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Report from LinuxWorld Expo San Francisco [& Webcam], Part 1 - by Marty Connor
Thursday, August 17 2006 @ 12:33 PM EDT

Report from LinuxWorld Expo San Francisco, Part 1
~ by Marty Connor

Today, is Thursday, August 17, 2006, the last day of LinuxWorld Expo San Francisco, and I am awake. It's about 5:30am here at my hotel, which is just a block from the Moscone Center where the show is being held.

This is my 12th LinuxWorld Expo in the .ORG Pavilion, and I still enjoy the experience. Over the last 7 years or so, I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, conversing with, and demonstrating our software for many thousands of people.

I am project leader for the Etherboot Project. The project started in the early 1990s, and I am the third project leader.

I'd like to share a little of LinuxWorld from a somewhat unique perspective, from the inside of an .ORG booth, and from the inside of a long-time open source project. I hope you find it both entertaining and educational.

As background, let me tell you a little about myself. I'm just about 49 years old and saw my first computer (a teletype actually) when I was 17. That was back in 1975. Wow. 30 years, and I am still into programming these things.

In my time I have had the pleasure of programming everything from Cosmac ELFs, IBM and UNIVAC Mainframes, to PDP-11 mini-computers. I have worked for the DoD, writing FORTRAN, and for MIT writing LISP and assembler.

I am a polymath, and enjoy doing a wide variety of things at a high level of proficiency. I have a passion for understanding how things work, and great curiosity about a great many things.

I worked at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory for about 4 years. Richard Stallman helped me get that job. I knew Richard before the FSF and the GPL. We were just a couple of hackers at the MIT AI Lab, creating software, mostly. We have laughed, we have cried, we have sometimes shouted and screamed at each other. And we have read each others code. It's been a while since we talked personally, but it would be fun to have food some time. I remember the conversations we used to have about software, and the social implications of what we were doing (working off of DARPA grants will do that to you).

So I have quite a bit of perspective, and the benefit of time has given me an appreciation for the rhythm of technological innovation, and for the social ramifications of it.

I enjoy creating software in much the same ways as I enjoy creating music. They each have their constraints, but allow a large amount of room for expression, and sometimes, when the moment is right, it all seems effortless -- as if the music, or the code flows from mind to fingers with only the sweet, pleasant feeling of lightly guiding it on its journey.

So, back to the .ORG Pavilion.

Our project, Etherboot.org is a small project, compared some of the other names in the .ORG Pavilion, but what we do is quite useful, and quite specialized. We write software that allows people to network boot their computers. This allows computers to have no hard drive or other traditional storage media, and to operate using network-based resources, to whatever extent people want them to.

Our software runs "bare-metal", that is, at the time we execute, there is typically no operating system running, since it is our job to load the operating system over the network interface, and start it running.

We write in C and assembler. We are constrained by only having a small amount of memory we may use (BIOS constraints), and our code typically lives in FLASH memory, which is also in short supply. It is a bit like writing minimalist poetry. Every word is important, and we must be careful, and understand what each one is for. The results of getting it right, however, are magical. We load the operating system, and transfer control, and in 20 seconds or so, a desktop appears. Our part usually takes a few seconds, but as I mentioned to Robin Miller from NewsForge "from those few seconds of work and joy flow an incredible amount of results. How like life."

To do a LinuxWorld (at least the way I like to do it) requires a lot of time, effort, and planning. I like to show people how things work, and so that requires equipment and preparation. The booth may be free, but with hotels, shipping, and airfare, we can easily spend several thousand dollars to get here (in my case, from Cambridge, Massachusetts) and demo what we do. It's a joy to do it.

We've had such a good time here. We had dinner with Markus Gutschke and H. Peter Anvin. We hung out on the Slashdot Lounge beanbags with Don Becker, and we have demoed direct booting from AoE and iSCSI with an open source stack.

That is why I come here. To enjoy the company of others who share my interest and passion for creating useful things.

I talked to Eben Moglen for the better part of an hour in the .ORG Pavilion. We don't see eye to eye on everything, but I think it was (and is) good to talk, and to better understand each other.

Speaking of cool people, Robin Miller ("Roblimo") of NewsForge always comes by (and sometimes we get food together), and we have great conversations.

I see people year after year now, and part of what drives development for me is the desire to have something new and cool to show them, and to be creating new things ...

We'll have our webcam up, if you'd like to watch during the day. It will be on from about 1pm to 7pm EDT.


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