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Away Mission - 2008 in Review - part 2

By Howard Dyckoff

March is conference madness month in the San Francisco Bay Area with week-to-week events that sometimes overlap. For the last few years, Open Source developers and entrepreneurs have had EclipseCon, Dr. Dobb's Software Development Conference (SD West), and the Open Source Business Conference to choose from. Starting in 2008, if that audience was interested in FOSS on mobile platforms, there was also the Emerging Communications Conference (eComm), which was reviewed in part 1 last month.


This conference actually went up a little in value in 2008 even with a higher price because the tutorials were open to all conference attendees.

While EclipseCon is primarily about the Eclipse platform and the tools for its myriad projects, it is also about community and the larger Open Source ecosystem. There are sessions on creating and nurturing communities, on the future directions of Java, and on the new scripting languages that are supported on the Eclipse platform. There are presentations and panels on software deployment, modeling languages, and even SQL. In short, it's a really big tent. The tracks were well defined and taken all together were very comprehensive. Among the track topics were Eclipse as a Platform, OSGi, SOA, Modeling, Performance, Web Tools, and Emerging Technologies among others. However, some topics have sessions that are scattered across different rooms. The EclipseCon color codes help a bit with this to a degree, but with 8-10 simultaneous sessions, you could be in for a little exercise.

IBM held its own track on Tuesday, featuring its OpenUP Agile toolset and the Agile-oriented Jazz collaboration suite, both heavily based on Eclipse. In Jazz, and in Rational Team Concert, the team process is selected from process templates including Scrum, OpenUP, and the Eclipse Way (or EPF, the Eclipse Process Framework). You can also mix elements from these processes in custom configurations reflecting the actual work process at your own company or organization. Jazz uses Eclipse technology on both the client and the server, and Team Concert provides agile teams with an integrated tool set including source control, work item tracking and build management with continuous integration. The EclipseCon sessions are summarized here.

This is a very good set of collaboration tools, having been tested within Eclipse Projects for more than a year and also getting the benefit of IBM's own experience with the Rational RUP methodology, now available as OpenUP. Some of this effort is occurring via the Project Zero website at http://projectzero.org.

The presentations from the IBM Track are not in the EclipseCon archive for 2008, but here's a link to a representative Jazz web site at IBM Rational.

I also attended a great late session on Groovy, a dynamic scripting language that runs on JVMs. Groovy reduces the usual Java scaffolding for developing code and simplifies Java syntax. Semicolons are optional and it doesn't require getters and setters for each property; Groovy just does the right thing. Groovy also simplifes testing right out of box, working directly with JUnit. Groovy objects are called POGOs which are like Java POJOs on steroids.

POGOS write their own property accessors and provide a default constructor with named parameters. And like JRuby, Groovy compiles down to byte code. Check out the PPT-formatted presentation here: Introduction to Groovy.

EclipseCon offers lots of BOFs at night and several evening receptions with food and drinks. I especially recommend the annual Poster Session where new projects are presented by their developers with a pleasant dinner buffet. The Higgins credential framework, for example, was just such a poster presentation four years ago and is now widely used.

Each morning had Euro breakfasts: brioche, bagels, and pastry with coffee and tea. Sit-down lunches were the pattern again, with each table sporting signage for different Eclipse topics and projects (EMF,RCP, AJAX, etc.) There was plenty of choice here and lots of special meal categories were coordinated. And beside networking opportunities, the food was pretty good. The conference bag for 2008 was unfortunately just a canvas tote, but it did have a zipper closure. Previous years have had distinctive backpacks.

EclipseCon generally gives attendees USB thumb drives with about half of the conference presentations. The other presentations are available a day or two after their sessions and can be added at update stations. Some sessions show up weeks later. I personally think that is a problem for attendees planning their day with so many sessions overlapping. Moreover, many of the sessions on the USB drive get revised right before being presented. Consequently, the update sessions are very busy and are a bit of a bottle neck.

I also have to report a flaw in what is normally a very well organized mid-sized conference. The check-in process on the first tutorial day backed up badly and many attendees had to wait in line for 20-35 minutes. Clearly, they didn't have enough stations and personnel to check IDs and hand out badges and bags. But it was also asymmetric! They had 6 stations set up, each handling 4 letters of the alphabet, the last station also handling Y and Z. Last year, the A-D group was twice as long as any other and took the longer 35 minute interval. They should have gone through the list of registrants and set the letter groups up for roughly equal numbers of attendees. So plan on showing up at least 30 minutes before your tutorial if you want to attend EclipseCon this year.

