore patches, he said. But, by ensuring that the patches are properly created and formatted, contributors can expect a review of the code from Kroah-Hartman and others, along with a path for their submission into the mainline.

Before introducing the next speaker, Zemlin said that he and Kroah-Hartman had been traveling in Asia recently and realized just how much kernel code there is at various companies that has yet to be submitted upstream. A lot of that is because the developers have not yet figured out how to submit a patch and to work with the kernel development community. The Linux Foundation plans to help with that education, Zemlin said, to help unlock all of that code and make the Linux kernel better, which will, in turn, make for better Linux-based products.

Red Hat on the Cloud

The next speaker was Brian Stevens, CTO and VP of worldwide engineering at Red Hat, who looked at a bit of history for the company, as well as its cloud-focused plans for the future. One thing that made Red Hat so successful early on was the value proposition that Linux offered. "It was so cost disruptive to our customers, that they didn't even believe it," he said. It was also hardware-agnostic, so customers no longer needed to be wedded to a single hardware vendor, which was a powerful selling point and one that he sees continuing in the cloud world. Efforts like oVirt, OpenShift, OpenStack, and others will provide vendor-neutral solutions for cloud provisioning and management that will avoid lock-in and allow customers to choose (and switch) their vendors as needed.

Technical Talks

After a morning of keynotes, there were plenty of technical presentations in multiple tracks. For example, Frank Rowand of Sony talked about the status of the realtime kernel patches and looked at the slow reduction in the size of that patch set over time. Ric Wheeler of Red Hat described the state of Linux storage support from the perspective of building Linux-based storage servers. There is a lot to like in the storage realm, but there is still plenty to do as well, particularly in the area of management of storage and devices, he said.

LTSI for Embedded Developers

On Thursday, NEC's Tsugikazu Shibata opened the day with a look at the Long-term Support Initiative (LTSI), which is an effort to create a common ground for embedded developers by choosing and supporting a particular kernel for at least 18 months. The chosen kernel gets some additional features beyond the mainline and the first LTSI kernel, based on 3.0, was released right around the time of Shibata's talk. The next version will be based on 3.4, so he suggested that attendees consider basing their upcoming products on that kernel.

Distro Update

One of several panels at LinuxCon Japan was the Distribution Panel where the Linux Foundation’s Brian Warner moderated a discussion between representatives of several major distributions. Alan Clark of SUSE, Bdale Garbee (of HP, but representing Debian), David Mandala of Canonical, and Ric Wheeler of Red Hat, had a lively discussion on the similarities and differences between their respective distributions.

ARM support, especially for the servers that are coming but also for hand-held devices, was one topic, with most seeing that as a growth area for Linux distributions. Desktops vs. servers, virtualization and the cloud, Debian as a unique "non-commercial" distribution, and upcoming distribution features, were all discussed and debated.

Open Compliance Summit

The Open Compliance mini-summit also took place on Thursday. It had sessions throughout the day, ending with a panel discussion on the issues of compliance, particularly in Asia. Shane Coughlan of Opendawn moderated, while the panelists consisted of Akira Takao from Panasonic, Yoshio Sonoda from JVC Kenwood, Jong Baek Park of the Korea Open Source Software Law Center, Florece Ko of Open Source Software Foundry Taiwan, and Armijn Hemel from Tjaldur Software Governance Solutions.

The participants agreed that one of the biggest challenges is the education of companies, which is complicated by the fact that it is hard to find the right people to talk to within the companies sometimes. Collaboration between the different companies and organizations represented on the panel was clearly seen as a route to helping solve that problem, though.

Geek Appeal

One of the presentations with the most "geek appeal" was Shane Coughlan and Karl Lattimer's introduction to the OpenRelief project, which featured a robot plane. While the plane provided eye candy (as well as lots of interesting hardware details), the project's intent is to provide low-cost "disposable" drones that can be used to help in disaster relief. The project was born out of Coughlan's experience helping in the relief efforts after last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, along with discussions at the 2011 LinuxCon Japan on technical solutions for helping out after disasters.

One of the problems that Coughlan saw was the "big fog" that obscured information from reaching the relief teams. The drone will allow those teams to see over the horizon and penetrate that fog so that efforts can be targeted appropriately. With onboard cameras and the ability to interface with low-cost radiation (and eventually chemical and other) sensors, the plane will be able to give an accurate view of the ground situation up to 30km away. There is still much to be done to get there, of course, so OpenRelief is seeking those interested in donating time and brainpower to the project.

(See the Linux Foundation's blog post about OpenRelief.)

How to Get Involved

The conference wrapped up with some more advice for Asian developers on how to get more involved with the community. James Bottomley of Parallels talked about the social aspects of contributing, which are very different than the technical side. Before new features can get into the kernel, they need to be socialized so that a community of users or other developers interested in the feature springs up to help pave its way into the mainline. Meeting other developers and maintainers at conferences is a great way to start that process, Bottomley said.

The final session was a panel moderated by Bottomley that included Arnd Bergmann of IBM/Linaro, Masami Hiramatsu of Hitachi, Herbert Xu of Red Hat, and Chris Mason of Oracle. The topic was the challenges faced by Asian and other international kernel developers and suggestions on how to solve them. Instead of waiting for patches to be "perfect” Hiramatsu advised that they be posted early: "don't think, just do it," he said. While others said the same thing in different ways, that phrase of Hiramatsu's seemed to sum things up best.

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