Evidence of 'Counterattack' Lacking as Linux Conference Convenes

You probably already know the secret to getting a headline broadcast louder through Google News: take the main subject lines and pair them with a verb that denotes violence or tragedy. I discovered this myself with headlines that contain mix "Microsoft" or "open source" with the verb "derail."

Yesterday, Reuters scored an aggregation coup by pairing "Linux" and "Microsoft" with the verb "counterattack," resulting in a story that rocketed to the top of the hit list without a beat or a melody to it, and whose inaccurate derivatives were snatched up even by local television.

But bloggers who are actually there at a conference organized by the Linux Foundation, which convened yesterday on the campus of Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, tell a much more realistic story of a business-oriented, developer-centered event. On tap are sessions which deal with pertinent questions like how to generate interest in writing big applications for Linux, and how to incite cooperation between various distro vendors.

Perhaps some attendees do think of Microsoft as "the enemy," as yesterday's Reuters piece suggested; but judging from the first reports from the conference itself, it's being treated more like the 90-ton elephant in the room - in other words, the subject that let's not talk about now because the kids are here and we don't want to frighten them. If this really is a war room, the generals and admirals don't seem to be saying much about the enemy. Of course, perhaps that's the way modern wars are fought now - not saying or knowing much about the enemy - but that's for another story entirely.

The Thursday keynote address came from Ubuntu Foundation founder and former cosmonaut Mark Shuttleworth. Bloggers indicate that Shuttleworth may not have even mentioned Microsoft, focusing instead on the theme of the "collaboration summit:" how to bring together multiple distributors and development groups together under a common federation with a unified purpose.

Based on ConsortiumInfo.org blogger and attorney Andy Updegrove's reports, Shuttleworth spent some time talking about a key problem he perceived among members of the Linux community: a lack of civility in the treatment of one another, particularly online. A lack of mere politeness may be one of the key barriers to collaboration that the Linux community faces, according to reports from the keynote.

Sometimes the civility problem scales down to within the same office. According to an on-the-scene blog from former Sun Microsystems executive Danese Cooper, Shuttleworth "talked about the importance of 'Collaboration,' including aspects such as managing 'poisonous people' who monopolize conversation and effective working between projects."

Shuttleworth himself posted a preview of his keynote on his personal blog: "As a community, we've done amazingly well in terms of challenging the historical epicenter of computing - the supercomputer and data center - and driving change there," he writes. "It would be easy to declare victory. But, as anybody who flies in the backseat of a military plane to land on a carrier and declare victory will tell you, it would be premature.

"The real challenge lies ahead - taking free software to the mass market, to your grandparents, to your nieces and nephews, to your friends," he continues. "This is the next wave, and if we are to be successful we need to articulate the audacious goals clearly and loudly - because that's how the community process works best."

Indeed, what some would perhaps have characterized as a focal point for the conference apparently fizzled based on bloggers' reports: the drive to rewrite the General Public License to make the formation of patent covenants among licensees more difficult.

A session on the legal issues facing Linux, hosted by a room full of attorneys, would presumably have focused on what the press (guilty as charged) would consider a hot-button issue. But as Andy Updegrove -- himself a lawyer -- reported from the session, "Surprisingly enough, we only got one question from the audience on GPL3, and that one was a softball."

Elsewhere in the conference, there was evidence that GPLv3 truly is a hot-button issue, but perhaps not among certain lawyers, though executives may be exhausted talking about it. Danese Cooper reports that IBM's vice president for open systems development, Dan Frye, uttered a phrase that has gained momentum, and that she'd like to see ironed on a set of T-shirts: "When the GPLv3 is final...just CHILL!!!"

Meanwhile, a panel on the state of the Linux kernel headed by representatives from IBM, Red Hat, and Novell, along with principal Linux developer Andrew Morton. As blogger Don Marti reported this morning from the scene (like a stenographer, he took down a transcript of the entire session as it happened), Morton set the tone of the panel by underscoring the tension among vendors to boost the feature set of their versions of the operating system, rather than concentrating on building a product people can use. "We are more concentrating on creating that technology instead of creating a product," Marti quotes Morton as saying.

To which SteelEye CTO James Bottomley added, "There is a tension between new features and ramifications that even the inventors of the new features don't understand, and new features introduce defects into the code."

Perhaps it's too easy for an outsider to come to the conclusion that the world revolves around Microsoft just as much for a Linux conference as it does for a Microsoft conference like TechEd or WinHEC. But judging from the people responsible for holding up the emerging world of Linux, their axis doesn't look all that evil. Maybe that doesn't make for headlines on the local news, though it's not news to anyone that we all could use an extra dose of reality.

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