Last year, EclipseCon was be held March 17-20, the week before the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), but for 2009, EclipseCon is March 24-27, and overlaps OSBC.

EclipseCon 2008 materials can be found here: http://www.eclipsecon.org/2008/.

The Business of Open Source - OSBC

OSBC started a few years ago by discussing issues in OSS and legal ramifications. In prior years, a lot of energy went into software patents and the then-new GPLv3. But in 2008, with few dragons left to slay, it was mostly about successful adoption of OSS at the enterprise level. There were several presentations on best practices and several case studies. For example, Weather.com and Kaplan.com, the learning center company, revealed the works behind the curtains a bit.

There are four tracks that run consistently over the two days of the conference: one for CTOs, one for CFOs, one for lawyers or those interested in legal topics, and a product and service track which also doubles as a track for emerging trends. Each track has a dedicated room in close proximity to the other sessions. There is little exercise in changing tracks here.

The agenda page lists the four parallel sessions and also has links to the those presentations that are available online. Unfortunately, some of the better presentations are not included, such as the opening keynote.

A more concrete presentation on the merits of going Open Source showed how two developers moved the back end at the New York Times to FOSS. That led to indexing 11 million PDF files, over 1.5 TB of data, in 24 hours with Amazon Web Services and Hadoop for only $240. Now those files can be served with the existing infrastructure and no new hardware. That presentation is here: http://akamai.infoworld.com/event/osbc/08/docs/CIO-CTO-Gottfrid-Harris.pdf

OSBC takes place at the Palace Hotel on Market Street in San Francisco, near an exit of the Montgomery Street BART station and near several major bus lines. This is a great location and allows attendees to use public transportation easily. It is also a nice venue with a touch of Victorian ambiance. However, power for laptops is an issue. Some rooms have power strips near the front, but this is up to the organizers and was not true of all session rooms. There are no power strips in the keynote room. The moral here is to bring your own extension cord and maybe a multi-outlet adapter to encourage sharing. We can all get along, right?

OSBC has usually provided a full breakfast buffet in the mornings, which is taken away just before the keynotes start. So come fairly early to enjoy it and to get a good seat.

The Open Source Business Conference will be held March 24-25, 2009. Last year, OSBC followed EclipseCon, but in 2009, they will overlap.

For 2009, OSBC will have keynotes from Ron Hovsepian, CEO of Novell; Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat; Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems; and a mystery speaker from Microsoft (yes, Redmond has a presence at OSBC.) There will also be a keynote panel on the topic of "End Users and Linux: Do We Have a Participation Problem?" led by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation.


Software Development West, or SD West, usually occurs in early March. Like EclipseCon, SD West is held at the Santa Clara Convention Center. But the perks and grub are more limited. The dates for 2009 are March 9-13. This year, SD West is co-located with the Mobile Connect conference.

The tracks here are expansive and cover most of the software development lifecycle. The SD conference organizers claim to provide a global view of the software industry and technological developments. There are separate tracks for Java, C++, .Net, Web services, Agile processes, and security, among others. New this year is the topical Cloud Computing and also a track on Parallelism in software.

Another nice feature is the range of vendor-sponsored free technical sessions. This year some of those sessions will be conducted by Coverity and Open Make.

Unfortunately for our readers, SD conference archives and presentations are only available to conference attendees. The parent company for SD and Dr. Dobbs - CMP - resells the content. So you have to go to SD West to get it.

I attended a lot of sessions on Agile process, modeling, and data architecture. Many of these sessions were led by Scott Ambler or other Agile leaders. I was generally satisfied with the sessions. I also attended sessions on Web services and XML servers and distributed Ruby applications which discussed SOAP4R, DRb and Rinda (which is a Ruby version of Linda, a primitive paradigm for parallel processing).

An informative session on the developments surrounding HTML 5 was led by Elliot Rusty Harold. Work around this emerging standard began accelerating in 2008, because Microsoft finally decided to support the new standards as the default behavior in IE-8. If they hadn't, it would have been a big stumbling block.

