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2006 Ottawa Linux Symposium

  • 1st Aug, 2006 at 1:37 PM

Penguin and his boy
Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

The Ottawa Linux Symposium is arguably Canada's biggest conference about Linux and its associated technologies. It happens every year, right after the Kernel Summit, which virtually guarantees that some famous people stick around afterwards to attend OLS.

Now the Kernel Summit is a small gathering of Linux developers where they hash out big issues in the kernel. After all, it's a lot easier to get your point across when you're sitting in the same room as the person you're talking to. Mailing lists are just not the same. OLS, however, is a free-for-all. If you pay in time, you get to show up. This makes for an astoundingly large conference, about 850 people in total.

I brought along wlach, who had never been to OLS before. So I was doing my part in inflating the number of people there. I think he ended up in the right crowds. Which is difficult, because there are a lot of crowds there. People walk past in a blur and you can never quite remember if you've met someone before.

Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

At the conference, there are four tracks of presentations, at any one time. Some of these are perennial talks, like the tutorial on writing your own kernel module. And others change as the years go by. The big topic this year was Xen, the free virtualization software that really got huge in the past two years. Xen allows people to run multiple copies of their operating system inside one computer, with very little overhead. This makes it attractive to a lot of people, be they system administrators, software developers, or people who like fiddling with their machine.

I met a consultant from Chicago that sells Xen-based solutions. She builds a big server and runs various virtual servers for small business inside that one box. It's very cost effective and is a good way to make server maintanance easy. Whenever I wanted to find her, I'd just pop into one of the ubiquitous Xen talks.

The amount of work that gets done at this conference is astounding. You'll see people sitting around at tables hashing out designs and beating out flaws. Hackers huddle around laptops in an attempt to get the C library building on PA-RISC again. That's because the bandwidth to communication is very high and the latency is inconsequential. There were times when I wanted to pull out my laptop and do some work. But then I remembered that I left it in the hotel. Because it's heavy.

There's actually a lot of space at OLS, because it's spread across the three floors of the Ottawa Congress Centre. It's really easy to miss someone for weeks before bumping into him at a party. Like opalmirror, for example, who I was very glad to meet in person. And are there ever parties.

Super balls
Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

Ostensibly, you go there for the talks. And talks there are: some of them quite good and the vast majority are rather mediocre. They're the results of a year of hacking, months of academic research, or inspired observation. I have to admit that I get a bit lax when attending speakers. It reminds me too much of the classroom. And just like university, I buy the course notes to mitigate my guilt. They make for good reading when finals come along.

It's the conversation that you go there for. When you get to sit down with Alan and have a good laugh about geeky topics. Or buy Donald a drink for working on those ugly network cards all those years ago. You get to connect with people that you've only seen online, or read as their names flashed past in the boot messages. That's that kind of bonding that people yearn for.

I'm looking forward to next year already.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
1st Aug, 2006 18:12 (UTC)
You know, the icon you used here always looks creepy to me. For some reason I always assume that the cut away body is a bunch of tentacles a la Stewie when he mutated on Family Guy...
1st Aug, 2006 18:13 (UTC)
Hackergotchis are sort of creepy, aren't they?
2nd Aug, 2006 12:37 (UTC)
I've always thought they made you look like Holly from Red Dwarf. But yeah, definately creepy.
2nd Aug, 2006 12:38 (UTC)
The talks used to be better. But yeah, socializing has always been the main reason to go.
2nd Aug, 2006 18:31 (UTC)
Next year, I'm seriously considering not paying for OLS and just hanging out in the halls during the days. Thinking back, very few of the talks I went to were actually worth my time, v.s. time spent talking with people I only get to see once a year.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )