linux.conf.au has an interesting structure which differentiates it from
most other events. Every year, a completely new set of organizers takes
over the event, moves it to a new city, and puts its own stamp on it.
They have a great deal of freedom in how they run LCA, but there is still a
group of Linux Australia members and past organizers who keep an eye on
things and help ensure that the event does not run into problems. The
result is a conference which has a lot of fresh energy every year, but
which is also reliably interesting. Many attendees consider it to be one
of the best Linux events to be found anywhere in the world.
This year, LCA was held in Melbourne, Australia; the organizing team was
led by Donna Benjamin. The now-familiar LCA formula was followed, but with
some small changes. The tutorial day is no more, replaced by relatively
short tutorial sessions on each day. The traditional auction for charity
was also gone this year; instead, a raffle (with Greg Kroah-Hartman's 2.6.22 contributor poster as the
main prize) yielded some $1000 for a local penguin refuge. The raffle was
certainly a lower-pressure, less alcohol-fueled way of raising money, but
LCA without Rusty Russell as auctioneer just isn't quite the same. That
quibble notwithstanding, LCA 2008 was an interesting, well-organized, and
well-attended event. Ms. Benjamin and company have certainly upheld the
standards for this conference.
A number of LCA talks have been covered in separate LWN articles, and a few
more may yet follow. This article will quickly review a few other high
points, as seen from your editor's perspective. It's worth noting that
videos for almost all of the talks have been posted on the conference web
Certainly one high point came on January 30, the day that LWN
celebrated its tenth anniversary. The crowd sang a rousing - if not
entirely harmonious - version of "happy birthday" after Bruce Schneier's
keynote. The following morning tea featured special LWN muffins; they
were, much to your editor's delight, of the intense chocolate variety. It
is hard to imagine a better place or time to celebrate to celebrate ten years of
While most LCA presentations are quite technical in nature, there are
exceptions. Australian lawyer Kimberlee Weatherall's talk on legal issues
was called "Stop in the name of law"; it covered a number of topics of
interest to a global audience. Kimberlee, it's worth noting, was the
recipient of the "Rusty Wrench" award for service to the free software
community at last year's LCA in Sydney.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, she noted, is ten years old now. At
this point, the debate on its anti-circumvention provisions is essentially
done, and anti-circumvention has won; she is not expecting to see any major
changes in countries which have adopted such laws. The music industry may
be moving away from use of DRM, but "they were never very good at it
anyway." DRM is still going strong in other areas, such as movies and
Similarly, the fight to end software patents is over, and we have lost.
There are incredible numbers of software patents issued every year; every
one of those patents represents a significant investment by its owner. The
total amount of investment in these patents is huge; that amount of money
is almost impossible to displace. It is also very hard to define what a
software patent really is; there are thousands of them in Europe, which
ostensibly does not allow software patents. No matter how the rules are
written, lawyers will find a way around them.
What is happening on the patent front, instead, is a more constructive
engagement with the process. Some reform is happening in the US, as a
result of the KSR decision and various attempts to mitigate the costs
associated with patents. So the situation might improve slowly over time.
GPLv3 is out. It now has to pass two tests: the market test (will projects
use it?) and any legal tests which might be brought. Kimberlee expressed
some doubts on whether GPLv3 will really hold up in court, but did not
elaborate on them.
There is a new threat out there which we should not underestimate: the push
to force copyright enforcement duties onto ISPs. This effort takes two
forms: getting "infringers" disconnected, and requiring ISPs to filter data
passing through their networks. There are a lot of problems with either
approach, but that is not stopping the industry (and others, such as
anti-porn crusaders) from pushing hard for ISP responsibility. This is a
fight to watch.
So what should the free software community do? Not much, says Kimberlee,
except to keep coding. The production of good code brings us allies with
money, and that's what we're going to need. As long as we are successful,
people will go out of our way to protect us. Keep doing what we do, and
things should come out OK.
