Linuxworld day 2

One thing I meant to point out yesterday is that the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre is HUGE – not at all on a human scale, more like an aircraft scale.

Boston Convention Centre

Anyway todays initial keynote was from Kevin Kettler the CTO at Dell about virtualisation. Although the ideas were quite interesting – what would it be like to have several custon virtual appliance images for different things, gaming, mulitmedia, email/browsing, etc, all optimised and protected from each other. It seemed to me though that it came across as a bit preachy and the tone didn’t seem quite right – at one point he played a video which really didn’t have any content and had some pretty strong stereotypes of ‘Linux guys’.

After that I went down to the show floor for more schmoozing at the Gnome booth. Jonathan Blandford and some other RedHat dudes installed AIGLX on his machine and were pimping their eye candy. It looked pretty cool – wobbly windows, really fast and smooth magnification and the window exploded on minimise. And this was all runing smoothly on an IBM T4X (T41 I think). To be fair one of the Novell guys (the product manager for SuSE Linux Desktop I believe) showed me Xgl running on a new X60 with Intel graphics and it was really smooth and he claimed they had external monitor auto detection all worked out.

I went along to an interesting panel ‘Are open-source databases ready for the Enterprise’ chaired by Stephen O’Grady with Marten Mikos or MySQL, Andy Astor of EnterpriseDB, and Michael Olson of Sleepycat who are now part of Oracle. Marten is so quotable. At one point Stephen asked ‘most people don’t actualy read or use the source code so do you derive a benefit from being open-source other than the price being zero’ – to which Marty answered (roughly) ‘We absolutely derive a benefit. The fact that the code is open and someone might look at it means that we have to write better code – it’s the same reason that your front yard looks better than your back yard, even though you spend more time in the back yard.’ It was nice to meet Stephen after the event – we’d shared ideas about the lesscode philosophy.

On that theme, Luis and I were chatting and wishing for a Ruby on Rails type approach to desktop applications – something that takes away all of the pain and makes the whole thing easy. Of course when I mentioned this to Miguel later he, of course, started telling us why Mono was exactly that. While I like Mono I don’t think it’s the right comparison – one of the key things is that Rails is opinionated and clear about what is does, it’s not trying to be all things to all people. Mono, by it’s nature, is too general. There is no reason why a Rails like framework couldn’t be built on top of Mono and Monodevelop. It just needs someone to take a stand and express an opion about how desktop clients should be written.

After that was a bit more wandering around the show floor. The rpath stuff was really intersesting. Their product allows you to build a custom distribution with just the pieces needed to run your app, e.g. bugzilla, asterisk, mythtv, etc, etc. Their system can build either a custom install cd, based on Anaconda the RedHat installer, or a Vmware image, or Xen images, and soon LiveCDs.

In the afternoon was Larry Augustin’s keynote panel with (that man again) Marten Mikos, John Roberts of SugarCRM, Marc Fluery of JBoss (the other most quotable CEO because he doesn’t give a fuck who he upsets – I recommend asking what he thinks of IBM), and Peter Levine from Xensource. Many of the same points were made as in the Stephen O’Grady panel. I was enjoying the banter between the panelists so I sat back and just enjoyed the show. I didn’t make any notes are try too hard to memorise everything. So sue me.

After that I hung out with The Linux Link Tech Show crew. The were trying to get me to talk smack about Jono and the LUGRadio guys. Miguel de Icaza came over for a chat, and they forced us to pose for a photo, with me holding a tllts t-shirt (of which they gave me two, one for Jono).

After the show we went into Boston to find a Thai restaurant we looked up on Google maps. For some reason they left me to navigate the subway and find the place. We were starting to feel jinxed as the subway train we got on at Park Street started smoking and there was that kind of burnt out electric motor smell. After a brief pause all the passengers had to get off and wait for the next train. Maybe the Unisys guys were on the train too?

Anyway the food was great – I had tofu mango curry, not very hot but very tasty – and it was fun to hang out with tllts – it was wierd listening to them talk about Linux and open-source stuff; like watching the US version of The Office, familiar but American. LUGRadio but American. BTW they were saying they had a really good interview with Nat Friedman which I’ll be checking out when I get chance (probably on the plane home).

