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2001 O'Reilly Open Source Convention

July 23-27, 2001
Dennis Tenney
[LWN at the O'Reilly Conference]
Photo by Julian Cash, supersnail.com
LWN's Dennis Tenney traveled to San Diego, California to attend various Python and Zope talks at this year's O'Reilly Open Source Convention. Python and Zope are used internally at LWN for news gathering and presentation as well as site management. While Tenney's reports cover only a fraction of this popular event, which included 250 sessions in over 14 tracks, BOF sessions and even an appearance by Microsoft, we think you'll find plenty to whet your appetite till next year's convention.

O'Reilly's full coverage of the convention is available online.

LWN's daily reports from the convention:

Monday's Notes

[View from the O'Reilly Conference hotel] For those who might not know, San Diego is a beautiful seaside city on the Southwest coast of North America, and the conference was held in hotel adjacent to the Ocean. In keeping with the spirit of open source - to be inviting to all - O'Reilly chose a family friendly facility which included a Kids Center with excellent day care facilities.

Aahz Maruch
Aahz Maruch's Monday afternoon tutorial on Python Thread Programming was a simple, practical treatment of a daunting topic. Python's threading module handles many of the complex aspects of a multi-threaded application. For more information about Python threads, see Aahz's page on Starship Python.

The "Linux in the Data Center" BOF had over a dozen folks in attendance. Tim Witham, Director of the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) led the session. Tim talked about OSDL's projects including a demonstration of an automated test environment intended to facilitate developer's access to high end equipment and to build a test history for work such as kernel patches.

Monday evening a showing of J.T.S. Moore's film Revolution OS was hosted at a local theater by Hewlett-Packard. LWN reported on this compelling documentary of the Open Source Movement last February.

Tuesday's Notes

[Tres Seaver]
Tres Seaver
Tuesday afternoon LWN attended Tres Seaver's tutorial on Building Websites with Zope and the Content Management Framework (CMF). The tutorial was attended by around two dozen people. Tres, who is Zope Corporation's CMF Product Architect, started with a basic introduction to Zope CMF. After a few hours, everyone was happily dissecting Python code used in building example CMF components.

Larry Wall delivered his Fifth State of the Onion address.

[Paul Prescod]
Paul Prescod
Paul Prescod of ActiveState led the "Python Package Management" BOF Tuesday evening. The twelve or so people in attendance got a look at the beta of a new Python package repository being developed for the community by ActiveState. The goal is to provide a resource for Python developers similar to CPAN for Perl developers. It will be a Python package repository for source code with a rich set of consistent meta-data.

Wednesday's Notes

Fred Baker of Cisco Systems started the keynote sessions wondering "Will the Next Internet Generation Still Depend on Open Source." As a former chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force ( IETF ), Baker has extensive experience with open source. He sees open source continuing to support and partner with the commercial world but feels proprietary product development is required to produce quality products for "your grandmother".

[W. Phillip Moore]
W. Phillip Moore
W. Phillip Moore's followup keynote, "An Open Source Success Story on Wall Street", contrasted with Baker's view of the world. "I've been doing large infrastructure for large companies for fifteen years: it is a crock that it needs to be proprietary", Moore said. He is the Executive Director of Enterprise Application Infrastructure for Morgan Stanley and Company where they need, as he put it, "real working systems [...] software so damn good it just keeps on working." For businesses that depend on software for daily operations he sees funding open source as a way to bypass all of the middle men and give all the money directly to the developer. He also had something to say about giving back to the community. "If we develop a piece of software and it does not give us a commercial advantage, releasing it reduces support risk and cost."

[Free Software Foundation Booth at the 2001 O'Reilly Open Source Convention] The exhibit hall opened on Wednesday after the keynotes. See the exhibit hall photo page for more pictures of the exhibit floor. With about three dozen booths, there were lots of folks here to contact developers. ActiveState may have been the most active recruiter. Posters proclaiming the benefits of working for ActiveState were even posted in the bathrooms. Booth staff in character costumes were notably missing. Companies seem to be attending with the aim of talking to developers and not just to put on a floor show.

LWN interviewed Bruce Momjian, one the PostgreSQL core developers and vice president of Great Bridge. PostgreSQL may be poised to surpass Oracle's feature set in the next year. Bruce talks about that and more in this followup to LWN's January 2001 interview.

[Guido van Rossum]
Guido van Rossum
The Python track today began with Guido van Rossum's Python keynote delivered by speaker phone and slides. He covered the new Python releases, licensing, logo and the corporate name for Zope Corporation, the "patron saint of PythonLabs." Guido reminded attendees that the next Python conference will be Feb 4-7, 2001 in Alexandria, VA. The full Python track schedule for Wednesday is available from O'Reilly's conference site.

LWN interviewed HP's Open Source Evangelist, Bruce Perens. Bruce spoke for both HP and himself about open source, CoolTown, politics, Revolution OS and more.

Thursday's Notes

LWN had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Guido van Rossum, Python BDFL, and Jim Fulton, Zope BDFL.

Thursday's keynote was the much anticipated Shared Source vs. Open Source Debate which included Microsoft's Craig Mundie. Outside of the speaker's hall, Open Office T-shirts and Red Hat plastic red hats were handed out. The audience became a pond of red hats floating above the crowd. In the front of the crowd Michael Tiemann, in his Red Hat, looked like the grand marshal at the head of a parade of poppies.

