OSCON Was Cool!

by Russell J.T. Dyer

For the past few years, I've meant to attend the Open Source Convention (better
known as OSCON) in Portland, Oregon, but never quite made it. Besides
the promotional material put forth by O'Reilly Media, the organizers of
the convention, I've heard the tales of the convention over the past
seven years. The post-convention stories of this convening of
open-source fans have been quite interesting. This was clearly the
place to be, the techie convention to top all others.
Figure 1. Tim O'Reilly (photograph by James Duncan
This year, I finally managed to get myself there. I'm happy to
report that OSCON is the cool convention of the year.
I went to LinuxWorld Expos in both Boston and San Francisco this
year--well organized and popular as they are, they don't have the same spirit as OSCON.

I also went to the new Red Hat Summit this year as well as a more specialized one
that I like in particular, the MySQL User Conference. I wasn't
thrilled with the Red Hat Summit, but it was the first one. Although I
feel more at home at the MySQL UC, as I'm big on MySQL, OSCON
by definition was more well rounded. So, unless you're strictly a
MySQL fan, OSCON was the best conference so far this year, based on my
experiences and others have told me of the conferences I wasn't able to attend.

What seems to make OSCON interesting, cool and fun is the
collection of people attending and perhaps the location. As I
mentioned in an earlier
article on
the Red Hat Summit, technology conventions now seem to be the dominion
of big corporations. I don't mind companies being involved, I simply
prefer community driven and aligned ones, such as like O'Reilly and MySQL.
O'Reilly organizes OSCON and a few other conferences. In talking with
one of the marketing people from O'Reilly while walking
back to our respective hotels from a party late one night, I learned
that "At O'Reilly, although we make profit on many of our books, we're not
about profit as much as other publishers. We're more into assisting in
the building of software communities. As a result, we organize OSCON
and other conferences even though they may not be profitable to us.
It's part of who we are." This profundity that came forth while
stumbling through the streets of Portland late at night, and it illustrates
what makes OSCON work: it's a convention for the Open Source
community, organized and protected by O'Reilly.
People & Talks
Talks were given by all of our tech heros and the like, including Tim
O'Reilly, founder and head of O'Reilly Media. He gave a couple of
talks, including a keynote address, one of which was
quite frank on the tech book business. I heard several people
commenting on it in the hallways. I hope the organizers put a copy of it on the
O'Reilly Web site, as people who were there already are quoting it.
My buddy Zak Greant spoke on optimizing MySQL. Luke Welling and Laura
Thomson (writers of MySQL Tutorial by MySQL Press) came in from
Australia and gave a talk on PHP and MySQL. And the editor
of XML.com, a nice guy named Edd Dumbill, flew in from England to
conduct the Mono Boot Camp.
Figure 2. Audience Asks Questions
(photograph by James Duncan
Being a Perl fan, I was delighted to hear Larry Wall give his
traditional "State of the Onion" talk. He's such a neat guy and a
great linguistic leader for the Perl community. If you're a member of
Perl Monastery, you probably recognize the names Ovid,
merlyn (aka Randall Schwartz) and chromatic, all of whom spoke at the
show. Randall Schwartz was also at the
Stonehenge booth
with Tom Phoenix and brian d foy promoting their Perl books, as well as
their consulting services and training programs. Damien Conway,
another of Perl elite, gave a few presentations as well. Many more
impressive presenters were on hand; I've listed only some of my
favorites here.

