August 2011 Archives

Linux at 20 years: a progression from promising to pervasive

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As Linux celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week, Nils Brauckmann, president and general manager of SUSE, has discussed the contribution that the maverick open source operating system has made to the global technology ecosystem.

Brauckmann argues that Linux has grown from an initial measure of "promising", to a time when we might all regard it as "pervasive". Through web sites and portals such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, someone experiences Linux every day, yet they probably even don't know it.

"From my perspective, one of the greatest achievements on its 20th anniversary is the serious reputation Linux has earned in the data centre for business-oriented, mission-critical deployments. We can be pretty safe if we state that, as a general truth, businesses needs high performing, secure, interoperable and cost effective solutions. Linux embodies all of these factors, which is what makes it so ubiquitous today."

"As today's sophisticated enterprises continue to deploy Linux, it will maintain its dominance as the ideal platform for innovation. Just this year, openSUSE board chair, Alan Clark was instrumental in helping the Linux Foundation form its new High Availability Working Group, designed to accelerate the development of key technologies that provide businesses with 24/7 connectivity."

"SUSE already has a proud heritage for participating in the growth, stability and support for Linux. Not only has SUSE provided leadership to the Linux kernel, but we contribute to other Linux related projects such as GNOME, KDE, Xen, KVM. Moving forward SUSE will operate as a separate business unit of The Attachmate Group. By operating SUSE as its own business, we can focus on the needs of our customers to accelerate the delivery of Linux solutions to customers including London Stock Exchange, Sony and Walgreens."

Note: for European readers not familiar with Walgreens, think of a combination of Superdrug and Boots but with the added option to purchase cigarettes and (in some states) alcohol.

"In the future, we predict a mass adoption of Linux within cloud computing. Linux supports the broadest range of physical, virtual and cloud environments and underlies countless cloud platforms including Xerox, Vodacom, Amazon, Fujitsu and IBM. In addition, the innovation taking place with Linux-based mobile devices is incredible. Only Linux offers the technical modularity and commercial flexibility that developers need to optimise Linux for their specific uses."

Brauckmann's words are telling indeed. He uses the terms "mass adoption", "Linux" and "cloud computing" alongside each other with no hesitation at all.

Speak to a mobile analyst and it's not uncommon to hear comments such as "the future is Android" banded about.

Speak to an open source convert about cloud computing and you might hear "Linux modularity is a killer for cloud" spoken.

Google that last comment now and you'll get this blog, Google it in eighteen months and you just might get a few more hits.

Philanthropy and altruism in software programming

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For some reason I've been spending an unhealthy amount of time looking at instances of software deprecation recently. As readers will know, this is the process by which certain features are left in software even though they have been superseded and been made redundant.

This is rather like our 'vestigial' appendix in some ways I suppose, we carry it with us but it serves no real purpose. Having said that, carrying deprecated features inside newer versions of software is useful (to some degree), this is because it helps preserve backward compatibility.

CAVEAT NOTE: There is an important note to be made here. There is a strong case to argue this both ways and say that deprecated features also have the potential to get in the way and, in some cases, can lead to clunky "bloatware" software being created.

I also seem to be writing a lot about cloud computing 'democracy' (sharing of APIs and open standards) right now too; and the combination of this topic alongside software deprecation makes me think warm positive thoughts, in that we might just be able to do good things for software developers some of the time.

Allow me to elaborate further... Leaving deprecated features in existence (for however long) of course gives programmers the chance to get their head around new code structures and (if necessary) work towards compliance with new standards.

Open standards, open source and an open collaborative community focused approach in general all seem to distil further towards my argument for software programming unselfishness. So shouldn't more of our programming and data management practices have a touch of this kind of philanthropy and altruism?

The problem with altruism in software though is that too much of it leaves the barn door open to accountability, so eventually we always get to the point where we need to draw a line in the sand.

Website freedictionary.com has a lovely definition use case for my last words there i.e. drawing a line in the sand. It says, "The president has drawn a line in the sand, which means that if the foreign troops are not removed, they will be attacked." Makes you think, doesn't it?