There were no big surprises at the debate. Well worn positions were stated yet again. The audience was (mostly) polite. Most significant was the cast sharing the stage for the panel discussion:
[photo courtesy D. Story/O'Reilly Network]
photo by D. Story/O'Reilly Network

  • Clay Shirky - Accelerator Group
  • Michael Tiemann - Red Hat CTO and Founder of Cygnus
  • David Stutz - Microsoft Program Manager for the .NET shared source common language runtime
  • Mitchell Baker - Chief Lizard Wrangler for the Mozilla project
  • Ronald Johnston - Partner, Arnold & Porter
  • Craig Mundie - Microsoft VP
  • Brian Behlendorf - The Apache Project
  • Tim O'Reilly was the panel moderator (and instigator).
An O'Reilly network article provided a good summary of the topics that were covered. The fact that these people were able to gather together in a polite debate represents a landmark event.

Thursday's Python track covered topics from the new features in Python 2 to the adventures of a Python programmer in the "Land of Camels".

In one afternoon session, Trent Mick talked about SOAP as an enabling technology for the new Python package repository being developed for the community by ActiveState. PyPPM is a client for fetching Python modules from the repository for use with any Python distribution. A standard SOAP request/response dialogue is used to search for and fetch modules. SOAP requests are formatted as simple XML and sent via HTTP. The readability of the protocol messages is appealing.

PyPPM uses the Python Distutils Package instead of a Linux package manager such as rpm or apt-get to install packages. A cross-platform installation tool is a valuable asset for the Python community but some of the Linux package manager features, such as dependency checking, are missing.

[David Ascher]
David Ascher
David Ascher's "Adventures of a Snake in the Land of Camels" was a personal case history of a Python programmer's journey into a Perl world. After writing Learning Python for O'Reilly, Dave joined ActiveState and the Komodo IDE team early in 2000. The language at ActiveState was Perl and the dominate platform was Windows.

Today ActiveState has five languages (Perl, Python, PHP, Tcl and XML) and a variety of platforms, including Linux. Python products and activities include ActivePython, PythonDirect, Python Cookbook, Komodo and Visual Python. The Komodo IDE is written in 85% Python, 10% JavaScript and 5% C++. Along the way, working in several languages was a source of strength.

Dave's journey produced some thoughts worth sharing. First the gloomy ones:

  • [Computer language] religious fundamentalism is still alive
  • Java, C#, VB.Net are true gorillas
  • Licensing discussions are black holes
  • So many wheels, so few axles
And then some cheerful ones:
  • Some wheels are pretty good (Sourceforge, CVS, Mailman)
  • There are some axles!(Pyperl, Inline, minotaur, PyXPCOM, .NET/Mono)
  • Languages united will never be defeated
  • The Python Software Foundation
  • Information tools such as these

Friday at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention

The final keynote of the conference was about "Big Hairy Problems: Open Source in the Enterprise". Ed Leonard began by telling everyone about "Linux @ DreamWorks Animation".
[Ed Leonard]
Ed Leonard of DreamWorks
His opening graphic showed the star of the animated film Shrek holding Tux in the palm of his hand (yes, he's a Penguin Gallery candidate). At DreamWorks "our reliance on open source has gone to the heart of our business." Or as Walt Disney said about his business in 1941, "technical innovation is critical."

Shrek pushed the state of art in computer animation. Linux render farm technology was critical in the making of Shrek. It was used to achieve artistic goals such as animating detailed natural environments, realistic humans and lifelike clothing and hair.

SGI was a key player in DreamWorks adoption of Linux. SGI support and the ease of porting existing applications from IRIX contributed to "incredible performance and value" for DreamWorks. HP also played a key role in the adoption of Linux for traditional animator's workstations as described by LWN previously. Today DreamWorks has over 200 artists workstations (30% Linux) and over 1,000 render farm processors (50% Linux). By the end of 2001, "We'll be all Linux."

The second keynote presentation was a contemporaneous talk by W. Phillip Moore. This is the same speaker who described the success of open source at Morgan Stanley and Company on Wednesday. The key challenges for his company are not unique to open source: configuration management, change control and capacity planning. Configuration management is well understood. Change control is tough. Capacity planning seems to be all but impossible. The challenge specific to open source is political: acceptance.

After hearing about open source at BMC Software there was a panel discussion where Ed Leonard made one particularly interesting point about Gimp. The Hollywood Gimp fork was a disappointment to DreamWorks. The change from eight to sixteen bit colors is a Gimp innovation they hoped to see integrated into the main code branch. More important to their business goals, they don't know why that didn't happen for Hollywood GIMP.

[Jim Fulton] Friday featured the only full day Zope track. There were about three dozen people attending the track. Below is a summary of just one of the many interesting sessions.

Jim Fulton introduced attendees to Zope Page Templates. Anyone who works with page designers and is used to using Zope's DTML just may fall in love with page templates. Page templates embed dynamic content commands as extra attributes of standard XML or HTML tags. When tools like Amaya, Dreamweaver or Go-Live are used to design the page the same tools can be used to modify the page after dynamic content has been added. DTML is used to insert dynamic content, those tools can no longer be used directly because they only understand XML or HTML.

[San Diego Airport Sculpture] Page templates also look like a cleaner, more Python-like approach to dynamic content than DTML or other embedded languages such as PHP. Their narrow focus on presentation encourages the use of scripts for logic and references for content. DTML will continue to be available, but page templates look like the better choice for a clean presentation tier.

After a very full week, the conference center fountain started to look like a monument to the open source software movement. This was a top-quality convention with dense content for the geeks and fun for their families. LWN plans to attend next year to search for more Zope and Python information.

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