One evening offered a book signing organized by Powell Books and
O'Reilly, during which attendees were able to meet many authors. Again, chromatic was there
signing his new book Perl Testing: A Developer's
. Randall Schwartz and friends were promoting the new edition of
Learning Perl, always a good value. David Sklar, author of
Learning PHP, and Adam Trachtenberg, author of
Upgrading to PHP5 and a few other books, also were
there, along with Jeremy Zawodny and Derek Balling, authors of
High Performance MySQL, an excellent book on
MySQL, and several more authors. It was a great chance to get autographed
copies of your favorite tech books and to say a few words to your
favorite authors.
Figure 3. Author Book Signing (photograph by James Duncan
After hours, several parties took place each night. Some
were easy to get attend. Some required a connection or a tip as to
the time and location. All were worth attending. The Perl authorities
at Stonehenge hosted their much talked about party at Ground Kontrol, a
video game bar. They treated us to free beer, soft drinks and plenty
of pizza. All of the free video games were set to free, as in freedom
and free beer. When the party started, there was a line out the door
of people wearing their free Stonehenge t-shirts waiting to get in.

At one of the neighboring hotels (the DoubleTree), MySQL hosted a
party with free drinks, excellent snacks and t-shirts with a
No-Software-Patents message on the back.
Some women from
Virtuas were handing
out invitations to a cocktail party at another hotel at the same time.
I couldn't make it, but I ran into them at Denny's around 1 am. I
also missed the Friends of O'Reilly party in a suite at the DoubeTree,
but I heard from a newly acquired friend, Jinny Po Potter, who went in
my stead, that it was a great party. She had the fortitude to run the
whole stretch of the MySQL party and still manage to close down the FOO
party--a real open-source trooper. Incidentally, that's what's
spectacular about OSCON: because about 1,200 people attend, and all are
worth knowning, you can make new friends at OSCON and run into people
throughout the convention center neighborhood at all hours of the night.
Exhibit Hall
The vendor exhibit hall had quite a few exhibitors. It wasn't
overwhelming like LinuxWorld, but there was a nice showing. Some
vendors overlook this convention, even though Portland is not far
from their bases of operation, for example, Seattle and San Francisco.
Some smaller groups, however, had interesting booths: the
Perl Foundation,
the Electronic Frontier
, the
Women's Technology Cluster, the
Free Standards Group,
the PostgresSQL guys, the Mozilla Foundation and quite a few others all
were on hand.
O-Soft was on site too, with
its Thout Reader. At the booth, a young woman was walking around with a
costume in which she was riding a large stuffed bird, similar to the one
in the O-Soft business logo. It was pretty hilarious to see.
Figure 4. The O-Soft Bird (photograph by James Duncan
Probably the coolest booth was the Gibson booth. It had a bunch of sweet
looking electric guitars set up with headphones and stools for people
to sit down and enjoy playing. They also had a drawing for one of the guitars at the end. Apparently, Gibson
has figured out that a lot of open-source people also play electric
guitars. It's a nice crossover market for them and a treat for the
attendees. As another treat, Google sent the Google Girls to run a
booth. I'm never sure what it is they're promoting, since everybody
seems to already use Google, but they're easy on the eyes.
Figure 5. The Gibson Booth (photograph by Jinny Po
If you were looking for me, I spent a good bit of time over at the
MySQL booth with David Axmark, the co-founder, and Kelly Kimble.
David Axmark participated in a session on the "State of Databases",
in which he talked about the state of MySQL in general and how version
5.0 of MySQL is coming along. It contains many enterprise features,
including stored procedures, views and triggers.
Version 5.0 is nearing stable release.
Figure 6. The MySQL Team (photograph by Jinny Po Potter)
Overall, OSCON was an excellent conference. If you're only going to attend one
conference a year, this is the one to hit. There are plenty of
parties, a lot of interesting people--famous and regular ones--and good
talks where you can actually learn some things. Also, it's in a part of
the country that has some nice attractions. As a bonus, there's no
corporate domination at OSCON. It's a conference for us.

If you'd like to see more photographs from the conference, check out
the photographs by
James Duncan
Davidson of O'Reilly Media
Thanks to James and Jinny for the photos.

Russell Dyer has written on MySQL and other open-source topics for
several magazines, including Linux Journal, over
the past three years. He is the author of
MySQL in
a Nutshell
(O'Reilly 2005). He lives and
works in New Orleans and can be reached at

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