Linux talkfest kicks off in Melbourne

Linuxconf continually delivers a highly technical yet casual talkfest of all things Linux and open source

The annual linux.conf.au conference, now in its ninth year, kicked off at the University of Melbourne this week, and is on track to top all expectations with a record number of attendees and a bigger-than-ever program of mini-conferences, keynote addresses and open day surprises.

Just over 700 people are taking part in what Linux Australia president Jonathan Oxer calls a "part traveling roadshow, part technical talkfest, and part social highlight of the Open Source calendar".

Of the 700-odd attendees there are 550 from Australia, 60 from the US, 50 from New Zealand, 11 from Japan and a smattering of people from countries such as Finland, Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, China, Singapore and the UK who have made the trip down under.

Paul "Rusty" Russell, the conference's founding father, believes it is the vibe of linuxconf which sets it apart from other tech conferences.

"It is a very different conference - its highly technical, and very casual at the same time. It's a very congenial atmosphere and there is a high speaker to attendee ratio - among the attendees there is a one in eight chance that they are a speaker.

"The one thing about linuxconf is if there was a plague that wiped out half the speakers, we could pull from random attendees and say 'do you have anything you can talk about for half an hour?' and we would still get a really good conference, because the attendees really make it," Russell said.

The conference kicked off on Monday with two days of mini-conferences on topics as varied as Community Wireless, Education, Embedded, Fedora, Multimedia, Debian, Security, Virtualization, Distro, Gaming, LinuxChix, and MySQL to name a few.

In fact, Russell said that the paper committee - the body responsible for choosing what conferences and addresses take place at linuxconf - had a tough time filling the schedule.

"I was the chair of the paper committee, and that was hard because there were so many papers, we had to cull over two-thirds of the presentations that were submitted. I've described it previously as a bloodbath" he said.

"Even if you chose all your favourites there is still not enough room in the conference so its very much give and take and it's a lot of debating. The way in which you present is also very important."

Russell hinted that Andrew Tridgell's talk on Clustered Samba, Dave Miller's Linux on Sun Logical Domains and Bruce Schneier's Reconceptualising Security keynote speech were among his 'must-see' list.

Russell said that unlike other tech conferences, the keynotes at linuxconf aren't there to spruik a product or push a brand.

"Our keynotes are chosen because we think they are going to be the best technical talkers for the conference, so there isn't really a great divide between the keynotes and the other talks."

Russell has a tutorial of his own to deliver on Thursday, entitled Kernel hacking: hacking on lguest.

"We've got a two hour slot, and what I really want is to get people involved. I want people to feel what its like to actually hack on the kernel. I chose one of my pet projects, the lguest project, which is a really tiny hypervisor that you can run multiple Linux's under a parent Linux. It is designed to be really easy to modify so its perfect for this kind of tutorial," he said.

Russell is also looking forward to the Open Day, a chance for families and students to play with new technologies and learn about open source, which this year has been expanded to a two-day event because of the huge success it garnered last year.

"Last year we had some really amazing stuff come out of the woodwork because people had all these side projects and it really surprised me with some of the stuff that they brought out. The only way you find out about it is you wonder past a stall on Open Day and you go 'hey that's really awesome', it happened last year so I am sure it will happen again this year."

Movie making, 3D virtual gaming, robots, and digital music exhibitions are among more than 40 exhibits planned for this year's Open Day.

But what is it that sets linux.conf.au aside from other tech conferences?

"That's a really good question, I think there's that line - this is definitely as professionally organized as you can get without actually becoming professional. "It's run by volunteers and every year we rotate them because they burn out, this is a huge task to organize this many people and everything else. Everyone knows the volunteers are doing everything they can, everyone is pitching in, and every year there are always stories of people giving other people a hand."

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