What all this openness really comes down to is compatibility. So for an industry view on this topic, Computer Weekly spoke to Mark Quirk, Azure product manager, developer & platform group, Microsoft UK. "Compatibility view was added to Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) so that a user viewing a web page with mark-up features unique to IE7 and deprecated due to standards compliance or bug fixes in IE8, could still render the page in the way it was designed."

"Of course the best scenario is that as web standards evolve and browser vendors implement those standards, so that all the web pages on the Internet are updated to conform to the latest thinking. Right! ... and then of course there's the real world."

"Compatibility view remains a feature of Internet Explorer 9, now with emulation features for IE8 as well as IE7. For the developers working on Internet Explorer this model provides a way to update the browser to use the most up-to-date agreed standards or conventions whilst ensuring 'legacy' support for those sites that won't be updated.

"Today there are recommended methods detailing processes to create webpages that will stand the test of time across versions and different browsers. But until we've all had chance to build pages this way, Compatibility view plays its philanthropic part," said Microsoft's Quirk.

Yes I know I've placed this story in our Open Source Insider blog. Yes I know some of the technologies discussed here are proprietary. I also know that a true philanthropist wouldn't complain and feel the general level of goodwill that I have tried to convey OK? 

Microsoft's Chinese cloud is cross-platform flavoured

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Microsoft's recent agreement with China Standard Software (CS2C) sees the companies poised to jointly develop and sell "solutions" for the booming cloud-computing market in China.

According to Microsoft's press statement, the "mixed source" solutions stemming from this collaboration will be built on Microsoft's Hyper-V Open Cloud architecture and will include support to run CS2C NeoKylin Linux Server products.

Could this be a new era for Microsoft?

Does the company's proximity here to the so-called "mixed source" solutions being deployed signal some kind of new openness? Is the diversity and exponential growth of the Chinese IT market an even more dominating factor than any of Microsoft's proprietary preferences?

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"While cloud computing promises to move computing to the next level, a critical challenge that many organisations face is rationalising diverse technologies and different platforms," said Lu Shouqun, chairman of the China Open Source Promotion Union, or 开源中国OSS社区 as it is known locally.

"The commitment between Microsoft and CS2C to provide mixed source solutions will not only allow the co-existence of different operation platforms in the cloud environment, but also enhance choice for customers."

"From the perspective of users, we are glad to see cooperation between different operating system providers," said Fu Boning, deputy director of the Information Center for the China Ministry of Agriculture. "The cross-platform collaboration of multiple platforms is becoming a trend in areas like cloud computing. With more and more collaboration from vendors, the customers' entire information system will be better protected."

Microsoft and CS2C have also pledged to sponsor a joint virtual technology lab in Beijing for solution development and testing of cloud solutions that will allow customers to move to virtualisation and a cloud-based IT infrastructure.

Is Microsoft trying out this much more open stance in the Chinese market where the rest of the world won't see it happen (just in case the company doesn't like it) perhaps?

I actually DO NOT believe this is the case at all (Microsoft does plenty in open source if we are fair); it's just that the suggestion was too tempting not to make.

The dawn of Linux: "it's just a hobby, it won't be big and professional"

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As we are celebrating 20 years of Linux this week, it seems only fitting to highlight a few milestones in the life of what has come to be (for many people) a very important piece of software development.

This link will take you to some collected notes, which dig right back to the dawn of Linux history on the 31st of July 1992 when Linus Torvalds was discussing his ideas on an open newsgroup.

Torvalds wrote at the time, "I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since April and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things)."

It took Torvalds around two months from that moment until the point when he actually had something working.

On the 19th of December that year he wrote, " Linux is still in beta (although available for brave souls by ftp), and has reached the version 0.11. It's still not as comprehensive as 386-minix, but better in some respects."

