Back in the early days of Linux, a developer wishing to meet his or her
peers at a conference had a relatively small number of alternatives. Two
of those - Linux Expo and the Atlanta Linux Showcase - were held in the
United States. But it has been a long time since the US has hosted a
serious developer-oriented conference - especially for developers who are
working on the lower layers of the system. The US-based conferences died
out as a result of a combination of a number of factors, including poor
management, competition from the
Ottawa Linux Symposium and (yes, really) LinuxWorld, and a feeling among
certain developers that becoming the next Dmitry Sklyarov would not be a
fun way to spend the rest of the year.
There is a certain appeal to overseas events, but that appeal fades more
quickly than one might expect. The need for long-haul travel also excludes
US-based developers who are unable to arrange funding. So, for some years,
the development community in the US has been wishing for a local
conference. More recently, a dedicated group of Portland-based developers
led by Kristen Carlson Accardi,
with some help from the Linux Foundation, decided to do something about
it. The result was the first edition of the Linux Plumbers Conference,
held September 17 to 19. Staging this conference in a world
which does not lack for conferences was a bit of a risk, and the organizers
added a few risks of their own to the mix. Looking back, your editor can
say that those risks were well repaid; the first Linux Plumbers Conference
was a great success.
The "plumbing" focus of this event was well chosen. While it is still
possible to run a system with a bare kernel and a shell as the
init process, Linux systems used for real work increasingly have a
layer of user-space software tightly wrapped around the kernel. Quite a
bit of kernel-based functionality only works properly in the presence of a
tightly-coupled user-space component; examples include system
initialization, 3D graphics, and much more. The kernel, along with its
collection of user-space software, makes up the "plumbing" layer which
makes everything else work. Kernel developers have had ample opportunities
to get together in recent years, but there has been no concerted effort to
bring together the developers for the full plumbing layer until now.
The other significant change made by the LPC organizers was to do away with
the "everybody delivers a paper" format used by most conferences. Instead,
the conference was planned as a series of 2.5-hour "microconferences," each
with a specific focus. Each microconference, which had its own "runner,"
was able to select its own mode of operation. They generally included a
certain number of presentations on relevant topics; in this sense, the
microconferences resemble the topic-specific tracks found at many academic
Where things differ, though, is that most of the microconferences were explicitly
oriented toward discussion and problem solving. The best speakers did not
(just) talk about their own project; they raised challenges for the group
as a whole to address. It worked spectacularly well. Throughout the
event, your editor saw rooms full of people who were fully engaged in the
work at hand. The discussions had wide participation, most of the necessary
people were generally in the room, and there were relatively few bored
people checking email. And, most importantly, a lot of real work got
done. Developers came out of the sessions with a clear idea of what needs
to be done, agreement with others on how it was to be done, and, sometimes,
So, what did all of these developers talk about?
- Developers interested in storage talked about the iogrind tool and a
number of outstanding problems; some
notes from the session have been posted.
- The Audio microconference covered a wide range of issues; see this LWN article for a
- A session on tracing saw presentations by developers of a number of
competing technologies, followed by a focused effort to design a
unified low-level shared relay buffer.
- The video input session, for all practical purposes, continued on and
off through the entire conference; that group of developers, which had
never met before, set in motion some major redesign efforts for the
- The bootstrap and initialization session was dominated by Arjan van de
Ven's five-second boot
demonstration; having been given that challenge, developers from
multiple distributions set about the
task of getting their systems to boot quickly.
- A session on server management looked for solutions to a number of
challenges facing Linux administrators.
- Kernel/user-space APIs were the topic of another lively session which,
while perhaps concluding little, raised a lot of issues on how those
APIs should be designed.
- The power management session concluded that the suspend/resume problem
is solved ("if you disagree, you bought the wrong hardware") and made
progress on a number of other problems; now, they say, all that is
left is the coding.
- The "future displays" session pounded out the path toward kernel-based
graphics mode setting and quite a bit more.
- And the desktop integration session, while reaching "not a lot of
conclusions," examined a number of relevant issues; the discussion on
Upstart from that session will be covered here separately.
Beyond that, LPC attendees could choose from a handful of more traditional
presentations, a provocative
keynote from Greg Kroah-Hartman, a rather less provocative kernel
update from your editor, a git tutorial taught by some guy named Linus, and
no shortage of evening celebrations. All told, the Linux Plumbers
Conference was one of the most productive, interesting, and generally
worthwhile events your editor has been to in quite some time - and your
editor has been to rather more than the usual number of events. There will
be a lot of interesting developments kicked off by this gathering, once the
exhausted attendees get some rest. This conference is off to a good start.
And it is just a start; the organizers are already working on the 2009
edition. It will, once again, be held in Portland. The general format
will likely remain the same, but there will be no kernel summit before the
2009 event (the summit will be in October 2009 in Tokyo). Instead, there
is a reasonable chance that a more traditional, presentation-oriented
conference will be planned to coincide with the 2009 Plumbers Conference.
With this new event, the active local community, and the success of this
year's conference, LPC2009 looks promising already.
After 2009, the Plumbers team hopes to take a page from the linux.conf.au
playbook and pass the event onto a new set of volunteer organizers
somewhere else in North America. This form of organization has helped to
keep linux.conf.au vital and interesting for many years; it makes sense to
do something similar with the Linux Plumbers Conference. Now might be a
good time for any North American community which would like to host this
event in 2010 to start thinking about how it could be done.
to post comments)