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Inside EuroBSDCon 2004

by Federico Biancuzzi
11/24/2004

During the final weekend of October, nearly 200 people attended EuroBSDCon in Karlsruhe, Germany. The event offered a keynote by Apple's Jordan Hubbard, 23 talks organized in two tracks, a social event inside Luigi Colani's exhibition, and multiple coffee breaks to socialize. ONLamp.com writer Federico Biancuzzi attended; here's what he saw and heard.

Keynote

Saturday morning, the big event was Jordan K. Hubbard's keynote. He's the manager of BSD Technologies for Apple Computer Inc., perhaps the most envied job among BSD developers. I can't prove this, but if a lot of people talked with him face to face for the whole weekend, I think that there should be a good reason. Jordan started with the common myth "BSD is dying," and showed us that it's completely false. Thanks to Mac OS X, BSD is the most famous Unix on desktops, and yes, there are more BSD than Linux boxes.

Jordan
Hubbard's Keynote
Figure 1. Jordan Hubbard's keynote.

By the way, some time ago I heard an advocacy speech by Murray Stokely who said something amazing that I think we should write everywhere. If you take Linux as a unique movement, then it is bigger than FreeBSD, but if you take each distribution (per Netcraft's Linux OS detection statistics), then FreeBSD has more users than Red Hat. Did you know that?

Jordan kept pushing the button on innovations. Where is the alternative thinking? In the Linux world, if there is a new hardware, idea, or project, there's always someone who stands up and start working on it. Maybe that person will not complete what he or she started or maybe the result will be of low quality, but at least someone tried to contribute. This doesn't happen in the BSD world. Jordan made the example of the virtual network interfaces patch for FreeBSD, written by Marko Zec. It is essentially a proof of a concept and needs more work, but development hasn't yet progressed.

more
of Jordan Hubbard's keynote
Figure 2. More of Jordan Hubbard's keynote.

Even if most of his examples came from FreeBSD, Hubbard talked about systrace from OpenBSD and NetBSD on iPod. Yeah, you read right. He mentioned that BSD is missing a port for hardware architecture without a MMU, and he invited the NetBSD folks to work on that.

Jordan K. Hubbard's Keynote
Figure 3. Still more of Jordan Hubbard's keynote.

The slide in Figure 3 has a very interesting detail: a mobile phone. Can we expect a BSD powered iPhone?

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I had the impression that he wanted to let us know about a porting of some music tools (iTunes?) when he asked why FreeBSD still has a naive audio framework. He said that if developers think that users only want to listen to MP3s, well, okay. Otherwise, we can do better.

At the end of the keynote, there was a funny Q&A session followed by long applause. By the way, Sunday afternoon, I asked Jordan if he really uses a one-button mouse. I don't know how to write his answer without creating problems, so I won't repeat what he does with bundled peripherals. However, let me say that he uses keyboards and mice built by a company with an Italian president...

Talks and Meetings

There were a lot of talks divided in two tracks, so occasionally I had to choose between two wanna-see speeches. Pity.

I found all the different ways we spoke English to be fascinating. You know, now we are a community (E.U.), and it's amazing listening to accents and sounds from other language speakers. I felt part of something bigger than a nation, language, or frontier, and I hope that others felt it too. I don't want to write details for every speech I've attended because the EuroBSDCon organizers promised to put all off the slides and papers on the EuroBSDCon 2004 website. I hope they have already done so when this report comes out.

During a coffee break, I joined a conversation between Poul-Henning Kamp and the two Italian FreeSBIE developers. We discovered that Poul worked in Italy for a famous company called Olivetti, and he still remembers how good the Italian food was.

Then I talked with Scott Long about FreeBSD's bad habit of missing release deadlines. He said that the situation would change, and in fact, a few days later he posted a plan for time-based FreeBSD releases. I hope that beyond the plan to release more often, there will be a stronger desire to respect deadlines. I hope his badge featuring "Long Scott" wasn't a bad signal. ;-)

In the afternoon, I talked with Hubert Feyrer about NetBSD. We discussed the idea to build a multiboot DVD and the fact that Federico Lupi disappeared from the internet (where have you gone?). Then he told me that they were going to release the new NetBSD logo. I was excited...until I saw it. It's not bad, but I don't think it solves all the problems written in the new-logo-contest-announcement. NetBSD needs a mascot that satisfies those rules and, most importantly, represents NetBSD only. I had an idea, but I don't draw well.