Anthony Baxter is the Python release manager; he was also the keynote
speaker for the third day of the conference. He is, to say the least, an
entertaining speaker, so this would be a good one to watch on video. The
talk was about coming changes in Python, and Python 3.0 in
particular. The 3.0 release, he says, is "the one where we break all of
your code." It's the first backward-incompatible update of the language
(at least, if you don't deal in C extension modules).
There are a lot of changes to the language which your editor will not
repeat here; they are well documented on the Python web sites. As noted,
many of these changes will cause existing code to break. This is being
done, says Anthony, because the Python language is now 16 years old. Like
all 16-year-olds, it has a number of annoying features. It's time to clean
out a lot of accumulated cruft and get back to the minimal, "there is one
way to do it" vision that has always driven the language.
Perhaps what's most interesting is what won't be done. The language
will not be bloated - it will stay Python. There will be no braces; white
space will still be used to mark blocks of code. The much-criticized
global interpreter lock will remain. And, importantly, this will be an
incremental (if big) update - there will be no overall rewrite of the
interpreter. The experience of certain other projects (being Perl 6
and Mozilla) shows that total rewrites tend to be much longer, more painful
affairs than anybody might envision at the outset.
There will be migration tools, of course, and warnings built into the
forthcoming 2.6 release which will point out things that may cause
migration difficulties. The 2.x series will be supported for some years
into the future. And, says Anthony, there will be no Python 4.0 release.
This is their one chance to break everything and start over, and they plan
to get it right this time.
Dave Jones is the head maintainer for the Fedora kernel. At LCA 2008 he
took a break from pointing out user-space problems and talked about "a day
in the life of a distribution kernel maintainer." The real subject of the
talk was the process that the Fedora project goes through to put together
the kernels they ship.
There are currently three developers working on the Fedora kernel (Dave,
Chuck Ebbert, and Kyle McMartin), and "several dozen" working on the
RHEL kernels. Most of the RHEL folks are doing backports of fixes,
drivers, etc. to the older kernels used by RHEL releases.
Once a kernel has been chosen for release, it's time to start adding
patches. Some interesting numbers were put up at this point. Red Hat
Linux 7 had 70 patches added to its 2.2.24 kernel. That number went
slowly up, to the point where Fedora Core 6 had 191 patches. There
are currently 63 patches added to the Fedora 8 kernel, though that may
grow over the life of this release. By comparison, RHEL 5 is shipping
a 2.6.18 kernel with 1628 patches added to it - a very different world.
There's all kinds of patches which go into a distributor kernel. These
include security technologies (ExecShield) which have not made it into the
mainline, changes to some default parameters, the silencing of certain
"scary messages" which tend to provoke lots of needless bug reports,
out-of-tree drivers, patches which help debug problems found in the field,
stuff which has been vetoed upstream, and more. Then it's a matter of
putting the package and dealing with the subsequent bug reports - lots of
The closing ceremony included the traditional introduction of the organizer
for next year's event. This event will go, for the first time ever, to
Hobart, Tasmania; see MarchSouth.org
for more information. There is some information on what this team is
planning in the bid
document [1.6MB PDF]; your editor is intrigued by the following:
"The official Speakers' Dinner will be held at a mystery location
south of Hobart following a 40 minute river cruise on a high speed luxury
catamaran." It's never too soon to get that talk proposal
Finally, the last few LCA events have included the passing of the "Rusty
Wrench" award to somebody who has performed a great service to the
community. Recipients so far are Rusty Russell (after whom the award is
named), Pia Waugh, and Kimberlee Weatherall. The Rusty Wrench was not
awarded at LCA2008, though. It seems that, in the future,
the Rusty Wrench will be part of an extensive set of awards which will be
handed out at a separate "gala dinner" event held in the (Australian)
winter. The awarding of the Rusty Wrench was a nice LCA feature which will
be missed, but, then, there are advantages to having another excuse to
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