He finishes these notes (there are 4214 words in all if you wish to dive deep) by saying that so far, "Reactions have been mostly very positive, and you do learn a lot doing this type of thing (on the other hand, your studies suffer in other respects :)"

To view the below InfoGraphic thumbnail in full size and read up more on the 20th Anniversary of Linux then visit the Linux Foundation's web site where you can watch Linux videos and take a quiz to see whether you could do Linus Torvalds' job.

Linux Infograophic.png

Linux Foundation eases open source licensing woes

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The Linux Foundation has a truly altruistic stance and openly states that its remit is to serve as a neutral spokesperson for Linux and to "generate original research and content" that advances the understanding of the Linux platform.

As such, the foundation sponsors a number of working groups who are each tasked with specific goals and directives.

One of these groups is SPDX, which this week announced the release of version 1.0 of its Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) standard.

Linux wash.jpg

The SPDX standard has been laid down to help facilitate compliance with free and open source software licenses by standardising the way license information is shared across the software supply chain.

The foundation has said that SPDX reduces redundant work by providing a common format for companies and communities to share important data about software licenses and copyrights, thereby streamlining and improving compliance.

"The SPDX 1.0 standard is an example of how open compliance and collaboration can enable the advancement of Linux and open source software," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation.

"We applaud the SPDX workgroup for its important work on providing a consistent way to report and view license information for software technology components, making it even easier for companies to maximise their investments in free and open source software," he added.

The foundation explains that most technology products today are assembled from multiple components that contain free and open source software - so this licensing initiative is hoped to ease the pressures brought on by the complexity of the "global software supply chain".

Shrek's swamp built on a Red Hat cloud at DreamWorks

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Yesterday saw the beta launch of Red Hat's Enterprise Virtualization version 3.0 offering. The company says that it has worked with industry partners to help establish the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) to promote Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) as an open alternative to proprietary virtualisation solutions

For a nice tight definition of KVM, please click here for more.

High profile customers such as DreamWorks Animation and NTT Communications have adopted the open source company's latest product, along with its Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor technology, to build their cloud services.

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The OVA has (apparently) been well received by the industry with significant growth in membership being seen in recent time. Further, Red Hat suggests that KVM has powered the majority of published SPECvirt 2010 benchmark results at www.spec.org, including the highest score and highest scale-up overall.

"Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 is expected to provide customers with new features and capabilities, previewed in this Beta," said Navin Thadani, senior director of virtualization business at Red Hat. "One of the most significant new features of the release is the ability to deploy the management server on Linux, making it an ideal platform for customers moving away from proprietary solutions."

This week's beta of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 previews several key enhancements, including: Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager, which is now a Java application running on JBoss Enterprise Application Platform on Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- and an updated KVM hypervisor based on the latest Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.

W3C community groups for developers and businesspeople

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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a mission statement. OK, it's an About Us paragraph, but you get the point. It reads as follows...

"The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where Member organisations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop web standards. Led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, W3C's mission is to lead the web to its full potential."

It's a bit like a crisp sandwich isn't it? I mean, lots of stuff that you like, but until you put the brown sauce on it there's just not enough flavour.

Hp_sauce_&_hp_fruity.jpg

In search of some spice, I spent some time this week looking at what the W3C is doing. It appears that the organisation has just launched a dedicated programme for developers and "other stakeholders" to develop specifications, hold discussions, develop test suites and connect with the organisation's international community.

In a show of ebullient egalitarian laissez faire economics, the organisation says it wants the W3C Community Groups to "promote diverse participation" from any type of user.

Anyone can propose a group and groups start as soon as there is a small measure of peer support. There are no fees to participate, there are a set of usage guidelines/parameters to govern members and active groups may work indefinitely.

"Innovation and standardization build upon each other," said Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO. "The stable web platform provided by W3C has always encouraged innovation. As the pace of innovation accelerates and more industries embrace W3C's Open Web Platform, our 'Community Groups' will accelerate incorporation of innovative technologies into the web."

