March 24, 2006

FreedomHEC to help Windows developers learn Linux

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

After Microsoft hardware developers get done with the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in May, Linux developers will be standing by to bring them into the free software fold at the FreedomHEC conference.

LinuxJournal editor Don Marti proposed the FreedomHEC "unconference" Wednesday on the Linux-elitists mailing list, and the idea is taking off.

FreedomHEC is scheduled for May 26 and 27, and will follow Microsoft's WinHEC, which takes place in Seattle May 23 through 25. The idea behind FreedomHEC is to provide a "shadow" conference to WinHEC to teach Windows hardware developers how easy it is to make hardware compatible with Linux and other free operating systems.

This isn't the first time Marti has lent his organizational skills to a free software cause. Marti organized the "Burn all .gifs" day, and helped organize "Free Dmitry" events after Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested for helping write software that circumvented copy protection in Adobe's eBook format to convert it to PDF.

What FreedomHEC will offer

Developing Windows drivers, according to Marti, is "a costly proposition, so it's easy to understand why managers at hardware companies are reluctant to add another platform."

However, kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman says that it actually "costs less to develop and maintain a Linux driver ... The difficulty seems to be to get that same information out to the companies that don't realize this, and educate them that our process is radically different, and for a good reason."

FreedomHEC will offer talks on technical and licensing issues related to kernel driver development. So far, Jim Pick, Kroah-Hartman, and Marti are on the FreedomHEC wiki as attending the conference, and other free software and open source developers will no doubt be adding their names to the line up in the next few weeks.

Kroah-Hartman says that he hopes FreedomHEC will help driver developers understand the Linux kernel development process, learn to port existing code to the kernel, learn how to work with and become part of the Linux kernel development community, and of course, "have a fun time."

Kroah-Hartman also notes that kernel developers are "easy to approach, and work directly with" and that "an individual company can directly influence the development of the areas surrounding their product. For example, they can add new features to the SCSI core if they need them, and they don't have to rely on any other company to do the work for them, as long as they work with the community."

This is, of course, a far cry from the Windows top-down development model where Microsoft dictates the development that affects hardware vendors and developers. Marti says that the IT business needs "a free market, not top-down central planning. Microsoft is free to apply that model to their own products, but the rest of the industry wants to innovate in the open, on its own schedule."

FreedomHEC is not just for developers. Kroah-Hartman says that manager types and product managers are welcome to attend to find out how to support Linux. "They can also find out how easy and simple it is, usually requiring a much less overall time and money commitment than any other operating system (although the initial up-front commitment can be large, depending on how the company's code is structured)."

Details to come

The idea is less than 72 hours old, so some details are left to be ironed out. The location is yet to be determined, and only one sponsor -- No Starch Press -- has signed up so far.

Marti says that FreedomHEC will be free to attend for "anyone who pre-registers on the wiki and for any holder of a WinHEC badge." If you're interested in attending, either after WinHEC or just for the conference in its own right, it'd be best to register now -- Marti says that they may not have space for walk-ins at the time of the show.

When asked why he was willing to donate his time to FreedomHEC, Kroah-Hartman says that he wants to "help Linux succeed at its main goal, 'total world domination.'" According to Kroah-Hartman, "We already run on more processors than any other operating system has ever done in the past, and we support more drivers out-of-the-box than any other operating system, and I don't want to slow that growth down.

"Also, on a selfish note, by helping other developers become members of the Linux kernel community, they can hopefully help fix the bugs in my kernel code."

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