October 31, 2011

LinuxCon Europe Wrap-Up

The first-ever LinuxCon Europe wrapped up on Friday October 28 in Prague. The LinuxCon portion of the week was just one part of a combined schedule that also incorporated Embedded Linux Conference Europe (ELCE) 2011, the Linux Kernel Summit (LKS), and the GStreamer Conference.

By all accounts the event was a success, attracting more than 800 attendees — a number that threatened to overflow the meeting rooms of a few of the more popular sessions. In fact, the far-greater-than-expected turnout already prompted the Linux Foundation (LF) to look for a larger venue for the 2012 conference. The co-location of LKS and ELCE meant that a lot of talks dealt with the kernel itself (file systems, device drivers, kernel module development, etc.) and with embedded development, but there was plenty of other content as well — desktop environments, databases, license questions, and more.

Jim Zemlin kicked off the event with the opening keynote, looking back at the 20 years since Linux's inception and speculating how the industry might have fared differently over that time span without Linux. The significance of the 20-year mark came up in several other presentations, including the annual kernel developers' discussion panel and Jon Corbet's Kernel Report. Corbet analyzed how the mechanism of kernel development had changed over the years — from the first email-every-patch-to-Linus approach, through the rise of paid contributors and official subsystem maintainers, including the shift to BitKeeper and then Git as the version-control-system, and the adoption of today's regular point-release update schedule instead of the old odd-number-unstable/even-number-stable cycles.

Corbet observed at the end of his report that every time some people think that the kernel has reached a point where it cannot sustain another increase in development speed, the maintainers have adapted the process to meet the challenge. Though it is impossible to predict the hurdles of the future, the odds are the kernel team will continue to adapt.

LinuxCon Europe Panel

Indeed, the LF announced a new initiative at the show that displayed just such adaptability. The Long Term Support Initiative (LTSI) is a project intended to maintain stable kernel releases --in the kernel tree -- over the lengthy lifespans that device makers expect for commercial embedded Linux projects. "Hard embedded" products -- from industrial devices to consumer appliances -- have to survive for years without a kernel upgrade or even the regular maintenance fixes that desktop computers and portable electronics devices can usually count on.

The LF provides hosting for two other industry-focused Linux projects, the Yocto tool suite for building custom Linux systems for embedded devices, and the MeeGo and Tizen projects aimed at producing a standard distribution suitable for consumer electronics devices like tablets, smartphones, and set-top boxes. Both projects had a presence at the event, which gave Yocto the chance to introduce its latest release, version 1.1, and gave developers its first look at Tizen and the HTML5 development framework it provides.

Given the amount of embedded Linux on display, one might be tempted to think that desktop and server Linux were suddenly old hat, but there was plenty for those working with larger form-factor silicon as well. In fact, SUSE's Vincent Untz gave a presentation entitled "Why the Free Desktop Still Matters," in which he made a strong case for the fact that desktop Linux propels the development of most of the frameworks and new libraries that eventually make their way down into smaller devices. Desktop Linux is, naturally, the development environment of choice for kernel developers he said, which makes it critical — and if you ever need proof that people still care passionately about the desktop, he added (only slightly facetiously), just watch what happens whenever any of the major desktop environments introduces a new UI convention.

There were also plenty of sessions on the schedule dealing with high-availability, virtualization, and cloud computing. The fact that these terms are not quite the manic buzzwords in the startup sector as they were a year ago is largely attributable to the fact that Linux owns the space outright. No one ponders whether or not they will use Linux for their cloud platform today; they only ask which Linux offering they like best.

Nevertheless, LinuxCon has always had a distinct character among the free and open source software conferences, precisely because of its focus on the kernel itself. The distributions are all present, as are important application projects like LibreOffice, but the schedule gives time for attendees to dig into the new features of Btrfs, ext4, driver verification, and video4linux2. The good news is that after three years in North America and Japan, LinuxCon has arrived in Europe to provide that service to the growing developer community there as well.

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