"W3C is now open for crowd-sourcing the development of web technology," said Harry Halpin, community development lead. "Developers can propose ideas to the extensive W3C social network and in a matter of minutes start to build mindshare using W3C's collaborative tools or their own. Creating a Community or Business Group doesn't mean giving up an existing identity; it means having an easier time promoting community-driven work for future standardization."

The first groups to launch reflect a varied set of interests. W3C announces eight Community Groups:

• Colloquial Web
• Declarative 3D for the Web Architecture
• ODRL Initiative
• Ontology-Lexica
• Semantic News
• Web Education
• Web Payments
• XML Performance

and one Business Group:

• Oil, Gas and Chemicals

Joyent's open cloud operating system

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Cloud player Joyent has ported KVM (kernel-based virtual machine technology) to its SmartOS operating system. SmartOS itself is designed to turn a server (any server in fact) into a multi-tenant application-hosting platform.

NB: KVM (kernel-based virtual machine technology) is a means of running several virtual machines as unmodified Windows or Linux flavour images with each virtual machine using the operating system's kernel (for Intel or AMD x86 processors) with private virtualised hardware resources including disk space, graphics adapter and network card etc. Read here for more.

Back to Joyent, this open source project offers tools for application developers looking for storage and efficient virtualisation power that Joyent has "tuned and hardened" (as the company puts it) for data-intensive real-time application deployment.

Joyent is a member of the Open Virtualization Alliance, an association dedicated to the awareness and adoption of KVM as an open virtualisation alternative to proprietary solutions.

"Joyent SmartOS is the first hypervisor platform to emerge in five years and it's the only cloud server solution that can manage both KVM hardware virtualisation and operating system-level virtualisation on a single OS," said Jason Hoffman, founder and chief scientist of Joyent.

The theory here once again -- developers can employ hardware virtualisation with KVM when there are operating system dependencies to cater for.

Equally, developers can employ operating system-level virtualisation when the language runtime is important, as in a Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.

KFC.jpg
Caption: No I said "kernel"

It's a complex subject yes. Almost all the KVM backgrounders I looked at for this blog said that they would "attempt and try" to explain the technology - hopefully this blog adds to the collective consciousness.

Firefox 6 arrives August 16, but downloads are now open

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Tuesday 16 August 2011 is slated as the official date for Mozilla to release the version 6.0 iteration of its Firefox open source browser.

With adoption figures hovering at somewhere around 30 per cent of the total market (although figures are notoriously inaccurate), Firefox adoption remains strong and credible.

Although the official release date has been scheduled for tomorrow, FTP download links are available now for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Firefox_LiNsta.png

Beta tester's release notes on Mozilla's web site appear to suggest that most of the enhancements in the version 6 release are "under the hood". Overall speed has been a primary focus in recent development, with improvements of up to 20 per cent on Firefox 5 being discussed.

The links shown above are not official "final" versions, although TechnoBolt suggests that very little is likely to change over the next 24 hours.

Linuxcon 2011: Linus Torvalds, hockey & maple syrup, in that order

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Linuxcon 2011 is hosted in the Canadian city of Vancouver next week starting on August 17 through to the 19th of the month.

After attendees have rolled into town, feasted on Maple Syrup and Moosehead beer while watching hockey and listening to Celine Dion (because that's what you do in Canada right?) - they can settle down to the real content.

LinuxCon.png


The real content indeed -- which this year will include the following:

* Linus Torvalds in a QA with Greg Kroah-Hartman about the kernel and 20 years of Linux.

* Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst will detail the biggest challenges we still face and what the next 20 years looks like.

* Linux Foundation guru Jim Zemlin will be unveiling a new keynote presentation that takes a look at what a world without Linux would look like as we approach 20 years.

* Chairman Emeritus at the IBM Academy of Technology, Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger will present "Linux - A Short Retrospective and an Opinion on the Future"

So enough bullet points, obviously there is plenty more to see. Just visit the event website and look at the schedule. Suffice it to say that I wish I was there.

NB: you do all know that we were kidding about listening to Celine Dion right?

