July 27, 2006

OSCON kicks into full gear

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

PORTLAND, Ore. -- O'Reilly's eighth annual Open Source Convention was in full swing yesterday. The exhibit floor opened, and there was a full schedule of talks and Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions.

The problem with OSCON is selecting the talks that you want to go to, making time for all of the activities, and getting anything like a decent amount of sleep. The schedule starts at about 8:30 every morning, with sessions until past 6:00 p.m. and Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions and parties well into the late hours of the evening.

Open source software in government

The first presentation I went to on Wednesday was "Open Technology Development: Open Source and the US Government," by John Scott of RadiantBlue Technologies. Scott is also the project leader of the Department of Defense's (DoD) Open Technology Development Initiative.

Scott discussed attempts to improve the DoD's software acquisition process, and ways to harness open source and open source methodologies within the DoD to bring costs down and improve the speed of development. He noted that enemies of the United States are able to deploy new technology faster, in part because they're not burdened by regulations and acquisition requirements of the US government.

Scott's presentation was fairly short, and most of the session was spent in Q&A with the audience. Change may come slowly to the DoD, but it seems that it will come. Scott noted that there was a distinct generational shift within the DoD, and says that when open source is discussed, "everybody over 45 shakes their heads, and everybody under 45 says, 'yeah.'"

The talk drew a decent crowd, and the Q&A continued right up until the next session. OSCON organizers could improve the show by giving a bit more buffer space between talks. There's only five minutes between the 45-minute sessions, which means that if a session runs over even slightly, it can cut into the next session, and if you're moving from a session on one level of the convention center to the next, you're going to be hard-pressed to get there on time.

State of the kernel

The next talk I sat in on was Greg Kroah-Hartman's "Current State of the Linux Kernel," not to be confused with the five-minute lightning talk Kroah-Hartman delivered later in the day. This session was almost entirely Q&A, with Kroah-Hartman fielding questions from the audience about all things kernel-related.

Kroah-Hartman says that in the past two years, the kernel has had 1,725 people get patches into the kernel, with a rate of 2.8 patches per hour, 24 hours a day. The kernel is now about 7 million lines of code, says Kroah-Hartman, with about 2 million lines added, and 1.1 million lines removed.

According to Kroah-Hartman, the new kernel development method -- doing rapid releases with new features rather than doing a long unstable development model as was done for the 2.5 series that led up to 2.6 -- has been working well.

As to be expected, someone brought up the topic of binary drivers, and noted that there was talk last year of suing distributions that shipped binary drivers. Kroah-Hartman acknowledged that, indeed, there was talk of that -- but the offending parties have stopped shipping binary drivers, so there's no point to taking any action now.

He also said that it's a "crappy and unethical thing," though probably legal, for companies to ship non-GPLed code and require the user to do the compiling and linking so as to avoid the requirements of the GPL.

Between sessions, I stopped in again at the OSCamp shmoozing room. On day one of OSCON, I was a bit skeptical about OSCamp, given that few people had turned out, but it looks like the concept is doing pretty well now. On Wednesday morning, there were about 15 people in the OSCamp room, in several small groups, busily discussing their respective topics. The schedule wall was full of signs with times and topics for people to get together and discuss. I talked to Brandon Sanders, one of the OSCamp organizers, and he was very positive about the turnout.

Ride the lightning

The last session I attended on Wednesday was the "Lightning states of" session, where participants in open source projects would get up and give five-minute presentations about their projects.

The five-minute rule was strictly enforced, so presenters who went long found themselves cut off mid-presentation. Most, though not all, of the presentations actually were finished prior to the five-minute mark.

Mike Kupfer of Sun used his five minutes to talk about OpenSolaris, and said that the company is now working on getting version control into place for outside contributors, to make it easier for those outside of Sun to contribute to OpenSolaris. He also noted that Sun is still working on making parts of OpenSolaris open source.

Donnie Berkholz of Gentoo talked about new features in or coming to Gentoo, such as the Gentoo installer, overlays for external source repositories, and the eselect framework for configuration and administration.

Lightning talks are a poor way for conveying any information in-depth, but a wonderful way for users to get a rapid-fire overview of projects they may not be familiar with. For example, I was intrigued by Dr. Richard Hipp's discussion of SQLite. I'd heard of SQLite before, but had only a vague idea of what the project had to offer. After hearing Hipp's brief presentation, I'm hoping to spend a little more time looking into the product.

Jeff Waugh did double duty during the session. First he talked about his widely used Planet software, which powers "planet" sites for Debian, GNOME, Ubuntu, and many others. Waugh announced Planet 2.0, the first official release of Planet, at the talk. Yes, you read that right. According to Waugh it has to be 2.0 to keep up with Web 2.0.

Waugh also discussed Annodex, an open standard for annotating and bookmarking audio and video media. Right now, it's not possible to send someone a link directly to a specific spot in a video or audio file, so if you want to point a friend or co-worker at an interesting video on the Web, they have to more or less watch the whole thing.

Using Annodex, it's supposed to be possible to use "temporal URIs" to point a link at, say, the 20-minute mark of a video or music file. The Annodex site already includes plugins for Firefox and a few files with bookmarks for users to test drive.

The best lightning presentation had to be the final presentation by Greg Kroah-Hartman, who used his talk to inform the audience about the state of the Linux kernel. While Kroah-Hartman read through a laundry list of changes in the kernel over the past year, his young daughter Madeline held up hand-written signs with some of the statistics, such as how many lines of code are in the kernel, and how many changes have been made over the past year. As Greg wrapped up his talk, Madeline held up her final three signs, and had the audience in stitches: "My dad keeps buying me" "penguin toys" "make him stop."

Exhibit floor

The exhibit floor opened on Wednesday, and there was an exhibit hall reception right after the show that lasted until about 7:30 p.m. The exhibit hall has an interesting mixture of open source and community projects, including the TeX Users Group, Free Software Foundation, and others, as well as booths for Sun, MySQL, ActiveState, and others.

The reception was well-attended and lively, no doubt in part due to the food spread and free-flowing wine and beer. At the reception, I took the opportunity to mingle with several attendees and ask how they're enjoying the conference, and whether it's been worth their time and conference budget to attend. The responses I got were overwhelmingly positive, though a few attendees mentioned that some of the sessions were less technical than they were hoping for. Overall, though, people really seem to be enjoying the show, and the opportunity to gather together with like-minded geeks to discuss the open source technologies that interest them.

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