August 16, 2006

Day two at LinuxWorld: Red Hat is MIA, but Golden Penguins A-OK

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

SAN FRANCISCO -- LinuxWorld picked up considerably on Tuesday, starting off with an energetic keynote by Professor Larry Lessig, and continuing with the opening of the exhibit floor. The main question of the day, however, seemed to be "Where's Red Hat?"

LinuxWorld features a "keynote" speaker roughly every 10 minutes. OK, that's an exaggeration, but there are five keynotes this week. Lessig's keynote, "Free Culture: What We Need From You," was a great opening for the show. Lessig talked about participatory culture, and the fact that the current environment is legally hostile to a "read-write" culture. He peppered his talk with video clips such as a Muppet Show and Vampire Hunter D mashup and the hilarious Endless Love mixup with footage of George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

The clips are hilarious, but the fact that current copyright law stifles this sort of creativity, and renders the creators "pirates," is decidedly unfunny. Lessig talked about the need to change the law to allow this sort of content to be created legally, and to help foster a free, read-write, culture.

Lessig also asked the audience to help by getting the message across that fair use is not piracy, and that efforts to broaden fair use are not about wholesale copying of work, but the ability to build on existing works to create new works. He also encouraged the audience to build and share works under Creative Commons licenses.

Lessig pointed out that the opponents of fair use and free culture are very well-funded. He suggested that attendees put the same amount of money they'd spend on restricted content toward groups that are working to defend free culture.

He also noted that there are two ways of approaching the argument for free culture. The first is the "lefty" way of talking about ideals, which doesn't seem to get very far with many people. The "right" approach discusses why expanded rights for users under copyright law would be good for business, good for growth, and good for the economy and society.

Above all, Lessig says that it's important for everyone to get involved. "Begin to be active in a way to change the harm that lawyers and politicians are imposing.... If the debate is controlled by lawyers and lobbyists, and people like Lessig, this debate will be lost."

Influencing the kernel roadmap

The next talk I attended was by James Bottomley, CTO of SteelEye and the SCSI subsystem maintainer for the Linux kernel. Bottomley's talk, "The Roadmap for Linux Storage: Or, Why We Don't have One," was not so much about Linux storage, but about the way that Linux development really works -- and why Linux doesn't have a roadmap in the same way that other operating systems and products do.

Bottomley explained the difference between the way that traditional software development works, with VARs and customers using various methods to influence the roadmaps, and the way that companies can attempt to influence the Linux kernel roadmap. He also discussed the fact that the old ways of manipulating a roadmap, such as signing up for VAR programs or joining standards bodies to try to influence product development, don't apply to kernel development.

Instead, Bottomley says that if a company has a need to influence kernel developers, it needs to employ kernel coders who can implement the features the company wants in the kernel. This isn't a perfect method, either. First of all, Bottomley points out that a lot of companies want influence in the kernel, and so the folks who are already regular kernel contributors already have steady employment, and hiring a kernel developer away from his current job is likely to be an expensive proposition.

Companies can try to have their existing employees implement features and have them accepted into the kernel -- but this takes diplomacy and the ability to show that the features would be beneficial to a wide range of users. The best way to go about this, according to Bottomley, is to offer changes that are as generic as possible, with minimal impact.

Bottomley's talk was excellent, though perhaps a bit mis-titled, in that he used SteelEye's experience with working with kernel development as the example for the talk, but he touched on storage only lightly.

Where's Red Hat?

A hot topic of discussion this year has been the absence of Red Hat. The company isn't exhibiting at LinuxWorld, and people are wondering why a company that is practically synonymous with Linux is missing from the show floor. One attendee wondered, "What's it say when someone gets an exhibit pass and comes to the show floor looking for Red Hat, and they're not here?"

I hadn't gotten around to noticing that the company was missing before people started asking me, "Do you know why Red Hat isn't here?" I am trying to find out, but lately the company's public relations department hasn't seen fit to respond to requests for interviews or information in anything like a timely fashion.

Of course, Red Hat may not feel the need to spend the money to send the crew to LinuxWorld so soon after the Red Hat Summit in June. A couple of attendees have implied that Red Hat's absence from the show is a sign of arrogance, but it may be simply a sign of thrift. The price of a booth and sending a truckload of employees for a three-day expo is not easy on the budget.

SPI invites freedesktop.org to join

Click to play video

I also had a chance to talk to Bdale Garbee, former Debian project Leader, Hewlett-Packard's chief technologist for open source and Linux, and president of the Software in the Public Interest (SPI) board of directors.

The big news is that SPI has voted to invite freedesktop.org to become one of its member projects. Garbee says that the vote happened during the normal board meeting on Tuesday, and that freedesktop.org hasn't formally accepted yet, but he expects that the project will accept shortly.

Membership would allow freedesktop.org to accept donations as a non-profit organization through SPI, which means that the group wouldn't have to go through all of the hassles of setting up a 501(c)3 exemption on its own. For a long time, SPI was mainly associated with Debian only, but that looks like it's beginning to change, with the addition of PostgreSQL and freedesktop.org.

The Golden Penguin Bowl

What's a Linux show without a healthy dose of silliness? Boring, that's what. There's not a great deal of frivolity at LinuxWorld this year, except for the Golden Penguin Bowl, a quiz show that pits different projects or companies attending LinuxWorld against one another to see which team has the better command of technology triva.

This time around, the Nerds team included Ubuntu's Malcom Yates, Jorge Castro, and Corey Burger. The Geeks were Novell/SUSE employees Ted Hager, Erin Quill, and Jeff Price. Jeremy Allison, of Samba fame, served as Penguin Bowl host, and Don Marti, Chris DiBona, and Gerald Carter served as judges.

Allison took the stage to the 2001 theme music, dressed in an astronaut suit, and introduced the teams and judges. The contest lasted about an hour, with questions ranging from fairly difficult to just plain silly. Sci-fi questions figured heavily.

The bowl consisted of a couple of rounds of questions, and a final round of a hands-on engineering feat involving Legos. The Geeks team lagged badly for most of the game, but almost made up for it in the final round -- but the Ubuntu team had enough points to sail to victory.

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