Twitter runs open source for developer website

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Twitter obviously makes more headlines for its user-facing news-related goings on than it does for its back room engineering and 'enabling' technologies.

In some kind of effort to redress that balance, I will make brief mention here of the fact that Twitter has selected a Drupal-based community solution for its new Twitter developer website at dev.twitter.com

As the company that provides commercial solutions for the Drupal open source content management platform, Acquia explains that the site provides information, tools, assistance and support for the 750,000 developers across the Twitter ecosystem.

"It includes access to documents, APIs, tips, tutorials, a blog and forums designed to connect developers to the Twitter team and each other," says the company.

Acquia insists that that this usage of Drupal shows that it is truly a best-of-breed platform for community websites.

"Twitter has always been deeply supportive of open source efforts like Drupal," said Ryan Sarver, Twitter's director of platform. "We made the decision to go with Acquia and Drupal for our new dev.twitter.com site because of the customisation and flexibility."

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Linux on mainframe, alive, kicking and doing rather well

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CA Technologies has responded to what the company says is a growing market for Linux-based mainframe applications with the release of a new mainframe Linux management portfolio named CA VM: Manager Suite.

Naysayers who belittle the importance of mainframe technologies in 2011 should perhaps remember that since the start of the decade, IBM, Unisys, BMC, Centrify and CA itself have all made significant augmentations to their mainframe technology propositions.

CA has highlighted the opportunity that Linux brings to deliver lower cost IT infrastructures during these lean times. As part of this, ancillary/complementary mainframe technologies such as workload automation form a key part of this technology's advantage.

The company's new product announcement aims to optimise management of Linux apps and resources in mainframe and hybrid computing environments.

"Linux on System z and the z/VM virtualization technology comprise a growing percentage of the MIPS being shipped because they help IT do more with less, and extend the business value of mainframe technology across the enterprise," said Dayton Semerjian, general manager of mainframe at CA Technologies.

The new release of the CA VM: Manager suite includes enhancements intended to control costs, improve performance, increase developer productivity and secure z/VM systems that support Linux on System z.

Roundtable "gurus": UK government should train for open source

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The UK government needs to invest in training developers in open source platforms if the country is to stand a chance of competing with its American and European counterparts in digital development.

This is the (arguably somewhat contrived and PR spun) proposition being put forward by hosting provider UKFast.

No I don't "get" the connection between a hosting solution provider and open source training skills either. But let's see if they have any value to put forward...

UKFast says it hosts round tables to bring experts together to look at how the Internet has changed the way we do business. Summary findings from its last event suggest that open source software is extremely valuable for web companies in the UK, but many are experiencing skills shortages that are stalling their growth.

Experts in software development came together the company's last round table discussion to agree that open source frameworks are crucial for the continued growth of the UK's technology and digital industries and support from government should be more forthcoming.

Stuart Howarth, co founder and director of KOKO Digital said, "We use open source frameworks to develop games. Open source is available for developers to download and use but it's not the be all and end all. You still have to know how to utilise those frameworks in the right way but its availability and accessibility certainly makes the journey a lot simpler.

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"It's great that people are sharing code and sharing what others have developed and, crucially, making that free for other people to use. For us, it's invaluable; we have budgets to meet and deadlines and open source potentially saves hours in our development process."

Carl Browns, sales and marketing director for Wirebox and Flairsoft, agreed and called for a better understanding from government about the needs of the digital industry. "If you want to scale your proposition quickly, open source platforms allow you to do that. For us to build a game from the ground up without using these platforms can take a lot longer. You are essentially cutting development time in half by using open source platforms -- it helps us from a business point of view to get more work done," he said.

Browns, whose background is in the banking industry, reminded fellow panellists of the Government's pledge to focus on industries, (including digital) that could outperform banking in terms of GDP by 2014.

A worthy debate then, if perhaps not the most enlightening "never before discussed" subject matter.

Perhaps I am being too cruel here. UKFast has hosted an open discussion on open source technologies and is promoting the findings for the greater good of all users and developers alike.

