OSCON 2009

The O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) was at the San Jose Convention Center this year. It's been in Portland in the past, and while I like Portland, the additional expenses for air fare and hotel probably would have meant staying home this year. So I'm glad it was in San Jose. We'll see where O'Reilly decides to hold it next year. At the feedback session after the closing keynote, there seemed to be quite a few people who would like the conference to return to Portland.

Lunches on Wednesday and Thursday were catered. At my last OSCON (2006) the conference provided basic box lunches; nothing special. The lunches this year were impressive, with a variety of well-prepared dishes.

I attended several talks, which I've organized into 2 categories: people talks and technology talks. The people talks covered things like communication skills, community-building, etc. The technology talks that I went to covered topics that I wanted to learn more about, either for use at work or for personal projects. I also went to a couple BOFS and the closing keynote session. In order to make the writeups more digestible, I'll cover the BOFS and keynote here, with separate postings over the next few days for the "people" and "technology" sessions.


I went to Brian Nitz's SourceJuicer BOF session Wednesday night. Alas, only a few people attended, mostly from Sun.

Brian gave a short presentation and demo. This helped fill in some of the holes in my knowledge of SourceJuicer, like how Pkgfactory and Robo-Porter fit into the picture. (Pkgfactory is an automated mechanism that feeds into SourceJuicer. Robo-Porter is a component of Pkgfactory.)

Individuals can contribute spec files to SourceJuicer, though apparently the tags aren't quite the same as they are for RPM spec files. Builds are done in a freshly-created zone which has a minimal build environment. Thus the spec file must list build dependencies (as well as runtime dependencies).

Thursday night I went to the Silicon Valley OpenSolaris Users Group (SVOSUG) meeting, which was relocated to OSCON for this month. John Weeks demoed a couple toys that he has built and talked about what went into making them. John Plocher also demoed his programmable xylophone. I always find this sort of presentation fascinating, even though I've never built anything similar myself.

Closing Keynote

A few things struck me from closing keynote address, which was given by Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was how Microsoft's attitude towards open source and the GPL have changed over the years. Jim had a Microsoft quote from a few years ago about how open source and the GPL are just horrible (a threat to business, if I remember correctly). But this year, Microsoft is releasing some code under the GPL because that's what customers want.

The second thing was Jim's discussion about the introduction of netbooks and the changes that he predicts for the PC business ecosystem. In particular, Jim predicts that wireless service providers will be making discounted PCs available, just as they make discounted cell phones available today. If I understand his argument correctly, end users will focus more on the applications and services that they get from the wireless provider, and less on the underlying operating system. And the platform - hardware plus operating system - providers will be under pressure to make their platforms attractive to the wireless service providers (cheap, good functionality). The resulting competitive pressure should improve the opportunities for operating systems other than Windows (Jim was focusing on Linux, of course).

I suppose this could happen; I don't know the PC business well enough to have an opinion. It'll certainly be interesting to watch. And it'll be interesting to see whether these subsidized netbooks are treated more like computers or like phones. Linux is already bundled on some netbooks, and from what I've read, users can run into problems if they upgrade from someone other than the netbook provider. And Jim mentioned that the Linux Foundation has been getting a lot more phone calls in the last 6 months. Some of them are from people offering kudos, some are like the one he played for us, which was from a guy who needed technical support. Compare that with my cell phone: I know who made the hardware, but I have no idea what OS it's running.

The third item was a discussion about software patents and the danger they present to the open source movement. This was mostly old news to me, but Jim mentioned something I hadn't heard about before: DefensivePublications.org. One of the problems with the current patent system, at least in the USA, is getting information recorded so that it is counted as prior art. Filing defensive patents is a pain, and the US patent office doesn't keep up on the zillions of articles that are published at academic conferences and in trade magazines. You can challenge a patent after it's been granted, but that's a pain, too. But now there's an organization dedicated to collecting technical disclosures and publishing it in a prior art database that the patent office will check. Very cool.


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