Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Linux Conference: Linux Plumbers

The word for a while has been that Portland is a hot bed of Linux and Open Source developers. It looks like they have decided to put that concentrated open source expertise to a new use: a conference dedicated to developers, with the goal of collaborating around some of the remaining hard problems. Oh, and, no, the conference is not exclusive to Portlanders or web-toed Pacific Northerwest denizens. In fact, the hope is that the conference will draw developers into the northwest to draw on the rich expertise available and also provide access to a wider cross section of developers that is present at some of the other conferences.

One might ask, though, is one more conference one conference too many?

My answer: I don't think so. There *are* a lot of conferences and events out there today: LinuxWorld Expo (for C* level execs, possibly dying as Linux reaches mainstream corporate adoption), Ottawa Linux Symposium (hitting its 10th anniversary, going strong as a place to present current work as a user, a developer, or a systems administrator), the Linux Kernel Summit (invitation only, Linux kernel centric), Linux.conf.au (a great conference, but hey, it is way over there down under and all!), the new Linux.conf.eu (great for the europeans, if still a little small), Linux Kongress (supplanted by the Kernel Summit and Linux.conf.eu this year, back again in 2008).

Whew, that's a lot of Linux boondoggle travelling for the well funded Linux (or Open Source) geek. However, note that the only one of those in the US is for people that probably never even install Linux, but ultimately decide if it has business benefits for them. The only other one in North America is targetted rather broadly at presentations of current activities in the kernel and nearby user level, often by the experts in those fields. While OLS provides BoF's (Birds of a Feather) session for people to chat about common interests, there is no drive or mission to actually converge on solutions at OLS (although that does happen on occasion).

What the Plumber's conference seems to provide is a forum for what I refer to as the "mini-summits" - places where developers can get together to work out key issues. This seems to be a new need and a new phenomena in Open Source, where email, IRC, and mailing lists are king. However, not all issues can actually be resolved in forums where often the loudest or most prolific people can sometimes set the opinion for a group, or where some issues cycle without ending because the collaboration mechanism doesn't seem to drive consensus on tougher issues.

The Plumbers conference should allow developers to talk face to face and work through some of those harder issues, much like often happens inside of companies doing proprietary development today. If you've worked in a proprietary environment, especially one where the development team is local, you've certainly seen the value of pulling the whole team together to hash out issues. I think setting up a scenario where the community can do the equivalent of the "team meeting" - especially for those cross project issues can only help with the overall integration of Linux and increase the value to end users.

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