Like many communities, the Linux community depends heavily on conferences
as a way to help our developers and users know each other and work well
together. We make highly effective use of electronic communications, but
there is truly no substitute for occasionally getting together, sharing a
beer or three, and engaging in some high-bandwidth discussion. So it
stands to reason we want our events to be as productive and useful as
possible, especially given the expense of participating in them.
Your editor recently had the fortune of attending, over the course of one
week, two conferences which are arguably the oldest and the newest in our
community. They were both interesting events, but they were very different
in their organization and attendance. Both show both strengths and
weaknesses in our organization of face-to-face events.
Arguably, the first Linux-related event ever was Linux-Kongress 1994.
That gathering brought together developers working
on the Linux kernel for the first time; it played host to a large portion
of the (quite small) development community. For a period of time thereafter,
Linux-Kongress was the development event for
people working at or near the kernel level. It didn't take too long for
other conferences (notably Linux Expo in the US) to grab some of the
spotlight, but, unlike Linux Expo, Linux-Kongress is still an active
The 2008 event, in Hamburg, Germany, was well organized and a
lot of fun; it was a pleasant gathering of a part of the community which
your editor visits far too rarely. It was a technical conference for
technical people, with a number of well-known developers present.
But it must be said: Linux-Kongress is a small and relatively obscure event
in 2008. There were maybe 200 attendees; much of the northern European
development community was absent. Even some developers based in Hamburg
declined to attend. The quality of the talks was not uniformly good,
though some were excellent. And, in stark contrast to the recent Linux
Plumbers Conference, it's hard to point at much work that got done.
For something that was once the Linux
development gathering, Linux-Kongress has clearly come down in the world.
It is interesting to observe that Europe, while being the home to large
numbers of free software developers, lacks a definitive development
conference. That is not to say that no interesting events happen there;
GUADEC and Akademy are probably the biggest desktop conferences, and the
event is something to look forward to. But
developers looking for a pan-European, Linux-oriented conference will not find
one. LinuxConf.eu, a combination of the UKUUG and Linux-Kongress events
held in Cambridge last year, offered the potential to become such an event,
but the LinuxConf.eu idea appears to have stalled for now.
From Hamburg, your editor flew straight to New York City, where the
End-User Summit was held. This event, happening
for the first time, differs greatly from Linux-Kongress in many ways. To
begin with, it was an invitation-only event, and one which explicitly
excluded the press (which is why there have been no LWN articles from
there). It was also intended to host a mixture of developers and users,
and to allow them to talk to each other. These characteristics led to a
different sort of conference experience.
We do not run an invitation-only community; excluding
people from our conferences seems to run counter to the inclusive
atmosphere we normally try to encourage.
The invitation-only nature of some Linux Foundation events naturally leads
to complaints. We do not run an invitation-only community; excluding
people from our conferences seems to run counter to the inclusive
atmosphere we normally try to encourage. The Linux Foundation's reasoning
here is easy to understand, though: many of the targeted end users (who represent
mainly the financial industry in New York) have a hard time talking about
what they are doing in any setting. In an open conference with press in
attendance, those people will simply keep their mouths closed - if they
show up at all.
The user community represented by the financial industry is important; they
are a significant part of the business which keeps the enterprise
distributions going. Even now, they are highly sought after as customers.
It is important to know what they are thinking and what their biggest
difficulties with Linux are. In the absence of an event like the End User
Summit, this information will only be communicated directly to the enterprise
distributors under a non-disclosure agreement. An invitation-only summit
is fundamentally exclusive at one level, but it does help the development
community (as opposed to one or two companies) get a sense for what this
user community is thinking.
So what are they thinking? They feel some stress between the stability of
enterprise distributions and the desire to have the features developed by
the community in recent years. They want good tracing mechanisms, but do
not necessarily need the dynamic tracing provided by tools like
DTrace or SystemTap. They like Linux because its broad hardware support
frees them from reliance on any specific hardware vendor. They are very
interested in work on next-generation filesystems. Some of them, at
least, very much want to better understand how our development process
works and, possibly, participate in it. See the Linux Foundation's press
release for a summary of what was discussed there.
It was a productive gathering, especially once the CEOs got off the stage
and the attendees were able to talk to each other. But it points out
another thing that we, as a community, lack: there are few forums where
developers and users can get together and learn from each other.
Developers tend to prefer the company of other developers; convincing them
to go to more user-oriented events can be a challenge. So the closest
thing we have to a combined user/developer event is the single-vendor
conferences held by companies like Red Hat and Novell. Those, needless to
say, are not the most community-oriented gatherings. They are not the best
way to learn what our users are thinking.
The proposed LinuxCon event, to be co-located with the 2009 Linux Plumbers
Conference, may help to fill in this gap somewhat.
Our community is blessed with a wealth of interesting gatherings
worldwide. But that doesn't mean that we can't do better. Whether the
subject is a true pan-European Linux gathering, user-oriented conferences,
or something else altogether, there are always opportunities to find ways
to help our community be more cohesive and productive. The trick is to
expand communications to a broader community - as seen in our newest
conference - while growing the open collaborative spirit exemplified by our
to post comments)