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Leading items and editorials


[Ottawa] The Ottawa Linux Symposium is over for another year. LWN's coverage from the event is now available. Have a look for a discussion at what happened at this important Linux event, now that the reporters have caught up on their sleep... Also included is the contents of the conference proceedings CD, which includes the original submitted paper for each talk.

Our event coverage looks at the details of what happened in Ottawa, but it is also worthwhile to step back and consider OLS from a more distant perspective. OLS is a nearly unique gathering of the people who actually make Linux what it is, and there are things to be learned by seeing who they are and what's on their minds.

One of the things that jumped out immediately this year, of course, is that a lot fewer prominent developers made the trip to Ottawa this year. Evidently the combination of travel burnout and economic worries kept a lot of people at home. Many of those people were missed.

On the other hand, IBM's presence at OLS was truly surprising. By one IBMer's guess, there were fifty people there from IBM - out of a conference maximum of 500. Despite their numbers, however, the IBM folks did not really stand out - they were simply engineers working on the improvement of free software like everybody else. Many of them are doing the same work they were doing before they became IBM employees. IBM appears to be determined to play a part in the Linux development community, and to do so on the community's terms. Linux is richer for the company's presence.

Clusters are growing up. Linux clusters have long been a valuable tool for those seeking high availability or high performance, but only for those who do not mind their "some assembly required" nature. Now we are finally seeing the development of specialized distributions which make clusters easy to build and manage, efforts to create standards for high-availability cluster interfaces, and other necessary tools of the trade. Expect cluster adoption to increase greatly as these tools mature and become widely available.

Finally, it is clear that the community needs this sort of development-oriented gathering. There is a place for flashy trade shows, but there is also a need for gatherings with lots of talk time, no suits, no trade floor, good network connectivity, a highly technical program, and plenty of beer. It's not often that the widespread Linux development community is able to get together and really talk about what it is doing. Events like OLS are a vital part of the free software development process; one can only hope that they thrive.

Dmitry Sklyarov update. Various things are happening in the story of the arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov. We'll summarize them below, but here, perhaps, is the most relevant part: Dmitry Sklyarov is still in jail (in Oklahoma, last we have heard), and the government still intends to pursue the case. So, in that sense, nothing has really improved.

That said, here's what's been happening:

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation met with the U.S. Attorney's Office on July 27. In the EFF's words: "There was a productive dialog, however the U.S. Attorney's office gave no indication of dropping the prosecution against Dmitry Sklyarov." The EFF seems to think that this approach is going no further for now, and has called for a resumption of protests.

  • Canada is reworking its copyright law and is looking at anti-circumvention measures as part of that process. Anti-circumvention, of course, is at the core of the trouble with the DMCA, and is the aspect of that law that Dmitry Sklyarov is charged with violating. It remains, thus far, unique to U.S. law (or nearly so); a spread of this disease to other countries would not be a welcome development.

    At this time, it would appear that anti-circumvention provisions are not a done deal for the new Canadian law. Reading into the available documents, one finds the following:

    In other words, by providing legal recognition of the technological measures, the traditional boundaries of copyright law would be extended to include new layers of protection. There is concern that the Copyright Act may not be the proper instrument for protection measures that, prima facie, are extraneous to copyright principles.

    Those of you who are Canadian citizens may want to read about the proposed law and the comment process that is currently open. If enough people submit well-written comments opposed to anti-circumvention provisions, Canada may just be able to avoid some of the unpleasantness currently happening in the U.S.

  • Though we would certainly like to see more coverage of this issue in the mainstream press, it has gotten some attention there. Among the week's best is this article by Lawrence Lessig in the New York Times. "Yet Mr. Sklyarov still languishes in jail, puzzled, no doubt, about how a free society can jail someone for writing code that was legal where written, just because he comes to the United States and gives a report on encryption weaknesses."

  • See also this letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein from the ACM:

    We recently read that you had heard of no credible opposition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). As the Co-Chairs of the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), we are writing to inform you that ACM has consistently opposed the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA.

Those interested in up-to-the-minute information can find it at FreeSklyarov.org.

You have heard it all before, but it bears repeating: it is time for supporters of free software (and thus, of freedom) to get involved with their political systems. Too many laws are being made with little understanding of the technical issues and too much influence from a small subset of the interests involved. We need to talk some sense into our governments, or we may find ourselves free to write all the code we want - as long as it does nothing interesting.

Frank Willison, editor-in-chief at O'Reilly & Associates, passed away as the result of a massive heart attack on July 30. Frank was a key player at O'Reilly and played a big role in the company's coverage of free software topics. In particular, the Perl and Python book lines bear his imprint in a big way. Frank shares, in some way, the credit for the success of those languages, though he would have denied that:

...the Camel book did not legitimize Perl. It may have accelerated Perl's adoption by making information about Perl more readily available. But the truth is that Perl would have succeeded without an O'Reilly book (as would Python and Zope), and that we're very pleased to have been smart enough to recognize Perl's potential before other publishers did.

Frank will be missed, both inside and outside of O'Reilly.

For more information on Frank, numerous quotes that are well worth reading, and the opportunity to post notes of your own, please see In Memory of Frank Willison on the O'Reilly site.

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: Second coming of Code Red, Linux 2.2 masq problems, and one geek at DEF CON.
  • Kernel: A new event completion interface; ext3 improvements; initramfs.
  • Distributions: Is it time for distributors to consolidate? Devil-Linux, GNU-Darwin, and Conectiva 7.0.
  • On the Desktop: HP and the VFX market, beyond KDE 2.2, and GIMP 1.2.2.
  • Development: Python division concerns, Cluster working group, faster C++ startup, PHP conference, new Lisp, Caml, and Jython compilers.
  • Commerce: MandrakeSoft's successful IPO; Gaming on Linux takes a VAST leap forward.
  • History: William Della Croche's attempt on the Linux trademark; SGI jumps into Linux; Caldera and SCO announce plans for a merger.
  • Letters: The morality of proprietary software.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:


August 2, 2001

 

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