Another somewhat tongue-in-cheek session discussed "Anti-Patterns in Software Development".

The presenter, Rob Daigneau, was Director of Architecture at Monster.com and currently host of www.designpatternsfor.net (he will also appear again at this year's SD West, speaking on "Design Patterns for Domain Services"). Fortunately, he posts his presentations on that Web site and a 2007 version of the slides are available there as well.

Anti-patterns look like a good idea but backfire badly when applied. Here, the anti-patterns referred to are ones of human behavior in SW projects, based on roles and on personality types. Many of these behaviors impede the success of a SW project. Among the personalities discussed were Code Controllers, Perfectionists, Workaholics, and other behavior patterns for managers and leaders.

The underlying anti-patterns include a lack of trust in team mates, or optimizing too soon and too often, or - for Workaholics - too readily accepting a culture of burnout at the companies we work for.

Daigneau spoke about larger organizational factors: a Fight Club mentality that no one talks about with conflicts between groups or between tech leads and architects and even between top executives. Daigneau noted that "fish rot from the head down", meaning that real and sustained changes require acceptance and support from top executives, who ultimately have responsibility for lingering organizational problems.

What if the boss is a repeat offender? Daigneau says there are 3 choices: adapt and adopt your boss' point of view, getting your boss or bosses to change their practices, or to move on. That's the way the project crumbles!

SD West has a lot of traditions and one of those is its campy Developer Bowl, where teams from leading ISVs compete in a contest of technical and industry trivia. Over the years the questions and the answers have gotten pretty broad. Two years back, when Microsoft fielded a team, they appeared in costume: Darth Vader and two Imperial Storm Troopers.

There are two matched competitions and then the winners of each face off. The Developer Bowl in 2008 featured the return of Team Google, last year's winner. But first up was CodeGear vs. IBM, last year's second place winner. IBM passed them with ease to win the first set.

Second up was Google and Intel. Tim Matson of Intel introduced himself as a kayaking instructor after his more senior team mates had introduced themselves with variously 12 to 22 years of experience at Intel. The Googlers responded with a wry ploy of each claiming 42 years of work at Google, an indirect tribute to Douglas Adams of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" fame. Intel, initially behind, pulled ahead on the last question after a long tie.

In what was a close match with a tie score, IBM pulled ahead of Intel during overtime. Several of the last computer trivia questions stumped both teams, e.g.: "How are Dr. Dobbs and Kurt Cobain related?" (Answer, via Courtney Love who was a relation of Dr. Dobbs). IBM prevailed in the end after receiving the question about the number of "pockets" on an old punch card reader - easy trivia for old IBMers. (The answer was a non-metric '12', something typical of original IBM equipment. And for readers not old enough to remember, the size of an IBM punch card matched the size of a 1950's dollar since every card reader represented cash for IBM.)

[ Unfortunately, this is incorrect: the IBM card of the 1950s - actually designed in 1928 - was 7.375" by 3.25" in size, while the US dollar bill, the current size of which was set in 1929, is 6.14" by 2.61". The origin of this myth is relatively obvious: the original Hollerith card of 1887 was indeed the same size as the (large) US paper dollar of that time. Suggestions for the choice of size were that the inventor, H. Hollerith, felt that people would treat it with respect due to the similarity; that boxes for currency were cheaply available; and that equipment for handling media of that size was already being made for the US Treasury. However, there is no actual evidence or support for any of these, and they must remain urban legends. -- Ben ]

The link to find out more about SD West is http://www/sdexpo.com, which lists early-bird discounts and also has an embedded video player with highlights from 2008 at the bottom of the Web page. Join the March Madness for OSS if you dare!

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Bio picture

Howard Dyckoff is a long term IT professional with primary experience at Fortune 100 and 200 firms. Before his IT career, he worked for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and before that used to edit SkyCom, a newsletter for astronomers and rocketeers. He hails from the Republic of Brooklyn [and Polytechnic Institute] and now, after several trips to Himalayan mountain tops, resides in the SF Bay Area with a large book collection and several pet rocks.

Howard maintains the Technology-Events blog at blogspot.com from which he contributes the Events listing for Linux Gazette. Visit the blog to preview some of the next month's NewsBytes Events.

Copyright © 2009, Howard Dyckoff. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 160 of Linux Gazette, March 2009