Simon Willison’s Weblog


Things I learned at EuroOSCON

24th October 2005

Last week was the first ever O’Reilly European Open Source Convention, held in the magnificent NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam. It was the first big budget conference I’d been too (previously I’ve stuck to less expensive affairs such as SxSW Interactive and PyCon) but the money seems to have been well spent. The venue was fantastic and there was a great line-up of speakers, keynotes and panels.

I organised a Python Lightning Talks session at the last minute (I agreed to run them on Monday) which, despite some trouble with the room booking, seemed to go pretty well. Overall there was a strong bias towards Perl at the conference, probably because the European Perl scene is well established (see the London Perl Mongers) and can provide plenty of excellent speakers.

I met a whole bunch of great people in and out of the sessions, and caught up on a lot of projects that I might have otherwise missed. Here are some of the things I learnt during the convention:

  • Damian Conway really is worth getting up early in the morning for. His presentation (mercilessly mocking Web 2.0, venture capitalists, tagging, social software and more) was hilarious. It became even funnier when I heard from some people who had attended his Presentation Aikido tutorial that he had broken every single one of his own rules for giving a good presentation.
  • Web 2.0 mainly just means building applications that take advantage of the true nature of the web (network effects, smart linking, REST principles). Kind of like writing “Pythonic” Python code.
  • Second Life leaves every other MMORPG for dead when it comes to capacity for creativity. If you ever get a chance to see a demo from a Second Lifer, go for it. Personally I plan to stay well clear of the whole thing, for risk of losing my first life!
  • Rails almost lives up to the hype. I pretty much knew that already, but some of the stuff people are building with it (with unbelievably low line counts) is amazing.
  • Open Standards are even more important than open code. One of Simon Phipps’ key points was that while open source may mean freedom for developers, it’s open standards that provide freedom for regular users.
  • Gnome 2 has enormous usability improvements over Gnome 1. Gone are the preference panes that allow you to disable certain visual effects in very specific contexts (sometimes using slider widgets to modify the values). The Gnome team want to take this focus on usability further, replacing the concepts of Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers with People, Events, Documents and Getting Laid.
  • The future of software security lies in modularised software permissions—HTML renderers shouldn’t need direct access to password stores, JPEG renderers shouldn’t have the ability to start shells. Making this kind of security policy usable is the real challenge.
  • “You can do lots of interesting things with Trusted Computing, particularly if you are evil”—paraphrased from Alan Cox.
  • It’s already possible for a worm to destroy your machine, thanks to writeable firmware on video cards and hardware level passwords on IDE drives. If a worm locked your drive with a random password, it would be illegal under the DMCA to recover your files.
  • serves up static files with a simple SSI for the recent headlines. The site grows at a rate of 2.5 GB a month, mirrored across 52 servers in London and New York.
  • PHP 6 (out next year) will probably have namespaces!
  • PHP is designed as a glue layer between lots of useful C libraries. “PHP is like the Borg—it adds the skills of others to its own”.
  • License proliferation is a key problem facing Open Source today, thanks to incompatibilities between different licenses. Microsoft realised this with respect to their own Shared Source licenses, and have dramatically simplified them as a result.
  • SVK is much more interesting than the other distributed version control systems, because it lets you mirror from, branch and commit patches back to Subversion, CVS, Perforce and more.
  • Perl 6 lives, in the form of PUGS, an impressively advanced implementation written in Haskell. There was quite a bit of buzz surrounding Haskell at the conference—it looks like type inference languages are ready for the mainstream (or maybe the mainstream is finally ready for them).
  • There’s a lot of activity in open source database replication and clustering at the moment. Postgres solutions include pgpool and Slony; Slony 2 in 2006 will perform multi-master synchronous replication using Ethernet multicast. Meanwhile MySQL Cluster (based on technology built by Ericsson for the telecoms industry) provides low-cost, extremely high availability clustering at a small cost in performance, depending on the nature of your database queries.
  • The European broadcast flag proposals are even nastier than the US ones, and the fight to stop them is only just beginning.

My meagre collection of photos is up on Flickr. One of the downsides of Flickr is that any geeky event I attend is likely to have hundreds of photos posted, which greatly reduces my desire to take any myself.

This is Things I learned at EuroOSCON by Simon Willison, posted on 24th October 2005.

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