April 27th, 2009
I had a great weekend at LinuxFest Northwest, which my employer (Red Hat) was good enough to send me to. This was only my second conference and my first user/developer-focused one (Mandriva has a rather restricted event budget), so I didn’t go too far in terms of organizing events or giving a talk – I wanted to get my feet wet first. But I felt like it was productive nonetheless. I spent Saturday mostly in the ‘Fedora room’ – one event room hosted just about every Fedora event, and nothing *but* Fedora events – helping a few people test Fedora 11, and chatting with Brennan Ashton, who’s working on a Bugzilla metric system (which can be found in the Bugzappers group’s git repository) to be used by the BugZappers group.
Sunday I spent some time at the Fedora booth and also chatted with a few people from other projects, including Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier of Novell / OpenSUSE. I’ve now met the community managers of Ubuntu (that would be the incomparable Jono Bacon, of course) and OpenSUSE (and of course I was the community manager of Mandriva, and I’ve met Anne Nicolas, who now more or less holds that title, along with all her others). That means, a bit ironically, that I’m left with just the sort-of community manager of Fedora – Max Spevack – to meet to complete the full set of major commercial (or commercially-backed) distributions. It’s very interesting to see how differently the role is conceived; I was sort of a user community mouthpiece at Mandriva, Jono considers ‘community’ to mean mostly the developer/contributor community, and Zonker says his role works out to be mostly evangelism (he prefers the title community manager because it avoids the rather off-putting overtones of the ‘evangelist’ concept).
We had several of the OLPC project laptops – the XOs – on the Fedora booth (which, no doubt through the labyrinthine machinations of Larry Cafiero, was the very first booth you saw as you came in to the event). It was great to see just about every kid who walked past – along with most of the adults – being magnetically drawn to them. No matter whether you think the project has had shortcomings in implementation, or what you think about the OLPC project’s own change of direction regarding software, the devices themselves and the original, Fedora-based and Sugar-topped software have always seemed to be a great success wherever I’ve seen them.
In the midmorning session I saw an excellent talk by the Linux Action Show’s Bryan Lunduke, entitled – somewhat provocatively – “Why Desktop Linux sucks and what can be done to fix it”. All the other developers / distribution employees I spoke to, Fedora and non-Fedora alike, were avoiding it like the plague, but I’m always interested in hearing people’s opinions on this topic. So it turned out to be sixty disgruntled users and me, a situation I am not unfamiliar with . Bryan’s analysis was spot-on on a wide range of topics, particularly on identifying the areas where the current model – where much of the serious F/OSS development work is funded by companies whose principal goals lie in the enterprise world (Red Hat and Novell), and most of the rest is done by the ‘bedroom hacker geeks’ of urban myth – is failing. He cited audio and video editing particularly, and he’s dead right about that. I thought his take on software provisioning – which boiled down to the old saw, “all distributions should agree on a common packaging format and set of conventions so third parties can build a single package that works on any distribution” – was somewhat misguided, and there was an interesting group discussion on that at the end, but aside from that it was a really valuable event. So if you’re going to another convention where he’s giving it, show up. Yes, even if you’re a developer.
After that presentation I got talking to Bryan and his colleagues from the show (and a couple of other people), so we wound up all going out for lunch together, which was a lot of fun. There’s a picture somewhere, at this very point probably being used to substantiate someone’s expenses claim…
It was great also to meet the Red Hat / Fedora folks who were at the show: Jesse Keating, Karsten Wade, Larry, Jeff Sandys and Clint Savage (if Clint hasn’t already won the Greatest Name Of All Time prize, it’s surely some sort of cosmic oversight). I’m hoping to go back next year, and hopefully be more active in terms of giving a talk or two and helping organize some Fedora-related activities.
(Oh, and schwag? Got the usual assortment of pens and paper, plus a Fedora t-shirt, but easily the coolest thing was the Zenoss zebra. I am including the link directly to Zenoss’ page there in the hopes that it helps whoever runs the Zenoss zebra program to justify its continuation to their bean counter department. Because everyone deserves a squishy zebra on their desk.)