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The Fifth International Linux Congress

By John Kacur

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The fifth International Linux Congress was held June 3-5, 1998, at Cologne University in Germany. This was only a few days after the Linux Expo held at Duke University in North Carolina, U.S.A. (May 28-30), which made for a few tired participants including some of the speakers who attended both events. On the first day of the Congress, intensive tutorials on various subjects were offered in both English and German. These included ``Becoming a Debian Developer'' by Bruce Perens, ``KDE Programming'' by Kalle Dallheimer and Matthias Ettrich, and ``ISDN4 for Users'' by Klaus Franken.

The talks began the next day, opening with the keynote speaker, Jon ``maddog'' Hall. Jon's talk, entitled ``Economics of Computing for the 21st Century'', began with a historical survey of computers. He talked about early computer systems, which cost three times more than what his parents paid for a house and were much less powerful than modern home systems which are now inexpensive enough to buy with credit cards. He predicted that in the near future, one will be able to buy a computer in the check-out line at the local supermarket. Indeed, at least two grocery stores in Germany already sell inexpensive PCs. He ended his talk by expressing the need for Linux to reach the ``Moms and Pops'' of this world and with a plea to lobby not just for Open Source software but for open hardware standards.

After the keynote speech, participants got to choose between two talks running in parallel. The format was forty-five minutes per speaker, with breaks every ninety minutes. The majority of the talks were held in English, to accommodate guests from the United States, Canada, England and the Netherlands, with a few held in German. Although it was possible to attend up to six talks a day, some participants expressed regret that they couldn't attend all the interesting talks due to simultaneous scheduling.

During the breaks, participants had an opportunity to explore the various booth displays. S.u.S.E., a company which makes a popular German Linux distribution, offered free demo CDs with their newest 5.2 version. O'Reilly had a nice book display with offerings in both English and German. The KDE group had a very popular display showing off their attractive desktop environment. John Storrs, who also presented a talk, had a display demonstrating the use of Real Time Linux for the purpose of CAD/CAM design.

The University also provided the Congress with a small number of Linux computers connected to the Internet for those participants who found it hard to be away from the keyboard for too long. Among the many interesting talks presented on the first day was one entitled ``Designing an Ext2fs Resizer'', given by Theodore Y. Ts'o. Theodore has made contributions to the development of the Ext2fs system in the past and is presently working on a method for enlarging and reducing the size of an Ext2 file system and adding B-tree support.

Christian Gafton, one of the programmers from Red Hat, gave a talk entitled ``Migration to glibc''. He said the use of glibc is no longer as controversial in the fast-moving Linux world as it was when Red Hat first adopted it. With the latest versions of glibc available on the Internet, the most common problems with porting code to the library occur when programmers write code which is dependent on bugs which exist in the old libc libraries, or when programmers use bad programming practices such as the use of #include<linux/foo.h> instead of the recommended #include<sys.foo.h>.

A few sessions were purposely left open. The organizers called these ``Birds of a Feather Sessions'' where the congress attendees could get together for ``spontaneous and informal meetings for presentation or discussion of any interesting subject''. Some people from Debian took advantage of this opportunity to discuss various issues concerning their Linux distribution.

That evening, participants got a chance to socialize and experience a bit of German culture. The social event was held at a local pub reserved for the Linux Congress. There was a wonderful smorgasbord and the waiters were very quick to fill our beer glasses with Cologne's famous kölsch. Everyone enjoyed themselves and hopefully some long term computer friendships were formed.

The talks continued on the third day with interesting topics such as IEEE-1394 (also known by the commercial name Fire Wire) by Emanuel Pirker. Emanuel designed support for this technology as part of his work as a university student in Austria. Warwick Allison gave an interesting account of the QtScape Hack, in which a small group of programmers created a port of Netscape to Qt in a five-day programming spree while on vacation in Norway.

The final panel board discussion was perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most contentious topic of the congress. The subject was GNOME vs. KDE. (See Linux Journal, May 1998.) Participants included Miguel de Icaza of the Gnome Project, Kalle Dalheimer of the KDE project and Bruce Perens who helped to define the Open Source License. The people from the KDE project, which is already in its second year, felt that Linux was in need of a comfortable desktop environment. Linux has already captured the server market, but has not reached the desktop widely because the technical capabilities required are beyond that of the average user. They also felt that Linux is about choice, and that since the GNOME project is now being financed by Red Hat, people would be unduly influenced to use GNOME.

The people from GNOME countered that Red Hat had no influence on the direction of their project, and the reason KDE is not included in the Red Hat distribution is because of its use of the Qt-toolkit. Many people were of the opinion that although the KDE project is further ahead than the GNOME project, its use couldn't be wholeheartedly embraced by the Linux community because of the non-GNU license of the Qt-toolkit. They fear a similar situation to the Open Group who recently changed the licensing policy of the X server. Some members of the audience informed the Congress that a project to make a GNU clone of the Qt-toolkit was underway, and other audience members expressed the opinion that the two KDE and GNOME groups should work more closely, but still acknowledge the positive creative push of healthy competition. Any hurt feelings were laid to rest and all friendships renewed as we said our goodbyes at the O'Reilly Publishing House.

The O'Reilly team invited participants of the Linux Congress ``zum Klönen bei Kölsch'' or for a chat and beer. Participants agreed the fifth annual Linux Congress was a success and look forward to next year's Congress, which the organizers promised us would not be quite so soon after next year's Linux Expo!

Copyright © 1998, John Kacur
Published in Issue 33 of Linux Gazette, October 1998