A Field Report from OSCON

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 28, 2009

As you’re probably well aware, OSCON is one of the must-attend open source conferences held each year, and last week, the 11th annual OSCON was held in San Jose, California. Although some felt that OSCON didn’t quite make the splash in its new San Jose home that was expected, the decidedly geeky conference put on by tech publisher O’Reilly Media included many sessions and exhibitors of interest. Here are a few notable examples, in a guest column from SourceForge advisory board member Mark R. Hinkle.

A Field Report from OSCON

By Mark R. Hinkle

OSCON is an educational mix of open source software and community collaboration combined with a small commercial exhibition thrown in for good measure. It’s also a hub for other community gatherings. For example on the preceding weekend, Ubuntu Community Manager, Jono Beacon organized the first annual Community Leadership Summit, drawing people from all over the world to discuss the power of collective intelligence and collaboration. Most of the attendees were involved in open source software projects, but a large number of attendees were focused on organizing their civic or volunteer organizations. The PostgresSQL community also organized a community day on the Sunday before OSCON, aware that the event would draw many of the project members to San Jose.

This year's conference started off with a two-day track of educational tutorials with topics like How to Write Eclipse Plugins and Introduction to Google App Engine (many of the presentations are available online). Things really started gaining steam with the Tuesday night program: Ignite OSCON. Ignite featured speakers who were tasked with conveying a message using twenty slides and no more than five minutes. Presentations included hacking the Amazon Kindle, a discussion on how web IM platform Meebo grew using open source software, and an excellent talk by Liz Henry on how open source-style collaboration could help the mobility of persons with disabilities. During the Ignite intermission, Google Open Source Program Manager Chris Dibona and Google’s open source diva Leslie Hawthorn presented the Google O’Reilly open source awards. The winners received crystal awards with Escher-like engravings along with $5,000 cash. This year's winners were:

  * Brian Aker- Best Open Source Database Hacker
  * Bruce Momjian – Database Jedi Master
  * Clay Johnson – Best Community Builder
  * Evan Prodromou – Best Social Networking Hacker
  * Penny Leach – Best Education Hacker

The Ignite program concluded with Damien Conway railing against the Semantic Web, an impassioned critique of the evolving pseudo-standard that he implied was nothing more than a dubious standard involving the tagging of every kind of data. It was a rant that was fully appreciated by the alpha geek crowd.

Perhaps the overall sentiment of OSCON was best expressed by OSCON co-chair, Allison Randle, who kicked off Wednesday's agenda with a message: ”Open source is not driven by corporate budgets--open source is driven by people.” Publisher and O’Reilly Media namesake Tim O'Reilly, fresh from a meeting with Vivek Kundra, the U.S. government’s CIO, continued to drive that message home with a message that ranged from mass collaboration, to social network federation, to the role of open source in government.

Tim mentioned a number of social movements that involve open source in government during his keynote. He praised Sunlight Labs, which is working to make government information available through open APIs that allow organizations to crunch and mash-up data. O'Reilly also highlighted Data.gov, the first step in state-sponsored data APIs and Open Source For America, a new initiative led by open source leaders to raise awareness and create understanding among federal government leaders.

On Thursday night, the Sourceforge Community Choice Awards were broadcast live via the web. Leading up to the event, the open source community was given the opportunity to recognize the best and brightest through peer voting. PortableApps cleaned up, with four awards for Best Visual Design, Most Likely to Change the Way You Do Everything, Best Commercial open Source Project and the coup d'état: Best Project, in an awards program that boasted over 58,000 nominees.

Beyond the educational sessions, there was a small expo floor where exhibitors were showing their wares. Some fairly new arrivals to the open source scene included:

• Click2Try – The folks at Click2try aim to allow to run a pre-configured, fully functional software applications installed on your own private virtual machine that you access right from your desktop.

REvolution Computing – REvolution Computing is the company championing the use of R, a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. R has many uses in research where parallel processing of statistical data is a huge boon in processing large amounts of information.

Virtualmin - An offshoot of popular open source management tool Webmin, project lead Jamie Cameron was demonstratinging a new extension, Cloudmin, which provides a unified UI for building cloud services based on Linux Xen, Solaris Zones, Linux vservers, and Amazon AWS.

While OSCON is one of the most in-depth open source shows of the year, it's proven to also be a place were people come to meet others, and collaborate with old friends. That was this year’s big takeaway: open source software is indeed about people.

Disclosure: Mark Hinkle is on the advisory board of SourceForge but derives no benefit from the company writing this post.