It’s my favorite conference, I think. I love the smaller, more focused events too, but OSCON is a gathering of the tribes and we need one of those.

Gosh, in Portland this time of year, even the street people are wired.

Man sitting on curb with laptop

Oh wait, that’s Tim O’Reilly.

Tim O’Reilly sitting on curb with laptop

What is OSCON For? · I think the question is important; the conference isn’t as big as it once was and I’d hate for it to start sliding downhill. Maybe it needs more focus on what it’s about. I don’t really think it’s about Open Source as a whole, which is good as that subject has become inconveniently large and diffuse.

OSCON had its roots in the Perl conference, and remains at its core about the practice of writing and improving computer programs. Infrastructure conferences like Apachecon and the various Linux meetups tend to dip unapologetically into deployment and infrastructure and administration issues, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But it’s a fine thing to have a program that centers around what programmers build and the tools they build with.

OSCON is not actually incorrect as a name because in this day and age, most of the tools for constructing computer programs — essentially everything that’s not from Microsoft — are open-source.

I’m not sure what, if anything, I’m proposing; not a change of name, but maybe a bit more acknowledgment of the fact that this is a programmers’ event.

Free-software bicycle outside OSCON

Keynotes · I thought they were on balance a little less gripping than the track sessions. Some of this was a consequence of the organizers’ public-spiritedness; a determination that the geeks in the crowd really ought to care about Open Government and Open Healthcare Informatics and so on, whether or not they were actually technically interesting or not. Hard to argue with that.

But then there was that bad old tradition, the keynote-for-the-sponsor. I won’t name names, but I thought a couple of those were pathetically lame.

Another problematic example was Simon Wardley’s polished and thorough Situation Normal, Everything Must Change. There was nothing wrong at all with Simon’s material or presentation; but it was about Cloud stuff, and in fact the OSCON crowd by and large just didn’t care. I’m talking about keynotes full of material that someone thought the attendees should care about, as opposed to what they actually did.

Casting my eye back over the list, the only keynote focused clearly on the craft and science of programming was Rob Pike’s Public Static Void; I wasn’t there, but it was well-reviewed. If I were the conference organizers, I’d be looking for some more pure-programming pieces.

Google and Android · Were there ever a lot of Googlers in Portland; twenty-plus by my count. Let me say something that’s perhaps controversial: OSCON is quite possibly the world's pre-eminent gathering of people who think practically about better ways to create computer programs. Since Google lives and dies on its ability to create better computer programs, we ought to be there, learning and teaching; I’m glad we were.

I was primarily focused on Android of course, and came away with a smile. The OSCON gang was interested and friendly, turning out in force for our sessions. Whenever I turned my Mac on, it saw WiFi networks with names like “AndroidAP” and “JoesDroid”.

The big deal for us was the Wednesday-evening Android Hands-On. We had unannounced (but I think not unpredicted) Nexus One phones for the three hundred or so attendees, which produced a lot of big smiles.

Android Hands-on attendees at OSCON 2010

James Duncan Davidson captured
professional-grade photos of this event.

As the event ran, all I could think of was ways to improve the program, but it can’t have been that bad because almost everybody stayed right through to the 9:30PM end. To my delight and amazement, the network stayed up under the strain of 300 or so phones syncing up Gmail and calendars and contacts, not to mention downloading the 80 or so megabytes of Froyo. Whoever does WiFi for the O’Reilly events, you should hire ’em too.

It’s the first time we’d run an event in just this style, and I think there are lots of ways to improve it.

This event was a little bit controversial inside Google. The Android leadership (appropriately) includes people with strong consumer-electronics experience; it wasn’t obvious to them that all these open-source hippies constituted a good potential pool of mobile-app developers.

Personally, I can’t imagine a better one. We’ll see if I’m right; in the meantime, my most sincere thanks to the skeptics who gave this a chance, to David McLaughlin for marshaling resources, to Roman Nurik, Justin Mattson, and Dan Galpin for their teaching, and especially to the other Googlers and O’Reillyans who rallied around and made the not-fully-thought-through logistics run smooth.

People · It’s a cliché all right, but a good one: the real reason to attend is the people you meet who are stimulating and cool and not coincidentally members of your own tribe.

In this case I’ll highlight Robert Kaye of MusicBrainz, an operation with which I’m totally in sympathy; but I’m picking Robert because his picture turned out well.

Robert Kaye


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Lennon Day-Reynolds (Jul 25 2010, at 22:51)

The Android hands-on was a great session, but I'd like to offer a couple of recommendations:

First, I think it would be interesting to try a super-basic "Hello, world!" tutorial at the beginning, before launching into the "UI best practices" and "advanced REST API client" presentations. There appeared to be a lot of folks who tuned out the more advanced content because they were just getting their handsets fired up and connected to their Google accounts and laptops, and the pace really didn't leave a lot of room for catching up once you were behind.

Second, having URLs to public repositories of example projects included in some of the presentations would have been a win. There was only a bit of code in the slides, and no template to hang experiments off of during the whole affair.

I personally spent most of the 2-1/2 hour session trying to get a Mirah (nee Duby) project to build and install on the N1, b/c Charles Nutter had done a pretty good job of selling the platform at Emerging Languages. That being said, I would have happily played along with a more structured tutorial.

BTW, I'm the dude with the buzz cut and creased forehead in the Android event photo; to the right is Phil Tomson, a kick-ass Ruby developer who showed me the ropes around PDX.rb wayyy before Rails existed, and who just so happens to be looking for a new gig. (*big hint*)


From: Matěj Cepl (Jul 26 2010, at 01:14)

Linking to just a bit less happy report from OSCON and continuing blunder of Chromium development by my fellow Fedorian


From: Jay Gischer (Jul 26 2010, at 10:57)


The Android leadership (appropriately) includes people with strong consumer-electronics experience; it wasn’t obvious to them that all these open-source hippies constituted a good potential pool of mobile-app developers.


Try reminding them that it was exactly those "open-source hippies" that built Google (not to mention Apache). Breaking rules is the essence of creativity.


From: Thomas (Jul 26 2010, at 17:09)

I appreciate the history of OSCON, and have gone for 3 of the last 4 years, including this one. I am an IT Manager and I take system admins with me every time, including Windows system admins. I like OSCON because it feels like a community that is trying to creatively solve problems instead of just applying stock answers. Since I'm an enterprise guy, I thought the Wardley presentation was brilliant. Large enterprises suffer from exactly the scenarios he was describing. Perhaps Google does not, but many, many do. I appreciate the breadth of topics covered at OSCON and avoid the vendor tracks as much as possible. The IT Philharmonic session about IT Ops was fantastic. Just sharing with you that guys like me are part of the larger community, even if we aren't in the inner circle of software creators. I would love a more fleshed out track on IT Ops issues, but not too much more because I like going to sessions like the FOSS in art schools session and being challenged to see how it applies to the enterprise. It's surprising what you can come up with. Thanks for the good article.


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