DebConf 8 - Winter in Mar del Plata, Argentina


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Aug 10, 2008 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I am attending DebConf in Mar Del Plata, Argentina this week. Actually I have been here a couple of days attending a previous event called "DebCamp", where some of the Debian Developers get together to do "concentrated" work.

Now DebCamp has come to an end, and more Debian Developers are showing up for the main event of DebConf, where presentations will be made on current projects and future paths.
This is the fifteenth year of Debian, and the 9th DebConf (they started, in effect, with "DebConf", which you could consider to be "DebConf 0").

For an event and a distribution that is run by volunteers, Debian has certainly carved a place for itself, with over a thousand registered developers working on Debian and 22000 packages planned for the upcoming "Lenny" release. Debian is also available on many, many architectures, not just one or two. Of course Debian packages are the basis of even more distributions (Ubuntu and Knoppix immediately come to mind) and even those distributions spawn additional distributions, so the importance of Debian can not be overstated.

Attending DebConf is both "work" and "pleasure" for me. I get to see old friends (some of them proudly wearing the Debian Tartan kilts they bought at DebConf 7 in Edinburgh, Scotland), and meet new friends. But I am also planning to take the time to try and put Debian onto a few platforms that I am exploring. There can not be any better place for doing this, and a week of being able to concentrate on that task will help improve my disposition.

Two days ago there was a talk about the effort to put Debian on the FreeRunner phone. The concept of having a full Linux distribution on the FreeRunner, complete with the ability to make GSM and VoIP calls, is fascinating. I can visualize a systems administrator setting up the phone with all of their favorite software utilities and using it to manage systems while traveling. This has been done before with webpads and other "PDA" style of systems, but the opportunity to do this with a full-fledged and completely open phone that also doubles as a computer is intriguing.

Yesterday was "arrival day" for most of the DebConf attendees. Two friends of mine and I took the morning off and went to see the sea lions that were in the commercial harbor of Mar del Plata. Unfortunately no one warned us that the sea lions had been occupying their rocks for years and were not the most sanitation-minded of animals...the smell was a bit horrific.

Today we had a kick-off speech by the organizers of the event who had been working on the event for over two years (and who advised future organizers that the two years went past faster than they cared to admit). Their talk was followed with a keynote by Steve McIntyre, the over-all project leader for Debian, who discussed Debian's past, present and (with cloudy crystal ball) future. He made it clear that he was not the person who decided the path of Debian. The path was set by the community, Steve "only helped it along".

Next was a talk by Stefano Zacchiroli on the Mancoosi research project, a project funded by the European Union about managing the updating of interdependent software packages. Once again I was fascinated by the number of different entities working together to solve this problem. Universities, companies and individuals (including, of course, at least one Debian Developer) trying to address a problem that affects every software distribution whether it is Free Software or even various proprietary software systems.

After that I went to work on my own projects, including several talks that I offered to give throughout DebConf and its follow-on event August 18th in Buenos Aires, DebianDay. While DebConf is for the Debian Developers, DebianDay is for the public to tell them what Free Software in general and Debian in particular is all about.

Most of the talks are videocast over the Internet so you can follow them, if you wish.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the many sponsors for DebConf. You can see them at the main DebConf page. These companies help make DebConf possible, and therefore help make Debian possible. Unlike a lot of sponsors who pay for the venue, or the food and equipment, these sponsors also make it possible for developers who can not afford to travel long distances to participate in DebConf. We owe them many thanks (and perhaps some business).

Warmest regards from Mar del Plata,


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