Obviously, I talked with Wim Wandeputte too. I met him for the first time in Padova in 2003 during the informal BSDCon Italy. He always has a lot of OpenBSD t-shirts and jackets. This time, he was distributing the new 3.6 CD set and giving away free OpenBSD posters. NetBSD had a booth too with t-shirts, CDs and DVDs, German books, and candies. There was also a FreeBSD Mall booth where I bought a couple of demon horns to make a funny photo (Figure 4) with a pretty girl I saw.

Toineke from Holland
Figure 4. Toineke from Holland.

Moving among conference rooms, I looked at every badge I could and discovered a lot of people I've heard of. There were a lot of known developers; matching the personalities you understand from their mail and their appearances was a funny experience. Some have long beards, some have tics, some like being barefooted, some have ergonomic support for their laptops via their tummies, some dress very elegantly and some very casually (maybe dressing in the dark?). Most of them like beer.

I met Dru Lavigne. I think she was shy, but I was shy too, so we talked...we said very few words. However, she autographed my copy of BSD Hacks, and I gave her a copy of the Italian magazine for which I manage the BSD section.

One of the first people I recognized was Greg Lehey. I saw his photo somewhere on the internet. Because he had a long beard, I was soon pretty sure he was the famous grog. I asked for an autograph on my copy of The Complete FreeBSD. He looked at my pass to find my first name and then used it for the dedication. I think he was the only one who wrote it correctly. Most people I meet outside Italy write it Frederico...

The Conference Ends

Sunday at 16:00, the closing session started. After a short "thank you, no, no, thank you, no, thank you!" between organizers and attendees, the awards for best papers went to:

  1. Lightweight FreeBSD package cluster in a jail by Dirk Meyer.

    I think he was the only person wearing a waistcoat under a jacket. Dandy...

  2. But I'm not a developer...how can I contribute to open source? by Dru Lavigne.

    She received the prize very silently. Did I tell you she is shy?

  3. FreeSBIE: A code walkthrough and a case study by Matteo Riondato and Massimiliano Stucchi.

    Amusingly, they received 100 blank CDs to burn FreeSBIE on.

Thus, the conference officially ended. A lot of people left the hotel soon afterward; only a few stayed in the room until 18:00. Then, most of them moved toward dinner. I know it's not exactly the time of the day for dinner for most of the people, but hey, that's Germany.

Matteo Riondato and I joined the group led by Greg "fast-feet" Lehey. He started walking with fast and long steps even while wearing sandals and the group had to be fast enough to follow our guide toward the dinner place. It was a nice moment. When I began my travel, I'd never imagined that I'd have spent the evening drinking beer with all those famous people. Guest stars: Dru Lavigne and her daughter, Greg Lehey and his wife, Erwin Lansing and a lot of other people, but sadly I don't remember all the names.

The restaurant explaned that for every ten 1.5-liter carafes we bought, we would receive a free one. Obviously we accepted the challenge even though we were only a dozen people. Here you can see the first beer round...

Dinner
Figure 5. Beer with dinner.

This is just a part of the team. Please note the meticulous attention used to pour the beer.

After some time, Greg, Dru, and others left the brasserie, and so we invited some people from other tables to join our own. Here you can see the result of this successful joint-venture operation.

EngiBeer
Figure 6. Further beer.

A new type of engineer is born: the EngiBeer!

Musings on Next Year

At 23:00, I said goodnight to head to the train station. During the night travel home, I was thinking that the conference was a good event but without a clear targeted audience. I heard people discussing the next conference to be held in Switzerland and a possible 2006 version in Italy. I started wondering: who should attend EuroBSDCon? Developers? Users? Advocates? Anyone?

I think we should think about it. As Dru said in her EuroBSDCon weblog, most people at the conference talked to each other for short moments and then returned to their groups, sometime a group of friends, sometimes a group of same-language-speakers, or developers of a particular BSD project. Can't we use a moment like this in a better way? I'm not suggesting to transform it into something like an OpenBSD hackathon, but maybe we should try to use this rare opportunity to make different BSD projects interact more.

What about users? How can we use this yearly conference as a marketing tool if it costs a 200 Euro fee? How much do travel, hotel, and conference tickets combined cost, 400 Euros? I know a lot of people around Europe that couldn't afford all the costs since most are students. They stayed at home. This is bad. How many times can a BSD user meet a lot of developers in the same place? I think we should promote this opportunity and use it to arouse enthusiasm in new users. If you were a newbie, would you prefer to hear Robert Watson presenting FreeBSD or Mr.Foobar from a local user group?

Federico Biancuzzi is a freelance interviewer. His interviews appeared on publications such as ONLamp.com, LinuxDevCenter.com, SecurityFocus.com, NewsForge.com, Linux.com, TheRegister.co.uk, ArsTechnica.com, the Polish print magazine BSD Magazine, and the Italian print magazine Linux&C.


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