The goods:Commercial vendor booths have been fork-lifted in and assembled throughout the course of the day in the lowest of three convention floors, but OSCON's company-sponsored exhibit booths are likely to be low-key and informative, not the glitzy schwag dispensaries of LinuxWorld Expo. (Added to which, the exhibits will only be up six hours on each of Wednesday and Thursday.)
Tutorials and other information-heavy sessions are the core of OSCON; attendees who have paid (or had their employers pay) more than a thousand dollars to attend a five days of tutorials and conference sessions are understandably serious about actually learning things.
I stopped in on one such serious session this morning, "A Day of Extreme Programming" taught by the Irish team of Marty Pauley, Tony Bowden, Marc Kerr and Karen Pauley. The instructors skipped over justifying the methodology of Extreme Programming, and instead immediately launched into a short, funny demonstration of multi-programmer iterative debugging before splitting the 30-or-so attendees into three programming teams for the rest of the day, each team coordinating its efforts using provided CVS servers to work for a simulated client (Karen Pauley, a manager in real life) with a nethack-style game to improve.
Marty Pauley drew some laughs by pointing out the "high-tech project coordination system" he had purchased in anticipation of the all-day session, which he said had cost about $14 in for the whole group. At this, he pulled out several packs of index cards, a plastic case to house them, and some rings to bind smaller collections of cards. "Forget about Gantt charts, every aspect of the project goes on an index card."
Cheap, not necessarily dirty.Pauley's Index-cards and CVS make a decent capsule of the whole conference: there's a definite leaning toward the practical, get-things-done-cheap aspect of open software rather than appeals to the importance of sharing emphasized by Richard Stallman's Free Software movement. OSCON features dozens of sessions and tutorials emphasizing the efficiency, standards compliance, and low-cost of source-available software, with just a few sessions touching on underlying philosophy or licensing. In one session yesterday, for instance, Free Software Foundation executive director Bradley Kuhn talked about the GNU General Public License as it applies to managers as well as to coders.
This doesn't mean that attendees aren't interested in philosophical underpinnings or changing the world -- more likely it's simply that in summer 2003, most programmers who would show up at an event like this have already wrestled with and come up with their own conclusions about software openness, including what licenses or license types they're comfortable using.
One indicator of the Open-vs-Free pragmatism at OSCON is the prevalence of Apple laptops running Mac OS X; Apple's OS may be the best poster child right now for the pleasing results possible in a mix of open source with proprietary software. One tutorial room I looked in on 22 attendees using Intel laptops, most of which were running graphical desktops on Linux or BSD, and 6 with PowerBooks running OS X. I note a similarly high proportion of OS X machines being used around the conference floor when hundreds of attendees swarm out of conference rooms at each break between sessions.
Changing the world, one press release at a time.A handful of interesting announcements have come out during the convention so far. Among them: MySQl and PogoLinux have announced a joint project, a turnkey database appliance running MySQL on an Intel based box. ActiveState (makers of well-regarded IDEs for Python and Perl, among other things) will show an alpha release of Komodo 2.5, the latest iteration of their IDE for programming in Perl, Python, PHP, Tcl and XSLT. Many more such announcements are likely after the exhibit hall opens tomorrow morning.
Not everything at OSCON is about helping businesses produce more virtual widgets per square inch, though -- the sense of collaboration isn't limited to downtown Portland. Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Tripod, and now founder of Geekcorps, will talk Friday on Geekcorps' efforts to bring digital independence to poor countries; he and several other geek activists took part today in a by-invitation roundtable discussion about spreading good through technology, and will be speaking together in a press conference tomorrow on the various ways computers and other high-tech tools can be used to promote prosperity worldwide.
Viva la revolucion!At a conference about extending and embracing proprietary software, the SCO-initiated legal fight over UNIX copyrights is surely on the minds of many attendees, but readers who have grown tired of the ongoing drama will be pleased that there's been little buzz here among attendees about SCO's legal actions. Is it because SCO's suit against IBM is simply irrelevant, or because most people are withholding judgment until SCO actually points out the code the company objects to? SCO is not forgotten, though: tomorrow afternoon, Bradley Kuhn, Chris DiBona, Alan Nugent and Lawrence Rosen will discuss the SCO case in a session called The IP Wars, which ought to get some blood pumping.
In the meantime, conference attendees will get to see something more fun and less contentious this evening: status reports on six different open source software projects: Perl (explained by Larry Wall), Python (Guido van Rossum), PHP (Shane Caraveo), MySQL (Monty Widenius and David Axmark), Apache (Greg Stein), and Linux (Theodore Ts'o).