FreeBSDCon’99 – what happened there?This article talks about my view of the first FreeBSD Convention, which was held in Berkeley in October 1999.
Very professionalThe first thing I must say about the convention is that it was very well run. A group of us were discussing it on Wednesday evening between the last session and the boat cruise. One comment was that for a first-time convention, it was better run than conventions which have been running for twelve years. Another comment was that it was very professionally run and the person was quite impressed with the quality of the organisation. In fact, if I recall correctly, the big hiccup was the lack of water on the first day of the conference. A broken water main was to blame. But that’s hardly the fault of the organizers.
By all accounts, Pat, Nicole, and April did an outstanding job. The feedback I received was that the conference either met or exceeded people’s expectations. Of course, there are always people who will grumble that the food wasn’t good (apart from the pizza on one day, it was all great food). Or that they couldn’t get to the sessions they wanted because they were too popular. Well, my reply to that is food is one area which is very subjective and personal tastes vary. The food was all of very high quality (pizza excepted) and there was always a choice. From what I hear, it’s a far cry from other conventions I’ve heard of where all you get is a boxed lunch (if you get that all all).
The social sideOn my flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I spoke with a woman who was at a convention in Concord. It took her two hours to get to the airport. There were no social events at her convention. Everything was based around the sessions. That sounds sad. A highlight of the FreeBSDCon was the social get-togethers which were planned and enjoyed by all. On Monday night there were some informal drinks and a chance to meet some of the early arrivals. On Tuesday night there was the beer bash, which was very popular. On Wednesday night, there was a boat cruise which was sold out. We ate dinner on board (very nice it was) and cruised out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Many people braved the cold winds and went outside for a close up look at the bridge as we sailed underneath and along the ocean side of the roadway. It was spectacular. We also had a close up of Alcatraz on the way back to the hotel. Everyone enjoyed this event.
As I alluded above, planned social events are an important part of any convention. It is the contacts and friendships which are developed at conferences which often prove to be the most valuable part of the trip. Other conference organizers should not underestimate the value and popularity of such things.
The history of BSDIt was during the beer bash that I found out that Kirk McKusick was going to give a talk on the history of BSD. This session proved to be very popular. Kirk gave us many insights into the early days of BSD and some details of the lawsuit which are not widely known. I found it very entertaining and educational. The session was videotaped and I think you can get a copy of the tape from Kirk’s website. Actually, I just checked there and it’s not listed but perhaps the site has not been updated.
The merchandiseThe FreeBSD Mall was in full operation at the convention. Between each session, they seemed to be busy all the time. The plushies and the mousepads were hot. As were the plate logos.
Everyone who attended the conference was given a bumper sticker, a button, stickers, the convention t-shirt, and a small lapel pin. Everyone who handed in the convention survey was given a beanie baby. In addition to the above, I bought a coffee mug, a black cap, and a CD-case. It seems the mousepads were the thing to have. These ain’t your normal mousepad. They have a very sticky backing on them so they won’t move around on your desk. They are thinner than most mouse pads and have a suede-like surface to them. I’ve been using it since I my return and I won’t be going back to my old mouse pads. If you can get hold of one, I highly recommend them.
Another item which was in high demand was Kirk McKusick’s book . I bought my copy and, like everyone else there, had it autographed by Kirk and Mike Karels.
FreeBSD Internals – the tutorialThis is a day-and-a-half tutorial by Kirk McKusick and provides a broad overview of how the UNIX kernel provides its basic services. I’d recommend it only for those people who are planning on writing programs or modifying FreeBSD. For anyone else, I don’t think they would not find it very useful. Some sort of background in operating system design would also be helpful. As would a background in C programming. Although Kirk was initially worried that the reduced course would not meet the expectations of the group, I was quite glad it was as shortened as it was. I find that too much detail can be stifling. I like to have an overview of what is possible so I can then go back and get more information.
Although not required for the course, the notes provided within the tutorial have many references to The Design and Implementation of the 4.4 BSD Operating System.
This course was popular. In fact, it was so popular that after the first session sold out, the organizers added a second session which also sold out. For the next conference, perhaps more sessions will be needed. I heard that the second session had quite a few core team members in it. The attendees I spoke with liked this idea because of the interaction between Kirk and the core team members.
The sessionsThe first session was the keynote address by Jordan Hubbard. He’s the release manager, and does the Public Relations and Corporate Liaison for the FreeBSD Project.
I also attended Mark Murray’s talks on Security. Mark is a great speaker and the content of his paper is delivered with a great wit and humorous dialogue. Mark’s first talk about about securing your individual machine. It was easy to follow and to the point. His main point was that a good security person needs to be paranoid. I agree. The second talk about about creating a firewall using ipfw as an example. The rules provided were a good base upon which anyone can build their firewall. The main thing to keep in mind is that you first need to create a policy and then implement that policy with your firewall rules. For example, you should first decide who can access what and from where. Only then should you start using your firewall to enforce this policy. A good thing to remember is that it is easier to deny everything and then allow only what you want. It is more difficult to allow everything and then specify what you don’t want.
Warner Losh talked about how to distribute and maintain configuration files in a large complex environment. Although the content of this talk was not directly applicable to needs, I found it quite interesting to hear about the tools they used and the methods they employed.
Greg Lehey spoke about the Vinum Volume Manager. This disk abstraction program can greatly improve disk performance by striping data across two or more disks. The initial setup can be confusing, but as was demonstrated in the talk, the resulting increases in performance and/or reliability can be impressive. If you are interested, I’ve written up what I did to use vinum which may help you.
The session I most wanted to attend was the talk by Jonathon Bresler about stopping spam at FreeBSD.org. It was unfortunately scheduled against my talk on advocacy.
The year aheadIn the next year, we might see as many as 6 books on FreeBSD. That should boast our profile significantly. Also, I hear that Oracle will be releasing a FreeBSD specific version of their database. Some large corporates are behind this push and I’m sure that Oracle will yield to their wishes. Such a move will certainly make the press stand up and listen as well as capture the attention of the commercial market.
I also think that more and more people will discover Samba and how easily and cheaply it can provide a alternative to NT server. Not to mention that running Samba gives you more stability.