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Letters to the Editor
San Francisco (September 1, 1999) -- First there was The Perl Conference. That was back in 1997. It went so well that in 1998 there we were treated to a repeat performance at Perl 98. But this time, on the last day of that show, there was a hint of things to come: Open Source Developer Day. Where does a conference go from there? What's the next level of improvement? Try this year's O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention (held August 20-24 in Monterey, CA) -- 4 days of open source bliss.
The Open Source Convention featured not only Perl, but simultaneous conference tracks for Apache, Linux, Python, Sendmail, Tcl/Tk, and even an Open Source Business. The premise was simple: if it's a major open source project, it was represented at this year's conference.
Rules for Revolutionaries
One of the keynote speeches at the conference was Guy Kawasaki's "Rules for Revolutionaries -- Some Practical Advice for the Open Source Movement." Guy Kawasaki has been chief evangelist of Apple Computer and CEO of garage.com. He has started two software companies and been an angel for three others. I've heard Kawasaki give this talk several times, and I always enjoy it. It's always slightly different, as he makes an effort to tailor the talk to the audience.
Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates and the host for the convention, provided some introductory remarks to explain his choice of Kawasaki as a keynote speaker. According to O'Reilly, we are experiencing many changes in the open source community, and one of the problems as a project gets bigger is that it moves into the spotlight. Kawasaki is an appropriate speaker for an open source convention because he has seen what happens during the transition from idealism to real-world business. He can share insights and ideas with those of us just now entering the spotlight.
In case you've never heard Kawasaki's Rules for Revolutionaries, they are (in Top 10 format):
From BSD to CSL
Another keynote speaker was someone well known to Sun users (and old hands with Unix) -- Bill Joy. Some might question the choice of Joy; Sun isn't exactly known as an open source company. But is responsible for the BSD Unix distributions 20 years ago, and he distributed the source for
vi, and other BSD programs.
Again, Tim O'Reilly justified his choice: Joy is one of the fathers of the open source movement. The developers at Berkeley created much of what we use today; the contributions of BSD Unix to current technology is often taken for granted.
Joy began with a retrospective of how he chose Berkeley for his graduate studies, what Berkeley was like in those days (minimal funding, no hardware), and the state of computer science research at the time. A big issue was, "is software research?" If the source code represents the results of your research, it should be published.
In the early 1980s with Joy onboard, Sun pioneered the notion of "open systems" with public interfaces. Implementations were proprietary, but source was available. Not quite our idea open source, but a major advance over the systems of the time.
More recently, Sun formulated a new approach to licensing. Called community source licensing (CSL), it draws from both proprietary (private property) and open source ("the commons") licensing models. The approach, which is best described as "stewardship," combines the best of both worlds. Features include:
Joy ended his talk by saying, "Let's continue to find new ways to stand on each other's shoulders rather than stepping on each other's toes."
Attendees could choose from 14 different tracks, spread out among the seven smaller conferences. The Perl conference had five tracks, ranging from "Improving Your Perl Skills" and "Critical Issues in Perl" to user papers.
I was particularly impressed with "Reducing Business Risk with Perl," an unfortunately dry title for an anything but dry presentation from Randal ("Just Another Perl Hacker") Schwartz.
He gave a brief (but growing) list of companies that use Perl, called Perl the "Duct Tape of The Internet," and provided a number of reasons why you should use Perl in your company, and how you can use it most effectively and safely (hint: upgrade to Perl 5.004 or later and always use -T on your CGI scripts).
User papers (part of the Perl conference only) covered topics such as "Using Perl in Spacecraft Operations," "How the Financial Investment Sector Uses Perl," and "A Fast and Easy Way to Find Bugs in Your Source Code."
Damian Conway's award-winning paper really had people talking. "Coy -- Like Carp only Prettier" documents a new Perl module which provides haiku error messages:
module frames errors within
This reduces the
stress induced in the user
when a program fails.
Conway won the Larry Wall Award for Practical Perl Utility. According to Wall, "Poetry is practical."
Other awards went to:
It's not too early to think about submitting a paper for next year's convention. The Open Source Convention 2000 will be held in the same location (Monterey) but earlier in the summer (July 15-18). Potential user paper topics include case studies, module writeups, academic research, programming language tricks, or just plain cool stuff (like Coy.pm).
Although my personal interest lies with Perl, my hope is that next year's convention will also feature more papers from the Python, Linux, and other technologies. I'd like to see those sessions get a little bigger.
Awards also included the White Camel Awards, which were presented at the conference reception. This award recognizes the Perl Community's "unsung heroes." Tom Christiansen, Kevin Lenzo, and Adam Turoff were recognized for their extraordinary contributions to Perl Advocacy, the Perl Community, and Perl User Groups, respectively.
The White Camel Awards were conceived of and administered by Perl
Mongers, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to establish
Perl user groups. In addition to Perl Mongers, O'Reilly and
sourceXchange sponsored this year's awards.
About the author
Vicki Brown has been programming professionally since 1984. Unix is her favorite operating system; the Mac OS is her favorite user interface. When she isn't writing, Vicki is employed as a scientific (Perl) programmer at a biotech company on the San Francisco peninsula.
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