Linuxworld day 1

The day started with an interesting keynote from Nicholas Negroponte of MIT and the OLPC. Before he got into the details he had a couple of general observations. The one that stuck with me is that modern computers, regardless of OS, are too complex, too fat. They suck more power, and run more slowly and have more bugs than ever before. This kicked off a train of thought that hopefully I’ll get time to come back to tomorrow.

With regard to the eponimous laptop, Nicholas went to great pains to point out that olpc is an educational project not a laptop project – that the goals are about education not producing some new cool tech. He pointed to several experiences he’d had with using computers and programming for education over the last 25 years.

He pointed to the sucess of the Maine laptop program, where they give all schoolchildren a laptop (an iBook I believe) with the result that school crime is down, attendance is up, PTA meeting attendance is way up, discipline is improved, and best of all they had to start turning off the school servers at night. Why? Because the teachers were getting inundated with questions from the kids about their homework.

One of the things that stuck with me is that learning to program is a way of thinking about thinking, and when young people get into it, that way of thinking about thinking can change their perspective. He used the example of a test in school – if you get 8 out of 10 you might feel good, that’s 80%, but if you get into programming and debugging you start to realise that it’s the 20% you got wrong that’s the most intersting bit – or at least the bit most worth investigating. This ties into a Tech Nation podcast where Dr Carol Dweck explained that her research led her to divide the world into two types of mindsets: Fixed and Growth. Fixed mindset kids had their entire self esteem tied into their test results and prefered to retake a test they’d already done, rather than take on a new challenge, whereas kids with a Growth mindset didn’t get upset by ‘failures’, they just saw challenges as a chance to learn new stuff, and were more focused on approach and methodology than ‘results’ which tended to be the focus of the Fixed mi ndset.

Negroponte was full of great quotes. My favourite was (roughly) “I’m not interesting in training. Training is what we do for dogs, I’m more interested in teaching people to learn”.

After the keynote I headed down to the show floor and the .org pavillion to check in with Luis at the Gnome booth. Just as we got started alarms started going off and we noticed a huge plume of smoke rising from the Unisys stand. Apparantly some kind of electrical fault caused a fire. It didn’t last long and was all over by the time the Firemen arrived. Others have reported about this and taken photos. I had my camera in my bag but too busy laughing. I think Luis took some snaps – it would be nice to post them up as a GIF I think 😉

I had a bit of time to wander around the stands and chat to some people. Chris Toshok of the Mono project showed me the new MonoDevelop that includes the Stetic interface designer. It looked really nice – seemed to bring some of the same niceness that Delphi used to bring to Windows client development (a long time ago). I think it will be really interesting when it finally comes out.

Had a long chat to the guys at CentricCRM. It seems like they have a really nice product – what stood out for me wass the customisable workflow that could be built into the system. I think this is a pretty big need and I look forward to investigating some more, especially the community around the product and the licensing and business models.

One of the guys on the KDE booth (next to the Gnome booth) brought in his pet chameleon and this was definitely the booth babe of the show.

The KDE lizard

In the afternoon I went along to listen to some of the ‘Government Day’ talks. Bruce Momjian gave a great talk, and quite persuasively made the point that you will end up using open-source software, it’s just a question of when, not if.

On the way back I finally managed to get a hold of the fabled MBTA weekly combo pass – I had to go to Park Street Outbound ticket seller – the lady in the booth on the inbound platform wouldn’t or couldn’t sell it to me. I’m not sure why they make it so dificult to buy these tickets.

Boston

I’m lucky enought to be in Boston for LinuxWorld. Today was tutorial day, but it was somewhat scuppered by jet lag – arrived late and had to leave early because I was just falling asleep.

Boston transport is a bit strange – one thing that is driving me nuts is that they advertise a ‘Combo pass’ for $16.50, which covers all the public transport for a week, but none of the damn stations sell it, and they keep sending me on to the next one. So far no luck, hopefull tomorrow.

As for the actual underground, it’s a curious mix of underground trains roughly similar to the London underground, electric trams similar to other US and European cities, but underground, and the newest line, the Silver line, is an underground concrete road for an electric bus. All the lines are colour coded Green, Red, Orange, etc, and confusingly they go either Inbound, or Outbound, i.e. into the city centre or away from it (at least thats what I currently understand), which can be confusing if the geography of the place isn’t familiar.

One thing I alway forget about American metropolitan areas

there is always wireless!