Monday Aug 10, 2009

Gran Canaria Desktop Summit Presentation: Considerations for Thin Clients in Desktop Software Design

A few months back I heard about the upcoming 2009 Gran Canaria Desktop Summit, which evolved from GUADEC and KDE community conferences, bringing them together for the first time. Because Thin Clients are outside the experience of most of the Desktop Software Development community, and yet such software is obviously of such great importance to Thin Clients, I felt it would be good to take a "Thin Client" message to the conference. The goal would be to raise awareness of Thin Clients, to convey that they're an interesting and important platform for desktop software, but that they require certain unique design considerations to be factored in. I'm not really a direct participant in the Desktop Software development community so I reached out to a friend and co-worker who is on the Gnome Foundation board, Brian Cameron, with the idea of making a joint presentation at the conference. Brian was enthusiastic, so we worked together on a preso and on July 6, 2009, we presented a talk entitled "Considerations for Thin Clients in Desktop Software Design".

This was a very unusual presentation for me. I'm used to evangelizing the products I work on. In this community, however, our message needed to be broader, in order to convey the entire market of interest. If we created the misimpression that we were only there to ask people to do things for Sun, we'd be wasting everyone's time, lose the audience, and create bad feelings in the community. It was important to stress that we were there to talk about Thin Clients in general, not just Sun Ray, and so in many ways we needed to 'sell the competition' even more strongly than our own product to create a balance. It was very peculiar to be digging up success stories from our competition :). But we want all Thin Clients to be successful in order to create a market we can compete in, since competition makes a market viable. We still believe strongly that Sun Ray is the \*best\* Thin Client in the market, and we hinted at that, but that's really a message for a different audience - potential customers rather than developers. The message for these guys was that you can do some very cool things with Thin Clients, they provide a lot of value to tons of people today, and that we should pay attention to them when designing Desktop Software.

The talk was reasonably well received I think. We had stiff competition from a talk in a parallel track which was of very broad interest to the community, so attendance was lighter than I anticipated (about 50-60 people), but most of the key leaders of the community that we wanted to reach attended.

There was a very interesting twist for us at the conference, and I'm still on the fence about whether it was net positive or negative for us. I had shipped a server and several Sun Rays to the conference, with the intention of setting up a "hacking room" where we could work together with interested developers on Thin-Client related issues. When the conference organizers saw the equipment I guess their eyes lit up, because when we arrived we were informed that the equipment had been diverted and they wanted to use it for on-site conference registration (and 'no, we don't have a back-up plan' :) ). Since we'd only run Sun Ray software over OpenSolaris with perhaps a dozen or two people, on development machines in a friendly Sun-internal environment, the idea of supporting hundreds of 'customers' for a critical function like conference registration was, shall I say, a little daunting (my fingernails may never grow back). But since our goal was to expose the community to Thin Clients it seemed like an opportunity I couldn't say 'no' to. Brian and I scrambled to get everything set up (and big thanks go out to Augustin and Miki and their legions of helpers) and I'm glad to say that over the next few days things went very smoothly, even though the 6 Sun Rays were in almost constant use. Mid-week the conference changed locations, and since registration had completed we managed to set up our "hacking room" and accomplished most of the work I'd hoped to get done. The big downside for me of this whole twist (other than stress) was that I had to support the Sun Rays (just in case anything went wrong, which didn't happen after all) and couldn't attend as many of the talks or network with as many people on-site as I'd hoped, and we didn't in the end have enough time left to accomplish all I'd hoped. The upside was exposure for the community and good will from the conference organizers, who were more willing to help us out with infrastructure issues when they arose. It was great to work and hang out with the Sun Ireland and Beijing teams, to refresh some old contacts and make new ones, and it was great to meet so many good people from the community.

The presentation we gave is here .




« August 2009