OSCON Friday Keynotes

The OSCON Friday Keynotes are over and here are my notes. To save folks some trouble (in case none of these people interest them), I’ve listed the speakers:

  • Conference Announcements – Nat Torkington, O’Reilly Media, Inc.
  • Linux – In Search of the Desktop – Asa Dotzler, Mozilla Foundation
  • Open Source Biology – Drew Endy, MIT Biological Engineering
  • Open Source Licensing Issues – Tony Gaughan, Computer Associates
  • On Evil – Danny O’Brien, Need To Know
  • Howtoons – Saul Griffith, Squid Labs

And the afternoon closing session was keynoted by Miguel de Icaza. The first speaker was Asa Dotzler from the Mozilla Foundation regarding his controversial post that Linux is not ready for the desktop and what the Linux developer community needs to do to get it there. In general, I agree with Asa’s points regarding Linux — but I think it is largely irrelevant (or will be) now that all of the interesting applications are moving on to the web — pretty soon folks won’t care what OS their machines are running as long as the browser works (perhaps Linux on the desktop will eventually win — but as a cut down, minimal OS that runs on the cheapest commodity hardware and simply boots quickly into a full-screen browser). Next was Drew Endy and Assoc. Prof at MIT Biological Engineering. His presentation on DNA as the code for writing/building biological organisms was quite good. It seems that they are also dealing with difficult patent issues in his field as well because as companies discover which strings of DNA-code do what, they immediately patent the work. He gave the example of students who made an organism which essentially took photographs (the billions of bacteria would rearrange themselves to reproduce the image shone onto them) — this was only possible because the building blocks necessary for this project were freely given to them by the various universities which own the patents on them. Following Drew was Tony Gaughan from Computer Associates, at first I thought this was going to be another marketing keynote, this time for CA’s Ingress open source database. While Tony did mention Ingress quite a bit he also went over the open source licenses which have been written in the last few years and how this “explosion” of licenses is not sustainable, fractures the open source community and in general makes this very difficult for commercial interests who wish to use and contribute back to open source projects. I completely agree with this and think that the OSI needs to do something about it. If they can boil down the essence of each of the existing licenses and build up a sort-of template library of licenses where-by developers could simply use one or more templates to licenses their software. Danny O’Brien, the editor of Need To Know (and now apparently affiliated with the EFF) gave a hilarous talk on “evil”. I can’t really do a good job of conveying it since you really had to be there. Finally, what I thought was the most interesting talk came from Saul Griffith of Squid Labs. He spoke about the HowToons comics which his company is developing (there are plans for a book as well) to get kids interested in science and engineering (and let them have a lot of fun while doing it) as well as the iFabricate document and collaboration system for helping people share projects with one another in a standardized way. He then showed videos of some of the projects they have implemented with kids. For afternoon closing session, Miguel de Icaza (of Novell) spoke about Linux on the desktop and the work at Novell to completely replace MS Office with OpenOffice (done) and replace MS Windows with Linux (50% done). He spoke about the portable usability testing lab they have to watch how Windows users deal with the migration to Linux (this information is passed back to the Linux/GNOME developers). He then gave a demo of the forth-coming OpenSuSe Linux distribution with a completely re-written UI layer that is “quartz-like” in that it renders to PDF using OpenGL (hardware or software emulation). The demo was really neat, he could change desktops by simply dragging the desktop around (as it was really a cube), he show how quickly moving windows made them wobble (like Jello), he showed an Expose-like feature which unstacked the windows so you could find what you’re looking for and he showed a video playing that was moved halfway between desktops — so that when he tried to switch to the next desktop the movie window bent around the corner of the cube (and it still played fine). ISOs for this should be available sometime next week, he said. Overall, it was an interesting tcchnology demo — not much new was said. Since I’ve got to go to the airport, I’ll post my OSCON observations and thoughts on the trends of software development over the weekend. I had a great time at OSCON and hope to come back next year.