OSCON 2008 Highlights

Analysis of News Events
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News and highlights from the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Oregon.


The tenth O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) kicked off on Monday, July 21, in Portland, Oregon, at the Oregon Convention Center. The first two days of the convention offered four-hour tutorial sessions in the morning and afternoon for attendees wishing to pay extra costs, aside from the normal exposition ticket, to attend the tutorials. Those sessions included everything as light-hearted as learning to use the GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) and toying with the Neuros DVR set-top box, to more advanced topics like mastering the Perl programming language and learning TCP/IP troubleshooting tips and techniques. With OSCON offering over 30 tutorials in those first two days, it was difficult to choose only four sessions.


Keynote speeches were extremely interesting and focused on topics such as advancing open Web standards in regards to cloud computing (Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media) and ensuring open standards exist in future mobile devices and technologies (Dirk Hohndel of Intel). Christine Peterson of Foresight Nanotech Institute, spoke about the very serious issue of decentralized, citizen-based, open-source approaches to collecting terrorism and safety data.


On Wednesday, July 23, the vendor exhibits and regular sessions opened.

Tim O'Reilly's Concerns About Cloud Computing

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., started OSCON with a keynote that was somewhat surprising. O'Reilly offered a brief history of how OSCON was born. The first conference, in 1997, was known as the Perl Conference. He spoke about how difficult it was to get press coverage for open-source events, pointing out that even the Gartner Group had expressed a lack of interest in covering the conference at that time. Now, the event is covered in full detail by numerous media sources.


O'Reilly went on to explain how the vast world of open source has been expanding, especially in enterprise environments. With the growth in enterprise data rooms, O'Reilly's surprising comment was that "We should be patting ourselves on the back, right? I'm not so sure." To his way of thinking, there is more to tackle, especially at the Internet and mobile-device levels.


O'Reilly explained the challenges and opportunities that will be facing the open-source communities in the future. Of particular concern to him are three issues: cloud computing, the programmable Web, and open mobile platforms.


Cloud computing is currently a huge buzzword around the Internet. With companies like Amazon, Google, and even IBM offering so many Web services to host your data for you, O'Reilly is worried about the privacy of your data. The idea of being hosted on someone else's infrastructure without open standards is the issue he's fighting against. O'Reilly believes the Internet needs open Web platforms before anyone should consider moving to cloud computing. Data services will be important in the future of the Internet, but they must contain open standards.


The second open standards topic O'Reilly focused on is to provide a future set of open programmable Web standards. O'Reilly asserts that the programmable Web is and will be more data-oriented in context than cloud computing. Programmable Web standards must be open so that focus can be put on extracting data through services. O'Reilly suggests that programmable Web data services will be extremely important combined with cloud computing, and therefore must contain open standards to exist.


Lastly, open mobile solutions must come about, and they must integrate with the Internet and mobile Web platforms. More and more, mobile devices are becoming a direct extension to the Internet, much like your PC and laptop. If more mobile phones aren't open source, it's going to be hard to develop or plan for future uses of devices. O'Reilly mentioned projects like Openmoko and Android, which will be very important to the development and expansion of the mobile market. O'Reilly ended his keynote encouraging the audience to "Work on what's hard, and work on what's important."

Dirk Hohndel of Intel Presents Moblin

Following Tim O'Reilly's speech on open mobile platforms was Dirk Hohndel's keynote on Moblin. Hohndel discussed Intel's re-launch of a mobile Linux platform on mobile devices. Hohndel announced Intel's involvement in Moblin and stressed the importance of having an open stack on mobile devices. "Mobile Linux. Sounds like something talked about a million times before. Open source is more than a means to an end," Hohndel stated, explaining Intel's stance on open source.


Moblin's goal is to provide an open API and stack for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), Netbooks, and other embedded devices. The Moblin Core Linux Stack provides an integrated starting point for developing applications and frameworks built around it. Of course, these devices run Intel platform hardware, but Intel is stressing the importance of allowing the community to decide the direction for the Moblin open-source project. Hohndel expressed Intel's wish for the open source community to take up the Moblin project and then lead it wherever they see fit. By providing open standards with the platform, there is no fear of vendor lock-in, and Intel's hope is that, in return, the community will drive innovation with applications and future development of the stack, all on Intel hardware.


With much focus on mobility at OSCON, Hohndel later gave a session on Moblin and embedded devices. Other presenters also gave sessions focusing on expanding and porting open source projects to embedded devices. When you stop and think, it truly becomes apparent how important mobile devices are not only to IT departments, but to everyone worldwide. Almost everyone carries a pager or cell phone that runs some kind of embedded firmware or software.

Christine Peterson on Open Source Physical Security

On a more serious level, Christine Peterson delivered one of the most sobering speeches at OSCON. Peterson is the founder and vice president of Foresight Nanotech Institute, which serves as a public interest group for nanotechnology. Peterson stressed that increased physical security requires the loss of the public's privacy, which has been proven to be pretty accurate since September 11, 2001. Her solution to Big Brother's top-down surveillance programs and technology is to start the use of citizen-based ideas, technology, and software solutions for a bottom-up approach. Her idea is that open-source philosophies are perfect for such security and surveillance, especially since open-source communities already understand and implement recognized practices in regards to security and privacy. Peterson's lack of enthusiasm for the government's role was expressed when she stated to the OSCON audience, "You're the only ones that get this."


In the future, nanotechnology will play a larger role in the security world. As nanotech sensors are deployed, more software will need to be implemented to process security data collected by the sensors. Peterson stressed how much open-source software needs to impact this particular field in order to provide decentralized data collection. Currently, the government doesn't have a big tool set to work with when it comes to these issues. As a result, the government's solution has been to increase surveillance, which sometimes compromises citizens' privacy. In open-source solutions, citizens can be part of the projects. Furthermore, open source eliminates the risk of people being tracked by secret software; one of Peterson's biggest concerns is with the government having private software to track citizens. With open source, everything is out in the open, which means security and terrorism data is less focused on individual citizens, and instead, more focused on centralized data results.


Is Peterson offering outlandish solutions for future collection of security and surveillance data? Or should citizens actually take this issue seriously? OSCON attendees seemed to applaud Peterson's offerings, compared to the government's. After all, the government is supposed to work for the people. Therefore, in Peterson's world, citizens should have no fear of secret software tracking them. In today's paranoid world, it's extremely interesting to think about how the future of nanotechnology, security, and open source might merge to help protect the rights of both you and I, as well as help protect everyone in a physical security sense.

OSCON Wrapped Up

Whether OSCON was offering compelling speeches on surveillance and open source or tutorials and sessions on software and hardware, there was truly something for everyone to find interest in. Wednesday and Thursday offered two full days of 40-minute. Programming languages like Perl, PHP, and Python seemed to have a lot of presence at the event, but Java and Ruby sessions were also available. Discussions about virtualization in Linux operating systems could be found as well. Ubuntu Linux had a very strong appearance as one of the biggest choices for Linux desktops being installed these days.


In general, OSCON had almost too much to choose from. Whether you're an open-source hobbyist or a professional in the field, OSCON had something to enjoy and learn about. I thoroughly enjoyed attending and hope to make it back again some day. If you're an adopter of open-source technology and software, I highly encourage you to attend yourself or at least send an employee, who might learn a lot in a short amount of time.


OSCON wrapped up with a half-day of keynotes and sessions on Friday, allowing attendees to explore beautiful Portland in the afternoon. What a great city and event!