Thought Crimes, Databases, Kernel Hacking and Other News from the O'Reilly Open

by Don Marti

Bruce Perens flipped his "speaking for HP" switch to Off on Friday, and proceeded to commit what he called the "federal thought crime" of starting off with a mention of Adobe e-book encryption at his talk on "Intellectual Property and Open Source." (See our recent story on the Dmitry Sklyarov case for why Adobe e-books are a relevant topic at a free software conference.)

Software copyright is the least of our problems these days, and Bruce is one of a few people who is trying to figure out a solution to the software patent crisis. Where software is concerned, "Open Source and patents just don't mix", he said. Some software licenses already address patents, but in different ways. The GPL handles patents aggressively--if any developer is sued, everyone else loses their right to redistribute the software, Perens said. This gives large companies such as IBM and HP a reason to help those who contribute to GPL software they redistribute, he added.

Some new corporate licenses simply incorporate a weaker "poison pill defense"--you lose your own license to the software if you bring a patent infringement lawsuit against another contributor. The BSD license doesn't address patents at all.

Until we get patent reform, what can developers do? "Be conscious of your own inventions", Perens said. What might seem like a clever hack to you could be a patentable innovation to some company that wants to keep you from using it. If you do something clever, publish it. (Write to me for a Linux Journal author guide.)

Bogus patents aside, the patent system is a bad fit even for genuinely new software ideas, Perens said. The term of a patent is 20 years when a "generation" of software is three, and you don't invent math, you discover it.

After all, didn't Donald Knuth once say, "Mathematics belongs to God"? But this is a story about the O'Reilly Open Source Conference, not an essay on the theology of algorithms. I skipped the business stuff to hand out copies of Linux Journal, drink coffee and attend some technical sessions.

Down in the exhibit hall, Brian Towles from RLX Technologies had some good news. The company's hardware monitoring kernel modules are now under a free software license. Databases are also hot, with both MySQL and PostgreSQL getting technical tracks at the conference; Red Hat offering PostgreSQL under the name of "Red Hat Database", and PostgreSQL specialists Great Bridge expanding their offerings.

Tom Lane, a member of the core PostgreSQL team, has been working for Great Bridge full-time for about a year, and told me about the new features in version 7.1. Some key enhancements are write-ahead logging to both increase performance and help recovery if your hardware fries itself in the middle of a transaction, OUTER JOINs for all you SQL masters out there, and the end of the old hard limit on row sizes.

One organization is already running a 4TB database on the new version, Lane said. Great Bridge also hosts a "mini SourceForge" for PostgreSQL-related projects.

"At some point we're going to throw Oracle out of the company, but it's going to take a while", said David Mele, Great Bridge's vice president of marketing. Right now the company is concentrating on departments that don't have the budget for a proprietary database and have outgrown MySQL. Revenue is coming from contract projects, for which 15-18 employees are available, and from a training program. Currently all training is handled in-house, since the materials are still in development, Mele said. "Franchising" to training companies comes later.

Great Bridge will be introducing a web server package that included the database, the PHP scripting language and the Apache web server in August.

If you do Linux kernel development on a one- or two-way system, and want to know how your optimizations perform on a 16-CPU server, the Open Source Development Lab wants to help, with their Brimstone project. Nathan Dabney from OSDL demonstrated the Brimstone, which will let you upload your kernel tree, run benchmarks on big servers and view results, all on the web. Watch the OSDL site for availability.

The Mozilla project is bearing strange fruit. Brendan Eich and Rob Ginda gave a talk on how the free, open, theme-able browser is racking up a lot of achievements, including much better page rendering speed, and Mitchell Baker explained the complex but product-friendly development process. Nokia and HP, among others, are already using Mozilla in their products, and several other "lurkers" have committed to it without saying so. Mozilla has been my daily browser for a couple of months now, and all I need is a simpler, less screen-hoggy theme.

Jim Gettys of the Compaq Cambridge Research Laboratory showed up with an add-on backpack for Compaq's high-powered iPAQ PDA that gives it a video camera, two PC Card slots, an accelerometer and more batteries. Rotate the iPAQ, and the X display reformats itself for sideways or upside down. "You will be able to buy this sort of thing from somebody within two years", he said.


Great Bridge:

Linux Servers get Smaller, Cooler at N+I:

Open Source Development Lab:

RLX Technologies:

Load Disqus comments