Or are they just hijacking a current discussion topic to help PR their name and sell hosting services?

It's one of the two for sure...

Indemnification assurance for community edition open source

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Bristol-based LinuxIT is launching an indemnification programme to underwrite community-based open source software. The company claims to be able to provide organisations with a "guarantee and assurance at zero risk", no less.

This arguably somewhat questionable claim is achieved by LinuxIT's process of "verifying open source software" by running it through an accreditation process.

The programme which is backed by an as yet unnamed "leading" global insurance-based financial services provider and a LinuxIT Service Level Agreement (SLA), which the company says enables LinuxIT to fix or replace software that does not work as expected. Cover to the value of £5m is provided.

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Image: courtesy of http://www.linuxit.com/

"Open source software comprises commercial and community versions, commercial where you pay for a structured development process and have the reassurance of indemnification and essential support," said Peter Dawes-Huish, CEO of LinuxIT.

"While the community options are free, there can be no guarantee of a structured development process and reassurance of indemnification and support. We understand why organisations in the past have backed away from the community product," he added.

When a customer purchases LinuxIT's Open Source Software Indemnification Program (they use American spelling in Bristol these days it seems), the company then guarantees the performance of the OSS item against an enterprise Service Level Agreement (SLA).

If the software doesn't work as expected due to a bug or another problem then the programme guarantees that it will be fixed or replaced with a technology that does, within an agreed timeframe. The insurance backing ensures that funds and resources are always available to meet the SLA.

I found this whole story highly dubious at first glance. Why would any company want to place an indemnification guarantee on open source software that has "exposed dynamic libraries" subject to the pressure of (albeit usually positive) constant change from the community?

Surely some customers need to evidence static libraries for legal compliance and regulatory pressures and so even LinuxIT's indemnification will not work right?

I questioned this aspect and also the company's pricing model before agreeing to run this story.

LinuxIT CEO Peter Dawes-Huish told me "There is no pricing model as part of the programme as we do not charge for the service."

"When the OSS code is live with dynamic libraries, we are able to guarantee a structured development process because we take a snapshot of the version of the code in the customer's live environment and indemnify that version. If the software is not working as expected, we take it, get a developer to fix the code and then we put it back into the customer's environment. We then feedback our amendments into the project to accommodate future changes," Dawes-Huish explained.

I'm not convinced, but I did find out that LinuxIT was (or is) the first Red Hat Premier Partner in the UK, so there may be more substance in this story than the sceptical observer might first take away.

OSCON 2011: Open Source has moved from "disruption to default"

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Portland Oregon is (apparently) famous for rain, rose gardens and (now) OSCON, the open source conference now in its 13th year.

Staged under the banner of O'Reilly technical publishing, this event's ex-post "content" is now all online, so rather than preview the event, I am going to point to a couple of links now fully live.

Conference keynotes are now available here -- and there are some 30 or so videos to watch if really want to dig deep. I want to point to Jono Bacon who is Ubuntu community manager at Canonical.

OSCON.png

Bacon's "The Future Of Community" presentation takes us right back to tribal caveman times when (hunting) skills were shared through "group collaboration" -- Bacon also questions whether "silos" of knowledge could develop in these scenarios if group knowledge was not evenly shared among the cavemen.

One imagines that this problem was referred to as "ugh!" rather than "group collaboration and knowledge silos" at the time, but you get the point.

Let's pick one news event from OSCON. HP signed up for OpenStack.

"HP recognises that open and interoperable cloud infrastructure and services are critical in delivering the next generation of cloud-based services to developers, businesses and consumers. It is our belief that close collaboration with developer communities combined with HP's global portfolio are cornerstones to delivering the right, seamless and secure experiences for our customers," said Emil Sayegh, VP of cloud services at HP.

The OSCON site itself is packed with coverage from various IT publications and vendor announcements. Look for the CONNECT button on any page and select "News & Coverage". There's also a Flickr page here if all you want to do is look at pictures.

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