The free software community is truly global in scope - we are all over the
world. A casual visitor might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, though:
the people found on our mailing lists and in our code repositories are, to
a great extent, based in Europe or North America. There is no shortage of
talented developers elsewhere, but they are hard to see; they do not
participate in our community at anywhere near the same level. We are
clearly weaker as a result.
One attempt to improve this situation can be found in the Linux Foundation
Japan Symposium, held a few times each year in Tokyo. This event was
started by OSDL, and is being continued by the Linux Foundation. The idea
is to bring a few community developers over for a couple of days and have
them talk with Japanese developers about what the community is up to and
how they can be a part of it. Your editor was lucky enough to be invited
to the July meeting where, between encounters with sushi, sake, and
Japanese beer, he was able to get some interesting work done.
First, though, was an encounter with the Yokohama Linux Users Group, which
had invited your editor to come talk seeing as he was in the neighborhood anyway.
YLUG meetings, as it turns out, look much like LUG meetings just about
anywhere: a couple dozen or so technical guys show up to hear somebody talk
about free software. The beer and dinner (and more beer) gathering afterward
was special, though; if more user groups included that sort of event,
attendance at meetings would doubtless go up.
The symposium itself began with presentations from your editor and Paul
Menage, author of the process
containers patch. One of the important features of this event is that
it includes simultaneous translators; said translators were somewhat
dismayed by your editor's habit of changing his talks (and slides) right up
to the point where the laptop gets plugged in at the podium. Their
presence is important, though: it allows attendees to follow the talks
without having to struggle with a foreign language; they can also ask
questions in Japanese and still have the presenters understand them.
As it happens, language issues, while not on the formal agenda, were a big
issue at this event. It is easy fall into the trap of believing that
anybody who is sufficiently well educated to be part of our development
community will, naturally, have learned the English language along the
way. The truth of the matter is that there are many languages one could
invest time in learning, English is a hard language (especially for those
whose native language is far removed from English), and that many people
who might have studied English for years have never really had a chance to
use it enough to become truly proficient. English really is an obstacle
for many potential contributors to our community. It slows down many
developers, makes others afraid to participate in public forums, and blocks
One step which is being taken to improve this situation is the translation
of a number of core kernel
development documents into Japanese. The documents of interest are
primarily process-oriented - those which tell prospective developers how
the community works and how to get patches accepted. Translation of
serious technical documentation would require quite a bit more work and
would be hard to keep up to date, so that is less likely to happen.
Japanese versions of the documentation seem unlikely to go into the kernel
repository itself, so they will have to be hosted elsewhere; they should,
in any case, provide a useful resource for Japanese developers hoping to
begin with the kernel.
The translators got to work in the opposite direction for a while as
Akinobu Mita discussed his work on the fault injection framework. At
any event designed to increase community involvement it is important to
highlight the efforts of local people who have been successful; Mita-san's work,
which makes it possible to find problems in difficult-to-test error
recovery paths, is an important contribution to the kernel development
toolkit. He has, recently, been posting fixes to a long series of bugs
found through the use of fault injection, making the kernel more stable for
The afternoon included a panel session which, among other things, covered
the kernel development process.
One of the key points in your editor's talk on that
process is that code must be posted early; if a company insists that code
pass through all of its internal quality assurance processes before being
submitted, it is likely to post code which is in need of major changes. It
turns out that this can be a problem with Japanese companies; one developer
talked about "stone-headed managers" who are deathly afraid that somebody
will post something which embarrasses or shames the company. Strange as it
seems, the stone-headed manager problem is not confined to Japan; there is
little to be done except to continue to try to educate those managers - or
wait until they get promoted to a level where they are no longer a problem.
The second day consisted of smaller sessions where developers from Linux
Foundation member companies could talk about their work and get questions
answered. Fault injection was on the agenda again, as were various
virtualization topics and the translation issue. Closing statements were
made, and the event shut down until next time - scheduled for November.
The key to building a community and keeping it together is good
communication. By bringing in community developers, the Japan Symposium
certainly succeeds in raising the level of communication with the Japanese
community. There is no better way to learn about how a community works
than to talk with those who are in the middle of it. This series of events
might just be part of why contributions from Japan appear to be on the
rise. A less obvious but equally important point is this: communication
goes both ways. Any speaker who attends this event can only go away
smarter, having learned something about how the wider world sees free
software. That, too, can only be a good thing.
to post comments)