Open Source in Action: LinuxCon 2012

I participated in a panel discussion at LinuxCon today with other journalists who cover Linux and open source goings-on, including our own Alex Williams. One of the questions that was asked was “What was the most important story for you this week?”

The answers from my peer journalists were interesting, and reflect the diversity in interest (and beats) between us all. From Google’s admission to using — and paying for support for — Ubuntu on the desktop, to Linus’s revelation of a Linux 4.0 release within the next couple of years, the things that piqued our various interests covered the spectrum of what happened this week.

When the question was posed to me, my immediate response was “The Hallway track”. For regular conference goers, this is a colloqualism to describe the ad-hoc conversations that spring up in the hallway between sessions. This is where conference participants most interact — both with one another and with session presenters. 

All this week I’ve overheard snippets of conversations between two or more impassioned interlocutors discussing kernel tuning, memory management, cgroups, containers, systemd, “fake NUMA”, and lots of other interesting technologies.

What has been most interesting, though, is the realization that this is open source development in action. Whether it’s witnessing an Amazon developer talk with a Rackspace developer, or a SUSE engineer talking with a Red Hat engineer, or a CloudStack dev talking with an OpenStack dev, the conversations are all focused, technical, and almost entirely without conflict. These are smart, talented people looking to solve interesting, complex technical problems.

The companies that employ these various folks may all be fighting tooth and nail for customers, but they’re doing so at a higher level in the “business stack”, and there’s plenty of room for each of them to satisfy customer needs in different ways. The technical conversations that occurred this week were all aimed at allowing those higher level business discussions to take place.

That is open source development. A diverse set of participants, sometimes with conflicting long-term goals, all working together to solve problems, create new and useful solutions, and hopefully have fun doing it. I didn’t see any acrimony or hostility this week, despite the presence of employees from companies that are fighting — sometimes bitterly — for the same limited set of customers.

As Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation executive director, observed in his opening remarks on Wednesday, while the suits were planning product roadmaps and business plans at VMware’s VMworld event, the folks who were actually solving problems were here with us this week, working together and kicking ass.

Open source is where it’s at.