Your editor is back and rested - if somewhat jet lagged - from the 2004
production of Linux.Conf.Au
Adelaide. Some 540 people attended this event -- the highest attendance
in this conference's five-year history.
Here's a quick summary of what happened as seen by LWN.
Greg Ungerer gave an introductory talk on uClinux which will be
interesting to those who haven't actually looked at how this kernel (which
runs on systems without a memory management unit) works. Modern uClinux
supports a vast number of architectures, and will run on systems with as
little as 1MB of memory (though "you can't do much" on such a system).
There's a few little things missing, of course: virtual memory support, the
fork() system call (vfork() works), no dynamic stacks, no
sbrk(), etc. And, of course, nothing protects the system and
applications from each other. Even so, making applications work on uClinux
is usually not a particularly big deal. Future plans for uClinux include
supporting more hardware, adding to the list of ported applications, and
integration with the RTAI real-time system.
Running device drivers in user mode was discussed by Peter Chubb.
This topic will get a more detailed treatment on this week's Kernel Page.
Your editor has come to the conclusion that Jon 'maddog' Hall serves
as a mutual exclusion mechanism for Linux conferences. Since he,
inevitably, shows up at every Linux event, his scheduling constraints serve
to keep multiple conferences from happening at the same time. In Adelaide,
he discussed the differing expectations of developers, users, and
managers. Among other things, he predicted that 2004 will be the year when
the Linux desktop truly begins to take over. Maddog's talks are invariably
fun to hear.
Greg Lehey discussed his Vinum
volume manager. Vinum runs on FreeBSD and NetBSD, but a Linux port is in the
works. It provides many of the usual features: disk concatenation and
striping, along with implementations of the various RAID levels. Among
other things, Vinum was intended to be easy to configure via a relatively
straightforward text file. As Greg noted, however, "pilot errors" remain
Bdale Garbee gave a wide-ranging talk covering a number of topics.
The core of the discussion, however, had to do with truly large-scale Linux
deployments, such as those which have happened in Extremadura (Spain), and
in Brazil. He notes that Linux has become an obvious first choice for
publicly-sponsored computing initiatives in many parts of the world -
especially the less rich areas. Use of Linux allows greater control,
doesn't require sending large amounts of hard currency to the United
States, and can help in the creation of local information technology
expertise. Bdale also noted, with visible pleasure, that the Debian
distribution (or a derivative thereof) tends to be chosen for this sort of
project. He sees Debian as embodying many of the free software community's
core concepts and being appealing for its essential openness.
Havoc Pennington touched on some similar concepts with his "state of
the Linux desktop" keynote. He repeatedly pointed out that, to achieve
true success on the desktop, the free software community must focus on what
it does best, rather than trying to imitate current proprietary offerings.
For example, since any interested party can add to free software and influence its
development, the very best translation and accessibility
support tend to be found in free systems. Many languages and user
communities are too small to be worth supporting for a proprietary software
company, but the users themselves don't care about that. Then, there are
projects like Dashboard and
GNOME Storage (among many others) which show that anybody can pursue interesting
ideas; if others like the results, those ideas will be enhanced by others
incorporated. For this reason, it is important that the Linux desktop
remains 100% free software; as soon as proprietary components start to
appear, the advantages of free software are lost.
His call to go beyond imitation notwithstanding, Havoc is clearly very
focused on where Microsoft is headed, especially with the forthcoming
"Longhorn" release. He says that the delays in Longhorn give Linux a
window of opportunity to step in (especially since moving to Longhorn
looks like it will be no easier than switching to Linux), but we have to be
aware of the sort of features Longhorn will offer and have something which
will be a competitive alternative.
Jeff Waugh gave a high-energy talk on the GNOME project. His focus
was on the decentralized nature of the project, the increasing number of
developers, and the tightly-run six-month release schedule. He talked of
some trends in GNOME development (the new "evolution data server" which
will provide contact and calendar information; embracing of
standards and code coming out of FreeDesktop.org; the commitment to ABI
stability across GNOME 2.x, etc.) but it seems that nobody really
knows what future GNOME releases will bring. The one sure thing, according
to Jeff, is "we will rock you."
Beyond the talks, this conference included a well-developed
"partners program" for the families of attendees, dinner events put on by
IBM and Oracle, and the now-famous dunk tank. The break area lacked
coffee (by American standards, anyway) but made up for it in free ice
cream. The venue was beautiful; Elder Hall with its woodwork and pipe
organ is far superior to the typical conference ballroom. And the whole
event was suffused by an Australian sense of humor and fun.
Also worthy of note
was the "Miniconf" program which ran for two days before the main event
(and which, unfortunately, your editor was unable to attend). The Linux and Open Source in
Government miniconf, in particular, seems to have brought out many
themes which resonated through the rest of the event.
In summary; Linux.Conf.Au was a great success. It was, as intended,
a seriously fun gathering with much talk about the technology and no
marketing. Let it never be said that volunteers cannot bring off a
complex event of this type. Linux.Conf.Au is more volunteer-driven than
most; it is run by a different committee in a different city every year.
Despite the talk of heroic, last-minute, all-nighters put on by the
conference staff, the attendee experience was smooth and seamless.
Linux.Conf.Au came off better than many events run by "professionals."
Great congratulations are due to the dedicated group of people who pulled
LWN would like to thank HP one last time for making our presence at
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