LinuxCon take-aways

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Aug 21, 2015 GMT
Bruce Byfield

Between becoming re-acquainted with Seattle and trying to attend all the talks at the same time, my inner extrovert was glad to slink back to his cage after three days at LinuxCon.  Maybe things would be less hectic if I attended more regularly than once every four or five years, but, still, I wouldn't have missed it. Not only did I finally meet face to face such people as Jono Bacon and Swapnil Bhartiya, but I know of no better way than attending LinuxCon to learn so quickly what the current trends are in free software.

Over and over, I heard people saying that Linuxcon was the OpenStack Summit, Part 2. They meant, of course, that the major issues were cloud storage and containers. This focus could have been anticipated, given that LinuxCon was being billed alongside Cloud Open and Container Cloud, but it has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Community booths were in short supply, and if all the storage and container-oriented booths were to decamp at once, the marketplace would have been echoingly empty. So, too, would most of the meeting rooms.

Most companies, regardless of the other features in the software, seemed most eager to display their management software. Given that the offerings of most companies frequently resembled that of most other companies, I suspect that, sooner or later, many companies are going to fail. But, then again, storage and containers are so lucrative that I could be wrong.

Corporate sightings
The usual round of suspects were in attendance. IBM's interest in Linux appears to be on the upswing, with  Angel Diaz, Vice President of Cloud Architecture and Technology seemingly everywhere.
By contrast, while Mark Shuttleworth was an active presence, Canonical and Ubuntu were subdued compared to their activities at the OpenStack Summit. From that, I deduce the obvious: their priorities lie in storage and containers these days more than Linux or free software in general.
However, the one company you couldn't miss at LinuxCon was SUSE. Not only was SUSE a major sponsor of the event, with its name on every lanyard, but if a census were possible, I'm sure that SUSE might have been found to have the highest number of executives per square centimeter of any corporation at LinuxCon. SUSE seemed quiet after being acquired by Attachmate in 2011 and by Micro Focus International in 2014, but it now is aggressively pursuing market share.

Security is the new issue
When people were not discussing containers and the cloud, the Linux Foundation was working to promote security as a major concern. Executive director Jim Zemlin made security a major topic in his opening keynote.

Similarly, the second morning began with security expert Bruce Schneier talked via Google Hangout about the new Cold War online, observing that although how security breaches are made is the essential question, the media was still more concerned about who made it. Schneier's was pessimistic about future developments, suggesting that any system could be compromised by anyone who is persistent enough, but also emphasized the need to continue defensive actions.

Much of the talk about security centered on the Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII), which is intended to insure that key technologies such as ssh have adequate funds to be effective. As one advisor told me, CII can serve as an intermediary between corporations and small essential projects whose philosophies would otherwise never allow them to take money directly from corporations. The advisor also noted that many of these projects are easy to fund because their expectations are so low, but, in general it seems that CII demonstrates how the Linux Foundation can be a go-between for different aspects of free software.

The Linux Foundation also held a media and expert lunch to discuss CII's new badge program to encourage best security practices in software development. Those projects that meet the program's standards will have the right to display a certification badge as a mark of their security standards, which will also allow users to place some trust in their work. The certification is free, and enforcement will depend on public reporting. During the luncheon, Zemlin suggested that the Linux Foundation may develop tutorials and other teaching materials to help projects achieve certification.

Whispers of diversity
Another small but definite trend is the growing acceptance of the need to improve diversity in the community. Diversity was constantly mentioned in key notes, including the Linux Foundation's awarding of thirty-four training scholarships to its instructional programs -- a total of over $100,000 in awards. Scholarships were open to anyone, but, perhaps by chance, many seemed to come from India or South America. Women were under-represented, but winners varied in age from 15 to 43.

Although diversity was not a large enough topic to be color-coded separately in LinuxCon's schedule, the topic could still be found easily at the conference. The Seattle chapter of Girls Who Code was one of only three community booths, while the Free Software Foundation's booth was regularly staffed by women, and FSF stalwarts such as Deb Nicholson were active on the programming track. A women's lunch and an Ally Workshop were also held.

Tuesday evening also saw a screening of Robin Hauser Reynolds' Coding: Debugging the Gender Gap, an in-depth look at women in computing. The film made a few minor errors in details, and did not look at free software specifically, but served as the starting point for half an hour of questions. Admittedly, the ballroom was no more than two-thirds full, but it was an event that that probably would never have been held five years ago.

Decompression time
LinuxCon in Seattle was only my second conference in three years, so I had a lot of catching up to do. But as I make the adjustment back to everyday life, with a serious case of the mental bends, I am more convinced than ever of the importance of conferences for keeping track of both the industry and the community.

True, I miss the emphasis on community that existed a decade ago, when I last attended conferences with any regularity. Where once corporations attended tentatively, now they are the majority, and even Microsoft representatives are treated politely. I suppose, though, that change is inevitable, and I can still find plenty to interest me on the schedule.

This may have been my first conference in five years away from my home city, but now that I have crossed the magic line again into the United States, it won't be my last. Look for me when I am unexpected -- who knows where I will dive next?

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