LA hosts laid-back Southern California Linux Expo


Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

LOS ANGELES — The fifth annual Southern California Linux Expo last weekend at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel brought in more than 1,200 paying attendees. SCALE featured a wide range of talks on topics from Inkscape to OpenNMS, and an exhibit hall with about 70 projects and companies from the Linux and open source community. While the quality of the talks varied, the show was a good opportunity to meet and learn from other Linux users.

Most IT conferences, it seems, start with a keynote around 9 a.m., which means that attendees have to be queued up for registration by 8 a.m., which is a little earlier than is reasonable for people who’ve just arrived the night before on a redeye flight. SCALE’s registration started at 9 a.m. on Saturday, with talks starting at 10 a.m., and the exhibit floor opening at the same time. SCALE’s publicity chair, Orv Beach, says that the organizers decided to avoid keynotes because they wanted the sessions to be all about education, and that SCALE organizers didn’t think that keynotes met that standard — though they may re-evaluate that for future SCALE events.

Beach also noted that they had decided to implement a rating system for speakers, to find out how the talks went and who should be invited back. I found the quality of the SCALE talks mixed, and that the opinion was shared by attendees I spoke with over the course of the show. Beach says that they’ll be taking the feedback into consideration, and that they’re aware that there are some speakers that shouldn’t be invited back — as well as some who’ve proven very popular.

On Saturday, I went to talks on Inkscape, the state of Linux video tools, and the state of gaming on Linux.

I had high hopes for Steve Oualline‘s talk on Linux video tools because I’d read his Vim book some years ago and found it to be useful, and I was hoping to get some Linux video production tips that I could use. Unfortunately, the video talk didn’t live up to my expectations.

Click image to download Ogg video
Click image to download Ogg video
Click image to download Ogg video
Click image to download Ogg video

The talk was a very high-level overview of the video tools available, and it seemed that some of the information in Oualline’s talk was inaccurate or at least outdated. For example, Oualline asserted that Kino lacked the ability to do transitions — even though Kino has had this functionality for some time.

Oualline also made a few comments about the legality of DeCSS for decrypting DVDs, along the lines of “if you legally purchase a DVD you have the right to play it back,” that seem to fly in the face of what courts have said about distribution of DeCSS in the US. (Granted, I certainly think that’s the way it should be, but that’s another story.)

Lowell Higley’s State of Linux gaming talk was a bit better, but a lot of his talk was more opinion than researched fact about the Linux gaming market. Higley also used his talk to introduce yet another Linux gaming portal,, that’s due to launch around the beginning of March.

Even though I’m not a heavy Inkscape user, I found Ted Gould’s talk on Inkscape Extensions to be worthwhile. Gould, one of the Inkscape founders, talked about Inkscape’s extension system, how to create extensions, and where the Inkscape developers were hoping to go with the system.

Gould says that the Inkscape team would like extensions to be a “starter drug” for potential developers who might be intimidated by the Inkscape codebase. According to Gould, developing extensions is relatively easy compared to actually trying to dive into the Inkscape codebase, so developers can ease in to the Inkscape community without having to learn too much about Inkscape right off.

The approach seems to be working. Gould says that the extension system was introduced around Inkscape 0.35, when Inkscape shipped with no extensions. With the 0.45 release, Inkscape ships with about 71 extensions, and Gould says they’ve also started to see Inkscape extensions “in the wild,” including an extension that turns Inkscape into a level editor for the X-Moto motorcross game.

Day 2

On Sunday I caught two talks, one on the OpenNMS project and the other on Linux virtualization and virtualization management.

Taurus Balog delivered the talk on OpenNMS, which is an “enterprise-grade network management platform developed under the open source model.” OpenNMS seems like a useful network management and monitoring utility, but it has been seriously underexposed — even though it’s been around since March 2000, and was one of the first open source network management tools registered on, where it has been consistently popular.

Balog’s talk was low on the marketing hype meter, and he did a good job of describing the capabilities of OpenNMS and mentioning large-scale deployments of OpenNMS.

Erin Quill and “Reverend” Ted Haeger delivered the talk on “Linux, virtualization, and virtualization management,” which was totally Novell-centric but seemed to go over well with the standing-room-only audience.

Except when Haeger mentioned Novell “working closely” with Microsoft on making sure that Windows runs well under Xen on SUSE Linux, and making sure that SUSE Linux runs well under Microsoft’s virtualization. That comment drew a few good-natured boos from the crowd, and to Haeger’s credit he took the talk on a short detour and tried to address the hostility toward working with Microsoft head-on. Haeger also said that Microsoft’s idea is “that they can control Linux by virtualizing it, and our idea was that we can control Windows by virtualizing it.”

A big part of Haeger and Quill’s presentation was demos of upcoming capabilities in SUSE’s Xen implementation, which should be released in the next SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 service pack. They also demonstrated some interesting dynamic management capabilities that are slated for inclusion in the (confusingly named) Zenworks Orchestrator.

In the demos, Quill and Haeger showed how additional VMs could be deployed dynamically to handle application load, and also demonstrated setting up policies so that one application would have priority over others — so if all servers in a server pool were at peak load, applications could be automatically given additional resources or fewer resources to match business policy.

Note: If you have problems viewing the Ogg videos, you may want to try the flash versions below:

Ted Gould
Ted Haeger
Taurus Balog
Orv Beach

Exhibit floor

The SCALE exhibit floor had about 70 vendor and project exhibitors, including Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, Freespire, Ubuntu, Inkscape, Dell, IBM, Novell, Sun, and a slew of others.

Unlike more commercial shows, the SCALE exhibit floor had a laid-back feel to it. Each time I dropped in to the exhibit floor between talks, it was fairly crowded, but not so crowded you couldn’t get around easily. The commercial booths drew far less attention than the community projects — if you wanted to talk with someone with a community project, you could count on waiting in line for at least five to 10 minutes because they were typically packed.

Environmentally friendly

In addition to talks and exhibits, the SCALE conference offered attendees the opportunity to dump antiquated and unwanted gear without running afoul of California’s laws against dumping electronic equipment into landfills. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, attendees could drop off electronics for recycling, courtesy of Ease-E-Waste, at the loading docks for the Westin LAX Hotel.

The SCALE folks may want to consider moving to larger facilities next year. The conference rooms were filled to capacity, plus some, for several of the talks. Beach says that, though the final tally was not in, they had printed more than 1,300 name badges — which, after subtracting speaker, press, and exhibitor badges, probably means SCALE drew about 1,200 paying attendees at $60 a head.

All in all, I found SCALE to be a nice community-oriented show. I found some of the talks to be lacking, but others were well worth attending, and the “hallway track” for the show was excellent. I talked to quite a few attendees and exhibitors at the show to see whether it was meeting others’ expectations, and everyone I spoke to was happy with the show.

If you’d like to attend SCALE next year, Beach says that they have not yet set the date in stone, but it’s likely that it will be held during the second week in February once again.